Athletic Identity and Psychological Distress: The Moderating Roles of Social Support and Self-Compassion

Carmyn J. Hayes – University of North Texas
Trent A. Petrie – University of North Texas
Whitney G. Moore – Wayne State University

Despite research having examined athletic identity (AI) and psychological outcomes, few studies have fully considered how the effects of AI may be moderated by race/ethnicity, gender, social support, and self-compassion. College athletes (N = 4,116; Mage = 19.84; women = 66.9%; White = 78.2%) participated from mid-April to mid-May 2020 in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of collegiate sports. Through a three-way ANOVA, we found a significant gender by race interaction; Black men reporting stronger AIs compared to White male and female athletes. Through a series of regression analyses, we found that when self-compassion and social support were low, AI was related to more psychological distress for the White women. There were also significant compassion by support interactions for the Black women and White men; psychological distress was highest when SS and SC were low. During times of transition, when AI may be disrupted, athletes’ self-compassion and social support may help ameliorate the otherwise negative effects on psychological well-being that would be expected. Thus, sports medicine professionals might focus on helping their athletes develop these psychological resources.