Unexpected, but not a surprise: How women varsity athletes high in self-compassion manage unexpected stressors surrounding competition


Athletes appraise unexpected stressors as more threatening than expected stressors (Dugdale et al., 2002) and women varsity athletes have reported experiencing a high proportion of unexpected competition-related stressors (Holt et al., 2007). Self-compassion may promote adaptive appraisals and coping in women athletes (Mosewich et al., 2018), and a self-compassionate perspective may aid athletes in navigating the experience of unexpected stressors. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore how women varsity athletes high in self-compassion manage unexpected stressors surrounding competition. Based on Self-Compassion Scale scores (Neff, 2003), seven women varsity athletes (Mage = 19.43 years, SD = 1.40 years) high in self-compassion (M = 3.83, SD = 0.48) were purposefully sampled to participate in one-on-one semi-structured interviews. Through an interpretive description framework (Thorne, 2016), four themes were developed that illustrate coping efforts: Emotion regulation (effectively controlling emotional responses to the stressor), adaptive perspective (taking a balanced, objective approach to the situation), active re-engagement (approaching and engaging with the task at hand), and learning from experience (drawing on, and learning from, past experiences). It appears that varsity women athletes with high self-compassion possess resources that enabled them to effectively cope with unexpected stressors. To support athletes in managing unexpected stressors, coaches and practitioners can encourage athletes to reflect on past experiences, support emotion regulation strategies, and foster adaptive perspectives to aid athletes in effectively engaging with and managing unexpected stressors surrounding competition.