Having self-compassion is the ability to recognise our own suffering and take action to comfort and care for ourselves. Traditionally, some may think that this is the road to complacency, but research from Kristen Neff (2011) shows us that it is the road to responsibility and action. She proposes that there are three components to self-compassion, which work to soothe us and place us in a more adaptive state to deal with stressors that may arise. The three components Kristen Neff has identified are self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.

In my recent work with a sports team, I taught them how to use self-compassion to develop deeper connection as a team, as well as developing personal resources to deal with stresses such as competition anxiety or fear of failure.



Encouraging the athletes to be kind to themselves and not harshly judge themselves, helps to reduce fear and anxiety. Encouraging them to treat themselves as they would treat a friend is a valuable tool because we are often harder on ourselves than we are on others.


Common Humanity

Helping the athletes to accept that it is normal to experience fear, and that failure is a crucial part of becoming a successful team because you can learn from it. This helps to dampen the stress response and allows the athlete to fully focus on their game.



Guiding the athletes to acknowledge and turn towards their painful emotions such as fear, anxiety or shame which can arise when reliving a missed shot or poor pass. This helps them to make an intentional act to stay with these negative emotions and to use them as a basis of constructive action.



Practising self-compassion helps athletes to stop avoiding those situations that bring up negative emotions where they feel vulnerable such as trying a new skill or playing against a much better team. Instead, they develop the courage to face experiences with a more positive mindset. It also reduces choking which is sub-optimal sporting performance, which can happen when the athlete is under pressure such as taking a game-deciding shot. Amy Baltzell (2019) describes how practising self-compassion can cultivate courage by helping the athlete to tolerate negative thoughts. This in turn strengthens their ability to accept what is occurring. This means that the athletes stop avoidance tactics such as giving up or playing for a team below their level. The athletes gain more experience of being in situations where negative emotions are likely and they become used to responding constructively which Baltzell (2019) considers to be an act of courage.


Field of Impact

Self-compassion has been used to improve performance in many sports including basketball, tennis, football, hockey, cross country, skiing, swimming, golf and running. It can be used to tackle many difficulties such as competitive anxiety and fear of failure, both of which can result in a freeze behaviour. It can also be used to help athletes who are returning to their sport after injury. Often these athletes can be impatient to get back to the level they were at before their injury and this means they run the risk of pushing themselves too hard too soon, which reduces the likelihood of a swift recovery.

Self-compassion can benefit us all whether we play sport or not. Give yourself the gift of self-compassion and let me know what a difference it makes in your life.


Baltzell, Amy & Röthlin, Philipp & Kenttä, Göran. (2019). Self-compassion in Sport for Courage and Performance. 10.4324/9780429435232-17.

Neff, K. (2011). Self Compassion. London: Hodder &Stoughton Ltd.

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