In This Issue

President-elect's column

The partnership between AASP, APA and the USOC has given stability and credibility to the professional practice of sport psychology.

By John Heil, DA

I attended my first sport psychology conference, sponsored by the International Society of Sport Psychology (ISSP), in Ottawa in 1981. I was struck by the enthusiasm of the attendees and the sense of excitement of being engaged in a new enterprise. But most striking was the collegiality of the field that somehow reached across the “Iron Curtain” which then separated the USA and the Soviet Union, who were otherwise locked in a stifling Cold War struggle for cultural supremacy.

At that time there was also speculation, fostered in the popular media, about specialized Soviet mental training methods, that were unknown in the West and offered the Soviet juggernaut a competitive edge. Since then much has obviously changed. The field has continued to grow and prosper. Terms like the “zone” and “focus” have become part of the lexicon of sport. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the emigration of Eastern Bloc (i.e., east of the “Iron Curtain”), coaches to the USA and other western nations, the great Soviet secret was revealed as myth. The practice of sport psychology moved forward as an applied science, although problems with false and exaggerated claims and credentials continued to plague the field.

In 1986, APA Div. 47 was established with a core group of 25 to 30 individuals. This was a much welcomed development, as mainstream psychology had been slow to accept sport psychology in the 70s and early 80s. As I was completing my doctorate in the late 70s, and preparing to enter the job market, I was coached by one of my advisors to leave sport psychology off the list of courses I had taught. His advice reflected a genuine concern that the study of sport would be regarded as frivolous and undermine my chances of getting a position.

As the original positive psychology, sport psychology received a boost with the rank and file when then APA President Martin Seligman (whose work with learned helplessness had evolved into learned optimism) called for a greater focus on the positive aspects of psychology. Since this time Div. 47 has continued to grow into the organization we know today. There are now over 1,000 members, fellow status, a practice proficiency, a newly minted Performance Enhancement section, numerous awards and the journal Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology.

Leading the way in sport psychology in the late 70s and early 80s was a group of exercise and sport science trained specialists, with a smattering of clinically trained psychologists. Their efforts culminated in the establishment of the Association for the Advancement Applied Sport Psychology (AAASP) in 1985, under the leadership of John Silva, with its first conference the following year. This pioneering group had its first home in the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity (NASPSPA). Feeling stifled by the strict research agenda of NASPSPA, whose primary focus was motor learning and control, AASP broke away with the vision of sport psychology as an applied practice. To many throughout the divisions of APA, this will strike a responsive chord, as it is a story that continues to resonate.

Several years down the line, in recognition of the growth of the field, the term “advancement” was dropped and AAASP became AASP, leaving one more “A” for the Scrabble players. By this time mainstream clinical and counseling psychologists had begun to embrace AASP, attending its vibrant and expansive annual conference.

Integral to the applied mission of AASP was the development of a sport psychology certification — the Certified Consultant, Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology (CC-AASP) credential. This was implemented in 1989 after vigorous debate and controversy. If you are thinking that a credential which has 10 words in it has lawyers involved in the naming of it and an interesting backstory, then you are right.

In 1995, AASP, APA and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) agreed to join forces to create the USOC Registry — which most of you know requires the CC-AASP credential and APA membership. This followed a divisive period of controversy as to how to define a sport psychologist within the Olympic sports movement and brought a renewed sense of unity and common purpose.

Over the years our field has weathered its share of conflict and controversy — with continuing issues related to credibility, visibility and scope of practice, as well as consumer awareness and protection.

I would suggest to you that the partnership between AASP, APA and the USOC has given stability and credibility to the professional practice of sport psychology. Our continued collegiality, cooperation and collaboration is the key to moving sport psychology forward to meet the constantly emerging challenges we face. For Div. 47, this means continuing to extend our reach through collaboration with our “sibling” divisions within APA, and by cultivating the relationship with our “cousin” sport science organizations, the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Athletic Trainers' Association.