Looking Back, Thriving Forward

I recently reread Bruce Abernathy’s Coleman Griffith Address to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology from 1997. Abnerathy is a terrific scientist and insightful patriarch in the field of sport psychology. In 1997, he strove to remind the field of the dynamic work of Griffith. He highlighted that father of North American sport psych was not a counselor, kinesiologist, or coach educator… but rather all of the above. Abernathy makes a strong plea to the field to not forget its roots and remain a diverse and dynamic field that is inclusive of many sports performance and psychological fields of study. He advocated for this, not simply for nostalgic reasons, but for the relevancy of the field and to take performance enhancement to the next level.

A month ago at an internal professional development workshop at the BU Athletic Enhancement Center, Coach Lagomarsine shared some highlights from the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s annual conference. Two of the lectures that stood out to him were about training decision making skills, anticipation, and reaction on the playing field. Certainly these are relevant topics to strength coaches and those striving to develop elite athletes. They are also topics that are ones of psychology… sport psychology. Starting with Griffith and continuing through to Abernathy’s work and others like him, sport psychology was at the heart of these discussions. Now too often, sport psychology seems to be on the edge of these discussions that drive sports performance forward.

If this remains the case, player development really is left to be property of other disciplines. This is not what Abernathy espoused over a decade ago and Coleman Griffith many decades before him. Sport psychology is to be at the core of the player development discussion because so much of athletic excellence is not driven by the body, but rather by perception, anticipation, emotion, understanding, memory recall, and purposeful practice planning.

No field has sole ownership of player development, but by forgetting to be diverse and evidence-based experts, sport psychology professionals relinquish their piece of the pie.

No field has sole ownership of player development, but by forgetting to be diverse and evidence-based experts, sport psychology professionals relinquish their piece of the pie. Preparing to be a vibrant part of the player development discussion is not a linear path – it is multi-disciplinary, it requires effortful study, it takes time, and it leaves one in identity-crisis all to often (i.e. Am I Sigmund Freud? Am I Vince Lombardi? Am I Tony Robbins? Am I Stanley Milgram?).

Perhaps the best modern day analogy on this nonlinear skill set is that the sport psychology professional is a psychological mixed martial artist. Like most martial arts athletes, a common code exists for sport psychology practitioners – ethics. Beyond this the varied disciplines of counseling psychology, motor learning, social psychology, organizational behavior, educational psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral medicine all come into play. Like in MMA, the practitioner that leans exclusively on one discipline struggles to find success. The gifted practitioner strives to blend multiple fields of study fluidly together in order to achieve optimal results. With the athlete’s well-being and performance in mind the sport psychology consultant is always striving to strengthen one’s self in one domain or the other.

Abernathy insight’s in 1997 would be equally timely if spoken in a few weeks at the 2010 AASP conference. Merging of fields of study is important for the good of athletes and the good of the field. The world of sport deserves… requires sports performance consultants free of the constraints of a narrow focus of a single discipline.

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1 Response to “Looking Back, Thriving Forward”


  1. 1 Dean S September 30, 2010 at 11:33 am

    I agree that Sports psychology is integral in player development. A team approach with other disciplines creates the best athletes.


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