The role of self-compassion in young women athletes' eudaimonic well-being
Self-compassion, a healthy way of relating to the self that is premised on treating oneself with kindness and understanding in the face of pain and failure (Neff, 2003a, 2003b), is emerging as a potentially useful way to transform young women athletes’ difficult experiences in sport (Mosewich, Crocker, Kowalski, & DeLongis, 2013; Mosewich et al., 2011). Although associated with a variety of well-being indices, self-compassion has largely been neglected in the eudaimonic tradition concerned with psychological flourishing (Ryff, 1989, 1995). The themes of eudaimonic well-being – which include feeling autonomous and competent, the pursuit of continuous growth, having quality relations with others, finding purpose in life, and acceptance of oneself (Ryff, 1989, 1995) – closely align with many of the goals and motives that young women athletes have reported for competing in sport (e.g., Chatzisarantis & Hagger, 2007; Kilpatrick et al., 2005). However, being eudaimonically-well or flourishing in sport is not a given, as young women athletes can encounter a variety difficult experiences as they journey through athletic pursuits (Fraser-Thomas et al., 2005; Krane et al., 2001; Mosewich et al., 2009). Whether the promise of self-compassion as a way to transform difficult sport experiences might have similar potential for young women athletes’ eudaimonic well-being is currently unknown; that is, whether self-compassion contributes to or thwarts psychological flourishing is an important question. The purpose of the present program of research was to explore the role of self-compassion in young women athletes’ psychological flourishing. Using a mixed methods research design, Study 1 explored self-compassion and eudaimonic well-being in young women athletes. The quantitative phase consisted of young women athletes (n = 83; Mean age = 18.70 years) completing an online survey including trait-level measures of self-compassion and eudaimonic well-being, as well as measures of plausible process variables (i.e., passivity, responsibility, initiative, and self-determination). In addition to finding evidence for a positive relationship between self-compassion and eudaimonic well-being (r = .76, p < .01), the data were consistent with a model of multiple mediation whereby, as a group, passivity, responsibility, initiative, and self-determination emerged as potential mechanism variables. Expanding on the links from the quantitative phase, a qualitative phase consisting of one-on-one interviews and focus group discussions with young women athletes (n = 11; Mean age = 19.72 years) explored when and how self-compassion might be useful in striving to reach one’s potential in sport. Self-compassion was described as advantageous in difficult sport situations (i.e., when failing to meet personal goals, making mistakes during competition, experiencing an injury, reaching a plateau) by increasing positivity, perseverance, and responsibility, as well as decreasing rumination. The qualitative findings support previous claims that self-compassion is beneficial during emotionally difficult situations (Leary et al., 2007; Neff, 2003b). However, concerns were expressed about being too self-compassionate in sport; in particular, that self-compassion might lead to complacency, which would ultimately thwart psychological flourishing in sport. To better understand the seeming complex relationship between self-compassion and eudaimonic well-being specifically in the sport domain, Study 2 explored the role of self-compassion during hypothetical, emotionally difficult, sport-specific scenarios in relation to psychological flourishing in sport. Young women athletes (N = 137; Mean age = 19.04 years) completed an online survey including trait-level measures of self-compassion and eudaimonic well-being, as well as brief reaction measures (i.e., self-compassionate, positive, perseverant, responsible, ruminative, passive, and self-critical reactions) to hypothetical, emotionally difficult, sport scenarios, and proxy indicators of eudaimonic well-being in sport. The results contextualized the relationship between self-compassion and eudaimonic well-being to the sport domain, showing positive associations between self-compassion and autonomy, meaning (i.e., personal growth) and vitality (i.e., purpose in life) in sport, and body appreciation (i.e., self-acceptance). Findings from path model analyses suggest that increased positive and perseverant reactions and decreased passive reactions to emotionally difficult sport scenarios might explain the relationship between self-compassion and certain indices of eudaimonic well-being in sport (e.g., autonomy, vitality in sport, body appreciation). The pattern of findings suggest that having a kind and understanding self-attitude might nurture constructive reactions to emotionally difficult sport scenarios, enabling athletes to strive towards their potential in sport. Taken together, findings from the program of research presented here suggest that compassionately relating to the self might be advantageous for young women athletes’ eudaimonic well-being, both in general and in terms of eudaimonic indicators that are specific to psychological flourishing in sport. A conceptual model is formulated to help understand the relationship between self-compassion and eudaimonic well-being. Reduced passivity emerged as one possible process variable, which is a key finding that directly addresses the concern as to whether self-compassion leads to complacency; a concern that appears both within the larger self-compassion body of literature as well as qualitative findings in my research. The identification of promising mechanism variables is an important contribution to the literature, as the findings reported here can be further examined in future research directed at the promotion of self-compassion for athletes’ flourishing in sport. Caution is warranted, however, for researchers moving forward in this area, particularly in terms of athletes’ concerns with being self-compassionate. Building off of my research findings and conclusions, two noted directions for future research are (1) to explore ways for athletes to recognize the potential usefulness of self-compassion in sport and (2) to longitudinally and/or experimentally target mechanism variables that will have associated changes on eudaimonic outcomes in sport. Such research efforts will work towards the development of self-compassion in sport programs that are theoretically- and empirically-driven, and have the end goal of helping young women athletes reach their full potential.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
SupervisorKowalski, Kent C.
CommitteeMcDougall, Patti; Humbert, Louise; Spink, Kevin
Copyright DateJanuary 2014