College Students and Athletes: Identity Adherence, Injury, Illness, Depression, Social Support, and Problem Behaviors

Samuel L Nekvasil, Purdue University


College students are at pivotal time in their life for identity development. They are typically away from home for the first time, independently making decisions while also striving to maintain their academic performance. A subset of this population, college athletes, face a number of unique challenges often connected with their potentially competing identities as athletes and students (i.e., athletic and academic identities). In addition, when injury/illness occurs, identity adherence may shift for all students (i.e., athletes and non-athletes) and there is the potential that they may engage in problem behaviors (i.e., risky sexual behavior, illicit drug use, problem alcohol use, and disordered eating). Participants for the present study were 541 undergraduate students (i.e., 386 non-athletes, 128 intramural/club athletes, and 27 Division I athletes) attending a large Midwest university. A 2 (i.e., injured/ill versus non-injured/ill) X 3 (i.e., non-athletes, intramural/club athletes, Division I athletes) MANCOVA indicated that although problem behaviors did not differ based on injury/illness status, intramural/club athletes reported greater illicit drug use and problem alcohol use than their non-athlete and Division I athlete peers. In addition, Division I athletes exhibited higher adherence to their athletic identity than did intramural/club athletes. For all athletes, depression was positively associated with disordered eating and BMI was positively associated with problem alcohol use, whereas GPA was negatively associated with problem alcohol use. In addition, although non-injured Division I athletes engaged in lower risky sexual behaviors than their intramural/club peers, when injured, they exhibited higher risky sex than intramural/club athletes. The results of the present study have the potential to decrease problem behavior-related assumptions regarding Division I athletes, to aid in the creation of specific therapeutic interventions for college students, and to inform future research with college athletes.




Servaty-Seib, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Counseling Psychology

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