S.8, E.5: “Athletic Identity” and Sport Injury

Learning for Life @ Gustavus host Greg Kaster interviews Gustavus professor of health and exercise science Hayley Russell.
Posted on March 2nd, 2021 by

Hayley Russell, professor of health and exercise science and recipient of the Swenson-Bunn Teaching Award at Gustavus, on her education, research, and teaching in kinesiology and the psychology of sport injury, connecting with faculty colleagues at Gustavus, her love of teaching and role in fostering faculty conversations about improving it, the factors that shape individual responses to sport injury, and the exercise physiology major.

Season 8, Episode 5: “Athletic Identity” and Sport Injury

Greg Kaster:

(Intro music plays)

Hello and welcome to Learning for Life at Gustavus, the podcast about people teaching and learning at Gustavus Adolphus College and the myriad ways a Gustavus liberal arts education provides a lasting foundation for lives of fulfillment and purpose. I’m your host, Greg Kaster, faculty member in the Department of History.

Writing about my colleague, Dr. Hayley Russell of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Gustavus, one student said, quote, “She goes beyond the role of professor and serves as a role model for me and many other students. She sets the bar high for students and herself, all qualities that I greatly respect and admire.” Faculty share that respect and admiration, knowing as we do, that Professor Russell is not only deeply committed to the education of Gustavus students but also extraordinarily good at it.

The recipient of the college’s Swenson-Bunn Award for Teaching Excellence in 2019, she currently serves as our faculty associate for teaching excellence through the John S. Kendall Center for Engaged Learning on campus. She not only thinks a great deal about teaching. She also, as convener of the Teachers Talking Series at Gustavus, provides opportunities for colleagues to engage in cross-disciplinary conversation about that most important part of our work.

Hayley earned her PhD in kinesiology from the University of Minnesota and joined the Gustavus faculty in 2016. In addition to teaching courses in sports psychology, foundations of well-being and power and privilege in sport, to name just some, she publishes and presents extensively in her field. Hayley’s work in kinesiology and sports psychology and her interest in the psychological response to sport injury are important and to me quite intriguing. I’ve been looking forward to talking with her about all of that and more on the podcast.

Welcome, Hayley, it’s great to have you.

Hayley Russell:

Thanks so much for having me, Greg.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, my pleasure. I know we know each other. Oh, I should maybe stipulate full disclosure. You’re also married to JJ Akin of marketing, the co-producer of this podcast. Without him, there would be no podcast, but that’s not why you’re here. But yeah, we haven’t really ever had a chance to sit down and talk as much as we’re going to now, so I’ve really been looking forward to it. So you’re teaching January term, right?

Hayley Russell:

Yes, I am.

Greg Kaster:

What are you teaching, and how is that going? Is it in person, hybrid, all that stuff?

Hayley Russell:

I am teaching exercise psychology for the first time, and I’m doing it hybrid. So we started meeting in person yesterday, and it’s going really well. This is a class that we are thinking about as being an integral part of the exercise physiology major, so this has been an opportunity to test it out and see how students like it and how I like it and how Stephanie and I see it fitting into the major.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, and that’s Stephanie Otto, your colleague in-

Hayley Russell:

Yes.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, okay. What is exercise psychology about? What is the course about exactly?

Hayley Russell:

Exercise psychology is the study of both how exercise influences psychology and how psychology influences exercise. So in the first week we covered sort of from an ecological model perspective all the different things that potentially influence whether or not we exercise, so things ranging from policy to culture to individual differences and interpersonal relationships. This week we’re covering how exercise influences mental health, so anxiety and depression, health-related quality of life and talking about exercise-related disorders. Then next week we will get into evidence-based interventions to increase exercise in inactive populations. We’re covering a variety of things, and it’s been really fun so far.

Greg Kaster:

Man, that sounds like a course I should be in, although then I probably would feel guilty because I’m avoiding exercise by taking a course in why I’m avoiding exercise. But seriously, it sounds fantastic. I sometimes think, first of all, exercise seems to be the key to so much, right? But it’s also so hard for… I include myself in this… to do on a regular basis. If only I exercised even one-tenth as much as I imagine myself doing, but it sounds great, seriously. Are you actually doing physical activities as part of the course?

Hayley Russell:

We’re not doing physical activity as part of the course, although there are a few things they’ve done. They started the course by doing a walkability assessment of their communities.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, cool.

Hayley Russell:

One thing I really emphasize in the class is that when we think about exercise, probably the ideal exercise for most people is to walk for 30 minutes a day.

Greg Kaster:

Love that. That’s why.

