College Adjustment Experiences of First-Year Students: Disengaged Athletes, Nonathletes, and Current Varsity Athletes

John R. Lubker and Edward F Etzel

The freshman year of college is usually acknowledged as a stressful time of social and academic adjustment. During this period, first-year students face many social and intellectual challenges. For high school athletes, the combined impact of college transition plus disengagement from sport can further complicate first-semester adjustment and may also affect first-year retention. Together, this complex phenomenon may diminish self-concept, challenge one’s felt sense of being an athlete, and elicit emotional responses usually associated with college and elite athlete disengagement resulting in a negative adjustment to the college environment. The purpose of this investigation was to examine the differences in the reported athletic identity and college adjustment patterns of first-year college males and females (N = 317) and how disengagement from sports may affect these variables. Three status groups were used in this study: disengaged athletes (DAs; n = 133), high school senior nonathletes (n = 106), and current first-year college varsity athletes (n = 78). Significant differences were observed between groups in reported level of athletic identity where disengaged high senior athletes had significantly different scores than both college athletes and high school nonathletes. This finding may warrant an investigation on how we conceptualize the terms “athlete” and “nonathlete.” The investigation into college adjustment patterns found that first-year females reported higher academic adjustment to college than males in the total sample. Specifically in the DA athlete group, significant differences in college adjustment for both gender and level of athletic identity were found. For this group, significant differences in college adjustment were found related to the nature of disengagement and perceived level of social support. Potential applications of these findings for college personnel and future directions related to research are explored.

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