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Achieving in Life or Stuck in Transition? to be presented at 2020 Athlete Development Summit in NYC


Upon the end of the athletic career, elite athletes must go through processes of self-redefinition during which their career identity must be reshaped in early adulthood (Kerr & Dacyshyn, 2000). However, identity shifts into a career upon leaving college sport can be challenging due to the necessity to replace a salient athletic identity and limited identity work beyond sport throughout childhood, adolescence and college life (Carless & Douglas, 2009; Willard & Lavallee, 2016). Limited career exploration and insufficient knowledge of who they could become after the conclusion of a sport career can often make them feel directionless as they embark on a search for a new identity (Lavallee & Robinson, 2007; Paule-Koba & Farr, 2013). The developmental and psychosocial challenges of forming a career identity upon leaving NCAA college sport, and transitioning into adulthood, has been recently investigated (Wendling & Sagas, 2020). This study provided evidence of a newly validated instrument, the Career Identity Development Inventory (CIDI) in an adult population of recent NCAA college graduates (between the ages of 21 and 35 years old). Their findings provided an improved understanding of the transition of former athlete young adults by identifying a “moratorium” status, which indicated that participants were still working on developing a career identity and essentially still in “transition” to a new career in life after sport. Wendling and Sagas also demonstrated that individuals placed in an “achievement” status (or post-transition) exhibited very high psychosocial functioning scores (i.e., career satisfaction, life satisfaction, flourishing, and self-esteem). Recently graduated former athletes who had not established a career identity and were in the initial steps of identity search (i.e., still in a pre-transition stage) reported some of the poorest functioning levels (i.e., low scores on self-esteem, flourishing, and life satisfaction). The purpose of the present study was to expand on the work conducted by Wendling and Sagas (2020) to assess career identity statuses, or what we labeled transition stages, and subsequent psychosocial functioning of former NCAA athletes that have reached adulthood (i.e., 36 to 65 years old). Identity scholars that have assessed identity development in adulthood have supported the notion that identities evolve and change through much of one’s adult life (Kroger, 2002; Marcia, 2002). For example, Kroger (2014) argues in a review of the literature on adult identify formation that “changing life circumstances, coupled with changing biological and psychological needs, will likely spur ongoing identity developments over the adulthood years” (Kroger, 2014, p.11).


We collected data from a total of 461 former athletes (306 men and 155 women) registered on the NCAA Alumni Research Panel. We used a 90-item questionnaire that was comprised of the CIDI and career and psychosocial functioning measures including satisfaction with life and career, self-esteem, flourishing, and core self-evaluations. The psychometric properties of CIDI were validated for this adult population through a confirmatory factor analysis and measurement indifference tests for age and gender. Correlational analyses suggested that forming career commitments was important for identity development and optimal psychosocial functioning. Similar to the sample of recent NCAA graduates reported by Wendling & Sagas (2020), we also found that career identity confusion was negatively associated with all variables. We performed a hierarchical cluster analysis on standardized Z-scores of the seven career identity dimensions of CIDI to form career identity statuses. An iterative k-means clustering generated six career identity statuses we labeled preliminary moratorium (n = 64), moratorium (n = 111), carefree diffused (n = 79), achieving (n = 73), achieved (n = 60), and foreclosed (n = 74).


Results of MANOVAs (with post hoc testing) that treated the identity statuses as independent variables, demonstrated that individuals placed in the two variants of the “achievement” status exhibited the highest levels of flourishing, life satisfaction, career satisfaction, and core self-evaluations(all p’s< .001). The adult former athletes who had either not yet established a career identity, or were going through a mid-career transition in which they were searching for a new career identity commitment (i.e., in a moratorium stage), reported the poorest functioning scores across all of the outcome variables (all p’s < .001). This research, especially when considered in comparison to the young adult NCAA former athlete research, validates the need for athlete development researchers to begin to treat athlete “development” across the lifespan for former athletes. The study also provides an excellent description of life after sport well-being, identity re-formation profiles, and career functioning. Further, the study informs practice in that athlete development specialists should be cognizant and informed on how to address transition difficulties beyond the separation phase from sport to life, but also throughout the lifespan for their alumni. The findings from this research, coupled with fieldwork that implements the CIDI, could facilitate unique and impactful career coaching and counseling programs for former athletes.


Drs. Michael Sagas and Elodie Wendling will be presenting this work at the 2020 Athlete Development Summit held in New York City. They are scheduled to present on Wednesday, May 6, 2020.

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