More than just athletic identity: A closer look at how concussions impact the identity constructs of elite athletes


Previous literature has found that elite athletes may encounter disruptions to their athletic identity following a sport-related concussion (SRC). However, focusing solely on athletic identity (Brewer et al., 1993) fails to consider other crucial identity constructs (i.e., personal, and social identity, and self-concept). Informed by the Social Identity Approach (Hornsey, 2008), the goal of this study was to explore how SRCs disrupted elite athletes' various identity constructs. Participants were seven (n = 6 female) elite soccer, swimming, ice hockey, and curling athletes. We collected data through two semi-structure interviews with each participant (Mtime = 83.7 and 76.9 minutes, respectively). In the second interview, participants completed the Social Identity Mapping Tool (SIM), a method that visually depicts participants' social identity and social network (Cruwys et al., 2016). Results of our reflexive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2021) identified the extent to which the elite athletes' SRC recovery impacted their entire self-concept (i.e., feeling "lost" regarding who they are). More specifically, participants' SRC appeared to disrupt their perceptions of their athletic (i.e., threatened role and participation in sport), personal (i.e., subjective changes to mood), and social identity (i.e., difficulty managing social group memberships). In sum, the athletes in this study reported that a variety of their identity constructs (i.e., athletic, personal, and social identity, and self-concept) were disrupted following a SRC. Thus, comprehensive frameworks, like the Social Identity Approach, should continue to be used to examine and understand identity disruption during athletes' recovery and return to sport following a SRC.