… aaaand “home”. I say this both since Poland certainly is this for me, and because of the relief I feel for writing up the final of my Baltic blogs: Latvia, Lithuania, and Belarus done, it’s time to head to the a country as homely to me as my native Canada.
About a week out of Belarus — October 19th to be exact — and I’m presenting another Q&A on my travels and on how sport psychology is “done” abroad, this time at Gdańsk University in northern Poland. The school is near and dear to me because it’s just outside my dad’s hometown and, indeed, I have lots of family in and around the city, but also because I’d taught classes there during my master’s practicum a year-and-a-half prior. We even fit in the popular Lap Circle (teampedia) before I am able to take the professor aside for our impromptu interview.
But this time it’s not Franciszek Makurat, the director of the Sport Psychology department, but Dagmara Budnik-Przybylska, one of two professors working full-time there (the other being her husband, Jacek).
Daga and I met serendipitously when I was still a student and have kept in touch since. Her foray into the field — as with many of its Polish trailblazers I’m finding — was through martial arts. Though her original PhD dissertation was in personality theory, she specializes in visualization, an interest that naturally grew out of her own experience in karate. Indeed, she has even collaborated with Tony Watt in this topic a few times over the years. We chatted a bit about the idea of nature v. nurture (v. Dąbrowski’s “third factor”), of psychocybernetics (not the same thing as the 70s self-help book and movement that followed it), and of the dystopian future all this can lead to. It was at this point that I noted something interesting: all the psychologists I had met during this tour were women in their 30s and 40s: Dace & Irina, Lina, Nino and Daga are all remarkably similar.
Sport psychology in Poland
As her karate career was winding down, Daga went on to study psychology at the same university where she now teaches, marking one of three entryways into the career. Summarized, sport psychology practitioners in Poland generally are:
- Higher-level athletes who go on to complete at least a master’s degree in psychology (5 years, including undergraduate work).
- Double-majors in psychology and physical education/sport science (4 years).
- Psychology bachelor’s graduates (3-4 years) with either a sport psych. specialization or a post-graduate diploma in it afterwards (~3 semesters).
This last diploma is available to graduates of other, related programs as well (eg: biochemistry, physiology). However, in order to call yourself a psychologist you must first join the Polish Psychological Association (requiring at minimum a master’s degree in the field), from which you can join their Sport Psychology Division (fb). Active membership requires continuing education and sustained work in the field. Members call themselves “Psychologist Trainers” to avoid the stereotype that psychology is for the mentally ill, and to underline that what they do is actually every bit as much a training for the mind as working with a strength and conditioning coach is for the body. Of course, there are self-professed “coaches” and “mental trainers” offering their services as well, but these are increasingly viewed with hesitation by prospective clients because of their lack of official association membership.
The association is undergoing regular changes as it matures. Massive political changes in Poland’s government since communism fell in the 80s resulted in waves that are still being felt in the country’s bureaucracy. Because of all this upheaval the term “psychologist” is not formally protected in Poland just yet — every time it seems the association is close to nailing the final paperwork, the government changes to a party who seems hellbent on undoing everything their predecessors did. This instability has already led to a small kerfuffle with a competing, business-oriented organization creating a competing web presence, but it is only a matter of time before things get ironed out.
In comparing the above to our own growing pains in Canada, I really admire Poland’s inclusivity in covering the wide variety of entryways into the field. I also immediately see all the confusion laid out by the bureaucratic maze required to get there, but ultimately really do see the great strides both the country and its citizens have made in recent years to clean up such messes.
An interesting shift in focus started showing up as I traveled westward through northeastern Europe, from rules and performance through work and striving to individual improvement and fulfillment. For Daga, sport was, “improving one’s efficiency, ability, personality, body, mind, and something fantastic! The actual definition I can get you from Wikipedia, but this is what sport is for me,” she laughed jokingly. As for cases like chess or darts, the importance of elements like rivalry and intensity came up. Daga said she was skeptical of classifying chess as a sport, but after studying with a chess player for her post-graduate certificate she agreed with her group that the game certainly can be classified as such in certain cases:
We did talk briefly of the role of physicality in chess, but as you can see with Carlsen above, you’d be hard-pressed in comparing his physicality to that of an Olympic shooter. Going down this trail we talked of the elements that start to make an activity a sport: pressure (eg: chess v. speed chess), spectators, competing v. performing (eg: sparring v. kata in karate). The bottom line we agreed on, was that there must be movement. “In chess, there isn’t too much movement,” Daga chuckled.
Working with a client
Daga has recently started introducing her work with a puzzle metaphor:
“You want to have all the right pieces fitting correctly before you can start performing. For an ideal start in a race for example, what do you need? A solid night’s rest, not to be running under stress, these are all pieces we can build up. And then with the basics covered you can get into visualization, motivation, concentration, etc.”
