When Sociologists talk of “Identity,” they are speaking of the way in which a person recognizes themselves within the larger group of surrounding humans. As Angie Andriot and Timothy J. Owens highlight in their Oxford writings on identity, “Personal identity is what makes every person unique, defining them through their specific biographies (e. g. , name, birthplace), unique characteristics (e. g. , intelligent, athletic), role identities (e. g. daughter, employee), and particular combination of private and public experiences. ” (Androit and Owens, 2012) When I consider my own personal identity, the overriding visualizations are that I m a sports-loving, hockey-playing undergrad (soon to be grad student). To look deeper into how my identity has evolved into this current state, one would have to trace the path of my journey through this life, and may be extremely surprised as to how obtuse my experience has been. Sports have always been a huge part of my life.
Some of my earliest memories are watching the 49ers win Superbowl after Superbowl with my grandpa, my great-grandpa taking me to Candlestick to watch the Giants… not win pennant after pennant, but there was nothing better than hanging out with Gramps and eating hotdogs. I always dreamed about being a Quarterback, what a great position to play. I suppose that is one of the first instances where I knew I wanted to be the “leader” of the team. Rightly so, my first favorite piece of clothing was a tiny Joe Montana jersey.
My adopted father, David, would spend hours throwing the football up and down the street with me and my brother, while teaching us how to run the button-hook from tree to mailbox. The simple game of playing catch in the road was instrumental in my growing to love playing sports, as is seen in many other families. In his study into the influence of family in dolescent sports, Jean Cote explains, “Parents of children in the sampling years were responsible for initially getting their children interested in sport and allowing them to sample a wide range of enjoyable activities without focusing on intense training. (Cote, 1999, 401)
Unfortunately my self identity as a child and my aspirations of being a leader were not quite in sync with those dreams. In middle school and into high school my identity would have more closely aligned with the extreme introvert. Even though I was playing little-league baseball, I did not feel comfortable in he “spotlight” situation, and would cringe if the game winning play were ever in my hands. Although I did have teammates, none of them were classmates, and other students did not seem to gravitate towards me.
Colin E. Campbell explained the consequences of these types of interactions in his article for the Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, “Because [they were] not allowed to be a functional part of the team, s/he will not develop the interpersonal skills needed to function properly at work with people in authority positions or with subordinates later in his/ her life. ” (Campbell, 2003, 59) You can say me and he “manager” of the team had quite a few disagreements about me being forced into right field. Baseball only lasted a few years until I made up my mind to quit.
To make matters worse, my brother had decided that he was going to rebel against the establishment so extremely that it would have brought a proud tear to Marx’s eye. So now that all of my parents attention and energy were on my brother, I was sort of pushed aside as an afterthought. I was too tough to not seem distressed, but too timid to attempt to get in any kind of trouble, so there really was nothing to strive for. It was the worst combination for an dolescent boy to have. I wasn’t playing sports and I wasn’t doing my homework, but hey… who cares, right?
Fortunately for me there was a bright spot, and it involved hockey. It was 1991 and I was nine or ten years old. My uncle had just bought into the San Jose Sharks mania. He bought season tickets for two seats the first season the team played at the Cow Palace in Daly City. As fate would have it, my aunt could not accompany him to their second home game, and I got the call up. Up to that point I had only been to baseball games, and they would forever seem “ho-hum” after that first hockey game.
The tmosphere was electric, the players moved faster than anything I had ever seen. You mean to tell me they can smash each other on the walls, AND fight after it happens?! ” My identity as a hockey fan started with a big bang and has grown more and more fervent ever since. The next day I had to become a hockey player, I felt it in my blood. I mowed lawns and dug out weeds for a few days until I was able to get a lift to Big 5 Sporting Goods to get my first “twig. ” I flew from the car into the garage and tied up my super sweet quads (oh yes, before rollerblades) and off to the tennis courts I went. I spent ountless hours skating, falling, stick-handling, shooting, and mostly pissing off the tennis players.
Sarah J. Donaldson and Kevin R. Ronan comment on the positives of adolescent sporting activity in their article for the journal Adolescence, “Current research suggests that sustained exercise may also enhance psychological or emotional well-being as it is often called, and therefore can be used an an additional therapy in the treatment of some psychological disorders. ” (Donaldson and Ronan, 2006) While it brought me the relief from the stresses at home that I desperately needed, there were no real hockey leagues in the South Bay during the 90’s, apart from Vallco Ice, and it would take years of mowing lawns to save up for those kind of rink fees.
However, one of the greatest short moments of my life was about to come and go in what seemed like an instant. Halfway through my Freshman year, my parents decided it was time for a change of scenery to try and reform my brother’s mindset. We packed up the house and moved to Boise, Idaho. As if starting at a new school wasn’t going to be hard enough for an introverted recluse such as myself, I had to sit in classes with this new group of students for the remainder of all eleven days f the semester.
