Self-Compassion in Sport

Published On: May 9, 2024

May 6 – 12, 2024 is Mental Health Week in Canada. The theme for 2024 is “A Call to be Kind, because compassion connects us all.” Today, CSCM’s Kevin Kristjanson is sharing some of his research on self-compassion, including tips on how to practice self-compassion.

Participating in sport can be a great experience, but it also comes with its own challenges. Losses, failures, injuries, and being isolated from family and friends due to training and travel are some of the more common difficulties athletes face. It’s valuable to have effective strategies for coping with the uncomfortable emotions that may come up in these situations. One that you may have heard of is self-compassion.

Self-compassion is simply compassion that you direct toward yourself. This means recognizing your emotions and struggle as real, and then feeling a desire to help alleviate that struggle. Self-compassion consistently leads to more positive emotions, less negative ones, and protects against a wide range of mental health challenges like depression, anxiety, and stress.

You can practice self-compassion with three simple steps:

1. Acknowledge that you are struggling right now.

“I’m going through a hard time. I’ve been through hard times before and surely will again, but right now is one of those hard times.”

2. Remember that every person in history has gone through hard times.

“I’m not alone in feeling like this. It’s not unique to me. Other people have struggled differently than I have, but everybody struggles.”

3. Choose to be kind to yourself, rather than critical or judgmental.

“What can I do to look after myself while I’m going through this hard time?”

Some athletes worry that self-compassion means “going easy” on themselves and lowering their standards – this is not the case. Research has shown that people who are more self-compassionate not only set loftier goals but are more likely to reach them. Self-compassion is about wanting the best for yourself, even if that means doing some hard work to get there.

Self-compassion also makes it much more likely that you will follow through on your plans. Imagine somebody who constantly criticizes, judges, insults, belittles, and shames you. Now imagine that person asks you to do them a favour. How likely are you to say yes? Even if you do say yes, how likely are you to follow through on that commitment? How much would you enjoy doing it, and how hard would you work at it? Now imagine the request came from a friend or loved one who treats you with kindness, warmth, care, understanding, patience, and forgiveness. You’d likely jump at an opportunity to help this person and would give it your best effort. Being that supportive friend for yourself helps you make brave choices in the face of adversity.

For more on self-compassion, including exercises to practice, guided meditation, visit: