An examination of the development and use of self-compassion to cope with adversity in sport in female varsity athletes


Self-compassion is an emotion regulation strategy that encourages the practice of mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. It involves understanding adverse experiences using a broader perspective, seeking connections with others, and directing kindness towards the self (Neff, 2003). Self-compassion may be an important attribute for sport performance and coping (Mosewich, Crocker, Kowalski, & DeLongis, 2013). In order to understand more about self-compassion in sport, this study addressed two research questions: (1) How did female varsity athletes with high self-compassion perceive they became self-compassionate? (2) How did these athletes approach adversity in a self-compassionate manner? One hundred and fourteen female varsity athletes completed the Self-Compassion Scale (Neff, 2003). Ten participants (Mean age = 19.9 years) with high self-compassion participated in individual semi-structured interviews. Data were analysed using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (Smith & Osborn, 2003; Smith, Flowers & Larkin, 2009). Analysis was verified through a member-checking interview. Results indicated that parents and personal experiences influenced the development of self-compassion. Specifically, parents provided emotional support, allowing participants to seek and receive help. Parents taught their children to react to adversity with self-kindness, and to put their experiences into perspective. Participants also learned to be self-compassionate from their own experiences and through the observation of others' experiences in sport. Participants used self-compassion to cope with adversity in sport by applying aspects of mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. These findings provide insights into the development and use of self-compassion in sport, and may help inform the development of educational initiatives to promote self-compassion in young athletes.