Hayley Russell:

Yeah, and it’s accessible. It doesn’t seem completely overwhelming. For many people it can be a manageable amount of time, but one of the major barriers to that is that many communities are not walkable. So students started by doing a walkability assessment of their home community or the community where they were over holiday break. Then throughout the course, we have some walking breaks. The weather’s been so amazing in Minnesota this January that students have been going out in partners to discuss discussion prompts and record some data about their walking, so their heart rate, their steps, their energy output, those sorts of things, for short bouts of activity. That’s also worked well with COVID restrictions, because then they can space out more than when we’re in the classroom.

Greg Kaster:

Right. No, seriously, it sounds fantastic. You’ve not taught this before I think you said. Are you teaching it with Stephanie Otto or-

Hayley Russell:

No, I’m teaching it alone. Often sports psychology and exercise psychology are taught together, and I’ve taught sport and exercise psychology together many times, but I really advocated for this being a separate course, because I think, for one thing, students often get very caught up in the excitement of performance enhancement of sports psychology, and exercise psychology seems less exciting and important. I also think it just warrants a lot of time and has some unique theoretical perspectives that we should be taking with it.

But Stephanie and I are thinking about it as complementary to what she teaches, so I think our exercise physiology major is amazing in that it prepares students really well to have tangible skills to go out into various work places, but what I was sort of thinking was missing was this behavioral part. So you know exactly what to tell someone to do if they want to start exercising for the first time or if they want to exercise after having an injury or having some sort of major health event, but how do you get them to sustain motivation and enjoy exercising, which we know is something that many people don’t do regularly and that it’s really hard to incorporate into our regular lives.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Honestly, I have to resist turning this podcast into kind of a therapy session for me, but I’m not going to go that way. I need help. I can hire you as a consultant later. It sounds awesome, and I actually maybe come back to some, like you just said, some theoretical perspectives, maybe we can come back to those.

Ever since I was an undergraduate I’ve been interested in psychology. I think I maybe just took one course, and then I read, like a lot of people my age then, at least reading some Freud and Jung and, oh, God, Bill Helmreich I think as well. But I find this combination of yours quite interesting. Let’s work our way to that, the kinesiology and psychology. Tell us first a little bit about where you grew up.

Hayley Russell:

I grew up in a small town on the northeastern coast of Nova Scotia called Pictou, and it’s a town of about 3,000 people. Yeah, growing up I played sports, which was… is sort of my entry point to being interested in kinesiology.

Greg Kaster:

What sports?

Hayley Russell:

Well, it’s a very small town, so you sort of needed everyone to play everything if you were going to fill teams, so my primary sport was soccer, but I also played basketball. I swam competitively and dipped my toe into some other activities, hockey, volleyball, at different times.

Greg Kaster:

So a bit of everything, wow. You sent me a photo I think of where you and just a few, several weeks ago, you and JJ were quarantined. Is that the family home, because it was beautiful. I don’t know if it was on a lake or… It’s absolutely gorgeous. Maybe JJ sent it to me, not you. Anyway, it just looks spectacular. I’ve never been there, to Nova Scotia, but, man, it was gorgeous.

Hayley Russell:

Yeah, JJ and I were in Nova Scotia for five weeks over a holiday and we had to… Part of the COVID response process in Nova Scotia has been a mandatory quarantine for anyone that enters the province, and so we were quarantining on the Northumberland Strait. It was right on the ocean, and that was not a family property. That is my college roommate’s family property, Nicole, and they were very generous to let us use their spot for our two-week quarantine.

Greg Kaster:

Wow. Yeah. It’s funny. It was just occurring to me. Someone’s going to do a collection at some point of photos of quarantine places, because some of them are not so nice, and some of them are just spectacular. A friend’s daughter, a friend who lives in our building here in Minneapolis, his granddaughter, sorry, was doing a hockey camp somewhere up in Canada, and where she was quarantined too was just absolutely gorgeous, beautiful. I think it was closer toward Vancouver maybe.

Hayley Russell:

Okay.

Greg Kaster:

But really beautiful as well. You went to Saint Xavier University. Is that a liberal arts college, or how would you describe it?

Hayley Russell:

Yeah. So I went to St. Francis Xavier for my undergraduate degree.

Greg Kaster:

St. Francis Xavier is what I meant. Yeah, thank you.

Hayley Russell:

Yeah, so we don’t actually have a lot of truly liberal arts institutions in Canada, but we have primarily undergraduate institutions, and so that’s how I would describe StFX, as we call it, and so it was almost all undergraduate degrees and in some ways quite similar to Gustavus, really community focused.

Greg Kaster:

That’s what I wondered, yeah.

Hayley Russell:

Small student body population, small student-to-faculty ratio, so all that kind of good stuff that we have at Gustavus as well.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I wondered about that, the parallel. You were a faculty… I don’t like the term faculty brat, but your mom… I don’t know about your dad, but your mom’s a prof there, right, still?

