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Self-Compassion or Self-Criticism? Predicting Women Athletes’ Psychological Flourishing in Sport in Canada


Some women athletes have expressed the perceived need to be self-critical to flourish in sport; however, women athletes with higher self-compassion levels tend to have greater psychological flourishing. Athletes’ baseline levels of self-compassion (i.e., having a kind, connected, and balanced self-attitude when experiencing hardships) may be key to psychologically flourish in sport during the competitive season, yet this has not been examined over time. The purpose of this study was to examine whether women athletes’ self-compassion at the start of their competitive season predicted variance beyond self-criticism in psychological flourishing at the end of their season. Competitive women athletes (N = 78; Mage = 22.97 years) in Canada completed an online survey at the start and end of their competitive season. Self-report measures included athlete versions of self-compassion and self-criticism scales, and sport-specific proxy measures of six components of psychological flourishing (autonomy, mastery, growth, positive relatedness, purpose, and self-acceptance). Hierarchical regression analyses indicated that early season self-compassion explained 6% and 9% variance beyond self-criticism on end-of-season purpose and self-acceptance, respectively. The full models accounted for 12% and 29% of the variance. The results suggest that self-compassion may have an enduring and adaptive contribution to some dimensions of psychological flourishing in sport. Intentionally implementing self-compassion interventions at the start of women athletes’ competitive seasons may have merit on the trajectory of their well-being.

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  1. The data from this study belong to a larger program of research that included tracking women athletes at multiple time points over the course of their competitive season. The sample for the current study includes participants who completed the first and last data collection time points to inform the research purpose around a variable not included at all timepoints (psychological flourishing).

  2. Data collection for this study began prior to the publication of the second version of the BAS.


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This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Grant 430-2015-00799.

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Correspondence to Leah J. Ferguson.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This study received university ethical approval from the first author’s Behavioural Research Ethics Board (Beh-REB #15–404) and the sixth author’s Human Research Ethics Board 2 (Pro00110805).

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Informed consent was obtained from all participants involved in the study.

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Ferguson, L.J., Adam, M.E.K., Gunnell, K.E. et al. Self-Compassion or Self-Criticism? Predicting Women Athletes’ Psychological Flourishing in Sport in Canada. J Happiness Stud 23, 1923–1939 (2022).

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  • Self-attitude
  • Female athletes
  • Sport
  • Eudaimonic well-being
  • Psychological skills