The main point is to build up an athlete’s understanding of what’s going on inside themselves, and athletes immediately buy in to this puzzle approach. They will often start analyzing poor performances as, “Yes, indeed, I hadn’t slept enough that night.” Daga is also careful to not start work with papers, even including consent forms. “I don’t know who you are, or what we’re even consenting to do,” is what she found her athletes thinking, immediately distancing themselves from her.
Puzzle introduction complete, Daga will then move on to share something about herself, her knowledge and experience, and her own history in sports, showing she understands the athletes and building up trust and relatedness all the while. Basics covered, she then prods athletes into a deeper analysis of their mental preparedness and how to improve it: what areas need work, running through mental scenarios, preparing for surprises, and so on. She’s independently developed the same technique as we used during my practicum in Vancouver under Laura Farres with questions like, “What is an ideal start for you? Can you describe one you’ve had, and what happened around it?”, as well as sometimes dipping into examining thoughts, feelings, and behaviours or even working with performance profiles as needed. All this, Daga finds, is much more effective than any lecturing or workshops one might be tempted to run, which last about 15m before athletes zone out. The sincere conversations brought about by her approach, however, last only 5-10m and are significantly more effective. “Listening is key,” she says, “sometime it’s most important just to be present.”
Poland has a culture of complaining, Daga immediately noted, with Poles tending to not only lower their own self-confidence (reminiscent of Latvians), often assuming others are better than them, but also to focus on the negative. Happily, Daga’s noted a change in this trend (as have I in the years between studying there in 2004-5 and 2015), especially since Poland achieved EU membership in 2004 and the country started opening up to its neighbours. Unfettered travel across borders and open access to information has helped a lot in this regard. As Poland’s basic needs are slowly being met on a national level, the country is slowly able to begin caring for its development across other, deeper fields.
Daga’s favourite exercise to get athletes on board with imagery is the lemon visualization exercise (YT); a walk-through description that causes salivation in the listeners upon completion. “Do you have a lemon? You don’t. Does visualization work? It works,” she laughs.
And tough moments she’s learned from recently included her pregnancy, when she was bed-ridden for a week and learned that, “it’s possible,” as well as an experience working with a very talented youth who just wasn’t succeeding and even broke into tears during a session. She went home thinking herself a complete failure, but then at her next meeting with him he presented her with all the work she had asked him to do. “You sometimes don’t see what you’re building until it’s built,” she notes, reminiscent of the famous “It ain’t about how hard ya hit. — it’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward” Rocky quote. A last experience involved becoming too friendly with a team early on in her career. This did help her become a trusted aide quickly, but ultimately hindered her from being able to help as much as she could have otherwise. She now knows to set up appropriate boundaries if only for efficacy’s sake.
Daga’s most valuable resource is contact with other professionals in the field. Barring this, she’s a huge fan of Morris, Watt, & Spittle’s Imagery in Sport, Morris & Summers’ Sport Psychology: Theories, Applications, and Issues, and Karageorghis & Terry’s Inside Sport Psychology, one of the few big works that has been translated into Polish. As far as movies go, Daga recommends Peaceful Warrior as Lina did (but both the book as well as the movie) and The Secret, “But with some explanation: the point is not that the Universe benevolently gives you things, but that the power to change yourself comes from you.”
Her favourite quote? “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right, by Henry Ford“. And her final advice?
“Build trust so you are accepted. If you’re accepted you can bring about a lot of good. How do you build trust? Simple: be yourself, and just let your natural optimism rub off on your athletes.”
If you can happily nod along to Polish then please have a listen:
… after listening to about 5h of myself interviewing, I cannot help but wrap up this series with a note on improvement: I need to work on stopping myself from uh-huhing, from laughing too much, from mumbling/stuttering (especially in Polish, where for the first time I heard my own accent caused by forming Polish words with lips moving the way they do in English; read: “barely”), from being overly enthusiastic or intense, from sharing my own anecdotes or unverified hearsay or anything even remotely approaching negativity/criticism/stereotyping unless it is necessary for the interview, from sharing jokes I think are funny or otherwise interjecting when the interviewee is speaking (even if I think it’s “helpful”), and from providing unnecessary background context in a way that could be viewed as mansplaining.The main reason for cutting all this out is just because it creates clutter when someone’s trying to listen to the interview afterwards. The bottom line? Interviews are not about me, but about them. I am just the interviewer.
Technical improvements include placing the mic much closer to the interviewee and filming is always preferable to just recording voice. Recording from multiple sources is a great habit to cultivate, and when doing such a massive projects as this series then uniform labeling across sets and periodical saving is key. Any smartphone will do for the above (I used my trusty rusty OnePlus 3), and Kdenlive is a fantastic tool for editing both audio and video afterwards while GIMP really is all you need for editing images. Using these two, it’s important to keep an XCF file saved of all your GIMP progress and to periodically save your Kdenlive projects into new KDENLIVE files because this program is still not super stable on Windows 10, even using such a new, high-power device like my MS Surface Book.