Hayley Russell:

Yeah, she still is. My mom is a clinical psychology professor at StFX and started as a professor there shortly before I started as a student. My dad is a commercial fisherman. So he fishes lobster, pollock-

Greg Kaster:

Oh, wow.

Hayley Russell:

Tuna, herring, so completely different, completely different.

Greg Kaster:

Actually, now I remember you telling me that, and I got hungry, or also maybe it was you or JJ sending me an email about all the good fish you had. Until you bring back fish or something like that. I can’t remember, or he sends it to you.

Hayley Russell:

[crosstalk 00:11:29]

Greg Kaster:

Oh, God. Oh, man, it sounds good to me. I never experienced fresh seafood in a grand way or on a grand scale until I went to Boston for graduate school and then just fell in love with seafood. Growing up it, it was Mrs… Whatever Mrs. Blank’s, I forget, Mrs. Smith’s fish sticks or something. Got an occasional trout from the fish from Lake [Coe-hoe-sam 00:11:54] and Lake Michigan, but, man, yeah, ocean seafood I love. That’s neat. I’m tempted to say, okay, you majored in… Well, did you major in psych as an undergraduate? Was that your minor?

Hayley Russell:

That was my minor. I majored in kinesiology. At StFX you had to apply to the kinesiology major out of high school, so I decided right away at 17 that that’s what I wanted to do, which was really just about a love of playing sports.

Greg Kaster:

Okay.

Hayley Russell:

Minor in psychology.

Greg Kaster:

A couple of questions. First, was the psych minor, was that just the influence of your mom, or what do you attribute that to?

Hayley Russell:

Yeah, I think it might have been the influence of my mom a little bit, although at 17, you don’t want to be anything like your parents.

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Hayley Russell:

But I think part of it was that, and part of it, I just found it really interesting. I went into my undergraduate degree thinking I was going to be a physical therapist of physiotherapist, as we say in Canada. I had torn my ACL in high school. That was sort of the end of my sports playing.

Greg Kaster:

Ooh, yeah.

Hayley Russell:

I worked really closely with a physiotherapist named Philip Ruiz, who became a very good friend and ultimately hired me to work in his physical therapy clinic during all of my summers of college and much of grad school. That’s what I thought I wanted to do. So I went in with that intention and then took a little different path.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, but you have a real personal connection to obviously just some of the work you’re doing around sport injuries. So off to the University of Minnesota you went for a PhD in kinesiology. Why there? Why the U?

Hayley Russell:

Yeah, so actually my undergraduate degree, I went to Wilfrid Laurier, which is just outside Toronto, and worked with a professor there, Jill Tracey, who was amazing and is just one of my greatest mentors, and I really didn’t think I was cut out for a PhD, you know, all that imposter syndrome stuff, I didn’t think I was smart enough. I didn’t think I was good enough for research, all of those kind of things. Then in my second year of my master’s, I got a Canadian government research grant that are pretty competitive, and just boosted my confidence in this huge way.

Greg Kaster:

Sure.

Hayley Russell:

That sometimes only external validation can.

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Hayley Russell:

So after that, and having a really positive experience doing my master’s, Jill and I sat down, and she was very set on if you’re going to do a PhD, do a PhD in a good program that’s a good fit, and it doesn’t matter where it is, and that you need a supervisor that you can work well with. You need a program that you’re excited about. So I applied to two programs, the University of Minnesota and then Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, I’m glad you came to the U.

Hayley Russell:

Thank you.

Greg Kaster:

Sorry, Lubbock.

Hayley Russell:

Those were both places I had never been before, so they flew me in for interviews. The professor in Lubbock was wonderful, and he actually wrote for me for tenure last year.

Greg Kaster:

Nice.

Hayley Russell:

I maintained a great professional relationship, but I could not imagine living in Texas.

Greg Kaster:

Hello, Especially Lubbock, I’m sorry.

Hayley Russell:

Lubbock, no. It was rural. It was just a really huge culture shock from being in Southern Ontario and before that in Nova Scotia. So I decided on the University of Minnesota. It was a great program. The advisor I worked with, Dr. Wiese-Bjornstal, is just a leading expert in psychology and injury, which is what I wanted to study, and I was excited about the curriculum. So I came to Minnesota for 36 hours during a snow storm in February and somehow was still convinced that this was the right place.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, snow in the Twin Cities, a snowstorm in the Twin Cities beats Lubbock. Again, I’m sorry. I’m laughing partly because my wife Kay, when we were on the job market long ago, she interviewed with some people from Texas at a history convention somewhere out East. She always jokes about one of the things they said. They said something about it being a dry town, at least then, but there is alcohol maybe the next town over or something like that. That was their recruiting effort.

