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Posted 06/06/2022 in Category 1

Imposter syndrome in sport – Feeling like you do not belong

Imposter syndrome in sport – Feeling like you do not belong

Imposter syndrome in sport describes high-achieving people who fear being exposed as imposter. These high achieving people have achieved objective success but have not internalised that success and fear being exposed as a fraud. So what is going on here? Why can’t people with achievements recognise them for what they are? It’s not that such people who have achieved success cannot recognise it, rather they see their success as luck or the help received from others. Any set back along the way highlights their professional shortfall. 

Perhaps we all fall somewhere on the continuum, but some will endure more than others because of this persistent and mistaken belief. This case is more real than we might think when we consider the case of cyclist – Sir Bradley Wiggins – a year before he won the Tour de France. Sir Bradley Wiggins had won Olympic gold medals, but did not consider his achievements worthy, so sought to emulate another elite athlete.

“The way I handled everything was a complete disaster and a huge lesson. The person I became last year, I was a nightmare to live with. I was so far away from me, as far away as I could possibly have got. I kept thinking I had to become this Lance character to get the most out of myself. I didn't have a day off last year, or if I did, I felt terribly guilty. I'd feel fat at the end of the day. I'd be looking in the mirror constantly, pulling my shirt up to check, slightly anorexic. Never mind the fact that I was dying in the house. I was sat on the porch wasting away with Cath [his wife] telling me, 'Eat something for God's sake'. I made the weight but I was absolutely miserable. It's all taught me that you are what you are, and you perform how you do because of that. I became a boring f***er, really. I need to be happy and I need to be myself”

This case of imposter syndrome in sport presented by Sir Bradley Wiggins shows us how, despite our achievements, we can feel a fraud or imposter as the person we are and seek solace in an imitation game that rarely satisfies. Sport is an unstable environment with competitors, injuries, loss of confidence and self-belief, and so many other factors that derail the continued success of an athlete. When an athlete asks: How good am I? We hear a nonsensical response: “Only as good as your last game, race, etc. But this statement is a fallacy and a misrepresentation of achievement and the rise, fall and rise again of athletes worldwide. 

What we need to do is take stock of who we are and where we feel we are in the world of sport. We need to recognise achievements, internalise them and focus on next steps if they are necessary for us. Like Sir Bradley, we too can learn to trust ourselves and be happy being who are without ridicule or misrepresentation and minimisation. By doing so we can address any feelings of imposter syndrome in sport we may have. 


Slank, S. (2019). Rethinking the Imposter Phenomenon. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 22(1), 205–218. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-019-09984-8.

'The person I became last year was a nightmare to live with'; After taking life too seriously, Bradley Wiggins now wants to be himself with a focus on Olympic gold, he tells Matt Dickinson. The Times (London)April 23, 2011 Saturday, Edition 1, National Editioncopyblocked="">sport psychologist who can help with your mental game.