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Self-compassion in Sport for Courage and Performance



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Self-Compassion in Sport for Courage and Performance
In this chapter, we discuss the relevance of self-compassion (SC) in high level sport,
with SC being particularly valuable for athletes struggling with any kind of stressful sport-
related challenges. These challenges can emerge from distressful pre-performance anxiety,
mistakes during performance, accumulated exhaustion, difficulty learning a new skill,
adaptation to a new situation or performance level and injury. Altogether, such stressful
challenges share a psychological nature that can be difficult to overcome. We offer a
conceptual understanding of how self-compassion offers a new pathway, beyond mental
toughness, to deal with such challenges. Specifically, we contend that learning how to
respond differently to psychological and emotional distress can help athletes move from a
distressed state to one more infused with courage. Integrating a self-compassionate approach
when facing sport distress, athletes are more likely to regain poise in the face of adversity
such that they can engage more adaptively.
This chapter has two main parts. The first part is primarily theoretical, in which we
introduce the SC concept and offer a brief overview of what we currently know about how a
self-compassionate approach can impact athlete experience. We next, in turn, discuss how SC
conceptually relates to Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), particularly the hexaflex
model consisting of 6 core principles, and how SC can contribute to the ACT processes within
the sport context. We argue for the importance of offering this SC approach as an alternative
to the current mental toughness approach that directs the athlete to either ignore or change
difficult emotional states. When in great distress, we contend that the current mental
toughness approach simply doesn’t work (Hayes, 2004). We contend that it is possible for
athletes to cultivate an approach that, instead, leads them to directly face and tolerate (i.e.,
accept) such adversity. More specifically, when feeling fear the athlete can cultivate a
courageous response, which includes experiencing and tolerating (i.e., accepting) difficult
emotions and being motivated to give themselves what they need to stay engaged. For some
athletes it may be necessary for them to offer themselves a sport specific SC response to their
sport related distress. This would be in contrast to avoiding the situation (e.g., giving up;
skipping practice) or over-engaging with the distress (e.g., throwing a fit and allowing
themselves to get distracted from focusing on performance). We will specifically explore how
SC can help the athlete cultivate courage in order to both tolerate the stress and choose
behaviors that matter (e.g., keep doing their best even when they are getting passed in a race).
The second part of the chapter will shed light on how SC can be applied in a sports.
We provide three case examples that showcase how SC is used to enhance athlete tolerance of
distress, an approach that helps the athlete more wisely to deal with sport distress (i.e., make
value based behavioral choices). More specifically, the case examples show how SC can help
(1) prepare for a game when experiencing problematic competitive anxiety,
(2) deal with failure/handle challenging performance moments while
competing/training, and
(3) cope with injury/accumulated fatigue/exhaustion.
Finally, the chapter will conclude with a list of practical SC based strategies that can be
integrated into sport psychology practice, which are drawn from those strategies offered
throughout the case examples.
Part 1: (Theoretical) background
Concept of Self-Compassion
Compassion is a Buddhist concept, in its origins, and researchers Paul Gilbert and
Kristen Neff have shaped the discussion about its conceptualization in western psychology
research and therapy. Gilbert (e.g., 2010) has an evolutionary perspective on compassion. He
postulates three interacting affect regulation systems, which can contribute to healthy
functioning of the individual when flexibly interacting. The (1) threat and protection system,
which evolved to deal with threats, activates survival mechanisms and is closely associated to
negative emotions like anger, fear, disgust and shame. For example, fear motivates behaviors
of moving toward safety. The other two systems are associated with positive emotions. The
(2) drive and excitement system motivates behaviors to satisfy rewards or resources like food,
sex, possessions, success, status, or power. Finally, the (3) contentment, soothing, and
affiliation system is active to relieve stress, to promote sympathy, or empathic compassion.
For example, the individual may be motivated to give themselves what they need when
feeling. Gilbert (2010) assumes that self-compassionate thoughts and images stimulate the
contentment, soothing, and affiliation system and therefore inhibit the threat and protection
Gilberts affective regulation system model suggests that when the individual is
functioning well there is a flexible movement between these main emotional drives that help
the individual thrive. However, when individuals experience shame and self-criticism, they
can become inflexibly caught in a spiral of the threat and protection system (Gilbert, 2009).
In the second part of this chapter we will explore, practically, the areas in which athletes can
become de-railed from optimizing performance or recovery due to experiencing excessive and
intolerable threat (i.e., sport distress) and how a SC approach can help move the athlete more
efficiently back to the drive and excitement system.
Neff further support’s Gilbert’s conceptualization by describing SC as a healthy and
benevolent attitude toward oneself, specifically when one is suffering in some way. Neff’s
conceptualization includes being both aware of one’s own suffering and concurrently, being
driven to do something about it (e.g., give oneself what you need so you can rebound and get
focused back onto what truly matters in a game, practice or recovery period).
SC is conceptualized with three facets—self-kindness, common humanity, and
mindfulness (Neff, 2003a, 2003b).
