Student Athletes' Perceptions of Self

By Todd, Samuel Y.; Kent, Aubrey | Adolescence, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Student Athletes' Perceptions of Self


Todd, Samuel Y., Kent, Aubrey, Adolescence


Adolescence is considered to be a time of many changes and transitions, usually occurring between the ages of ton and nineteen (van Linden & Fertman, 1998). During adolescence, the individual's view of the self becomes more abstract and differentiated, resulting in more complex identity formation (Harter, 1986; van Linden & Fertman, 1998). Harter (1999) refers to this process as "the construction of the self" (p. 3), as individuals during this stage are discovering who they are and how they fit into the world.

Researchers believe that there are many influences on the construction of the self (Epstein, 1973; Gordon, 1968; Hatter, 1999; Marsh, 1986), one being the strong desire to feel part of a group (Seltzer, 1989). Therefore, family relationships, close friendships, and social acceptance are all factors that play a vital part in the adolescent's construction of the self. As these factors are usually considered to be individually unique and independent, they will only have an effect on the adolescent's self to the degree that the adolescent assigns a level of importance to each.

Rosenberg (1979) theorized that the construction of the self in many cases could be determined by contextual elements. He further asserted that religion, race, and areas of competence can all be contextual antecedents associated with the construction of the self in adolescents. The individuals self-concept may also be determined by comparison (favorable or unfavorable) with peers. For example, Seltzer (1989) found that adolescents frequently engage in behavioral comparisons when in the company of peers. By superimposing their self on peers, adolescents can begin to pick and choose various behaviors modeled by those peers until an acceptable identity is believed to have been achieved. Given that this acceptable identity periodically changes, Seltzer suggests that many strange and sometimes bizarre acts by youth can be attributed to this comparative process of behavior observation.

In recent years, researchers have given a great deal of attention to the relations between adolescent self-esteem and other variables, such as leadership, physical appearance and satisfaction with appearance, and locus of control (Chubb, Fertman, & Ross, 1997; Harter, 1999; McCullough, Ashbridge, & Pegg, 1994). Although McCullough et al. hypothesized that high school students identified as high in leadership potential would also be high in self-esteem, adolescent leaders were not found to have higher self-esteem than nonleaders. Knox, Funk, Elliott, and Bush (1998) attempted to identify the factors that are most closely associated with self-esteem for high school females and males. It was found that self-esteem in adolescent females was positively affected by financial descriptors, education, occupation, relationships, and physical appearance. Adolescent males' self-esteem was found to be associated with interpersonal functioning These findings are generally consistent with the hypothesis that peer relations are critically important during adolescence.

Physical appearance has also been reported to be a very important factor, as youth tend to treat attractive peers differently from unattractive peers (Cobb, Cohen, & Houston, 1998). Harter (1999) found that adolescents' global self-esteem correlated most highly with physical appearance, followed by scholastic competence, social competence, behavioral conduct, and athletic competence. Although self-esteem, or self-worth, and physical appearance appear inextricably linked, it is unclear whether physical appearance determines sense of self-worth, or, conversely, self-worth provides the foundation for satisfaction with physical appearance. Zumpf and Harter (1989) sought an answer by asking adolescents to indicate which of the two options best describes the relationship between self-esteem and physical appearance. Sixty percent of the adolescents indicated that physical appearance determined their self-worth. …

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