Dani Wilson MA Thesis Defence

Title: “Exploring Elite Women Athletes’ Lived Experiences of Self-Compassion and Mental Toughness”

Thesis Supervisor: Dr. Peter Crocker (Kinesiology)
Committee members: Dr. Amber Mosewich (University of Albert), Dr. Guy Faulkner (Kinesiology)
Chair: Dr. Eli Puterman (Kinesiology)

Abstract: Self-compassion and mental toughness may be critical for women athletes coping with sport-related adversity.  However, their relationship is not well understood.  While self-compassion entails being kind, accepting and understanding towards the self, mental toughness can encourage self-judgement and harsh self-criticism.  The objective of this study was to explore how elite level women athletes perceived and experienced mental toughness and self-compassion and their compatibility in the pursuit of athletic success and stress management.  Two semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven participants (14 interviews).  Interviews were transcribed and an abductive thematic analysis was performed.  Four overarching themes were identified.  First, the role of adversity in athletic success.  Participants acknowledged adversity as critical to their growth and development as athletes.  Second, mental toughness is critical for coping in sport.  Participants experienced mental toughness through perseverance, presence, perspective and preparation, and perceived mental toughness as critical to stress management and athletic success.  Third, self-compassion is critical for coping in sport.  Although participants were previously uneducated about self-compassion, they reported using self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness and acknowledged self-compassion as critical for coping in sport.  Fourth, self-compassion and mental toughness are compatible.  Participants acknowledged the joint contributions of being both self-critical and self-kind; neither being more important than the other, rather, an effective balance depended on the timing, the situation and the meaning it held for each individual athlete.  Findings also suggest that self-compassion is key in building mental toughness.  Without self-compassion, participants reported that they would not be able to move forward after facing adversity or shift into a mentally tough mindset.  Finally, findings suggest that mindfulness is a key component of both self-compassion and mental toughness, and may be the link between the compatible use of self-compassion and mental toughness.  Participants reported that their ability to remain present, objective, non-attached and non-judgemental in the face of sport-related adversity was critical for the utility of both self-compassion and mental toughness.  Overall, the current research demonstrates that self-compassion and mindfulness are worthy of investigating in elite women athletes, particularly with regards to their utility in coping with sport-related adversity and achieving a mentally tough mindset.