Safe space or high stakes environments: comparing self-compassion in differing sport contexts in canada

Leah J. Ferguson, Serena Saini and Margo E. K. Adam

College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan


J. Ferguson, L., Saini, S., Adam, M.E.K. (2022). Safe space or high stakes environments: comparing self-compassion in differing sport contexts in canada. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 53(1), 1-24. doi:10.7352/IJSP.2022.53.001


Self-compassion has been identified as a resource for athletes to manage demanding and evaluative sport experiences. Despite growing research interest, there remains unanswered questions about athletes’ self-compassion levels across genders, sport types (e.g., team versus individual), and competition levels (e.g., local versus provincial). Further investigation is also needed to identify factors that facilitate or deter athletes’ use of self-compassion. With a sample of athletes (N = 146; Mage = 22.26 years) living in Canada, the purpose of this study was to (a) examine athletes’ self-compassion levels across differing sport contexts, and (b) explore perceptions of self-compassion as enabled and/or restricted in their sport contexts. Aesthetic sport athletes had lower self-compassion (M = 2.95) than non-aesthetic sport athletes (M = 3.16; t(139) = -1.88, p = .03, d = 0.34), and athletes competing locally had higher self-compassion (M = 3.32) than athletes competing provincially (M = 3.04), nationally (M = 2.99), and internationally (M = 2.86; F(4,139) = 2.20, p = .04, η2 = .06). Self-compassion did not differ between genders or team and individual sport athletes. Salient environmental factors that nurture athletes’ self-compassion included providing a safe and supportive environment and emphasizing doing one’s best in sport, whereas excessive negativity from others and perceived pressures in sport inhibit athletes’ self-compassion. Our findings suggest target groups for intervention and considerations for self-compassionate sport environments.

Keywords: Athletes, Competition, Self-attitude, Sport psychology