What happens to the student-athlete who is forced to “fit the mold” ?

Student-athletes are often encouraged and/or forced into this dual role from a young age. Millions of adolescents participate in youth sports, in which some continue to play at the high-school level. According to the NFHS participation survey, 7,931,591 of student-athletes participated in high school sports during the 2018-19 school year.

There are many benefits of sports, such as building resilience, confidence, and providing opportunities. In multiple podcast interviews, various former student-athletes mentioned that they didn’t start taking their sport seriously until high school where they noticed some opportunities available to them. For example, Taj Dashuan, former football player now athlete transition coach, mentioned he started taking sport seriously when he realized it can be used as a vehicle to college and beyond. 

For student-athletes who strive to take their sport beyond the high school level, whether I’d be an opportunity for higher education or professional sports, there’s a certain image that is often favored by coaches, recruits, teachers, parents, and the community. Such as, one who excels academically and athletically. In addition, one who embodies great characteristics, such as leadership and discipline. 

However, there are some challenges student’s face as they strive to fit the ideal image of an elite and high performing student-athlete. But, the personal and societal pressures that are naturally a part of this journey may become a burden that most athletes aren’t necessarily prepared to face.

Fear of failure, fear of success, and fear of judgement are some fears that student-athletes may have early on in their athletic journey.1 However, with a hanging stigma of “athletes don’t cry”, some athletes may choose to suffer quietly. 

Which poses two questions :

Does the high school sport environment offer the opportunity for student-athletes to unapologetically experience growing pains?

As student-athletes transition out of sports, are they prepared and given the resources to help disconnect themselves from an identity that they have molded themselves into? 

As expected, the athletic experience comes with both rewards and challenges.Taking a look at athletics on the high school level, one thing that is important to note is how personal development should be a mandatory part of the student-athlete structure. External factors, such as performing well in the classroom and in sport, are indeed important to reach desired goals. However, teaching coping skills, accountability, communication, and other life skills creates a long-term benefit as it helps mold a person as a whole, not just the role of a student-athlete. 

Change The Narrative


Butt, S. (1976). Psychology of sports. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

(1995). Sports counseling: enhancing the development of the high school student-athlete. Journal of Counseling & Development, 74, 39–44.

**Self-reflection is a great way for student-athletes to learn more about who they have become and who they are becoming. Learn about this free 5-Week  “Dear Student-Athlete, Who Are You?” journal series. **

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