Two Plattsburgh State graduate students were awarded the first-place award for their research at the Greater New York American College of Sports Medicine Conference last Saturday.
Jordynne Ales and Raneem Kurzum’s study “A Mental Health Case Study in NCAA: Are Mental Toughness and Self-Compassion Contradictory Concepts?” won the top award in PSUC’s first appearance in the graduate student version of the conference. This follows PSUC students winning fourth and fifth place awards at last year’s undergraduate conference.
“It was the first time [at the graduate student conference], and we beat Columbia and NYU,” Andreas Stamatis, Assistant Professor of Sport and Wellness and Undergraduate Program Coordinator said. “The basketball coach came by, and I said, ‘It was like you taking your team to Duke and beating them by 20.’”
Stamatis helped orchestrate the interdepartmental study with the help of Dr. Paul Deal of the Health and Counseling department.
“It was particularly rewarding watching our team, especially our graduate students, embody the very constructs we were studying,” Deal said. “Competing and winning first prize was largely the result of that congruence.”
Deal and Stamatis came up with the main idea of the study together, combining Stamatis’ sports background with Deal’s background in counseling.
“If you have higher levels of mental toughness, we knew it would help your mental health,” Stamatis said. “We knew that if you had higher levels of self-compassion, it would help your mental health. So we saw those relationships and wondered if you can have both.”
When it came time to recruit students, Stamatis and Deal were focused on finding students that would buy into the idea of the study. Ales’ interest in sports psychology and Kurzum’s interest in counseling combined to make a formidable duo.
Three surveys were sent out by the interdepartmental team to all of the student-athletes on campus: one with questions about about mental toughness, one with questions about self-compassion and one with questions about mental health as a whole.
The surveys saw strong participation among Cardinal student-athletes, with 227 participating overall.
“In two weeks, we got 63 percent of the student-athletes,” Stamatis said. “The sample was great.”
After that, Ales and Kurzum analyzed the data to see what kind of case they could make and how it mattered.
Through the research, the pair found that mental toughness and self-compassion complement one another in supporting a student-athlete’s mental health.
“You can’t just make a case; the way you win these things is by telling them who should care about this and why,” Stamatis said. “We made a case that teaching mental toughness and self compassion should be included in any mental health initiative. The main goal is protecting the student athletes.”
Now that the students won first place, their work will be published in an academic publication.
“We weren’t producing any research before I came here, and to go to grad school, you need that,” Stamatis said. “You need to go to presentations and conferences, and you need to publish.”
Stamatis hopes that the success his students have had over the last couple of years will help continue to drive more research at PSUC.
“The dean came yesterday, and the provost came two days ago, so they’re happy,” Stamatis said. “That’s my mentality. You do something, and then you ask for something. Last year, we got fourth and fifth place, and I went to the dean and said, ‘We need something to start creating a lab.’ Now I can go back and say, ‘With this, look what we did. Can we get more?’”
The students were happy they could do their part while earning valuable experience at the conference last weekend.
“The competition against prestigious schools tested our own mental toughness, and it’s a great feeling knowing that our team put [PSUC’s] academic research on the map,” Ales said.
Now that Ales and Kurzum have won the region, they will represent their regional chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine at the national conference in Orlando, Florida, next May. The regional chapter will pay their way.
The pair will be further expanding on their research to present at the national conference.
Stamatis knows how big of an opportunity research like this is for his students. He just hopes they’ll make something out of it.
“It’s all about the students,” Stamatis said. “They try to thank me, and I say, ‘Don’t thank me. Just promise me you’ll take [this opportunity], and make something out of it. Don’t waste it.’”