My First AASP Conference Experience: Through the Eyes of a Not-So-Young First Timer

        Over the past four days, I've had the great pleasure of attending my first AASP Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana.  AASP stands for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and is the field's closest thing to a governing body.  Among many other things, they try to ensure people are educated about what sport psychology is and who can provide services.  Every year they host a conference filled with sessions about different topics in sport psychology and with about 1000 attendees from somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 different countries.  Although I had received an agenda and mapped out the sessions I wanted to attend weeks ago, I really had no idea what to expect from the experience.

        My only two goals going into the week were to: 1. Learn as much as possible.  2. Make sure I meet those who have helped me over the last three years...and maybe a few others.  The first goal would be easy.  The second would demand me to "get comfortable being uncomfortable."  This may come as a surprise for readers who do not know me well and even some who do, but I am an observer by nature (call it an introvert if you prefer).  The word "networking" nauseates me.  When I hear the word, I think of people networking to sell themselves and having hopes of getting something out of a conversation with others.  I hate both and in all honesty probably miss out on some interactions because of being exceedingly cautious about how I may come across.  A fault of mine, perhaps.  In addition, I do not enjoy being the center of attention with large groups of people.   I am much more likely to seek out a couple of people along the side to speak with than to go through a crowd introducing myself to everyone.  Excluded from this, of course, is when I am educating.  When my job is to provide services, I am good to go regardless of the crowd.  Interaction with coaches and athletes is one of my favorite things to do.  Going to the conference at all was even a little intimidating to me.  Most of the people there traveled in large packs.  Those who did not were largely well-established already in the field or still had ties to many there through grad school programs and internships.  I didn't fit in either of those groups.  My degree program has been online, which, although the best option for me, did not allow me to make strong connections with classmates or professors.  Most of them had very different goals for themselves than I did.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't have small doubts about how my content knowledge would compare to those in attendance.  To make a sports comparison, I was like the HS athlete who'd "grown up" in an extremely small town and was now going to play at a big time college.  People in my small pond have been telling me I'm "good", but am I really?

        Like I said earlier, goal one was easy.  There were sessions every day of great interest.  For now, it doesn't feel right to discuss a lot of specific content, but there was a great mixture of both science and practice in what I attended.  What I will say stood out to me was the variety of speaking styles.  Some people were clearly performers, and others were not.  Some were funny, and others were more business-like with their approach.  The common characteristic I would say I responded the best to was those who didn't deliver their content like they had something to prove to others.  Many of the speakers have been working in sport psychology for a very long time (Some had excruciatingly long introductions to prove it!).  To use one of the old cliches, "They had forgotten more sport psychology than I knew."  Despite that, the best speakers did not take the approach that they knew everything or that they had to make sure everyone in attendance was aware how smart they are.  To steal a common message from the conference that resonated with me, "They spoke to the ones who were listening."  They simply shared their messages and experiences.  They weren't afraid to admit uncertainty when asked a question.  Whether they were really loud and active or not was kind of just window dressing for me.  They were themselves, and that was plenty good enough.

        Goal two was again more difficult.  I liked the freedom of being there by myself, but it did demand I seek out others if I were to make connections.  My overall method of choice was to talk with presenters after their sessions.  This was probably the coolest thing about the setup of the conference.  A session may go from 9-10, and that is how long they would keep the group.   The presenters would then stick around afterwards though, and you could go talk to them.  Everyone I talked to was unbelievably gracious with their time and humble about their work.  There was no rush to answer questions, and many took the time to ask about me and what I am doing.  In addition, there were a handful of other attendees I connected with either in a session or just in passing.  I enjoyed hearing their stories and experiences based on what programs they were a part of and what work they were doing or hoping to do.  One of my favorite sessions was done by a group who works with the United States Military.  They had us move with a group to different stations and talk through some scenarios.  This made me feel like I was part of a real live class, and I enjoyed that a lot.  It also provided me with one of those "Ah ha" moments where I was reminded I definitely know what I am talking about.  One other part of goal two that was pretty cool was making a point to talk with a couple of professors who are part of a degree program I considered attending a couple of years ago.  I just wanted to thank them for helping me out with my decision and being so generous with their advice, but I did not think they would remember me.  Well, not only did they remember me, but THEY thanked me for talking with them and showed genuine interest in what I have done.  What?  Don't they know I didn't go to their school?  In addition, one of the doctoral students at the school took the time to talk with me even though I was clear I did not really have interest in any more grad school for now.  She was again incredibly generous with her time and in sharing her experiences.  Just some great people being great people and enjoying talking about a shared love for sport psychology I guess.  Regardless, it was very cool of all of them, and I feel good about the overall success of goal two as well.

        So where then did the experience of the week leave me?   It left me in what I feel like is a great place.  I'm leaving, somehow, both humbled and confident.  I've been humbled because it was really my first, in-person experience of not being the "expert" in sport psyc. The conference humbled me with some of the incredibly knowledgeable and experienced people who are out there.  Something I have come to realize is my degree program setup had put me in a shell for much of the experience.  Sure, there was interaction on class discussion boards and some feedback from professors.  They weren't actually there with me during the long weekends of work though.  I now realize it would be best for the athletes who I work with if I got out of this territorial shell and tried to collaborate with others more.  Although I'm humbled, I'm also very confident as I get ready to head home to South Carolina.  I feel like I'm exactly where I need to be, know what I need to know, and know where I want to go in the future.  Who knows?  Maybe one day it will lead to being one of those having the opportunity to spread my knowledge and help others the way so many did for me this week.  In the meantime, I'm ready to get back to work!


Side Note:   A second commonality of almost every speaker was they never mentioned how many championships they had been a part of or how many players they had go on to play professionally.  As someone who has a great deal of his "interaction" with other sport psyc people on Twitter, this was refreshing to say the least.  It is, after all, about the athletes.
     

Comments

  1. Remember that the presenters themselves started out just as you are doing.

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  2. Wise words as always Doc. Very true. Thanks for reading and all of your support!

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