Hayley Russell:

Yeah. I was just going to say Lubbock, that reminded me of my experience in going there. I was housed with a graduate student who was really nice, and because she was housing me, I decided I would bring her a gift. It was during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and so I brought her this blanket that was official merchandise from the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and she didn’t even know there were Winter Olympics. That’s interesting. Okay.

Greg Kaster:

Okay, yeah. I want to ask you what is kinesiology, but I’ll preface it by saying, I said in a recent recording that I thought I had encountered the word in graduate school, but now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not sure. I know for sure I encountered it when my wife Kate some years ago took up Pilates and then something called Gyrotonics. She kind of does more Gyrotonics now. That’s the first time I heard about it. Then someone who lives in our condo building here in Minneapolis, I believe their son… Their son may have done a PhD in it, as you did. What is kinesiology?

Hayley Russell:

Kinesiology is the study of human movement is the definition of it. It encompasses a whole bunch of sub-disciplines, so sports psychology is one, motor learning, exercise physiology, biomechanics. Sometimes sport management will fall under there. So it’s the multidisciplinary study of human movement.

Greg Kaster:

Was there anything like that at Gustavus before you came?

Hayley Russell:

Yes. One of the challenges with kinesiology is that no one’s ever been that consistent on naming it. That was a big takeaway for me from my PhD program, was one of my professors there made a really strong argument for we should all be calling our programs kinesiology. At Gustavus, we call it exercise physiology, I would say, and we cover some of the sub-disciplines. But since I came, I think we’re starting to think about covering some other sub-disciplines as well, but because our health and exercise science program is at Gustavus is three separate majors, it’s hard to then cover a breadth of areas when we have to cover athletic education, athletic training and exercise physiology.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, no, that makes sense. What brought you to Gustavus? Was it just, “Oh, I’m in Minnesota. I’ve heard of this place?” How did you wind up coming to Gustavus and joining our faculty, which we’re of course thrilled about?

Hayley Russell:

Right after graduate school, I took the first tenure track job I was offered, which was in Pennsylvania. It was during that sort of crazy time of graduate school when you’re trying to finish your dissertation, you’re also on the job market, you just are sort of working all the time. It’s all very chaotic. I was offered a job very quickly at a school in Pennsylvania. So in 2014, I went there and realized almost immediately it was a bad fit.

So I decided that I was either going… I was going to really actively job search, and I was either going back to Canada or coming back to Minnesota, because I deeply love Minnesota. I also deeply love Canada and would love to live in Nova Scotia again someday, but I loved Minnesota in graduate school, and a lot of my friends from graduate school stayed here. So when the job at Gustavus came up, I was really excited to apply. Part of that was the small liberal arts environment. I was at a large public institution in Pennsylvania, and it just really didn’t align closely with my values in education. I really love teaching, and I want that to be the priority, and Gustavus allows me to do that.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I’ll come back to that, your love of teaching, commitment to it, and absolutely central to Gustavus. Was it that a job opened at Gustavus in your area? Is that how it worked?

Hayley Russell:

Yeah, a job opened. I was actively searching The Chronicle of Higher Ed, and when it came up, I was just very excited about the possibility of the position, which was teaching all different types of exercise science majors, and then also students across campus. I really loved that idea of teaching students who have different majors.

Greg Kaster:

Yes. Had you been to Gustavus before or not?

Hayley Russell:

I had been to Gustavus once. A friend in graduate school collected some data for her dissertation here and invited me to come help her. My entire memory in coming to Gustavus was going into a classroom at lunch and collecting data from some youth sport athletes who were at camp and then going for a walk in the arb. That’s basically all [crosstalk 00:22:02].

Greg Kaster:

That’s funny, the amazing Lund Center, which I don’t know… How would you describe Lund Center, athletic facility? My goodness, it has everything. It’s pretty amazing.

Hayley Russell:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

Kate and I had not heard of Gustavus. She grew up in New York City. I grew up in the burbs of Chicago, but sort of like you, I saw… I was on the job market and I saw an ad and I just, reading that ad, I thought… I was at the convention, actually, a big history convention in New York. “That’s me. Oh, my God, that’s me.” That great feeling. Of course God knows how many other people are saying the same thing. I know when I came out for the interview, man, I really loved the vibe. I wasn’t crazy about the small town I have to say, because I’m a big city guy, but I loved the vibe and the colleagues I met and… It’s kind of like what students say when they’re touring campuses, right? You see yourself belonging there or fitting there, whatever words we want to use. I felt that very strongly, and I remember calling Kate and telling her that right away. So the rest is all history. You’ve been here, this is your fourth year. I think this might be my 32nd year or something like that.

