Identity Structure, Role Discrepancy and Psychological Adjustment in Male College Student-Athletes

By Killeya-Jones, Ley A. | Journal of Sport Behavior, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Identity Structure, Role Discrepancy and Psychological Adjustment in Male College Student-Athletes


Killeya-Jones, Ley A., Journal of Sport Behavior


Elite college student-athletes must by default hold both a student and an athlete role. Because both roles are enacted in the college environment, they may compete for temporal (i.e., competing or conflicting time demands) and psychological resources, which may result in role conflict. For these young college athletes, the athlete identity--defined as "the degree to which an individual identifies with the athlete role" (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993)--can be an important source of perceived competence and positive self-evaluation and may occupy such a central role in identity structure that it dominates his ego-identity (Anderson, 1996; Brewer, 1993; Brewer et al., 1993; Curry & Weaner, 1987; Curry & Weiss, 1989; Murphy, Petipas, & Brewer, 1996). For many student-athletes, however, the student identity also is considered to be very important (NCAA, 1988), and student-athletes who value academic concerns and achievements as highly as athletic ones are more likely to meet with greater academic success while in college (Nelson, 1983) and to enjoy greater life satisfaction after graduation (Kleiber & Malik, 1989).

Identity-discrepancy theory (Allen, Wilder, & Atkinson, 1983) posits that multiple identities or roles can be subsumed harmoniously within an identity of sufficient breadth. When individuals have multiple identities and enact multiple roles, they may do so with little negative effect, successfully enacting and deriving satisfaction and well-being from each role and gaining additional benefits from each additional role (Spreitzer, Snyder, & Larson, 1979; Thoits, 1983). However, roles that are "inconsistent or contradictory" may well be discrepant. The multiple roles they hold may be a source of potential conflict, whereby the demands of one role impede the enactment of another (Allen et al., 1983; Snyder & Spreitzer, 1992), or the addition of roles is associated with reduced well-being (e.g., Barnett & Baruch, 1986; Baruch & Barnett, 1985). The potential for conflict is more likely to be realized when the roles compete for scarce resources in a shared domain (Adler & Adler, 1985; Sack & Thiel, 1985). This and other, empirical work (e.g., Donahue, Robins, Roberts, & John, 1993; Harter & Monsour, 1992; Linville, 1987; Sheldon & Kasser, 1995) holds that the more integrated one's roles, the more positively adjusted one will be.

The present study takes a person-centered approach to understanding the potential for role conflict when an individual holds two roles that compete for temporal and psychological resources in a shared domain - In this case, elite college student athletes enacting both student and athlete roles in the college environment. The importance of considering different identities and their development in relation to one another for the individual has been addressed in the Multiplicity of Self tradition. This conception of identity, derived from William James' theory of multiple selves (1890) and further developed both within the Social Identity model (e.g., Taj fel & Turner, 1979) and the multiplicity of self tradition (e.g., Harter, 1990; Markus & Wurf, 1987; Rosenberg & Gara, 1985), holds that each individual has several senses of self(i.e., identities or roles), each of which derives to some extent from group memberships and varies in importance and affective meaning according to the subjective experience of the individual, and all of which contribute to "a structure of identities organized in a hierarchy of salience" (Stryker, 1987, p. 90). Research suggests that positive well-being and psychological adjustment result when the different parts of the self cohere into an integrated, harmonious whole (e.g., Donahue et al., 1993; Hatter & Monsour, 1992; Sheldon & Kasser, 1995). For the student-athlete, then, it is a complex and differentiated, yet integrated self-concept that should afford greater well-being and protection from threats to his sense of self in any one domain. …

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