Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences


Sport and Exercise Psychology

Committee Chair

Jack C Watson, II

Committee Co-Chair

Malayna Bernstein

Committee Member

Jay Coakley

Committee Member

Dana K Voelker

Committee Member

Samuel Zizzi


Although athletes who endanger the health and well-being of others are publicly shamed, those who endanger their own health and well-being in an effort to embody the sport ideal are often praised. Athletes are expected to distinguish themselves from their peers, make sacrifices for the good of the game, play through pain and injury, and push physical and mental limits on the path to achieve their goals (Hughes & Coakley, 1991). Collectively, these expectations are known as the "sport ethic" and while they are considered part of sport culture, athletes who overconform to them may engage in behaviors that risk their health and well-being including disordered eating, chronic overtraining, and substance use. Although some research has investigated overconforming athletes' behaviors, overconformity to the sport ethic remains largely under researched (Coakley, 2015), despite an increasing prevalence of overconforming behaviors in the college athlete population. In an effort to examine athlete identity and deviant overconformity, the current study was designed within a psychocultural life story framework (Peacock & Holland, 1993), using a constructivist-interpretivist paradigm (Ponterotto, 2005). Three collegiate wrestlers were interviewed using a life story interview protocol (adapted from McAdams & Guo, 2014) and a semi-structured interview. Participants also completed the Athlete Identity Measurement Scale (Brewer & Cornelius, 2001), the Social Motivation Orientation in Sport Scale (Allen, 2003), and a brief written expression exercise to provide context for participant narratives. Data were analyzed using provisional (Saldana, 2014) and narrative coding (Smith & Sparkes, 2009b) and represented through the use of a word cloud (McNaught & Lam, 2010) and creative nonfiction (Caulley, 2008; Sparkes & Smith, 2014). Participants described a process of overconformity to the sport ethic that supported and extended previous research (Donnelly & Young, 1988; Hughes & Coakley, 1991). Results indicated that the wrestlers in the current study believed that, because athletes must push boundaries in order to find success, they cannot ever go "too far". Moreover, they reported that their athlete identity held significant personal and social meaning to the extent that they willingly engaged in behaviors associated with overconformity in previous literature (e.g., Atkinson, 2011; Johns, 1998; Waldron & Krane, 2005). Recommendations for future research in this line of inquiry include similar studies with other sport populations (e.g., other sports, other competitive levels, other cultural backgrounds) and the development of a measure to identify athletes' degree of deviant overconformity. Practitioners may use this research to better conceptualize the health-compromising behaviors their clients use to obtain athletic success, which may improve treatment planning and outcome goals.