Anyone who has ever attended a conference of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology can get overwhelmed once the Coleman Griffith Lecture finishes. This year an apt tribute to the first 25 years of AASP was offered as past-presidents Jean Williams, Michael Saks and Marty Ewing enlightened the audience in many ways. First off, Jean gave us a slide show to remember. Photos from the gala Mardi Gras banquet in New Orleans, the Halloween party in Colorado Springs and numerous shots of our ‘fearless leaders’ in all manner of self-expression. Jean did a credible review of the political climate in NASPSPA which argued against and discouraged the specialization of sport psychology specifically. It was from this kind of resistance that John Silva and a crew of young revolutionaries decided to meet on Jekyl Island – and form a new organization more appropriately devoted to both the science and practice of applied sport and exercise psychology.
I realized that I had personally attended 4 of the first 10 meetings of AAASP, my favorite coming in 1990 in Seattle, Washington – on the UW campus – as many of us lived in the dorms and rode bikes to socialize in the downtown area… although nothing could top the boat ride and salmon dinner on Bainbridge, Island on a gorgeous Indian summer evening. Since then, I’ve attended 6 of the last 15 – and I must admit, the small town flavor of AASP is no more.
Michael Saks did a marvelous job clarifying the middle years, the evolution of certification as AASP now boasts over 300 certified consultants – with 25 newly minted this year alone. Unfortunately, the most disappointing part of the lecture was Ewing, as she fumbled through the “future” of what she envisions AASP will look like in the year 2035. She clearly meant well, but this was a task better suited for one of the student representatives – or a future leader in the organization like Nick Galli (who won the dissertation award) – and not just because he is a wiz kid – but because he carries himself with competence, grace, a quick smile and a well -spoken presence.
The symposiums and programs were strong as usual, but I found two to be particularly valuable to me in my work. First, was that offered by David da Silva, Angus Mugford and Melissa Hunfalvay from IMG Academies. They presented on A Model for Sport Vision Training. Their review of the research comparing visual cues utilized by professional vs. amateur athletes was in a word, startling. They provided numerous examples in how vision training has improved batters’ pitch recognition – tennis players’ return of serve – and how certain tools like strobe goggles enable athletes to “slow” their sport down and improve their reaction time. Their program provided unequivocal evidence supporting the use of such interventions during the off-season and pre-season, but as a cross-training tool for athletes recovering from injury. Even modest gains can be significant to the athlete. Had this been a workshop demonstrating the use and application of these tools – the session would have been a home run. As a method for mental conditioning, I will definitely pursue local resources for this kind of skill building.
Another extremely good session focused on new developments in the use of imagery in sport. David Smith clarified the body of research in PETTLEP imagery and proceeded to examine how smaller studies of each of the components in PETTLEP (e.g. environment, physical contact with uniforms and gear, emotional states) might contribute to the benefits in a greater or lesser degree. Rob Bell and Meghan Halbrook made a compelling case for solution-focused guided imagery treatment for the “yips” in golf, while Phillip Yost discussed how certain methods in imagery can help gymnasts not only manage fear more effectively, but improve technique when combined with video to enhance the body’s control of angles on apparatus like the beam, bars or vault.
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss Dr. Jim Loehr’s keynote address and some of the breakthrough work occurring in health and exercise psychology. In the weeks to come, stay tuned for weekly Podcasts featuring interviews I conducted with researchers throughout the conference. In keeping with the readable, credible and practical mission which is Podium Sports Journal – I hope you enjoy!