Playing sports can have a positive influence on a person’s life, but it can go too far. Sports addiction is a real possibility.
“You can be addicted to anything,” said Dr. Ed Garrett, professor of sport and performance psychology.
However, sports addictions look different from others in that it is more about associating your identity with your sport than being physically addicted to it.
“Within sports performance psychology, sports addiction probably isn’t talked about as much as identity and how we transition from one identity to the next because that sport has been their ‘addiction’ for 12-15 years,” Garrett said.
Sports addiction is also challenging to identify because of its more abstract nature. Addiction itself tends to be associated more with physical materials than activity.
“I typically think about substances when I hear the word addiction,” said Emily Charnow, sophomore criminal justice major.
Because we tend to think of substance abuse in association with addictions, many people might overlook less common addictions or those that can be perceived as healthy.
“If you told me that, I would believe it, but I never really thought about [sports addiction],” said Aylee Wages, sophomore graphic design major. “When I think of the word ‘addiction,’ I think ‘abuse of things.’”
An athlete’s identity can become completely caught up within their sport. This depends on where they are in their career.
“From the athlete’s standpoint, it really depends on where they are in their development,” Garrett said. “The sport becomes their oxygen. It becomes a need every waking minute for them to hold the ball, to touch the ball. For [an athlete], it’s a part of them, where it’s hard for them to comprehend life without that. For them to have experienced 10-12 years of their life — sometimes more — where that’s their life, it’s an addiction.”
An object or activity can become such an influential part of our lives that we get to the point where we feel like we can not live without it. That is when it becomes a negative association. This negative association can be hard to identify for an athlete because of the time and e ort it takes to get to their level. Becoming proficient in a field takes true dedication. The same is true for athletes. Garret said it can become challenging to draw the line between dedication and addiction for athletes.
“For some people, it is life,” Garrett said. “It’s their tattoo.”
Association of identity is also seen in fans.
“You look at the NFL going on, and fans will spend gobs of money just to attend something like that,” Garrett said. “Even on the collegiate level, there are fans who travel long distances because their identity rests in that sport and therefore, it becomes an addiction.”
Fans can be the greatest representation of sport becoming their identity. Whether they buy every piece of merchandise their team has to offer or get into physical altercations with fans of opposing teams, a fan can dedicate their lives to their team to an unhealthy extent.
An unhealthy association of identity with the sport may negatively impact an athlete.
“One thing it can definitely affect is your time,” Garrett said. “Every athlete does recognize when they are not associated with society or life in some sense because all their time is being absorbed by their sport.”
At the same time, just the opposite can be true. Garrett supports the notion that there are times when the athlete says, “I’m not spending enough time with my performance or what I need to do as an athlete, and so I need to find more time.”
Another symptom of sports addiction can be enlarged emotions in response to performance. But here at CBU, counselors and psychologists can use an athlete’s identity in Christ to bring their performances into perspective.
“A bad performance can be dealt with very harshly by the athlete as opposed to an athlete who is on cloud nine because they’re doing great — they’re going to feel better about themselves,” Garrett said. “So, there is a bit of that self-esteem, self-efficacy that we continue to work on within the athletes trying to help them understand whose they are more than who they are.
“God created them for a purpose, and what is that purpose? You’re blessed enough to have the talent and abilities to play here at CBU. Let’s give honor and praise to God for everything, wins and losses.”
But is sports addiction truly a negative reality? Your average Dodgers fan is not hurting anyone, even if an Angels fan may disagree. Garrett agrees that many athletes would not see themselves as “addicted” to their sport and many are not.
“Most individuals and athletes will say, ‘No, I’m not addicted. It’s just part of what I do,’” Garrett said.
For many athletes, their sport is what they love to do, and sports are an overall positive and accepted pursuit. It makes sense for an athlete to dedicate many hours to their sport because they must practice to be any good.
“A kid that picked up a bat and ball one day probably said, ‘Man, I hope I am a professional or I hope I play at college one day,’” Garrett said. “[There is a] different kind of mentality behind the addiction; that’s why the addiction is framed a little differently.”
The over-dedication to their sport can be seen as positive, especially if the individual does get to a collegiate or professional level. Athletics can often lead to opportunities like scholarships.
“It’s less of an addiction and more of a job,” Garrett said.
And sports also have intrinsic value. It often lifts people and gives them something to live for.
“Sports gives hope,” Garrett said. “Athletics has cultural impacts and can truly change an individual’s life for good. So, while sports addiction is a reality, perhaps it is one we can live with.”
Sports addiction may not be relatable to everyone, but it can affect anybody, in any sport.