One of the best things about living in Europe is the ease with which I can travel. Seriously, only $400 to fly from the bottom to right near the top of the continent, whaaa?! And that’s a return ticket?? Crazy. Europeans don’t know how good they have it. Last month a bunch of us from the EMSEP program capitalized on this and flew up to Sweden for a sport psychology conference (and to get a fleeting taste of what weather many of us are cleverly avoiding living in Greece).
Everything was so big and open. I’d gotten used to Trikala by now — the cafés spilling out onto the boulevards, the constant people swirling about, sipping coffee and watching the game well into the wee hours of the morning as a mix of Greek Traditional and Top 40 fills the air. Gothenburg? Not so much. Just a quiet, cobblestoned Scandinavian space with the odd Swede scurrying against the wind, seeking asylum from the elements. And what wind! At least King Karl IX still watches from his copper mare over the city he founded.
Sweden, or what little I saw of it over the weekend, reminded me of a quieter, more European Canada. People are reserved, polite, and calm. There is a clear social order that everyone follows and queues are something of a normalcy. Let’s talk about this for a minute, just to prepare any reader who is hoping on coming to Greece. In Greece the concept of lining up for something — anything — just.does.not.exist. Don’t even try it, you’ll never get anywhere. The way things work here is if you see an open space, you slide into it sans eye contact. It takes practice and dedicated training for the guilt to subside, but it will happen. And it’s important to understand this behaviour is not rude, it’s just how things work. If you’re in a hurry you press forward, if you have time you let someone in front of you.
In Sweden, lines are still very much in use. An awkward moment and a whole lot of shame at an exchange kiosk made sure I understood this.
We didn’t get a chance to meet too many locals so no portraits of the good Gothenburger. Our exposure was primarily to others like us; internationals with a whole lot of international experience and cultural awareness. Succinctly: few faux pas. Except for my attempt at muscling past the granny at the ForEx kiosk. That was awkward.
… was amazing. It was my first professional conference. And these guys are hella passionate about what they do. The age group must have been 20-35 and the energy certainly flowed. Widening my network was clearly a big plus, but there were two other reasons this trip was worth the time and money: potential and potential. Let me explain.
First, I saw how young and fresh the field is. In Polish we say “pole do popisu”, literally “a space to shine”. Sure, sport psychology has been “around” since Norman Triplett’s groundbreaking 1898 paper, and accepted as a science since Coleman Griffith opened his sport psych lab at the University of Illinois in 1925. Still, all the theories gleaned thus far haven’t seen mainstream use in elite athletics since perhaps, I don’t know — the end of the Cold War? And widespread use has only taken place even more recently, man — within my own lifetime! I remember the lack of structure in gym class and after-school sports growing up: everything was run by the well-meaning intentions of an altruistic, often underpaid coach who just loved the game. Or, unfortunately, by a similarly underpaid coach who loved the extra hours.
Then, when I was getting my judo coaching certification in the late 00s, I started hearing something about a Long-Term Athlete Development plan. I brushed it off as yet more unnecessary bureaucracy in sport and left it at that, returning to the mats with perhaps a few cool new approaches but otherwise not overly fazed. Now here in Europe they’re rolling out with something called the Promoting Adolescent Physical Activity project and I’m slowly noticing the institutionalized trend to make sport more popular and more accessible to a much wider audience than ever before. My guess? Money. The answer to any high-level government changes is always money (obviously, and this is not something negative). The simple truth is people who play sports are less of a burden on the healthcare system. And people who develop positive associations with sport at a young age have a much higher chance of continuing this habit through life than those who only get exposed to sport much later. So initiatives like LTAD and PAPA are saving money in the long run and leaving a happier populace in their wake. Win-win!
The second bonus that made it well worth the trip was Pep. Well, more Pep’s presentation (though he’s awesome too). Pep was on my team for the ENYSSP challenge (a relay race, which it’s important you know we won) and, like many inconspicuous faces throughout the crowd that day, Pepijn Lochtenberg was also a presenter. His presentation, “Training police officers in sport psychology techniques“, set off so many possible applications in my head I almost saw stars. Pep works for the Dutch applied sport psychology company, ProTask, where one of his audiences is the country’s police force, slowly branching out into firefighters and paramedics as well. Pep leads daily workshops and training in a wide array of topics very useful in policework and his sessions are in very high demand. Who knows where the wind’ll blow, but this knowledge is great to have as I consider a career in this field.
Here’s a great summary of the weekend, made by ENYSSP’s very own Peter Schneider:
I was exceptionally lucky to get into the Greek EMSEP program. I got to hear a bit about the Swedish and Finish programs during the weekend and it seems our degree will cost less in the end (three free meals a day, a bike lent from the uni, much cheaper living costs, more temperate weather) and we have much more access to leading scholars in the field. This was confirmed when one of the main papers presented ended up being based on the research of a prof we had literally just dined with the night before in Greece. This point was really hammered home when I received a post-conference email recommending I check out a new sport psych textbook, of which the main editor is none other than the director of our program.
When I burst with the news to my family that I was going to Greece for (gasp!) two whole years a few months back, everyone was understandably concerned. First, countries like Finland and Sweden look really good on a resume. Second, Greece was (and still is) very much in the heart of an economical crisis. But man am I glad I followed my heart with this call.
And some practical advice: it’s easy to spend a lot in Sweden. So watch out, especially if you’ve barely transitioned to euros (ie: me): $1 CAD is about 6kr SEK; €1 is about 9kr. So you see the prices for things like sweaters are in the hundreds of crowns but then your mind quickly convinces you to buy them anyway because, come on, it’s actually like one-tenth that!
Do not do this. It’s actually not.
A final thought on the logistics of the trip: we stayed at a hostel for the four nights at $40/night. This was the cheapest option we could find and still blew my previous Expensive Hostel record. An ordinary sushi dinner came out to $15 — this is how much an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet costs back in Toronto. Wow.
All told, I spent close to a thousand dollars on this conference: $400 for the flight, $400 for room, board, and a few souvenirs, and $150 for the ENYSSP membership & conference fees. Ouch. But I still maintain that it was worth it, for all the reasons above and because I’m now one country closer to fulfilling a dream.
Were I to do this again, I’d definitely not buy plane tickets ahead of time: friends bought tickets at a considerably cheaper rate than me just a few days before leaving, and I bought mine a whole two months ahead of time. I would also take a(n intelligent) gamble and probably CouchSurf. A few people have told me this is a bad idea for conferences but I don’t know, I’m pretty confident it would work like a charm.
Next up: Warsaw for some more SLP adventures. Until then, greetings from ENYSSP!