I did not attend a liberal arts college. My wife Kate did at Bard College in New York, but I wanted to teach at such a place. I agree with you, I loved the fact that… Well, one, I don’t have to specialize in my teaching. I can teach to my specialty, graduate school specialty, but I don’t have to just do that. Then I get to teach students from all kinds of disciplines and interact with faculty from all kinds of disciplines.

One of the things that impresses me about you is not just how good at teaching you are or excellent you are, also how much you think about it, but also your… You seem to have this ability to really connect across the disciplines, both in the Teachers Talking series that you kind of convene, direct, but I think in other ways as well. Is that something you’re consciously setting out to do?

Hayley Russell:

I don’t know if I’m consciously setting out to do it, but it’s been feedback I’ve received my whole life, that I really like people. I’m really social. I like all kinds of different people. Forming close relationships is incredibly important to me. I think one of the things that was lacking from my first tenure track job was that I had almost no social relationships. When I came to Gustavus, I just… like, I need to prioritize this. It was really easy at Gustavus. I met wonderful people in my department. I tried to go to as many things as I could. You mentioned Teachers Talking.

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Hayley Russell:

When I first came to Gustavus, I went to every Teachers Talking in part because it was such a great way to meet people, and also to partner all the new faculty orientation and really made it a priority that I wanted to be… I wanted to get to know people across campus. That has made this place not really feel like work. It always feels sort of a project we’re all doing together.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah.

Hayley Russell:

It’s a fun community.

Greg Kaster:

That’s a fantastic way to put it, “A project we’re all doing together.” Yes, and that’s exactly right. That’s why… God, I miss my office, but I also just miss the sort of, I guess it’s water cooler talk. There’s not really a water cooler, but just all those casual conversations. It can be fleeting and quick, but they’re so important. I really, really miss that a lot, so I can’t wait to be vaccinated and get back to it. But I really like that, “A project we’re all doing together.” It’s true.

That’s exactly the feeling I had, by the way, when I came for my interview, because I was in the guest house, and while I was in the guest house… I think I was checking in maybe or maybe it was the end of my first interview day. The then associate dean, who became a colleague in the history department and dear friend, Tom Emmert, he was hosting a wine and cheese party for faculty, kind of celebrating the end of the semester and all their work, and I thought, “God, this is great.” I just was able to join in and felt right at home. It was clearly the connections across disciplines and friendships you could sense, so I really value that as well.

Let’s talk a little bit about Teachers Talking, because that’s I think an important… I think in some ways even distinctive part of Gustavus. Tell us a little bit about what that involves and your role in it.

Hayley Russell:

Yeah, so I’m the Kendall Center faculty associate for teaching excellence. That involves doing programming for faculty to improve teaching, to talk about teaching. In non-COVID days, what Teachers Talking is, is it occurs at a lunchtime, and members of the faculty or staff, campus community, will do a short presentation about some area of expertise or interest to them. Then it’s held over lunch, we then have lots of informal discussion. I think I as a faculty member certainly got so many great ideas from that format.

Greg Kaster:

Yes.

Hayley Russell:

Also just a fun way to learn from each other and connect with each other.

Greg Kaster:

Yes.

Hayley Russell:

So now I plan those, and this year they’ve had to be different because of COVID, so we’re doing some online Teachers Talking, which has gone well. There’s been some really interesting discussions, but I’m looking forward to when we can do it over lunch in person.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I presented at one a few years ago with colleagues… a colleague in classics, Yurie Hong, and maybe one other person. Anyway, but yeah, it’s amazing how much you can learn just hearing your colleagues talk for more than three minutes in passing, and I miss those conversations too, but they’re a bit more ephemeral. So yeah, I think it’s a neat program. I think it’s also morale boosting, right? Because we’re all sort of dealing with some of the same issues as teachers, so thank you for doing all that work. What else are you doing as the faculty associate? Are there other responsibilities or gigs that you have?

Hayley Russell:

Probably the biggest focus this year of course has been online teaching.

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Hayley Russell:

At the end of the spring semester last year, Brenda asked me, the provost Brenda Kelly, asked me to do some summer programming about online teaching.

Greg Kaster:

Oh.

Hayley Russell:

I’m certainly not a teaching expert. I’m just someone with an interest in teaching. So I spent a lot of time reading and researching and going to webinars trying to learn about best practices in online teaching and then did a multi-part summer workshop on online teaching that I think was really… It was certainly really fun for me and also just really collaborative to get great ideas from other people across campus when we had to move to problem solve teaching in a way we’d never taught before.

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Hayley Russell:

That was my favorite part of that work was so many people were doing such interesting things, and I think these Kendall Center programs allow us to hear about that when we might not otherwise hear.