1. Self-kindness means being kind and understanding to oneself (even when feeling
inadequate), wishing for one’s own well-being, and having an accepting, non-
judgmental attitude toward oneself. Spontaneous judgment is a common,
automatic experience that occurs. The “non-judgment” is not about having an
absence of spontaneous self-criticism (e.g., “You idiot, you never do things right”).
But, instead the SC includes a kind response to all suffering that is occurring –
including spontaneous, harsh self-criticisms and judgments.
2. Common humanity is defined as being conscious that experiences are shared by all
human beings rather than the individual feeling unique and disconnected from
others when they fail. With a SC approach, failures do not have to be something
that causes isolation, but instead can interconnect and unite us with others.
3. Mindfulness, when applied to personal suffering, includes being mindful of one’s
own suffering, conscious of one’s psychological pain and taking a well-balanced
approach to negative experiences so that painful feelings are neither avoided nor
A well-balanced SC approach includes offering oneself some shade of kindness – which
necessarily includes acceptance of what is occurring, understanding that others suffer too and
taking some action to help soothe the distress (e.g., bringing to mind that you are still loved
even after failing).
Brief of overview current state of research
Röthlin, Horvath, and Birrer (under review) reviewed the current SC literature within
competitive sport. Qualitative research indicates that athletes expect some benefit from a SC
approach, such as an enhanced ability to deal with failures and emotions. However, at the
same time they are skeptical about engaging in SC, mainly due to their assumption that with
enhanced SC intrinsic motivation would, in turn, plummet. Consequently, sport
psychologists’ should be aware of the fact that athletes may be skeptical toward integrating a
SC approach. Other common misgivings about SC is that when implemented, is a form of
self-pity, a form of making excuses and a weakness. Quantitative research indicates that SC is
beneficial for athletes’ well-being and their ability to deal with sport adversities. These
conclusions are mainly drawn from correlational studies, due to lack of intervention and
longitudinal studies. There exists a paucity of theoretical or conceptual models of how self-
compassion relates to sport performance and subsequent lack of related research. In this
chapter, we therefore aim to provide a link between SC and an existing and closely related
model, namely ACT, which may help improving future research.
Self-Compassion and ACT
We begin by considering how SC relates to the six ACT processes (i.e., present
moment attention, defusion, acceptance, self-as context, values clarification, committed
action, see Chapter 1 for a detailed description). We will consider both where SC overlaps
with and is distinct from the ACT processes. Please refer to Table 1 below for a brief
comparison of each of the six ACT process and how it aligns with Neff’s conceptualization of
Table 1: Comparing ACT to SC
Six ACT Processes Alignment with SC (Neff, 2003a; 2003b)
1. Mindfulness
2. Self-kindness
3. Common humanity
Present moment attention
“Consciously connecting with and engaging
with what is happening.” (Harris, 2010, p. 9)
SC necessarily includes present moment
attention. To be able to offer oneself what
one needs when suffering, first the
individual must be aware of what is
“Learning to step back and separate from our
thoughts, images and memories.”; “We see our
thoughts for what they are – nothing more or
less than words or pictures.” (Harris, 2010, p.
With SC, the individual will offer more
weight to the harsh thoughts creating the
suffering. So instead of automatically
disengaging from such thoughts, the
individual might instead notice the
suffering that particular thoughts instigate
and, with discernment, take action to offer
oneself soothing.
“Opening up and making room for our painful
feelings, sensations, urges and emotions…
instead of fighting them, we let them be
(Harris, 2010, p. 9-10).
Acceptance of one’s suffering is requisite
for SC. When the individual is able to
notice and accept such experience, it is
then possible to offer the self SC.
Self-as context
“The observing self versus the thinking self”
(Harris, 2010, p. 11)
With SC the individual remains in contact
with the thinking self. The individual is
not resting solely in awareness. There is a
kind, gentle response to the thinking self
in an effort to sooth or offer a sense of
“Desired qualities of ongoing action.”; “How
we want to behave” (Harris, 2010, p. 11).
With SC, the focus of kindness to self is
ultimately in service of our values.
However, in the short term, the focus of
SC may first focus only on soothing the
self, such that the individual is freed up to
act and behave in valued ways.
Committed action
“Taking effective action guided by our values”
(Harris, 2010, p. 11).
SC can be an important support for
committed action. Without SC the
individual suffering from distress could
become inflexibly stuck in a threat and
protection mode and unable to take action
toward valued goals.
