"An invaluable experience": The varied pleasures of our Annual Conference

Submissions are open for next year’s Society Annual Conference, which takes place in Harrogate - with its international conference reputation and famous flower shows and healing spa waters - on 9-11 April 2013.

The conference themes this time are:

  • The typical and atypical mind across the lifespan
  • Education, ethics and professional practice dilemmas in psychology
  • The nature and diversity of social cohesion and attachment

And five keynote speakers have been announced:

  • Professor Robin Dunbar
  • Professor Peter Fonagy
  • Professor Susan Gathercole
  • Professor Alex Haslam
  • Dr Karen Kitchener

You can submit your own research via the conference website. Registration will open on 3 September 2012 and early-bird rates will be available until 28 February 2013. Again, see our website for full details.

Two PhD students – Faye Didymus from Loughborough University and Laura Healy from the University of Birmingham – attended our 2012 Annual Conference earlier this year and shared their impressions with us:

The BPS Annual Conference took place between 18 and 20 April 2012 at the Grand Connaught Rooms in central London. The conference brought together the Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology, the Qualitative Methods in Psychology Section, the Division for Teachers and Researchers in Psychology, and the Student Conference. This amalgamation provided delegates with opportunities to present their scientific research, share knowledge, and reflect on their ideas with other attendees from a range of psychology disciplines.

The programme

The conference boasted 165 poster presentations, 135 individual oral presentations, 23 symposiums, 12 workshops, eight keynote presentations, eight awards lectures, six drop-in clinics, five panel sessions, four invited speakers, three “spotlight on careers” sessions, a public lecture, and a presidential address.

Inspiring keynote presentations were delivered by Professor Chris Brewin (University College London), Professor Dorothy Bishop (University of Oxford), Professor Diane Halpern (Claremont McKenna College), Professor Dan Gould (Michigan State University), Professor Wendy Hollway (Open University), Professor Sandy Gordon (The University of Western Australia), Dr Julian Boon (University of Leicester), and Dr John Kremer (Queens University Belfast).

In addition to the academic programme, two social events were organised: an Awards Gala Dinner and a London Bus Tour. These gave delegates an opportunity to socialise with like-minded individuals and see the sights of London, which felt especially relevant in this Olympic and Paralympic year.  

The conference was opened by the Society President Dr Carole Allan. Shortly afterwards the first parallel session began, which included a variety of workshops, symposiums, and individual papers. With numerous sessions presented in parallel, we saw only a fraction of the exciting research that was on offer. However, the presentations that we did see were of the highest quality.

High-risk sports

One of our highlights of the conference was a symposium entitled “Risky business: Themes relating to participation in high risk sports,” which was convened by Dr Neil Weston (University of Portsmouth) and hosted by Dr Rich Thelwell (University of Portsmouth).

The first paper was delivered by Neil who discussed the concept of mental toughness in the context of solo offshore endurance sailing. Neil spoke briefly about the creation of the Artemis Offshore Sailing Academy, which is a UK based training academy that provides a structure for talented sailors to excel. He then spoke about the research that he has conducted with the academy, which involved using sport psychology to inform athlete selection.

The second paper was presented by Amanda Wilding (University of Bournemouth) who discussed her involvement with an Atlantic Ocean row from Morocco to Barbados. She explained that no two-man rowing team had previously been successful in crossing the Atlantic using this route and discussed the implications of this challenge on both the practitioners and the rowers themselves. Amanda highlighted the areas that proved to be essential, including effective communication between the participants and their support networks, the use of motivational quotes, and maintaining a level of normality (e.g. having a shave once a week).

Next to take the floor was Alexandra MacGregor (Bangor University) who spoke about the Risk Taking in Sport Inventory (RTSI). Alexandra explained the predictive validity of the RTSI, which is a method of identifying individuals who may take risks while participating in high risk sports, such as climbing, off-piste skiing, or white water kayaking.

Finally, Jessica Tang (Bangor University) discussed alexithymia and anhedonia in the context of motives for taking risks in high-risk sports. Jessica concluded that emotion regulation was a primary motive for alexithymic individuals’ engagement in high-risk sport. 

James Cracknell 

Another highlight of the conference was the guest presentation by James Cracknell. The former Olympic rower gave an interesting, amusing, and honest talk about his experiences in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games and his numerous participations at World Rowing Championships. James also spoke about his remarkable achievements after finishing his competitive rowing career. These included his successful row across the Atlantic Ocean in a seven-metre boat with Ben Fogle, finishing 12th in the Marathon des Sables, which was the highest placed Briton in the 25 year history of the race, and completing The Amundsen Omega3 South Pole Race with Ben Fogle and Dr Ed Coats.

James also gave a candid insight into his near fatal accident during his attempt to travel (cycle, run, row, and swim) from Los Angeles to New York. James was struck from behind by a truck whilst he was cycling through Arizona and suffered a frontal lobe brain injury during this demanding challenge. The way in which James discussed his experiences and shared his journey with the audience was both motivating and inspiring. Rather than focussing on one particular psychological element, James discussed the overall role that psychology has played in both his sporting and personal achievements. Whilst it is unlikely that this was a novel insight for the sport psychologists in the room, it was great to hear the applied implications of psychology reaffirmed by those who have competed at the highest level.

A particular highlight of James’ sessions was when he passed his Olympic gold medals from Sydney and Athens around the room for the audience to admire! This will stand in our memories for many years to come as the one (and only?) time that we will have an Olympic gold hung around our necks!

Closing thoughts

The Society  Annual Conference was an invaluable experience for us and we were delighted by the diversity of research that was on offer. In particular, it provided us with a novel opportunity to be exposed to research that was outside of our areas of expertise. In addition, it was exciting to hear some of the recent developments in sport and exercise psychology and the poster presentations provided platforms for friendly and lengthy discussions. To attend a conference incorporating sport and exercise psychology in London during the build-up to the Olympic and Paralympic games was especially memorable and we are looking forward to seeing some of the research presented at the conference transferred to the Olympic arena.

The next BPS Annual Conference will be held between 9 and 11 April 2013 at the Harrogate International Centre– we hope to see you there!

Faye Didymus is a third year PhD student in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University. Her research explores the psychology of sporting excellence and, in particular, the cognitive and affective aspects of organisational stress in sport performers.

Laura Healy is a first year ESRC funded PhD student in the School of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Birmingham. Her PhD examines motivation and goal self-regulation, with a particular focus on facilitating optimum goal striving in young elite athletes. Faye and Laura have collaborated to write this review as a way of saying thank you to the British Psychological Society (BPS) for supporting their attendance at the annual conference.

They were each awarded a Postgraduate Bursary by the Society, which contributed towards the cost of attending the full conference.