Greg Kaster:

Yes, definitely. There was no such thing as a Kendall Center when Kate and I were… In fact, John Kendall, for whom it’s named, was a beloved professor and I’m sure award-winning teacher in the psychology department at Gustavus. He in fact was the president of Gustavus when Kate and I came. I remember him interviewing me. I was so impressed that the president of the college is interviewing me. Wow, this is amazing. Yeah, without the Kendall… The Kendall Center has done so much to bring us together around teaching and also research. Again, I just think it’s so important for… not only for intellectual vitality, which is kind of… is [pre-décor 00:30:09], right, I think is really part of it too.

I want to talk a little bit about your work and your teaching, because I do find it fascinating. I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit more about what, now that you’ve told us what kinesiology is… By the way, the study of kinesiology, does that require you, I would think, to take things like biology or anatomy? Do you have to do that?

Hayley Russell:

Yeah. In undergraduate, I took a really broad spectrum of courses in kinesiology, and we could choose in our degree to either do a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science in kinesiology. That just determined what your electives sort of were. My electives were all English and sociology and psychology, whereas those who took a science focus would take biology, chemistry and physics. But in our sort of core classes, we took anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, exercise physiology, as well as things like ethics in sport, sport psychology, sport sociology, child growth and development, so a real range of topics.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, that’s amazing, quite interdisciplinary really. Let’s start with sports psychology. I’m not an athlete, as I said. I do watch some sports. I love to walk. That’s I guess right now probably my primary form of exercise, especially in a city. So what is sport psychology, and what do you do with it as a teacher and researcher?

Hayley Russell:

So sport psychology is the study of psychology’s impact on sport and sport’s impact on psychology. We study both things like… I think people often think about sports psychology as mental skills training.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah.

Hayley Russell:

It’s to get high-performing athletes to perform even better, how do you help people overcome performance anxiety or improve confidence, and that’s part of it. Then also part of it is thinking about things like how does playing sports influence self-perception in children. How does participating in sports increase or decrease the risk of eating disorders or depression? So there’s a variety of topics that are studied that really have come to that focus of sport’s influence and psychology and psychology’s impact on sport.

Greg Kaster:

That’s so interesting and important, because sports are such an important part of our world, not just the professional sports but in so many ways. Yeah, I have to admit when I first thought about sport psychology, that’s what I thought, oh, it’s just a way to be a… do extreme sports or even, I don’t know, exercise harder, but it’s much more complicated and I think interesting than that. I’m especially intrigued by your work on the psychology of, if I’m saying it correctly, the psychology of sport injury. Tell us a little bit about that.

Hayley Russell:

Yeah, so this interest started in my undergraduate thesis, and so, as I said earlier, at the time I thought I wanted to be a physiotherapist, and I was working in a physiotherapy clinic in my summers and holidays, and I realized in doing that work that I was less interested in the rehabilitation part, so I was less interested in guiding people through their exercise or even problem solving what their injury was, but I was really interested in how do you get people to do the exercises, because that was a constant theme in the clinic, is that we would prescribe, or the physical therapist would prescribe exercises, that would treat, let’s say, lower back pain.

Then people would come in, and they either hadn’t done the exercises or done the exercise sporadically, and I think we have this in our often biomedical model, this idea of just you should take a pill and something will be fixed, or we want the impact of whatever treatment we’re doing to be really quick, and that’s not the case often with rehabilitation exercises or with exercise in general, so I was really interested in sort of that motivation and adherence part and also really interested in how people responded to getting injured. That had been my own personal experience, that tearing my ACL at 16 or 17, however old I was, was devastating at the time.

Greg Kaster:

It must have been devastating, yeah.

Hayley Russell:

Yeah, and as an adult I have much more perspective and have much less athletic identity and better coping skills and all those sorts of things, but at 16 it’s just like the worst thing that could happen or it certainly was in my sort of little world. Then as I started doing some research for an undergraduate thesis, I saw that that was a really consistent theme in the literature, that because, as you said, sport is so important in our society, athletes often end up with this really strong athletic identity and unidimensional identity where they’re an athlete above everything else and at the expense of everything else.

Greg Kaster:

Yes.

Hayley Russell:

So when that identity as an athlete is threatened, they tend to have a really negative emotional response to becoming injured. That often leads to really negative behavioral responses, like hiding the injury symptoms or continuing to play while injured. This is all sort of wrapped up in our society’s value of sport and our society’s value of playing through pain and sacrificing for sports and being tough and being masculine. I’m just using words here.

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Hayley Russell:

So I was really interested in all those things.

Greg Kaster:

Go ahead. Sorry, go ahead.

