ATHlete identity

Expanding and Embracing, Not Erasing Part of Your Identity

"The transition is not a straight line you have to Zig and Zag…and that is perfectly ok."


Adding Dimensions

Sarah Robb O'Hagan

Corporate Executive EXOS, Flywheel, Equinox, Gatorade, Nike, Virgin and more
Activist and Entrepreneur
Founder of Extreme You

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I have long believed that some of the best employees are those that have had a formative experience with sports - due to the lessons learned of winning, losing and playing well on a team. In this great new book, Jenne Blackburn has created a clear blueprint for athletes of all levels wanting to translate the great skills they learned on the field to be a competitive advantage in life. A must read for any former competitive athlete looking for ways to parlay their experiences into a big fulfilling future!

Tama Miyashiro

USA Volleyball Womens Asst Coach
2021 Gold Medalist Coach
2012 Silver Medalist Athlete
2005 National Champion

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I have been friends with Jenné for over a decade. When she first started talking about this topic to me I was still playing competitively with Team USA Volleyball. Today I am the Assistant Coach. In the years between my two roles, my understanding has grown around the importance of this topic of the athlete transition out of sport, because I now have personally lived it - alongside of my teammates. Now I get it, transitioning out of sport is hard. We don’t always get to choose when we step away. Sometimes it is by choice but for others we don’t know when the last day will be.

What I have noticed is that we can all do a better job of looking ahead past our playing days while still competing. For many, it can be a rude awakening when it is time to step away from the court and the next phase of life hits. The community piece around this topic that Jenne is working to build is huge. It is so important to discuss how people no longer have the structure they once had to connect with others. Finding people going through the same transition season out of sport can really help, especially with mental health struggles.

What I hope for all athletes is that they don’t hesitate to reach out to others who have gone through or will go through this phase of transition. Thankfully I did some work around my other roles and identities in life before I retired from playing so I feel like I could step away and have some peace of mind. What I was able to tackle head on is that – sport was what I did - and it had been a huge part of life – but it wasn't the only thing. Right now, I am taking the lessons learned as a competitive athlete and transitioning those learnings into this next season of my career as a coach.

What we accomplish in life as an athlete does not define us. No matter what level we achieve, we get to be an athlete and move our body for the rest of our lives. There is a community out there waiting to embrace us all when it is time to step away from our competitive days and encourage us to keep pushing on and to keep moving. Let's lean on each other. Some of my teammates are some of my best cheerleaders to this day and sometimes it's the simple things... like after a fun bike ride together… I become encouraged that I am not alone in this journey.

“Above all, cycling is fun. It can be a great way to get outside, spend time with friends or even one’s regular teammates on another sports team”
Bill Walton, UCLA and NBA Basketball Legend

“Everybody always does a golf outing, but you can only get so many people involved in that because not everybody plays. And I wanted everybody to be able to participate. And what does everybody know how to do? Ride a bicycle! It’s fun and it’s good exercise. A lot of times when people are riding a bike, they don’t even realize that they’re exercising. So doing that was a no-brainer to me.”

Bo Jackson,
NFL Pro Bowler, MLB Allstar

Thrive after sports

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Always An Athlete is a comprehensive study of the ways in which every athlete’s climb up what Jenne Blackburn has called “The Mountain” - the journey from youth sports, through high school sports, college sports and finally professional/olympic sports at the peak - sets up the athlete for an inevitable fall off “The Cliff” after they retire.

In the first portion of the book, Blackburn takes the reader through what she has identified as the four levels of “The Mountain” of sports in America: youth sports, high school sports, college sports and, finally, professional and Olympic sports at the “Peak” of the Mountain. Through each of these chapters, she examines the characteristics of athletes and the growth of the athletic identity from an early age. She digests the influence of coaches and family, and the ways in which their influence is building a greater and greater athletic identity that will be the base of their fall off the Cliff at retirement.

In the second portion of the book, Blackburn examines what she has identified as the Three Pillars of the Cliff: Identity, Mental Health and Physical Health. The issues that athletes have in each of these areas after they retire from competitive sports collectively forms what she calls “The Cliff.” After training, sacrificing and devoting years and sometimes decades to a game, she believes that athletes at every level of the Mountain will fall off the Cliff in some form.

Obviously, athletes who fall off at a lower level such as youth sports, will not have the disastrous fall that can happen to our professional football players and Olympic gymnasts when they are forced to retire from their life’s preoccupation before they are even thirty years old.

In the last portion of the book, Blackburn examines solutions to be adopted by athletes at every level in order to soften and shorten the fall off the Cliff. Ultimately, she proposes the bicycle as a foundation to help retired athletes resolve lingering loss of identity, mental health issues such as anxiety disorders and depression, and failure to change diet and exercise habits when they transition out of a performance-purposed existence.

Always An Athlete is a guidebook for athletes, fans and executives in the sports industries alike.

"I promise you the game will pay you back if you continue with a high level of character and a high level of performance"

establish a plan

move forward with confidence

Don't go solo

At its heart, the Always An Athlete movement is about taking the best parts of our athletic identity and figuring out not how to get that back or make it our end-all-be-all, but instead adapting our athletic identity as a single part of our overall identity.

balance is key

It is important for an athlete to grow and evolve – to accept  new identities and embrace life’s next challenges. But, your athletic achievement and experience is a part of your story as a person and an important part of who you are and how you have developed your work ethic and character.

what brings you joy

As an athlete, you have already proven you capable of great things in a variety of areas of life – this is now the opportunity to identify your strengths and your passions.

explore early and often

One of the most important steps an athlete can do, well in advance of leaving sport, to think about what could be next for them. Early preparation for your next steps is critical.

in the media

"With thousands of athletes graduating each year, hundreds more medically retiring and others finishing their final Olympic run, the identity crisis they can go through leaving a sport has remained one of the best kept secrets in sport culture. The struggle has become so widespread, not just in athletes, that researchers have given it a name: ‘Identity foreclosure.’ It’s the psychological equivalent of losing a loved one, but very few know a healthy way to grieve it.


"Football becomes your identity. Your family buys into it, your friends buy into it, the alums from your college buy into it. And then it is gone. You are gone."

George Koonce,
former NFL player
who attempted suicide,
ESPN column