ACT interventions focus on two main processes, namely, (1) developing acceptance of
unwanted private experiences which are out of personal control, and (2) commitment and
action towards living a valued life. SC and the ACT processes share the essential component
of mindfulness. Three of the six ACT processes include dimensions of being mindful:
defusion, present moment attention and acceptance. Yet SC and the ACT processes are
distinct in some ways. What is clearly distinct is that SC emphasizes kindness and normalizing
the experience of distress (i.e., self-kindness and common humanity, respectively). This
theoretical discussion suggests that SC can add value to the 6 ACT processes, particularly in
ways of accepting difficulty emotions and staying engaged with valued actions, when
experiencing personal suffering. SC can help the athletes with acceptance of difficulty,
especially in cases when there is resistance to acceptance and/or elements of harsh self-
criticism. When the athlete is able to offer themselves sport appropriate self-compassion they
may be more empowered to tolerate the typical reaction of resisting acceptance of unwanted
experience or of spontaneous harsh self-criticism. Moreover, common humanity infused with
self-kindness can often build courage and willingness to engage with what is occurring such
that the resistance to unwanted experience can gradually dissolve.
To be able to be willing to stay engaged in such activities, athletes need courage (i.e.,
feeling internal or external fear and committed to valued action). Courage in such instances
can be supported by mindfulness and self-kindness. In the following applied section, we will
offer typical situations in which the athlete experience performance dukkha, “psychic pain
and internal performance distraction that emerges as a function of the performer over-
engaging with or trying to avoid performance-related, aversive, internal experience” (Baltzell,
2016, p. 56), and ways in which we as practitioners have integrated a SC approach into our
consulting to help with such situations.
Self-compassion and courage
We contend that when performers are able to offer themselves SC when experiencing
performance dukkha, that this self-compassionate approach can help strengthen a courageous
response. Specifically, when feeling courageous the athlete is willing to stay engaged with
their valued committed action because they have a tool to help them cope with difficult
emotions - instead of giving up or shutting down.
Conceptually, how does SC help develop a courageous response when integrated with
ACT? We offer a visual explanation (see Figure 2, below). When an athlete experiencing
sport dukkha, a common reactive approach is to avoid the experience (e.g., skipping practice;
giving up) or over-engaging with the fear and distraction from the task at hand (e.g., choking).
The ACT processes would direct the athlete in distress to accept and exercise defusion,
intentionally separating from distracting, destructive thoughts, images and even memories.
Practically we have found that it is difficult for some athletes to experience such defusion,
particularly when feeling overwhelmed by performance dukkha. How do we help athletes stay
engaged with such moments of great distress, accept that the aversive experience is happening
and wisely move into the observing self?
We contend that in addition to being mindful of the suffering, an athlete exercising SC
also concurrently acknowledges that their experience is normal (i.e., common humanity) and
that they are also inclined to take action in thought or behavior to give themselves what they
need to tolerate such difficult moments of sport dukkha. When they are able to do this, they
are cultivating the possibility of acting with courage – they exhibit a willingness to stay
engaged in the difficult moment of sport dukkha and thus are present to make discerning
decisions that act in the service of their values, and choose to engage in committed action.
Paul Gilbert’s (2009) offers Compassionate Mind Training (CMT) that essentially integrates a
self-compassionate approach to cognitive-behavioral strategies, to help the individual help
themselves in moments of acute self-criticism and/or difficult emotions.
Essentially SC helps the athlete accept and/or tolerate such distracting thoughts and
emotions. Exercising SC helps the athlete strengthen their ability to accept what is occurring,
and, in turn, reducing (various forms of) avoidance (e.g., giving up). Athletes are therefore
more likely to (1) expose themselves to situations where negative emotions are likely, (2) stay
in these situations and (3) act according to their values in these situations. Exposing oneself to
difficult situations and staying in these situations can be considered an act of courage.
Figure 2
ACT and SC are like two close sisters playing doubles in tennis who share a lot of the
same history and characteristics, but they also have individual assets and strengths that can
complement each other when used strategically. ACT and SC, together, can be particularly
beneficial for athletes struggling with adversity and suffering from harsh self-criticism and
performance anxiety. Cultivating courage via SC can support athletes when dealing with
performance dukkha.
Part 2: Applying Self-Compassion in Sport
In this section, we offer three case studies. Each case study offers a way that a sport
psychologist has used SC to help an athlete (1) prepare for a game when experiencing acute
competitive anxiety, (2) deal with failure/handle a challenging performance moment, and (3)
cope with injury/accumulated fatigue/exhaustion.
Case 1: Henry dealing with Competitive Anxiety
Henry is a top ranked junior tennis player in the US, known for his cool temper and
consistent performance. When he came to see me, he reported that he had a “frozen arm”.
Henry reported that his right arm (dominant side) would be “fine” going into matches, but as
the match progressed he would lose the ability to fully swing his racquet. At first, he would
just have a subtle difficulty with the final follow through of his racquet. But often by mid-
match he would only be able to swing his racquet half way through the stroke and his frozen
arm. The freezing of the arm had begun to happen more and more frequently to the point that
he was no longer able to win matches.
At first this case was quite puzzling. As I usually do for most cases, I began asking
him to tell me how he was thinking and feeling days before competitions, the hours leading up
to the match and then what it was like to be in the match. Henry said he felt “fine”, no
problem. For the next week of practice and competition, I asked him to practice really paying
attention to how he was feeling throughout the next week.