My grades and social skills were struggling, just as Edward Seidman, LaRue Allen, and their team described in their article for the journal Child Development, “In addition, transition-associated school and peer changes and, in particular, changes in daily hassles with the school were associated with changes in the academic dimensions of the self-system, that is, academic efficacy expectations, class preparation, and GPA. ” (Seidman and Allen, 2008) Just then, as it seemed like things could not get any worse, I overheard a group of classmates discussing their hockey game from the previous eekend.
This chance encounter would transform my identity forever, not just as a fan of hockey, but into a hockey player. After a bit of convincing, my parents signed the paperwork and I was on a team, a real hockey team! There is little I can do to explain the intense pride I felt the first time I slid on that matching jersey. My first few shifts were as awkward as one can imagine, but every time my skates hit the ground I could feel myself getting more and more confident. Within two or three games, I actually felt like an athlete, competing at a level that I was (strangely) proud of.
As Leanne C. Findlay describes in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence while studying the connections between sport and self-esteem, “Sport orientation was found to moderate the relation between athleticism and general self-esteem. ” (Findlay, 2009) This confidence began to exhibit throughout my entire life. I began to carry myself much “taller” in the halls, and I was making friends and spending lots of time with teammates and other students. This was the “real me,” I connected my entire identity to that of playing hockey. It was as if this sport could fill the gap that I was missing at home; he feeling of connectedness.
Our team began to perform extremely well, and we were invited to play in travel tournaments ranging from Spokane, Washington to Nashville, Tennessee. Life could not have been going better, it was as if I had finally found my niche. Then disaster erupted. Like so many times before, my brother decided it would be a great time to get arrested, bringing one of my dad’s custom knives to school. He must have sensed that our parents were showing someone other than him a bit of attention for once. So eight months after moving to Boise, we were on our way back to Livermore, California.
Enrolling in the third high school in less than three years will really put a damper on whatever progress a kid can make during these insane years. Livermore High had a rodeo team but no hockey programs, and so once again I found myself with no real outlet for a stress-dump. The rest of high school was spent barely listening to teachers and comfort eating every bit of junk food that came into the house. Not having an athletic source of exercise was starting to really hurt my health. I ballooned up to 285 pounds and slipped more and more into a state of disregard for the future.
My identity had become the “fat kid. My obesity kept me from feeling any sense of comfort anymore, and if would have asked for help, I may have been diagnosed with depression, and who knows what kind of strange pharmaceuticals I would be on now. For the next ten or so years I bounced between California and Idaho. Couch surfing and scrounging up change here or there to satisfy my cigarette addiction, every once in awhile collecting enough to grab a bean burrito from Taco Bell. Rock bottom came when, after having moved back to California for this last time, a good friend, which I ad know for a long, time basically told me they were giving up on me.
They could not handle to see me just throw away my life, I mean hell.. I was only 27. That phone call changed everything. I took a good hard look in the mirror and decided to get my shit together. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I knew I was on the road to diabetes and heart disease, and I figured that the work it would take must be easier than eating a whole extra-large pizza for dinner. I decided that I was going to enroll at San Jose City College to pursue a degree in History, and eventually become a high school teacher. My identity was now slowly morphing towards being a college student.
The more that I was around other students, the more I wanted to get in shape. As luck would ? have it I met Chris, a classmate in my Political Science class, who was not only a hockey player, but a personal trainer. We went out and played a pick-up game at Silvercreek Sportsplex, and man did that hurt! I made the promise then and there that I was going to work as hard as I had to, to get back into playing shape, and I was going to re-conquer that rink. For the next year and a half Chris beat the hell out of me in his gym. I did burpies until | puked.
Seeing me walking (well waddling) to class every day was probably quite entertaining to other students around campus. However, like the butterfly breaking open the cocoon of the caterpillar, I emerged from that garage at 29 in better shape than I had been at any point in my life, weighing in at a 185. Losing all of that weight and starting to dabble with hockey again had reignited my confidence to extreme levels never before experienced. Being able to knock out a couple semesters at SJCC with a 4. 0 did not hurt either. My life seemed poised for an epic comeback worthy of the Rocky soundtrack.
The past three years have been more incredible than I could have imagined. The confidence that I gained through playing hockey and sports such as weightlifting, has culminated with me being voted in as team captain of our hockey team, being elected Vice President of the Phi Alpha Theta Historic Honor Society, and deciding to go on to graduate school, after next semester, for my M. A. in History. My Identity has evolved over the past thirty-three years, moving away from being the introverted, timid, defeatist, and moving towards being the sports-loving, hockey-playing, undergrad that is alive and healthy today.