Go soft or go home? A review of empirical studies on the role of self-compassion in the competitive sport setting

Philipp Röthlin, Stephan Horvath, Daniel Birrer


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. 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, methodological characteristics and study results. Based on the reviewed findings we concluded that future research should relate their research question more often to existing theoretical models and that more intervention and longitudinal studies are needed. Thus far, qualitative studies highlight the potential ambivalence of athletes towards SC. 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 unclear.


Self-compassion; self-worth; competitive sport; self-improvement motivation; athlete

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.15203/CISS_2019.013

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