Posts Tagged 'AASP'

Lemon Drop

Sport psychers… when you think about introducing imagery to a team do you think about lemons?  When you consider focus, do you photocopy a concentration grid?  These things are well and good, but are they really the best ways to develop mental toughness?

Imagining biting into a lemon is a nice introduction to sensory responses, but I’m convinced there are much better ways to help athletes make the most of the dynamic cognitive-emotional benefits of mental imagery.  There aren’t many lemons in locker rooms.

The Association for Applied Sport Psychology’s (AASP) annual conference is upon us.  In recent weeks, John Silva, founding father of the organization, suggested that the “A” dropped in 2007 from Triple-A SP is currently, truly missing – advancement.  There has been some incredible psychological, kinesiological, and educational research in the past decade, has practice in the field advanced with it?

The practice of sport psychology is the artful application of science.  Both artists and scientists are creative and continuous learners.  Lemons are not terribly creative nor a progression in learning.  It will be interesting to see this week how (and if) “advancement” in practice is alive and well in the trenches where sport psychology happens.

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Advice for a Recent Sport Psych. Graduate

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Here are my BIG 3 SUGGESTIONS for Stacey:

1) Define (and maintain) your Role – Sport psychology and it’s merits can be difficult to measure.  In the reality of the business world decisions are made by how much something is “worth” to customers.  So then, what exactly is sport psychology worth?  The answer…there is no answer!!?  It’s worth nothing and everything at the same time.  Mental success is difficult to define, much less measure, so good luck defining it’s “worth”.  So then, as a practitioner (especially a neophyte) what leverage do you have to convince someone to hire you?

My suggestion is to generate a firm and well founded philosophy that will become your product.  What do you truly believe enhances performance…and HOW will you put this philosophy/product to use with the population in question?  From there it may be effective to create a timetable of how much time and how many sessions will it take to educate the population on your product until they truly “get it”.  It’s one thing to get in the door, and another to stay in (which is a discussion for another post), but it is imperative to stay true to the mission established at the beginning.  I have heard too many disaster stories of recent graduates who end up filling “other roles” with the same population they are trying to do sport psychology work with.  Not only do you tend to lose credibility, but you also lose the ability to develop your sport psychology product and refine it to become successful in the long-term.

2) Maintain a High Standard of Ethics – It’s human nature to want people to like you.  Be aware of that and do not confuse high quality and effective work with the desire to be liked.  Yes, we are hired to listen to and support those around us, but there are professional boundaries that must be established.  As a young practitioner you will likely not be much older than (and you may actually be even younger than) the population you work with.  Be a professional first…and be a professional second.  Period.

3) Establish a Support System – You will need help.  After 5+ years of working with athletes on player development and the mental aspects of performance every day, I still rely very heavily and continue to develop a support system for myself.  Thanks mostly to my colleagues on this blog!!  But there are other local clinical psychologists, family members, and friends who support my professional and personal needs so I can stick my role (see #1) on a daily basis.

Like any other pursuit in life, developing a quality sport psychology product takes highly channeled effort.  Hopefully these BIG 3 SUGGESTIONS assist you to channel that effort effectively Stacey!!

Cutting Edge Not So Sharp

Sometimes trying to be on the cutting edge is not such a sharp idea.  This is highlighted in the recent The Atlantic magazine where John Ioannidis and his brave thinking is shared.  Ioannidis and his team strive to bring to light misleading and exaggerated medical research findings.  In an era where scientists are pushed to be cutting edge and journals want to share the most exciting findings, it seems like good judgment and sound practice are sacrificed.  In the medical world, these costs are quite dramatic.  In the sports world, this desire to be ahead of the curve can waste time and effort.  Furthermore, in most unfortunate circumstances, lead to injury and reduced performance.  Sometimes the glitz and glamor of the next best thing blinds to the wisdom of the tried and true.

This is clearly evidenced in the strength and conditioning world on a regular basis.  New weights, plates, and gimmicks seem to abound.  Yet the best coaches in the world can do some pretty amazing things (for the highest level athletes) with body weight and a few dollars of equipment.  Nonetheless athletes can too often be found chasing the next best thing (while too often running away from high performance).

I have been reminded to appreciate the tried and true a couple of times over the past week.  At the Association for Applied Sport Psychology conference in Providence, RI a research lecture ended with the presenter asking the audience to consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Psychological theory from 1943!?  Absolutely tried and true… if basic needs are not fulfilled, one can not even begin to consider high performance.  Similarly, in reading Elkind’s The Power of Play I was struck by the importance of old news.  Elkind highlights that he tries “to unite Freud’s motivational orientation with the intellectual approach of Jean Piaget.”  Freud and Piaget… more old news.  Old news that if understood by parents, coaches, and youth sporters of today would lead to happy, healthier, and higher performing athletes.

Do not get me wrong, the next big thing is exciting and certainly loved by the popular press.  Let’s just not throw out the baby with the bathwater by forgetting to appreciate past science and sound theory that may carry a few cobwebs.  Highest performance and highest health is found when the tried and true is refined to most efficient and effective levels.  Truly new ideas are far and few between (click for an example of striving towards a few that are true).  The “new” we typically know are either old ones repackaged (hopefully with greater user-friendliness) or poor one’s adorned with pomp and circumstance.  Searching for “cutting edge” is critical and the wise person is conservative with use of the label.

Looking forward is good.  Just don’t forget to look back on a regular basis.

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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