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This topic is adapted from the FlexTalk YouTube channel.

Professional athletes are consistently in the public eye, and so often we as observers judge these athletes entirely on their performance on the athletic field. Former NFL player Mike discusses the difficulties of performance-based identity.

Video Highlights

  • Mike opens up discussing how being football player was really the only career goal he ever had growing up. From an early age his dream was to become a professional football player and it shaped much of his life.
  • Early on, Mike learned from a coach that in the world of sports, performance was everything. How he did on the field was what determined what he was able to do next. A good performance meant you got praise, got to play again, and feel good about yourself.
  • After letting his life be dictated by sports and getting too caught up in his performance, he realized how detrimental it was to his quality of life. Despite performance being the basis for playing time and praise, Mike learned that having your identity wrapped up in performance is a disaster. He quickly discovered that he could not allow how he played to affect who he is. Sports is what he does, not who he is.
  • Mike’s advice to athletes now is to understand and embrace the idea that they cannot have their entire sense of self dependent on how they are performing in their sport or sports. In fact, Mike believes the more an athlete can focus on the joy and competitiveness of the game, the better they will end up performing.
  • Once Mike was able to separate his identity from football, he found that he actually played better. He played with more freedom and found himself enjoying the whole experience more.

It is so easy to get caught up in something we do well at and let that talent take over our whole identities. For many athletes, it is important to follow Mike’s example and know that “Sport is what I do, not who I am.”

[Related: Ownership for Athletes]

Written content for this topic by Andi Dolinsky-Webb.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. Have you ever watched a professional sporting event and found yourself judging the athletes as people based on how well they played? If so, why?
  4. Have you excelled at something and found it taking over your life? What did you do to overcome it?
  5. What are some challenges you have faced in life concerning your own identity?
  6. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.