Hayley Russell:

No, that’s okay. You go ahead.

Greg Kaster:

I just find it absolutely fascinating, I do. I like that phrase, “Athletic identity,” which I’ve not heard before. It makes a lot of sense to me. Even I’m thinking of some people I knew, who, they’re not professional athletes, they’re my age or older, but for whom, man, I don’t know, it seems like it’s all about exercise. To me, they seem like addicted to exercise. That is all they talk about, all they do. I’m exaggerating a bit. I’m curious, I was waiting for you to mention, if you were going to mention, something about masculinity, which is another area that interests me a great deal, but I’m just curious, are there gender differences in how women and men respond to athletic injuries, or is it basically the same, psychologically, I mean?

Hayley Russell:

I would say there’s not enough research to draw really strong conclusions there. I think we have this overall idea in sport that is prevailing that women are weaker than men, and I’m not sure that plays out when we look at evidence. But yeah, there’s not a ton of gender differences there, although the social structure for men and women in sport is often quite different. Sport really has its roots in masculinity. Men often have even more athletic identity because there’s this perception that they could go on and play professional at a higher rate than women. Women have some professional opportunities but not nearly as many as men. So the narratives for men growing up in sport, or boys growing up in sport, are that you could be a professional athlete. You could make your life, make your career, being a professional athlete. That’s less common for women. So there’s certainly lots of differences in the social structure for men and women, but I’m not sure the research plays out so strongly that there’s difference in psychology responses.

Greg Kaster:

Okay.

Hayley Russell:

Men and women tend to both have a lot of negative responses to [crosstalk 00:38:22].

Greg Kaster:

Sure, because I can see a woman has that athletic identity, right? There’s got to be similarities no matter whether you’re a man or a woman if you’re identifying yourself that way. From this podcast, I have a growing list of people I want to team teach with, and now you’re one of them, because I would love to team teach. Seriously, it would be fun. Maybe you already do this, but a course on sort of gender and sports or masculinity. I don’t know, manhood, womanhood… we’ll figure it out… in sports. It’d be fun.

You mentioned much earlier when we were talking, about exercise psychology, that there’s some theoretical approaches. I wonder if you could just say a word for a lay person like me about what some of those theoretical approaches or insights are.

Hayley Russell:

Yeah, so I think the really basic one, I’ll stick with my sort of area of expertise in psychology and injury, is the integrated model of response to athletic injury. For one thing, we have a number of psychology factors that can predict injury, so stress being the big one. So when an athlete is at increased stress, they’re in increased risk of injury for a couple of different reasons. One could be that they have an increased level of destruction, so they’re not ready for hits in things like hockey or football. Others could be the psychological and physical toll that stress plays that people who are more tired are at a higher risk of getting injured and that we don’t necessarily move our bodies as naturally when we’re holding a lot of muscle tension because of stress. So that is sort of one of the predictive frameworks for thinking about the relationship between psychology and injury.

Then in terms of response, it’s really a cognitive behavioral model, where when someone becomes injured, they bring with them into the injury lots of previous demographic characteristics, so they bring in things like their athletic identity but also things like social support and socioeconomic status and race and access to healthcare and all kinds of different things, and so the injury and their own personal characteristics will then predict how they think about the injury. So do they approach the injury as being the worst thing that’s ever happened? Do they have a narrative where they were going to be a professional athlete as the only option for them, or do they see it as a manageable challenge that they can overcome?

That then influences how they feel about the injury and ultimately how they behave. So do they engage in adaptive coping? Do they seek social support, or do they engage in negative behaviors like avoiding rehabilitation or being socially isolated, going into some negative coping behaviors, drug and alcohol use, and then the relationships between the thoughts, feelings and behavior interact to determine the rehabilitation outcomes. That’s sort of the framework from which we think about the psychological response to injury.

Greg Kaster:

Man, honestly, I was sitting here smiling, because I just find it so interesting. Yeah, in a way it’s obvious that, sure, it’s not just a physical thing, the injury. There’s a whole thinking about it and feeling about it, but it’s never really occurred to me until speaking with you now just how deep and profound that is. I mean, all the implications, right? Not just like, well, you pulled a muscle or you did this and so, just as you said, take this pill or do some exercises, and it’s all better. There’s a whole cognitive and psychological component to all of it, how the person processes the injury. Wow, it’s absolutely fascinating.

You must deal with, I assume you deal with students at Gustavus who suffer athletic injuries or not? Is that something you engage in, counseling them or helping them?

