Athletic identity is the degree to
which an individual identifies with the athlete role and looks to others for
acknowledgement of that role (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993). It is the way individuals perceive
themselves. Athletic Identity is
developed through skill acquisition, gaining confidence, and socialization
through sport. Athletic identity
provides an infrastructure for interpreting information, determines how an
athlete handles difficult situations like dealing with career-threatening
injuries and is the catalyst for behavior consistent with an individual’s
athletic role( Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993).. Athletic
identity also has a social component.
One’s athletic identity has a huge impact on how one views their
self-worth and their world view (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993).
A number of
researchers have been trying to flesh out athletic identity for over 25 years
(Brewer, 1993; Horton & Mack, 2000; Hurst et al., 2000; Martin, Mushet,
& Smith, 1995; Smith, Hale, & Collins, 1998). Originally, athletic identity was considered
a one-dimensional construct defined as the degree to which an individual
identifies him or herself with the role of the athlete (Brewer, Van Raalte, et
al., 1993). It was then proposed as a multidimensional model based on the
various aspects of self-concept.
Athletic identity was seen as a cognitive structure that interprets the
involvement of the subject in a sport context. The cognitive self-evaluations
done by the athlete are driven by coaches, friends, and parents and determine
what the athlete prioritizes in life and his/her positive and negative feelings
about sports performance (Brewer, Van Raalte, et al., 1993). Using that
framework, athletic identity was expressed in 3 dimensions: social identity,
exclusivity and negative affectivity. This model led to the Athletic Identity
Measurement Scale (AIMS) which was adapted to several different populations in
the United States and some international populations.
The AIMS scale was developed
because expectations, practice frequency and aspirations in sport are unique by
race (Harrison, Lee, & Belcher, 1999).
An athlete’s identity is so
important that it can have both positive and negative cognitive effects on said
athlete. With the recent increase on
athletics role in society, athletic identity research has surged to the
forefront due to the everchanging landscape of sport and the need to maintain
current and former athlete’s well-being.
AIMS has been
criticized by those in the field. Other
researchers point out that athletic identity is only one of many dimensions of
identity and that AIMS doesn’t cover everything that has to do with general
concept of identity. The critiques led
to other AIMS scales being developed like AIMS-Plus (Cieslak, 2004).
AIMS-plus takes in to account how social structures and self-assessment
affect the structure of the self and social behavior of the athlete. AIMS-Plus
acknowledges that internal and external components are a part of the
socialization process that contributes to the formation, maintenance and
abandonment of identities (Cieslak, 2004).
AIMS-Plus is unique in that it acknowledges the role of the athlete and
the environment in keeping the levels of athletic identity.
AIMS is a 7-point
Likert scale response format, starting at 1 meaning strongly disagree to 7 meaning
strongly agree. The three subscales are represented as social identity which
are items 1,2, and 3, exclusivity, represented by items 4 and 5 and negative
affectivity which items 6 and 7 (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993). AIMS-Plus is a self-report questionnaire also
using a Likert-scale model of response ranging from 0 to 100 (Cieslak, 2004). The items are grouped between internal and
external identity components. The items represent different aspects of one’s
Reliability and Validity
The athletic identity score comes from
calculating the average score between the sum of the internal components item
values and the sum of the external item values. The original iteration of the
scale had good reliability, good correlations among the various factors and
good content validity. According to
Cieslak (2004) the original factorial analysis model was inadequate. After
further development, studies have demonstrated the good factor structure of the
model (Cieslak et al., 2005).
Applied in Practice
Dr. Bimper (2014) conducted a study
using AIMS to explore the relationship between black male student-athletes
their athletic identity and the effect it has on learning outcomes and their
GPA’s. The participants came from 7 major
Division I colleges and universities and played football. Bimper (2014) administered
the self-reported questionnaires to over 250 athletes in 4 distinct parts of
the country measuring their racial identity as well as their athletic
identities. Participant scores on items
of the AIMS revealed that the student athletes identified heavily with
their athlete roles (Bimper, 2014).
Bimper (2014) also found a negative
correlation between higher levels of athletic identity and lower grade point
averages. Racial identity on the other
hand did not indicate any effects on GPA.
These results supported previous studies in that those with higher
athletic identities lead to a singular identity and lack of development as a student.
Dr. Louis Harrison et. Al (2014) also
conducted research using AIMS. Their study consisted of nearly 300 male
student athletes between the ages of 8-18 who attended a basketball camp at a
local college in the southeast. During
registration the participants were given a survey that consisted of questions
that identified demographic information, the AIMS, and a scale that measured
academic self-concept (Harrison, et. Al, 2014).
The analysis of the AIMS and academic
self-concept survey revealed that the African American group of students had a higher
academic self-concept than other minority groups while no differences were
found between African American and White groups. Harrison et. Al (2014) also found
that other minority groups had significant lower academic self-concept scores
than both African American and White groups.
