Exploring the Relationship Between Mental Toughness and Self-Compassion in the Context of Sport Injury

in Journal of Sport Rehabilitation

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Karissa L. JohnsonCollege of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada

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Danielle L. CormierCollege of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada

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Kent C. KowalskiCollege of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada

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Amber D. MosewichFaculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada

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Helping athletes cope effectively with injury is likely of great interest to many sport stakeholders. Mental toughness is one psychological factor positively associated with resilience and sport performance, though stubborn persistence through injury might not always be conducive to adaptive athlete outcomes. Self-compassion—a balanced, nonjudgmental approach in relating to oneself when experiencing suffering—might help circumvent these pitfalls and complement injury recovery. The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between mental toughness and self-compassion in a sport injury context. This study consisted of 2 phases—phase I quantitatively assessed the relationships between mental toughness, self-compassion, and other psychological constructs, while phase II used qualitative interviews to corroborate and inform these findings. In phase I, competitive athletes who were injured at the time of data collection (n = 81) completed mental toughness, self-compassion, coping resources, self-esteem, and self-criticism questionnaires. Self-compassion was positively correlated with mental toughness (r = .48, P < .01), coping resources (r = .54, P < .05), and self-esteem (r = .60, P < .01). Self-compassion and self-criticism were negatively correlated with each other (r = –.52, P < .01). Results from hierarchical multiple regression analyses revealed that self-compassion was a significant predictor of mental toughness (ΔR2 = .07, P < .01), coping resources (ΔR2 = .10, P < .01), and self-criticism (ΔR2 = .06, P < .01), beyond the effects of self-esteem. Four injured athletes who scored above the median on mental toughness and self-compassion measures were interviewed in phase II. Thematic analysis generated 2 themes: (1) self-compassion grants access to wise mental toughness and (2) mental toughness helps activate self-compassionate actions during injury. These findings are consistent with recent research and suggest that both mental toughness and self-compassion can work together to help athletes cope with sport injury.

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