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  • Writer's pictureJeff Butorac

Identifying as an Athlete

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

I have been lucky enough to know Jessie for a long time. Even at a young age she had such a great attitude and focus about her, that you almost knew it was a guarantee that she was going to do something amazing!... And she definitely has.

After becoming 2010 Sports Illustrated Kid of the year, she went on to play 4 years of varsity tennis at the University of North Carolina, where she received her degree at that time. Currently, she is playing playing varsity hockey at the University of Connecticut while she is pursuing her master degree.

While all of this is very impressive, what is even more impressive to me is that she always has been and continues to be a kind and humble person. It's been fun to watch her develop as an athlete and as a person.

I hope you enjoy her story!


Author: Jessie Aney

People definitely always saw me as an athlete. I played four years of college tennis at UNC and 1 year of college hockey at UConn. Sometimes when you’re an athlete, people tell you not to place your identity in your athletics. Here, I want to talk about how and why I identify as an athlete.

But first, to clarify, I want to warn against passively placing your identity in sports. By this, I mean identifying with athletic success. I did this for way too long in my athletic career—I mean, it’s what everyone else seemed to care about. And it was pretty easy because I kept getting accolades.

But after a while, I felt empty. Winning was a relief and losing was a fear.

When I was a sophomore playing tennis in college, I should have been thrilled with my athletic career. I was #1 in the nation in doubles, won a national title, and reached top 10 in the nation in singles.

But I realized that my favorite part of college matches was after I had already won. Playing became stressful—only winning was fun. Playing my match was just a means to an end. I wanted to have a good record, play higher in the line-up, get ranked higher, and win a national championship.

It’s easy to unconsciously identify with success. And it’s often hard to recognize when you’re doing it.

But I’ve learned how to identify as an athlete on my own terms. For me, identifying as an athlete means I embrace my love for playing sports. This way of being an athlete is 100% within my control. And I feel so much better about myself—I feel strong, confident, and competitive.

Every day, I communicate with myself to ensure that I enjoy playing. I tell myself things like:

I play sports because I love playing.

I love getting better.

I appreciate my teammates.

I’m growing as an athlete every day.

I’m relaxed and focused when I compete.

If I don’t set my own intentions, there’s a lot of noise.

This year while playing college hockey, I got benched for the first time in my career. Well, worse than that. I didn’t even get to sit on the bench. And I hated it—I didn’t get to play! It would’ve been pretty easy to spiral into a lot of negative emotions.

But I realized that my identity didn’t have to suffer because of my position on the team. Despite being a healthy scratch, I could identify as an athlete. In fact, I could enjoy practice even more. I could appreciate my teammates more. I could skate faster in practice. I could focus on getting better at hockey every time I touched the ice. Every day that I play sports, I get to be the athlete I want to be.

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