How do athletes shift from self-critical to self-compassionate approaches within elite sport contexts?


Self-compassion has been associated with greater psychological well-being and numerous adaptive responses in sport (Ferguson et al., 2015; Mosewich et al., 2013). Despite the well-documented benefits of adopting a self-compassionate approach, little is known about how athletes practically execute taking a more self-compassionate perspective in competitive settings. The purpose of this study was to explore how elite athletes shifted from a self-critical to a self-compassionate approach in managing challenges and concerns in sport. This study also investigated the barriers and facilitators athletes faced when practically integrating self-compassion within sport competition and training. A framework for interpretive description informed this study (Thorne, 2016). Eleven elite athletes (6 men and 5 women), who identified as being previously overly self-critical but currently manage criticism more effectively, participated in one-on-one semi-structured interviews. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using six phases for data analysis outlined by Thorne (2016). Through engaging in thematic analysis (Thorne, 2016), five themes were developed to encompass participants' shifts toward self-compassion: (1) the role of the coach, (2) the influence of other athletes, (3) the impact of important others, (4) developing balanced self-awareness, and (5) maintaining an accepting mindset. Within each theme, elements that foster and inhibit athlete integration of a self-accepting approach are outlined. This study provides key insight into how athletes have practically integrated self-compassion within sport contexts, and may help facilitate more positive and adaptive experiences for future athletes, as well as guide future intervention efforts.

Acknowledgments: Supported by the University of Alberta Roger S Smith Undergraduate Research Award