Recently, I was researching Erikson and his eight stages of development while working on an article for a new baby product and realized OMG! It has been studied for generations that it takes a human a lifetime to go through each of these stages and I realized it takes just ONE RACE for a triathlete to pass through them all. Trust me, just keep reading and you will see…
The Eight Stages of Human Development and the Triathlete
Erikson proved that in the first year of life, we develop optimism, trust, confidence, and security. An infant develops this with their mother and father. Now, let’s reflect on the triathlete. The triathlete develops this with themselves and/or their coach. They arrive at the race optimistic that they are prepared. The training is done and the nutrition plan is in place or as I’ve heard many times, the hay is in the barn. They must go through this stage with trust and confidence that they are ready for the race; trust in self and/or coach.
This one is a good one and you will all be able to relate. This is when the child builds self-esteem and autonomy. And for the triathlete who has learned to swim/bike/run, they are sure of themselves and carry themselves with pride. For a few of you, however, the “terrible twos” do develop and you exhibit some stubbornness and temper tantrums – you know who you are! For the rest, now that you trust in your preparation/training, you awake race day morning sure of yourself and the skill level you’ve achieved.
I hate to go there, but…This is also the muscular-anal stage. YES, we’re talking about those pre-race port-a-potties. Erikson has this one down pat. It is a human stage of will and autonomy vs. shame. It is the beginning of independence. As a triathlete, you must master that pre-race routine or there will be shame on the race course. All we are saying is DO NOT wear a white tri-suit – PLEASE!
At this stage, Erikson tells us we must let a child develop and show a positive outlook for all their decisions. They must feel a sense of accomplishment and ask “why” a lot. So, triathletes, no matter how crazy your endeavor is, we remain supportive and give you a big kiss and wish you a great race. You did it – you made it to the starting line. And, you certainly do have a sense of purpose and great faith that you will cross the finish line!
This is a very social stage of development, where we develop feelings of competence and self-esteem. Our most significant relationships are with our peers and not our parents. So, triathlete, here you are at the swim start. You look around at all the other wetsuit, up-before-dawn, crazy people, standing around you with the same thought going through their minds; wondering how they tack up to other age groupers. You are now focused on your fellow age groupers and not your coach.
Erikson says that at this stage, it’s important that the teacher give the children room to grow and not allow them to feel inferior. There you all are, lined up in your age group, ready, yet nervous at the swim start. Volunteers and spectators are all around you, supporting you and cheering for you. The encouragement is all around you.
Congratulations, you have reached the teenage stage of your race. Erikson defined this as the stage of role confusion that needs to come out as a source of identity. You are well into your swim and questioning yourself. Why did I sign up for this race? How do I really fit into this whole triathlon world? OMG I still have 2 miles to swim. I can do this. In reality, much like a teenager, you feel all alone out on that swim course.
Erikson believed that it is a time parents need to step back and allow the teen to explore, but support this time of exploration. So, we give you fidelity. We give you alone time with yourself out in that open water. Think about the fact you trained, you registered, and now the race is all about you. We are here to support you as your loved ones, like parents to a teenager.
Erikson defined this as a stage of intimacy vs. isolation. You have entered adulthood, when we date, marry, and build a family; our friendships are important to us. If we are successful in this stage, we develop love and intimacy. Thus, I bring you a triathlete’s first and only true love. The one thing they spend the most money, time, and energy on. I bring you the beloved TriBike.
Over hours and hours of working together, as in any good relationship, you have developed into one. You have fought over flat tires, you have resized yourselves for a better fit, and you have spent endless hours with you on top…sorry, I had to go there. But, in reality, this is 112 miles of alone time. Yes, you hear the supporters and volunteers cheering you on, but you can’t isolate yourself, because you are with your bike; your true love. Even if the bike portion may not be your favorite part, it is who you have spent the most money, time, and energy with. Enjoy the ride.
Erikson said that during this stage of care, we are in midlife and we either enter generativity or stagnation. You are now on the run. You are settling into the 26 miles you have ahead of you. Erikson says that during this stage, if you are not comfortable with your way of life, you become regretful about your decisions and start to feel useless.
As a triathlete, the run course can do that to you. But, with the proper training and support on the race course, you start to realize you are really 2/3 of the way done. You settle into your stride and find joy in the other athletes around you and stick to your plan and pace to get to that finish line. Erikson stated that it is a time to enjoy life; enjoy raising our children and all that we do. Your body may be tired, but don’t regret for one minute your decision to get out there and get this done. Take time to enjoy all that’s around you.
You did it- you reached the finish line. Erikson’s theory and triathlons go hand-in-hand here; a time of ego integrity vs. despair. You got it done; but most athletes have both feelings. In life, this is the “last chapter” of an individual. Those of us who will reach this place with ego-integrity will be pleased with life and all that we have filled it with; happy with the ups and downs and all they have taught us along the way. Wisdom will come out of it all. For those who choose not to enjoy and learn, they will feel despair.
For the triathlete, there is a little of both. You reach that finish line or you don’t and plan for the next race; reality, it happens. Your ego is huge, yet in the excitement of the minute and exhaustion, many athletes have a bit of despair. They realize they did not take time to enjoy the race. They worried too much about time and the competition from the others in their age group. Have some wisdom in this final stage and enjoy the moment. Look around and be proud of yourself and all the others that got you to both the start and the finish line. Impart your wisdom to others at their first race and plan your next race.
So, as we look at the stages of human development, we also find that each race is like going through all of that in one day. It just goes to show you the magnitude of the accomplishment of a triathlete and their family. So, no matter how tired you are, how fed up you are with training, or how yucky that blister is at mile 21, slow down to a walk, talk to a fellow athlete on the course, and just enjoy your day and the awesomeness of being a triathlete…
Sherry is one of the TriWivesClub and LifeDoneWell co-founders and contributes to multiple blogs. She is a former co-owner of the California Apparel News and had a career in the healthcare industry. Her passions include traveling, real food, the environment, and animal rescue/welfare. She lives a healthy lifestyle and has been a vegetarian since 1987. She and her husband are parents to two rescue pups and reside in Connecticut.