“If You Can’t Love Yourself, Nobody Else Will Love You Either.”Unknown


Ella has been playing volleyball since fifth grade.  Her father also coached her in her developmental leagues.  As she advanced through her club system and high school, she became known for her toughness and competitiveness.  Now at a junior at a university in a highly competitive conference, Ella has become increasingly frustrated with her performance.  She finds herself extremely frustrated after individual point play and having difficulty moving on to the “next play.” Her coach observes her as shaking her head, looking down, and snapping at her teammates.  


Ella’s toughness and competitiveness, in excess, has become a performance weakness, not strength.  Indeed, she needs these skills in the heat of battle and yet in excess, she becomes extremely harsh and judging herself personally.  After a timeout, her coach pulls her aside. He asks her to take a breath. He places his hand on her shoulder and reminds her that she will make a mistake and it’s o.k., as the best at the game do.  He reminded her that he believes in her and what she can do on the court.


Ella takes a deep breath and returns to the court.  Before serve, she takes a deep breath and looks into the net.  The next play her ball just misses and goes out. She looks up and makes a shift.  Taking a breath, her “inner coach” reminds her of what her sideline coach shared and she says to herself, “You’ve got this, Ella!  Let’s have fun!” This point, Ella looks into net, and when she receives the set, kills the ball down the line!



Dr. Kristin Neff outlines three key components of self-compassion.  She notes importance of self-kindness in lieu of self-judgment, recognizing that we all suffer or make mistakes, and taking a balanced approach to negative emotions or experiences rather than personalizing the experience.  After a tough play, have you ever heard someone say (or yell), “I suck!” This is the exact opposite of a Launch Mindset. The Launch Mindset is a non-judgmental competitive mindset. When Ella missed, she initially engaged in self-criticism with tones of judging imperfection.  She judged herself, rather than the performance. After her play, she returned to a Launch Mindset using fundamental elements of self-compassion. She reminded herself that it was o.k. to not be perfect, freeing herself to take risks and trust her skill execution.


Hitting Your Optimized Zone

Just for a minute, imagine yourself playing your game when you were 8 years old.  How did a good coach responded to your errors? Sometimes if the 8 year olds emotions were too intense, the coach would put his or her arm around you and just let you “be” for a second.  After a brief moment of tears or intense frustration, the coach would lead you through greater self-compassion…this is key – “mistakes will happen,” its o.k. to be frustrated,” “I can do this!”  This is not the same as complacency or self-pity. It helps great performers balance toughness and competitiveness so that it continues to empower their performance instead of personalizing and criticizing themselves down a negative spiral.  Consider your inner coach – he/she needs the self-compassion tool set.


Score Yourself

  • Reflect on the background of “Self-Compassion” above.  
  • Describe 1-2 situations where you can relate to your inner coach engaging in self-compassion when preparing, executing or debriefing your performance.
  • If you would like to further assess your use of self-compassion as a life performance skill, try Dr. Neff’s assessment at



  1. Performance Readiness Coaching Cues – for this week’s training and competition, outline your Inner Coach’s Cues based on how you speak to your 8 year old self.  Sometimes, you need to put your arm around yourself and take a breath. Sometimes you may challenge your 8 year old self with something like, “I know you can do this…let’s go have fun!”  Or even something a bit more assertive, “Alright, it’s time to fight…tell fear that’s enough and get in the back seat! Let’s go!!”
  2. Responding to a teammate/friend – Consider your teammate or friend’s comes to you frustrated with his/her performance.  What do you say? How do you respond to him/her? Consider


Choose a teammate or coach that you often are performing with or nearby.  Ask them to observe your performance and offer feedback….what do they see you doing after a missed performance opportunity – what does your body language say?  What do they hear you say? Consider this feedback and what you would prefer your teammate see and hear to optimize your performance.



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