The Career Planning, Athletic Identity, and Student Role Identity of Intercollegiate Student Athletes

By Lally, Patricia S.; Kerr, Gretchen A. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, September 2005 | Go to article overview

The Career Planning, Athletic Identity, and Student Role Identity of Intercollegiate Student Athletes


Lally, Patricia S., Kerr, Gretchen A., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


The purpose of this study was to examine the career planning of university student athletes and relationships between their career planning and athletic and student role identities. Two retrospective in-depth interviews were held with four male and f our female university student athletes. Participants entered university with vague or nonexistent career objectives and invested heavily in their athletic roles. In the latter years of their college career, the participants discarded their sport career ambitions and allowed the student role to become more prominent in their identity hierarchies. The current findings support Brown and Hartley's (1998) suggestion that student athletes may invest in both the athlete and student role identities simultaneously and that investing in the latter may permit the exploration of nonsport career options.

Key words: career maturity, psychosocial development

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Career development is one of many challenges facing older adolescents. The question, What am I to do with the rest of my life?" is a defining dilemma of late adolescence, a decision that often causes a great deal of stress (Violato & Holden, 1988). Career development is defined as the formation of mature, realistic career plans grounded in assessing one's career goals, interests, and abilities and awareness of vocational opportunities and requirements (Crites, 1978). Considerable research has investigated college students' career planning (Bergeron & Romano, 1994; Luzzo, 1995; Mather & Winston, 1998) and that of college student athletes in particular. Most studies in this area have compared the career planning of college students to college student athletes, and, with few exceptions (Blann, 1985; Perna, Zaichkowsky, & Bocknek, 1996), researchers have found evidence of poor or immature career planning among college student athletes (Kennedy and Dimick, 1987; Murphy, Petitpas, & Brewer, 1996; Smallman & Sowa, 1996; Sowa & Gressard, 1983).

Kennedy and Dimick (1987) reported that male student athletes, particularly those in high profile sports, scored significantly lower than a nonathlete comparison group matched by gender and grade standing on the Career Maturity Inventory (CMI). Sowa and Gressard (1983) found that student athletes scored significantly lower than nonathletes on measures of career development tasks. A number of studies that compared college student athletes' career planning, not to nonathlete peers but to standardized scores on measures of career maturity, also found evidence of poor or immature career planning. Smallman and Sowa (1996), for example, found that male athletes from revenue- and nonrevenue--producing sports scored in the bottom 25th percentile of norms for the Career Development Inventory (CDI), a standardized measure of career maturity and career development. Murphy et al. (1996) reported that both male and female student athletes from revenue- and nonrevenue--producing sports scored in the 27th percentile for 12th-grade students on the CMI.

An explanation for the poor career planning among college student athletes may be available in the developmental literature. Developmental theories that consider career planning emphasize the central role identity development plays in establishing mature career plans. Super (1957), for example, who integrated developmental theory with the task of occupational choice, proposed that career planning occurs in five stages across the lifespan. According to Super, progression from one stage to the next is a function of refining one's interests, like, dislikes, and values, a product of self-exploration and identity development.

Crites (1978) likewise stressed the centrality of identity development to mature career planning. Crites maintained that for the individual to develop mature career plans, he or she must actively engage in selfexploration and occupational preferences as well as available career options. …

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