It turned out that Henry had been automatically ignoring how he was feeling,
physically and emotionally. When I (Amy) asked him to bring mindfulness – awareness and
kindness to his experience – it quickly became apparent that Henry actually had intense levels
of fear and anxiety in preparation for matches. He particularly felt it in the pit of his stomach.
When he started checking in he became painfully aware of a very busy mind filled with dread
and fear of not playing well.
I offered Henry some psycho-education on what it is to be mindful concurrently with
what it is have self-compassion. I did not use the word, self-compassion. Instead I focused on
helping him consider what he would need to offer himself to tolerate and ultimately sooth the
discomfort of the anxiety. I suggested that giving himself what he needed would help him
cultivate courage: he would be able to tolerate what he was authentically feeling (i.e., fear). If
he could learn to give himself what he needed, I hypothesized that the fear would no longer
need to manifest into his arm freezing up. Though I will never know, it seemed to me that
because he was avoiding his emotions, his distress, that the fear was somatizing in his arm (I
have had about a dozen similar cases). Essential my task was to offer Henry new strategies of
offering himself ways to sooth the distress that he had previously not been unaware of. A few
key strategies included bringing to mind thoughts including, “It is not my fault I feel like this.”
and “Others feel like this too.” Henry and I also co-created a script that he could read through
before sleep, practices and matches that prompted the type of focus and attention that was
related to his best tennis, including some of the following phrases, “I am well prepared. See
the ball. Flow and ease. I am courageous. It’s OK to feel like this. I love this game. Just this
point. Connected and free.” Instead of waiting for the distress to arise, he could practice how
he wanted to focus his attention and behaviors.
Remarkably the freezing of the arm dissipated rapidly. Facing what was occurring
within his system (i.e., fear), which before he had handled with suppressing, could be taken
care of so it didn’t need to manifest in his body. The challenge remained that Henry had to
learn to cope with unwanted fearful thoughts and emotions that he had blocked out before.
He moved from the old ignore and suppress strategy to one of acceptance and refocusing on
valued committed action. The intervention was definitely uncomfortable for Henry, but he did
learn how to bring a mindful self-compassionate approach to his game. Once aware of what
was occurring it was essential to bring kindness to his experience such that he could cultivate
the courage necessary to stay in the game.
Case 2: Peter struggling with fear of failure
Peter is a 20-year-old volleyball player. He has always been part of the junior national
team and is now in the expanded squad of the elite national team. For the new season, he
transferred teams within the league. He was one of the key players in his original team and is
now one of the youngest players in the new team. The new team is stronger and aspires to win
the national title. Four players compete for Peter's position. Peter became insecure with his
position on the team and opted to come for sport psychological counseling.
Peter told me (PR) that he was having a lot of trouble. The coach had let him play the
most recent game and Peter really wanted to grab his chance, to prove that he was worthy to
start. Unfortunately, Peter performed poorly and was replaced by another player after just a
few points. The opposing team also consistently targeted Peter by serving to him. Receiving
the ball had actually been a consistent strength on the court, but for some time he hoped not to
receive the ball. Peter says, that he had begun to lose concentration immediately following a
mistake. This loss of attention would happen especially in games, but also in training.
Because of his recent consistent trouble with keeping his head in the game, Peter thought that
the rest of the team was genuinely wondering why he was transferred. More importantly, he
also reported being ashamed of his performance. Whenever he fails in a point, he gets caught
up in what happened and ends up thinking about it for a long time. He is angry with himself,
blames himself and questions his ability as a volleyball player.
Three main points helped Peter in our counseling sessions to deal with his
performance slump (i.e., psychoeducation, mindfulness, and self-kindness). Regarding
psychoeducation, I provided information about why people have such harsh thoughts and
feelings. I referred to Gilbert’s affect regulation model (2010) to explain the origin and
functioning of emotional processes. This knowledge helped Peter loosen the shame around his
reaction. In addition, Peter became more aware that his self-critical response, which was
making the situation even more difficult. As a result, he was open to try alternative responses.
Mindfulness helped Peter (a) to notice when unhelpful emotional and cognitive
processes were occurring, (b) to accept them and (c) to defuse from such processes. Exercises
from ACT were used to help improve Peter’s mindfulness skills. Finally I intentionally
encouraged Peter to implement self-kindness. We clarified that self-kindness does not mean
just a "pat on the back". We tried to strengthen instead an approach in which Peter could
understand and acknowledge his own difficulties and, at the same time, have the intention to
reach his potential, achieve his goals, and stand up for them. In this approach, I emphasized
the importance of Peter implementing self-kindness via using a friendly a tone with himself
and to implement an attitude that was understanding and motivating. Peter was familiar with
this form of self-kindness but never used it in the realm of sport. As a result, the consultation
was mainly about strengthening what Peter already knew (i.e., activating his resources). The
idea to support himself as he would support a good friend was helpful as well.
