Meaning in life of elite athletes: A person-oriented study

Keywords: elite sport, meaning, satisfaction with life, purpose



The concept of meaning in life has gained significant attention in psychology research in recent years due to its correlational relationship with physical and mental well-being (i.e., objective and subjective health measures, e.g., Steger, 2012). While recent attention has been directed toward this concept in sport psychology using qualitative research methods (e.g., Ronkainen et al., 2015), quantitative investigations into the specific sources of meaning engaged by athletes are notably scarce. This study (1) compares athletes with the general population and (2) employs a person-oriented approach to identify distinct profiles of athletes’ meaning in life and the sources they predominantly tap into.


A sample of 589 elite athletes from Switzerland (50.9% women, 49.1% men; Mage = 24.86 years, SD = 5.09) participated in this study. Utilizing the Meaning and Purpose Scales (MAPS; Schnell & Danbolt, 2023), participants also provided contextual information about their life situations. The athletes were compared with the general population using t-tests. To identify profiles within the athlete population, we employed a latent profile analysis.


Compared to the general population, athletes exhibit heightened meaningfulness and lower crisis of meaning and prioritise different sources of meaning. Athletes were higher in Growth and Community and lower in Faith, Sustainability and Security. The analysis yielded a three-profile solution based on theoretical considerations and statistical criteria: (1) athletes with below-average meaning in life and sources (n = 127), (2) athletes with above-average meaning in life and faith (n = 109), (3) athletes with above-average meaning in life with balanced sources (n = 353). Athletes in profiles 2 and 3 were characterized by elevated levels of meaningfulness and sources of meaning, and demonstrated greater life satisfaction and self-esteem, relative to the profile with below-average meaning in life and sources.


The identified relationships with key mental health constructs align with qualitative findings emphasizing the centrality of meaningfulness in athletes’ lives. On a nomothetic level, elite athletes indicate a high degree of meaningfulness (compared to the population), however, there is a high degree of heterogeneity within the sample, which is why group-specific analysis (i.e., LPA) could help understanding meaning and its sources in elite athletes. In the future this approach could be useful to tailor programs aimed at cultivating meaning in life of elite athletes.


Ronkainen,  N.  J., Tikkanen,  O., Littlewood,  M., & Nesti,  M.  S. (2015). An existential perspective on meaning, spirituality and authenticity in athletic careers. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 7(2), 253–270.

Schnell,  T., & Danbolt,  L.  J. (2023). The Meaning and Purpose Scales (MAPS): Development and multi-study validation of short measures of meaningfulness, crisis of meaning, and sources of purpose. BMC Psychology, 11(1), Article 304.

Steger,  M.  F. (2012). Experiencing meaning in life—Optimal functioning at the nexus of well-being, psychopathology, and spirituality. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The Human Quest for Meaning: Theories, Research, and Applications (2nd ed., pp.  165–184). Routledge.

How to Cite
Schmid, M. J., Oblinger-Peters, V., Örencik, M., Hlasová, H., Schmid, J., Conzelmann, A., & Ronkainen, N. J. (2024). Meaning in life of elite athletes: A person-oriented study. Current Issues in Sport Science (CISS), 9(2), 003.