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Introducing Teammate Compassion: New potential for improved performance and wellbeing among athletes



Image description: Photo of young athletes celebrating together.



The above photo rather accurately sums up my best hopes and wishes for what I have termed Teammate Compassion. This is a new idea, a new way of visualising the potential for team sport to create positive change.


But before diving in to how and why it might be useful, let’s first take a step back and reflect on how I arrived at this concept.


Compassion in Society


Many of us have heard of compassion, which has been described as‘a sensitivity to suffering in self and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it’ (Compassionate Mind Foundation, 2023).


As human beings, we are not perfect. We will also experience setbacks, and this is a part of life. What’s more, we all go through ups and downs at various points. What we can do is try our best to be kind and understanding towards ourselves in the face of it all.


Compassion is seen as fundamental to human nature. But why is it so valuable? It can be argued that compassion forms the basis of healthy social relationships. We know from a previous SPRINT Project blog post that the social support we receive from others is key to our wellbeing.


Are We More Compassionate Now?


Reports found that society is more compassionate now than a century ago (Deccan Chronicle, 2019; The Conversation, 2019). This is interesting, as some might argue that we are facing a compassion crisis because of the pressures of modern life.



Image description: Picture of a woman sat with her head in her hands in front of a laptop with lots of icons representing various aspects of work and life floating around her.



Specifically, we are encouraged to be self-compassionate in times of stress, because it can be important for our wellbeing. But what about when compassion is applied to a setting where being kind and patient towards yourself is sometimes mistaken for weakness, such as competitive sport?



Image description: Photo of a close up of a footballer kicking a football towards a goal.



Compassion in Sport


In professional sport there is a strong cultural ethos of ‘winning at all costs’. Here, athletes focus on high performance and often experience stressful situations that can negatively impact their wellbeing. Athletes can be self-critical (Ferguson et al., 2015), out of the belief that this can help them to improve their performance. Yet, harsh self-criticism can be damaging to athletes’ wellbeing.


Instead of being critical in the face of stress through competitive sport, self-compassion has been offered as an alternative approach to support athletes. Self-compassion has indeed become a buzzword in sport psychology over the past few years. Studies have found that it can help athletes to cope more effectively with the stress of competitive sport participation (Mosewich et al., 2013).


Not only has academic research identified the value of self-compassion for athletes, but this has been picked up on by the media, too. A news article published in The Guardian spoke to the need for this resource to support those who take part in professional sport.



Image description: Screenshot of a news article published in The Guardian about compassion and sport.



But it is not all plain sailing when it comes to breaking through barriers in the world of elite sport.


What Makes Self-Compassion Difficult?


Typically, being self-compassionate involves practising mindfulness. But what about when an athlete finds it difficult to be mindful? Could there be a more accessible way to be compassionate, that is suitable for more people? Our research showed that it can be easier to direct your mindful attention to others in the environment. Not only that but being mindful towards others can improve your own and others’ wellbeing (Clarke et al., 2021).


That is what I am exploring through Teammate Compassion. This is a specific form of compassion for others that will likely be found in sports teams when athletes are united towards a common goal and found to support each other through the many stresses and pressures of competing.


Teammate Compassion


So how does it work? The idea is that being compassionate towards your teammates can help to support others to perform better and have better wellbeing. This, in turn, feeds back to the original person and helps to support their performance and wellbeing, too.


However, it’s one thing to develop the theory behind why Teammate Compassion could be a useful resource. The next step will be to explore what this looks like for athletes themselves, given they are the ones who it is designed to benefit. Look out for opportunities to participate in my study coming soon.


If you are interested in discussing your experiences of Teammate Compassion, you can get in touch with me via f.j.clarke@bham.ac.uk, or on X (Twitter).



 


Follow my Research



Image description: A photo of Fiona.



In collaboration with my supervisory team of Prof Jennifer Cumming, Prof Jessica Pykett, Dr Shushu Chen, and Dr Amber Mosewich, I am currently exploring Teammate Compassion through my PhD. Please stay tuned for updates where you can follow the progress of my research. If you have any questions or feedback, please get in touch. You can contact me via f.j.clarke@bham.ac.uk or on X (Twitter).



 


If you are interested in other types of mental skill, you can check out our Mental Skills Training Toolkits.


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References


Clarke, F.J., Kotera, Y., and McEwan, K. (2021). A qualitative study comparing mindfulness and shinrin-yoku (forest bathing): Practitioners’ perspectives. Sustainability, 13(12), 6761. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13126761


Compassionate Mind Foundation (2023). Accessed via https://www.compassionatemind.co.uk


The Conversation (2019). Accessed via



Ferguson, L. J., Kowalski, K. C., Mack, D. E., & Sabiston, C. M. (2015). Self-compassion and eudaimonic well-being during emotionally difficult times in sport. Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(5), 1263-1280. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-014-9558-8


Mosewich, A., Crocker, P., & Kowalski, K. (2013). Managing injury and other setbacks in sport: Experiences of (and resources for) high-performance women athletes. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 6, 182-204. https://doi.org/10.1080/2159676X.2013.766810



 

Photo credit: Getty (Mike Harrington), Wix & The Guardian online.

Written by Fiona J. Clarke (ESRC funded PhD Student in the SPRINT Project)



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