Athletic identity and self-ageing: the dilemma of exclusivity

Cassie Phoenix, Guy Faulkner, Andrew C. Sparkes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (SciVal)


Background and purpose: Given the dominance of negative cultural stereotypes focusing on the decline of the physical body in later life, growing old may be particularly significant for those who assign great importance to their able, functioning bodies. This study explored young athletes’ perceptions of growing old by examining the relationships among physical self-perceptions, strength of athletic identity, quality of intergenerational relationships, and general attitude towards self-ageing.
Methods: In a cross-sectional survey, 179 undergraduates enrolled on a Sport and Exercise Science degree programme completed the Physical Self-Perception Profile, Athletic Identity Measurement Scale, and the General Attitude towards Self-Ageing Scale. The sample included a range of individuals from both individual and team sports. The majority of participants competed with university teams, although county, regional and national levels were also represented.
Results and conclusions: The analysis suggested that for this population, (a) a strong, exclusive athletic identity might act as an Achilles heel when imagining the future ageing body-self, (b) that this may be further reinforced by an absence of fulfilling relationships with older adults who are considered by the individual as positive role models for later life. Finally (c), that young athletes with a strong sense of physical self-worth displayed positive attitudes towards self-ageing. This may be because such individuals consider their physical selves to act as a protective mechanism in terms of maintaining functional ability in the future. The implications of these findings are considered in relation to narrative maps of ageing and for future research into athletes, bodies, identities and the process of growing up and growing old.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-347
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • ageing; athletic identity; intergenerational; physical self-worth


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