An athlete's experience learning and incorporating mindfulness and self-compassion in a high performance sport context


For psychological skills to have performance benefit they must be successfully integrated into the training and competition context. Using a case study approach and a phenomenological orientation (Ravn & Christensen, 2014), we explored the experiences of an elite female athlete engaging in a mindfulness and self-compassion training program. Our purpose was to better understand, from an athlete's perspective, the process of learning and integrating mindfulness and self-compassion into an existing high performance training and competition routine. The six week program involved daily skills practice and weekly consulting sessions related to applying mindfulness and self-compassion to training and competition. Skill development and integration were a focus. One-on-one interviews (incorporated pre-, mid-, and post-program, and after the next major competition) provided a medium to explore the athlete's experience and a means for evaluation and self-reflection. Prior to the program, the athlete articulated goals around improving attention, awareness, emotion regulation, and management of other's expectations. At the mid-point, she shared her new perspectives around the impact of emotions and the acceptance of a different approach and cited an improvement in accountability, self-reliance, and awareness. By program conclusion, she perceived more adaptive emotion regulation and increased acceptance of emotion. Ongoing program evaluation supported implementation, identified facilitators (e.g., coach involvement, connection to established skills), and addressed challenges (e.g., time, frustration, distracting environment) identified by the athlete. This case study provides insights into the development and use of self-compassion and mindfulness in high performance sport, and may help inform strategies to support integration of such skills.