The Why, What, Where, Who and When of Self-Compassion in Sport

The past few weeks, I have been talking to people about self-compassion and how it relates to sports people. Subsequently, today I wanted to share some more about the why, what, where, who and when of self-compassion in sport.

Let’s get started…

Why Self-Compassion?

Quite simply because –

 “A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.” ~ Christopher Germer


What is Self-Compassion?

Christopher Germer in his book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions refers to self-compassion as 

“… simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.” 

In her book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Dr Kristin Neff refers to self compassion as having three components –

  1. Self-kindness – being gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental.  
  2. Common humanity – feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering (i.e. experiencing our imperfections). 
  3. Mindfulness – that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain and exaggerating it.

Also, in the The Force of Kindness, Sharon Salzberg wrote – 

“this kind of compulsive concern with “I, me and mine” isn’t the same as loving ourselves… Loving ourselves points us to capacities of resilience, compassion and understanding within that are simply part of being alive.”


Where Can I Use Self-Compassion?

Simply – everywhere! Yep, over the years (and after being an athlete) I have invested many hours researching, learning and discovering how to be a well-being. For me, one of those keys has been developing self-compassion and I use it daily in my life and wish I had learn it when I was playing tennis. Some specific ways would be –

  • recovering from an injury,
  • befriending and transforming the inner critic,
  • using self-compassion to deal effectively with challenging emotions, and
  • enhancing emotional regulation.


Who Can Use Self-Compassion?

Again, simply – everyone! There are a few myths or misperceptions about self-compassion though, so I thought I would share them below.

Myth: “If I’m too self-compassionate, won’t I just be lazy and selfish?”

Reality: Despite being socially acceptable, self-criticism is not a helpful strategy to helping us fulfil our potential. It can actually do the cause up to feel insecure and inadequate.

Myth: “I am not worthy of compassion.”

Reality: Everyone is worthy of compassion – as we have all made mistakes, no one is perfect.

Myth: Self-compassion is just a form of self-pity or self-indulgence.

Reality: Self-compassion means I think my problems are also important and worthy of being attended to as well as your problems. Self-compassion is about being with our challenges and seeing them as they are not numbing them or pushing them away, which is more self-indulgent.

Myth: We have to earn the right for compassion.

Reality: According to the Dalai Lama, “Human beings by nature want happiness and do not want suffering. With that everyone tries to achieve happiness and tries to get rid of suffering, and everyone has a basic right to do this.. Basically, from the viewpoint of real human value, we are all the same.”

Myth: Self-criticism is an effective motivation strategy 

Reality: self-criticism is not a helpful strategy to feel better despite it being socially acceptable. In fact, it can cause you to feel insecure and inadequate.


When Can We Be Self-Compassionate in Sport?

Mmm – think you may be getting the drift of this! Again – in many places. When a number of female athletes were interviewed about how self-compassion could help them in their sporting lives, they identified a variety of potential areas including –

  • Failing to meet personal goals and expectations or making mistakes within their sport,
  • Working through injuries and focusing on what they can do to recover,
  • Managing a performance or training plateau,
  • Stepping back and looking at situations in a positive light (i.e. seeing the silver lining),
  • Helping you reach your full potential,
  • Persisting and concentrating on what you can do (not what you can’t),
  • Taking responsibility for difficult sporting experiences, and
  • Keeping a balanced perspective and allowing yourself to move on.


Over to You…

I hope this post has given you some insight in to the 5W’s of Self-Compassion in Sport. Over time, I have realised for myself, if I wanted to change my life, I needed to change, which is why I continue to make I’mPowering choices and live above the line. If you have any questions, please leave any questions or comments below.

Also – if you liked this article and want to keep taking the next step towards freedom and thriving in your sport and lifeplease feel free to join the Sport Life Flow community by clicking here.


References –

Germer, C. (2009). The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and EmotionsNew York: Guilford Press.

Neff, K. (2011). Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. New York, USA: HarperCollins Publishers.

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