Case 3: Sofia struggling with Injury and accumulated Exhaustion
This case is about Sofia a middle distance runner who at the age of twenty-four peaked
in her career by setting several nationals records and ranked top 10 in the world. Over the past
4 years, at twenty-eight years old, she struggles with repeated, severe overuse injuries.
Regular set-backs and severe re-injuries have not only been physically demanding, they have
also contributed to elevated stress, anxiety and accumulated fatigue. Sofia had previously
tried to work with a sport psychologist with mixed experience. During the recent past months
Sofia’s level of stress and anxiety were extremely hard to manage. She struggled to make the
last effort to quality for the world championships for the upcoming season. Given this pattern
of distress, Sofia’s coach suggested that she contact a sport psychologist.
In brief my intervention I (GK) integrated key-elements of both traditional ACT and
Neff’s conceptualization of SC including self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
This athlete struggled with long-term injury to the point that a comeback to sports was highly
uncertain. Sofia tried to fight and combat pain, stress and emotional adversity with the
traditional model of mental toughness – in this case, showing a positive attitude and
suppressing and locking in all negative emotions.
The first important step in the consultation was to help Sofia stop fighting the private
experience of discomfort and open up to them. This was difficult because there was a big
resistance to accept the situation just as it was and to acknowledge the fact that another injury
potentially would end her career. In this case self-kindness to herself simply for appreciating
herself for never giving up to strive for a comeback in the face of numerous set-back was
essential. Instead of being self-critical and judgmental Sofia was asked to think about two key
questions; “What do I need right now?” and “How can I be kind to my-self?”. In addition,
Sofia was asked to consider being proud of herself for having the stamina and courage to do
her best every-single day in training despite all worries, anxiety and uncertainty. This shift in
attention was initially a major challenge. Given her over-identification with pain, she had a
long history of constantly scanning for a pain sensation and thus magnifying the attention to
any subtle signs of actual of possible pain.
Mindfulness according to Neff describes being open and paying attention to one’s
psychological pain and taking a well-balanced approach to negative experiences so that
painful feelings are neither avoided nor dramatized. The purpose was to build the ability to
turn towards painful feelings and to be with them as they are. In addition, I encouraged her to
use the concept of common humanity. I encouraged her to adapt the sense of common
humanity directly to any high-performance athlete struggling with a potential career ending
injury. For Sofia, this created a strong positive emotion of belonging to a community rather
than feeling alone and alienated. In summary, helping Sofia implement self-kindness became
an important part of this intervention. After some moderate resistance to the concept, Sofia
was able to use a SC approach which ultimately helped her have the courage to engage in the
traditional ACT-work.
Summary of applied ideas
In the examples above, the sport psychologists (or CMPCs) used a range of strategies
to help athletes bring awareness and kindness to their experience such that they could return
to performing their best in sport. Some of the strategies include:
Strategy Details
o Self-critical responses;
o Emotional and physical distress (versus
ignoring it), neither avoiding or
dramatizing experience.
o Mindfulness, accepting and defusion in
o Mindfulness and self-compassion in
sport, such that courage is prompted
(versus being soft of giving up).
o Gilbert’s affect regulation model, to
understand emotional processes
Preparing discerning responses
o Helping athlete prepare phrases of self-
compassion before they return to
predictably challenging moments in
o Creating scripts for directing attention
to help move toward values and
committed action.
Activate already existing resources o Bringing a friendly tone to one’s own
Consultant intentional approach
o Blending a SC and ACT approach
o Helping athlete “open up” to internal
o Prompt athlete to have appreciation and
pride for tolerating the suffering.
Essential questions for athletes to ask:
o What do I need right now?” and
o “How can I be kind to my-self
The SC-based strategies used by the sport psychology practitioners offer only a sampling of
the wide range of ideas that could be offered to athletes. One very useful resource for
additional ideas come from Paul Gibert’s (2010) work on Compassion Mind Training (CMT).
CMT includes using a cognitive behavioral approach (e.g., images, phrases) with an emphasis
on compassion to help the individual shift out of the emotion system of threat. Another
resource is a mindful self-compassion based intervention designed for athletes (Baltzell &
Summers, 2018).
Most athletes at some point suffer from harsh self-criticism, performance anxiety to
the emotional and physical pain of injury recovery. Altogether, such stressful challenges share
a psychological nature that can be difficult to overcome. We have offered a conceptual
understanding of how bringing a self-compassionate approach in concert with ACT offers a
new pathway, beyond the traditional mental toughness approach, to deal with difficult
challenges. Cultivating SC can support the six ACT processes by helping athletes cultivate a
courageous response to difficulty. We were particularly interested in the difficult moments of
the athlete wanting to live their values through committed action and at once being frozen by
fear, harsh-self-criticism or belittling comparisons to others. We contend that when athletes
offering themselves what they might most need in such moments they can be empowered to
accept what is occurring which, in turn, can unlock them from avoidance or over-engaging
with aversive thoughts and emotions, have the courage to face their fears and bring their
attention where it most matters for their preparation, performance or recovery.
