Making the Impossible – Possible

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by Stephen Walker, PhD, CC-AASP

Returning from AASP in one piece is not always easy. Not much sleep, a frenetic pace and meeting up with great minds always gets me buzzing. I realized that I have been to roughly half of these conferences since losing my virginity (ahem…my AASP virginity) in Nashua, New Hampshire October of 1988.

The buzz at these things is palpable and the mix of students, faculty, and active practitioners makes it a pretty engaging event on most every level. That people are friendly and excited to be engaged in cutting edge work…makes it even more fun.

Sean McCann, sport psychologist for the USOC, took charge as our new President…and he really got the show off to a good start – by challenging those norms that have been tacitly accepted over many years – and pushing the membership to perform at such a level that AASP’s reputation as the most credible organization of its kind in the world continues unquestioned.

As amped up as I was – it would get worse when I found myself conflicted over 3-4 programs going on at the same time…(think Yippity-Yippity-Yippity.) I finally settled down when Terry Orlick delivered the performance enhancement keynote speech. He was so mellow, one would have thought he indulged in performance relaxing drugs prior to his talk. Truth be told, Orlick is quite a legend in sport psychology authoring the 1st of 5 books on the topic about the time I first became a member of AASP.

He put the audience on the floor by telling a story about Ken Ravizza. Terry was in the audience when Ken presented his doctoral research to a group of coaches in Quebec City. His clinic focused on how to achieve and sustain “peak performance” (a term he referred to several times during the talk.) The French audience laughed every time Ken mentioned peak performance and so Orlick put on a set of headphones to listen in. He discovered that the idiom the French translator used for “peak performance” was orgasm – and that Ken had really been teaching the group how to achieve and sustain an orgasm.

Orlick’s talk soon hit stride as he illustrated the value of creating a “Positive Focus” as well as a “Connected Focus.” His topic grabbed my attention right away. Especially after he talked about his family’s history as circus performers and him doing a handstand on top of his mother’s shoulders. That might not have been a big deal except she was standing on his father’s shoulders and he had his older brother and sister balanced on either thigh extended out to the side….oh, by the way – this was on a tight rope 30 feet in the air….and….Orlick was 5 years old. He said he learned to focus at a very young age because he didn’t want to be responsible for bringing the family down—literally and figuratively . All I could think was, Bravo! And “where are the elephants?”

“Focus” is the word Orlick continuously stresses when he teaches athletes to “MAKE POSSIBLE – THE IMPOSSIBLE.” Reviewing the successes he’s had with free skiers and extreme athletes, indeed adds credibility to his message. He strongly believes that mental skills should be taught early on…and so he wrote Feeling Great: Teaching Children to Excel at Living (Creative Bound, Ontario, 1998.) This material has evolved into a curriculum that involves positive beginnings, positive thinking, freeing children from stress, relaxation, imagining games, focusing activities, and skills for shifting focus. He is currently researching the facilitative effects of his curriculum while extolling the universal benefits that can be derived by its implementation. His goal: To get this curriculum adopted in every school throughout the world. That’s what I mean about making the impossible – possible.

I was so relaxed after his session that, having trouble extricating myself from my chair, I stayed afterward to brainstorm the ways he might actually succeed in his “Goal”, using Malcolm Gladwell’s treaties on the dynamics of trends, Tipping Point, as a useful model. No doubt, Orlick was a highlight of this year’s AASP for me.

The rekindling of old friendships, networking opportunities and exposure to great minds always gets me jazzed. This year was no exception. To learn more about AASP visit: www.appliedsportpsych.org or to learn more about Terry Orlick’s project visit: www.zoneofexcellence.ca

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