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Exploring the role of self-compassion in women athletes' emotionally painful experiences of injury in sport



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Injury is a common and emotionally painful aspect of sport participation for female athletes. Playing through injury is normalized in sport culture; unfortunately, this practice holds short- and long-term health risks. Self-compassion has been endorsed as a resource for female athletes coping with injury and is purported to result in better health-related choices. The purpose of this study was to explore the role of self-compassion in competitive women athletes’ self-care behaviours following emotionally painful experiences of injury. Participants were 159 female athletes ranging in age from 18-49 years who completed an online survey. Five measures of emotional pain were used: negative affect, threat appraisal, badness rating, emotional difficulty, and a composite score comprised of the previous four measures. Self-compassion was negatively related to negative affect (r = -.26, p < .01), threat appraisal (r = -.19, p < .05), and the emotional pain composite score (r = -.18, p < .05) but not to badness rating or emotional difficulty rating. Self-compassion did not contribute unique variance, beyond self-esteem and athletic identity, in the emotional pain measures. The emotional pain composite score was negatively related to self-compassionate reactions (r = -.23, p < .01), positive reactions (r = -.30, p < .01), and perseverant reactions (r = -.16, p < .05) and positively related to ruminative reactions (r = .54, p < .01), passive reactions (r = .24, p < .01), and self-critical reactions (r = .48, p < .01). Unexpectedly, emotional pain was positively correlated with stopping training (r = .34, p < .01), reduced training frequency (r = .33, p < .01), reduced training intensity (r = .27, p < .01), and reduced training duration (r = .33, p < .01) and not significantly related to responsible reactions or stopping the session in which the injury was incurred. Neither self-compassion nor fear of self-compassion moderated the relationship between emotional pain and self-care behaviours. Participants also completed an open-ended question in which they described in detail everything they did to care for their injuries. A codebook was developed and used to analyze the responses. Self-care behaviours fell into the following categories: diagnostics, rest, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, treatment, and training accommodations. Athletes reported using an average of 3.38 self-care behaviours - most commonly describing obtaining a medical diagnosis and undergoing treatment. Self-compassion was not related to the number of self-care behaviours used by participants or the use of any individual behaviour. Overall, the results suggest that self-compassion plays a role in women athletes’ injury experiences; however, likely due to the complex and multifaceted nature of injury, the relationships might not manifest in perfect concordance with theoretical conceptualizations.



women athletes, self-compassion, athletic identity, injury, self-care



Master of Science (M.Sc.)






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