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behavioral sciences (pp. 53-77). Cambridge University Press: New York, NY.
Baltzell, A.L. & Summers, J. (2018). The Power of Mindfulness: Mindfulness Meditation for
Sport (MMTS) 2.0. Springer: Cham, Switzerland.
Gilbert, P. (2009). Introducing compassion-focused therapy. Advances in Psychiatric
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Gilbert, P. (2010). Compassion focused therapy. East Sussex, Hove: Routledge.
Harris, R. (2010). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment
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Hays, S. (2004). Acceptance and commitment therapy, rational frame theory, and third wave
of behavioral and cognitive therpies. Behavior therapy, 35, 639-665.
Neff, K. D. (2003a). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion.
Self and Identity, 2(3), 223–250.
Neff, K. D. (2003b). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude
toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85–101.
Raes, F., Pommier, E., Neff, K. D., & Van Gucht, D. (2011). Construction and factorial
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Röthlin, P., Horvath, S., & Birrer, D. (under review). Go soft or go home? A scooping review
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Manuscript submitted for publication
... The Compassionate Engagement and Action Scales were validated for the general population, but sport and athletes are a specific population, and coach-athletes relationship is particular. For example, in sport and specifically in high-level sport, compassionate abilities could be particularly valuable for athletes struggling with any kind of stressful sport-related challenges (Baltzell et al., 2019). These challenges can arise from distressful pre-performance anxiety, difficult thoughts and emotions, difficulty learning a new skill, mistakes during performance, accumulated exhaustion, adaptation to a new condition or performance level, and injury (Baltzell et al., 2019). ...
... For example, in sport and specifically in high-level sport, compassionate abilities could be particularly valuable for athletes struggling with any kind of stressful sport-related challenges (Baltzell et al., 2019). These challenges can arise from distressful pre-performance anxiety, difficult thoughts and emotions, difficulty learning a new skill, mistakes during performance, accumulated exhaustion, adaptation to a new condition or performance level, and injury (Baltzell et al., 2019). Compassionate abilities allows acknowledges that difficult experiences are normal, accept them, and taking actions that allow the athletes tolerate such difficult moments of sport. ...
... Compassionate abilities allows acknowledges that difficult experiences are normal, accept them, and taking actions that allow the athletes tolerate such difficult moments of sport. If the athletes are able to do this, they are cultivating the possibility of acting with courage face these challenge (Baltzell et al., 2019). Essentially, these abilities help the athlete accept and /or tolerate such difficult and distracting thoughts and emotions (Baltzell et al., 2019). ...
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The current study aimed to develop and validate a measure to assess an athlete's perception of a coach's compassionate qualities-The Compassionate Coach Scale as Perceived by the Athlete (CCS-PA). Two independent samples were used to validate this scale. Participants were Portuguese adult athletes of different sports, who completed self-reported measures on an online survey. The first sample (calibration sample; N = 181) was used to examine the structure of the scale. The second sample (validation sample; N = 247) was used to ascertain its structure and explore various aspects of its validity. A confirmatory factor analysis was employed to test the adequacy of the proposed hierarchical structure of the scale. One higher-order factor (perceived coach's compassionate qualities) with two lower-order factors (compassionate engagement and compassionate actions) revealed an adequate fit to the data. The scale showed high internal consistency, convergent, discriminant and external validity and it was invariant across gender. CCS-PA revealed to be a reliable measure that allows the assessment of the athlete's perception of the coach's qualities of engagement with their distress/suffering and the coach's abilities to take effective actions to prevent and alleviate it. This scale seems to be an important contribution for practical and research fields of clinical sport psychology, providing important help to identify features of the coaches that could be changed. Also, this study can be a potential contribution to alert coaches about the impact of their attitudes and behaviours on athlete' mental health.
... In the sport context, there has been an increasing interest in the study of compassion in athletes as an emotional tool to face difficult and challenging times (Baltzell et al., 2019;Killham et al., 2018;Walton et al., 2020). In fact, in the context of competitive sports, athletes can experience several situations (e.g., injuries, pressure to win, fear of failure, being in second string or last place, and feelings of shame) that may origin difficult experiences to athletes (e.g., Correia & Rosado, 2018;Partridge & Elison, 2009). ...
The current study aimed to validate The Compassionate Coach Scale-Coaches Version (CCS-CV) that assesses the compassion coaches’ experience towards their athletes. Two independent samples of coaches completed self-reported measures. The calibration sample (N = 196) was used to test the structure of the CCS-CV through a confirmatory factor analysis, and the validation sample (N = 287) was used to confirm its structure, through cross-validation, and examine aspects of its validity. One higher-order factor with two lower-order factors presented an adequate fit to the data. CCS-CV demonstrated high internal consistency, convergent, discriminant, and external validity. CCS-CV is a reliable measure that allows the assessment of the compassion coaches’ experience towards their athletes and seems to be a significant contribution for practical and research fields in sports context. The present study contributes to the availability of a new instrument that allows an assessment of qualities that could be beneficial to coaches and their athletes.
