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Perception of Athletic Performance, Shame and Guilt in Female Athletes



Athletic Performance,
Shame, Guilt

Presented by:

Sérgio P. da Silva, Cornerstone University

Kylie DeWard, Cornerstone University
Grace Farrell, Cornerstone University

Key Statement:

We studied whether the interaction between imagining poor athletic performance interacted with type of sport to evoke shame and guilt in female athletes.


Sixty-nine female athletes participating in non-lean-focused (soccer, softball, and dart-throwing, n = 52) and lean-focused sports (track and cross-country, n = 17) were randomly assigned either to imagine themselves performing well or poorly in their sports. We administered the Body and Appearance Self-Conscious Emotions Scale (BASES) immediately after the performance imagery task. Imagery of poor performance elicited significantly higher shame than imagery of good performance, but only for athletes in the lean sports. The interaction between performance imagery and type of sport was non-significant but marginal. Results for guilt were not statistically significant.

Learning Outcomes:

Describe the effect of performance on shame of female athletes.
Describe the interaction between performance and sport type on shame of female athletes.
Articulate one strategy to teach coping strategies to female athletes, especially in lean-focused sports, focusing specifically on re-framing shame-eliciting cognition.

Hear it from the author:

Perception of Athletic Performance, Shame and Guilt in Female AthletesSérgio P. da Silva, Cornerstone University
00:00 / 01:45


In this experiment we recruited 69 women who were collegiate athletes in two types of sports: 52 were enrolled in sports that focus on leanness, such as track and cross-country, and 17 were enrolled in sports that do not focus on leanness, such as soccer, softball, and throwing.

We further assigned these groups randomly into two conditions. In one condition we asked participants to imagine themselves experiencing a satisfactory performance, and the other a non-satisfactory performance, in their sport. They received the Body and Appearance Self-Conscious Emotions Scale before and after they imagined their performance.

The main results showed that athletes in sports that focus on leanness, who imagined a non-satisfactory performance, reported a significantly higher level of shame about their body than those who imagined a satisfactory performance. We did not observe the same effect in the non-leanness-focused group.

This effect suggests that female students who are enrolled in sports associated with low body mass, may benefit from strengths-based coaching that fosters emotional positivity and authentic (or secure) pride.


Fontana, M. S. (2015). Exploring athlete proneness to shame when partaking in sport and its relationship with achievement goal perspective theory: Creating and validating the shame in sport questionnaire [Doctoral dissertation, Kentucky State University]. KU ScholarWorks.

Hurst, M., Dittmar, H., Banerjee, R., & Bond, R. (2017). "I just feel so guilty": The role of introjected regulation in linking appearance goals for exercise with women's body image. Body Image, 20, 120–129.

Kong, P., & Harris, L. M. (2015). The sporting body: Body image and eating disorder symptomatology among female athletes from leanness focused and nonleanness focused sports. The Journal of Psychology, 149(1–2), 141–160.

Zaccagni, L., & Gualdi-Russo, E. (2023). The impact of sports involvement on body image perception and ideals: A systematic review and meta analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(6), 5228.

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