This study was unique in that the results of this contrast previous
studies done on athletic identity and academic self-concept. The results showed that academic self-concept
varied by race with African Americans displaying higher athletic identity and
lower academic self-concept. The study was also unique because it was the first
study who used participants younger than college aged students (Harrison, et.
An individual’s identity can be groomed and
influenced by a number of external factors.
Athletic identity is a cognitive structure that can be is created and
maintained by other athletes and the environment that one is in (Brewer, Van
Raalte, & Linder, 1993). Dr. Levi
Williams and Dr. Robert Lyons (2014) conducted a studying using AIMS on
athletic identity and students who attend Division II Historically Black
College and Universities (HBCU). Student-Athletes
who were enrolled in a Health and Human Performance class completed the
self-reported questionnaire. The questionnaire
consisted of the standard 7 questions usually on an AIMS survey but instead of
the standard 1 to 7 scales, this scale was on a scale 1 to 5. The study was conducted at a small
historically black college in the south.
It sought to identify the degrees of athletic identity among African
American college athletes at an HBCU because the experiences of students who
attend HBCU’s are usually unexplored (Williams, and Lyons, 2014).
Dr. Williams and Dr. Lyons (2014)
found that there was a huge difference between year classification and gender
amongst the student-athletes. Seniors reported a higher score when compared to
freshman when asked the question “I have many goals related to sports” and
“Other people see me mainly as an athlete”. Male student-athletes reported
higher scores in regards to the questions “I have many goals related to sports”
and “Other people see me mainly as an athlete”.
The results were similar to previous studies in regards to
perception. It was recommended that more
research be done on the HBCU black student-athlete because of their unique situation
and perspective (Williams, and Lyons, 2014).
Graduation rates have been used as a measure to
indicate the success and progress of student-athletes. In the study “Psychosocial
Influences on College Adjustment in Division I Student-Athletes: The Role of
Athletic Identity” Dr. Melendez identified the under-investigated factors that
influence success and adjustment of student-athletes. Those factors were race, gender, and athletic
identity as it pertains to college adjustment using a group of freshmen and
sophomore varsity student-athletes (Melendez, 2010, p. 345). The three participating universities in the
current study were comprised of one public and two private institutions, were
all PWIs, and were all located in cities in the Midwest and on the East coast
(Melendez, 2010, p. 350). All
participants had competed at the NCAA Division I varsity level and had been
enrolled in college for at least one semester.
Surveys were distributed at team meetings and other at team gatherings.
Participants were recruited from the men’s football, wrestling, crew, lacrosse,
ice hockey, tennis, track, and soccer teams (Melendez,
2010, p. 351). The women’s teams
included basketball, gymnastics, crew, lacrosse, field hockey, ice hockey,
tennis, track, softball, and soccer. The
final sample was made up exclusively of Black and White student-athletes (Melendez, 2010, p. 351).
The first part of the survey included a demographic questionnaire. Dr. Melendez also used an AIMS scale with 10
items that promoted subjects to answer on a one to seven type Likert
scale. Dr. Melendez also incorporated
The Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ) (as cited in Baker &
Siryk, 1989) is a self-report measure of college adjustment consisting of 67
items which can be broken up in to includes five scales and four subscales (Melendez, 2010, p. 352).
results from this sample showed three major correlations. The first was that higher athletic identity
scores were reported by White athletes than Black athletes. The second correlation was higher athletic
identity scores were reported by male athletes than female athletes. The final correlation was that
student-athletes reporting higher athletic identity scores also reported lower
scores on academic and personal-emotional adjustment (Melendez, 2010, p.
353). The findings revealed
relationships between athletic identity, race, gender, and some aspects of
college adjustment. Athletic identity
was significantly correlated with gender, race, and academic adjustment (Melendez, 2010, p. 355).
“Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder (1993) stated that
there “may be both positive and negative consequences associated with a strong
athletic identity” (p. 12). Benefits of a strong athletic identity included
acceptance of the body, establishing social networks, and developing life
management skills, while risks of strong athletic identity seemed to be
particularly problematic for athletes during sport career transitions, such as
adjustment to injury or sport career retirement, and on developmental processes
such as vocational development and career maturity.” (Melendez, 2010, p. 357)
enhanced athletic identity does not always have to be viewed as a negative
attribute. Graduation rates have risen
steadily over the last 20 years due to the increased funding for student
athlete academic support services (Melendez, 2010, p. 357). Perhaps it is time for
colleges and universities to invest in programs that encourage overall development
of student-athletes off the playing field and outside the classroom.
research conducted using the AIMS has been pivotal in truly understanding the
minds of Student-Athletes. These studies
will help guide future research and studies going forward. There
is a groundswell on literature and research being done on the links between
race and athletic identity that will help improve outcomes in those athletes
lives. AIMS and other research being
done on athletic and racial identity can do so much good in the lives of
student-athletes who are often times only developed as athletes. Perhaps interventions from the AIMS surveys
can help athletes become well rounded individuals