... Conversations about the individual development of ego states can help athletes understand them. Psychological skills or techniques, such as mindfulness [34], self-compassion [35], relaxation [36], and imagery [37], can be used to help athletes engage with all states within themselves, especially those that are more difficult and unpleasant (for more techniques, see 28). These and other techniques (e.g., goal-directed self-instructions [28]) can help athletes repeatedly activate and train resourceful ego states in everyday life. ...
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Mental health (MH) does not only mean the mere absence of psychiatric disorders but also the presence of well-being. Competitive athletes are exposed to risk factors for poor MH specific to the competitive sport context. One such risk factor are athletic career transitions, whereby the junior-to-senior level transition (JST) is considered one of the most difficult of within career transitions. During this time, developmental changes must be mastered on a psychological, athletic, and educational level and conflicts that occur between the different areas of life, such as school, family, and sports can become more acute. JST is thus a particularly vulnerable period for the MH of competitive sport athletes. In this article, we describe a counseling approach that seems well suited to promote the MH of JST athletes within a sport psychology consulting setting. The approach is based on self-determination theory and ego-state theory. We illustrate the application of our counseling approach with an exemplary case. Finally, we provide recommendations for how sport psychology practitioners can promote MH in JST athletes.
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Being mentally tough while evaluating oneself in a compassionate way is still a difficult path for performers. Self-compassion, characterized by the ability to be kind to oneself, to see one’s experiences as part of the larger human experience and have a balanced awareness to one’s emotions and thoughts, was recently studied as a stepping stone to performance optimization and personal development. Despite a mistrust of this concept in the sports world, various studies show its benefits within athletes. A major question remains the environment that fosters or hinders the development of self-compassion: when role models extend compassionate attitudes, does it allow performers to respond in more self-compassionate ways? The relationship between self-compassion, mental toughness, and social environment is still unclear and is an important direction for future research within performers. This semi-systematic literature review aims at proposing an overview of the state of the art regarding self-compassion, mental toughness, and the influence of performer’s, and social environments. Sixteen studies were retrieved. We conclude that the number of multi-day intervention programs and longitudinal studies should be increased. The studies should also consider assessing the specific aspects of performance culture and settings. In addition, overall performance-specific measures could be developed to assess general levels of self-compassion. The development of a theoretical framework explaining how self-compassion affects a performer, the role of their entourage and its link to other psychological resources, such as mental toughness, could help to better understand this concept.
Background and Aim: The sample included 184 adolescent athletes (150 boys and 34 girls), aged between 12 and 18 years old, who completed a protocol of self-report instruments assessing sports anxiety (SAS-2), the perception of coach’s critical attitudes (APoCCAS), mindfulness (CAMM) and self-compassion (SCS). Method: The sample included 184 adolescent athletes (150 boys and 34 girls), aged between 12 and 18 years old, who completed a protocol of self-report instruments assessing sports anxiety (SAS-2), the perception of coach’s critical attitudes (APoCCAS), mindfulness (CAMM) and self-compassion (SCS). Results: Sports anxiety showed a positive association with critical coach attitudes and self-judgment and a negative association with mindfulness. Mindfulness revealed a negative association with self-judgment and the athletes’ perception of the coach’s critical attitudes. Self-judgment was positively associated with the athletes’ perception of the coach’s critical attitudes. The regression model explained 45% of the variance in sports anxiety, with mindfulness and self-judgment being the only predictors. Path analysis results indicated that the athlete’s mindfulness and self-judgment fully mediated the effect of the athletes’ perception of the coach’s critical attitudes on sports anxiety. Conclusions: Results suggest that athletes who perceive more critical attitudes from the coach, who have more self-judgmental attitudes, and fewer mindfulness skills tend to have higher levels of sports anxiety. The present study is innovative in showing how these variables are associated, suggesting that the development of mindfulness skills and the reduction of self-judgmental attitudes can help decrease the impact of the coach’s critical attitudes on competitive anxiety.
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Self-compassion describes a supportive attitude towards oneself. Research outside the sport context suggests that self-compassion might be beneficial in terms of psychological processes that are helpful for athletic performance. At the same time, there are reasons to assume that athletes may fear a negative influence of SC on their self-improvement motivation. Therefore, it seemed worthwhile to clarify the role of self-compassion in the competitive sport setting by reviewing the current research. The aim of this scoping review is to give an overview of the current literature on SC in competitive sports and to answer the question, whether SC is helpful for competitive athletes. A literature search was conducted using PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES, PSYNDEX, and SPORTDiscus. Eligibility criteria were peer-reviewed publication, publication in English, original research and research investigating self-compassion in competitive athletes. From 17 publications that met the inclusion criteria, we identified 19 studies, most of which were quantitative, employing a cross-sectional design. Additionally, we found only one intervention study, one experimental study and four qualitative studies using interviews. We provided an integrative narrative description of the study aims, hypotheses, meth-odological characteristics and study results. Based on the reviewed findings we concluded that in the future more intervention and longitudinal studies are needed. Furthermore, a comprehensive theoretical framework should be developed, which explains how SC is beneficial for athletes. Thus far, qualitative studies highlight the potential ambivalence of athletes towards SC (i.e., they expect benefits after failures but fear that too much SC leads to mediocrity). Quantitative research indicates that SC is beneficial for athletes' well-being and their ability to deal with adversities in sports, whereas the role of self-compassion for self-improvement motivation remains unanswered.
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Shame and self-criticism are transdiagnostic problems. People who experience them may struggle to feel relieved, reassured or safe. Research suggests that a specialised affect regulation sys tem (or systems) underpins feelings of reassurance, safeness and well-being. It is believed to have evolved with attachment systems and, in particular, the ability to register and respond with calming and a sense of well-being to being cared for. In compassion-focused therapy it is hypothesised that this affect regulation system is poorly accessible in people with high shame and self-criticism, in whom the 'threat' affect regulation system dominates orientation to their inner and outer worlds. Compassion-focused therapy is an integrated and multimodal approach that draws from evolutionary, social, developmental and Buddhist psychology, and neuro science. One of its key concerns is to use compassionate mind training to help people develop and work with experiences of inner warmth, safeness and soothing, via compassion and self-compassion.
Compassion focused therapy (CFT) is rooted in an evolutionary, functional analysis of basic social motivational systems (e.g., to live in groups, form hierarchies and ranks, seek out sexual, partners help and share with alliances, and care for kin) and different functional emotional systems (e.g., to respond to threats, seek out resources, and for states of contentment/safeness). In addition, about 2 million years ago, (pre-)humans began to evolve a range of cognitive competencies for reasoning, reflection, anticipating, imagining, mentalizing, and creating a socially contextualized sense of self. These new competencies can cause major difficulties in the organization of (older) motivation and emotional systems. CFT suggests that our evolved brain is therefore potentially problematic because of its basic ‘design,’ being easily triggered into destructive behaviours and mental health problems (called ‘tricky brain’). However, mammals and especially humans have also evolved motives and emotions for affiliative, caring and altruistic behaviour that can organize our brain in such a way as to significantly offset our destructive potentials. CFT therefore highlights the importance of developing people's capacity to (mindfully) access, tolerate, and direct affiliative motives and emotions, for themselves and others, and cultivate inner compassion as a way for organizing our human ‘tricky brain’ in prosocial and mentally healthy ways.
This article defines and examines the construct of self-compassion. Self-compassion entails three main components: (a) self-kindness—being kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of pain or failure rather than being harshly self-critical, (b) common humanity—perceiving one's experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as separating and isolating, and (c) mindfulness—holding painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than over-identifying with them. Self-compassion is an emotionally positive self-attitude that should protect against the negative consequences of self-judgment, isolation, and rumination (such as depression). Because of its non-evaluative and interconnected nature, it should also counter the tendencies towards narcissism, self-centeredness, and downward social comparison that have been associated with attempts to maintain self-esteem. The relation of self-compassion to other psychological constructs is examined, its links to psychological functioning are explored, and potential group differences in self-compassion are discussed.
The first wave of behavior therapy countered the excesses and scientific weakness of existing nonempirical clinical traditions through empirically studied first-order change efforts linked to behavioral principles targeting directly relevant clinical targets. The second wave was characterized by similar direct change efforts guided by social learning and cognitive principles that included cognitive in addition to behavioral and emotive targets. Various factors seem to have set the stage for a third wave, including anomalies in the current literature and philosophical changes. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one of a number of new interventions from both behavioral and cognitive wings that seem to be moving the field in a different direction. ACT is explicitly contextualistic and is based on a basic experimental analysis of human language and cognition, Relational Frame Theory (RFT). RFT explains why cognitive fusion and experiential avoidance are both ubiquitous and harmful. ACT targets these processes and is producing supportive data both at the process and outcome level. The third-wave treatments are characterized by openness to older clinical traditions, a focus on second order and contextual change, an emphasis of function over form, and the construction of flexible and effective repertoires, among other features. They build on the first- and second-wave treatments, but seem to be carrying the behavior therapy tradition forward into new territory.
The objective of the present study was to construct and validate a short-form version of the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS). Two Dutch samples were used to construct and cross-validate the factorial structure of a 12-item Self-Compassion Scale-Short Form (SCS-SF). The SCS-SF was then validated in a third, English sample. The SCS-SF demonstrated adequate internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha ≥ 0.86 in all samples) and a near-perfect correlation with the long form SCS (r ≥ 0.97 all samples). Confirmatory factor analysis on the SCS-SF supported the same six-factor structure as found in the long form, as well as a single higher-order factor of self-compassion. The SCS-SF thus represents a reliable and valid alternative to the long-form SCS, especially when looking at overall self-compassion scores.
ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy
  • R Harris
Harris, R. (2010). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.