Hayley Russell:

No, I don’t really engage in sort of the practice much. I’ve done a little bit of sport psychology practice, not at Gustavus, though, with some runners primarily in Minneapolis, but that’s not so much the focus of my work. But something I’ve been doing lately, which has been really fun, is that Lucie Holmgreen in psychological science, and I… She’s a clinical psychologist… both sort of co-oversaw a presidential scholarship grant, so for student directed research, and worked with a student who graduated last year. Her name, Maggie Leininger. We were starting to think about interventions for athlete mental health generally from a coaching perspective.

Greg Kaster:

Okay.

Hayley Russell:

We started thinking about, and we presented this for the MIAC, which is the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and would ultimately like to do some more work in this area, but I think there’s this overall idea, and certainly this played out as being supported by research in the eighties and maybe in the nineties, that athletes were more mentally healthy, so to speak, than the general population. More recent research has found that that’s really not the case in the college athlete population. So college athletes have very similar mental health status, so similar rates of anxiety and depression, as the general student body. I think the change in context of sport has led to… meaning that sport has become incredibly important. It involves a large time commitment. It is associated with a lot of pressure, may not allow for the protective or potential protective benefits of the physical activity component. So that’s something.

I’ve done a little bit of work with the athletics department broadly in programming for student athletes, so some mental skills training workshops with lots of athletes. We did a reading group last J-Term on sport confidence, so I’ve done a little bit with athletics at Gustavus.

Greg Kaster:

That’s cool. Man, athletics, as you’re saying, it’s so important not just in the society but especially at the college, university and college level, it’s amazing to me… I guess no longer surprising but amazing to me how many students come to Gustavus specifically for, primarily for, it seems, the chance to play in a particular sport, right? Because we’re a Division III school, and they have more of an opportunity it seems to play. Then conversely, how some students leave when they realize, “Oh, I’m not going to get to play as much as I thought.” But it’s so important.

I do. You must. I encounter students sometimes who are trying to do just too much. They’re maybe in multiple sports and trying to get straight As or whatever. It’s not always doable, and just create so much anxiety and stress, it’s hard to watch sometimes as a professor, as a teacher. Honestly, I could do a whole podcast just on all of that, which sounds so amazing to me.

Let’s talk a little bit in the time remaining about a couple of other things. One is the exciting new master’s program. Is it in athletic training that’s being developed? Say what you can about that.

Hayley Russell:

Yeah. So the Athletic Trainers Association decided a few years ago that they were no longer going to accept undergraduate degrees as being the terminal degree to be able to practice in athletic training, so schools had to either choose to transition to a master’s program or sunset their undergraduate program. So Gustavus is in the process, after getting support from the faculty, to launch the first master’s program at Gustavus. So I’ve sort of pushes into master’s in athletic training, and I’ve been at the periphery of this. This has been spearheaded by Mary Westby in the HES department.

But it’s a really I think exciting opportunity for Gustavus. I’m really excited that I will get to teach some sports psychology and some psychology of injury in that program. It’s sort of still in a process place now, but it’s been something that’s been years in the making. When I was thinking about what type of school I’d like to work at, the idea of working with athletic trainers is just so exciting, because Mary and I have been able to collaborate on some research, and I just think there’s so much overlap and necessity for multidisciplinary in the work I do, so it’s been nice to be able to be in a department with athletic trainers, and I’m excited about the prospect of supervising-

Greg Kaster:

That’s real good.

Hayley Russell:

… master’s level research in athletic training.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, no kidding, that’s exciting. Let’s imagine I’m a student at Gustavus. I’m pursuing my BA, and then will I be able to then just sort of apply to that program, and do you know, would it be a one-year program or two years, the master’s?

Hayley Russell:

It’s a two-year program, and I think there’s going to be a couple of different options, and this is all sort of tentative, but the plan would be to do a three, two program, where students could do three years at Gustavus and then transition into… or as an undergraduate at Gustavus and then transition into the athletic training master’s, and students from outside Gustavus could complete their bachelor’s degree and then come into the master’s program as well.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great.

Hayley Russell:

That’s the important of both of candidates hopefully.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. No, it’s exciting, and good luck with all that. Actually, all of us I think on the faculty look forward to seeing that develop. As you said, it’s a first for us, so it’ll be interesting to see. The other thing I wanted to ask you about… as I said, there were a couple of things. You are an excellent teacher, and I say that not just because you won the Swenson-Bunn Award in Teaching Excellence. That just is a validation of what anyone who knew you and knew about your teaching already understood, but what is it, if you were advising, let’s say you were mentoring new faculty at Gustavus or a place like Gustavus, what kind of advice would you give them regarding teaching in terms… I know there’s no one formula, right? But I’m just curious about that, because you think so much about teaching, and you are a mentor to so many, both formally or kind of officially, and unofficially. What are your thoughts about what it takes to be an excellent teacher?

Hayley Russell:

I think my answer to that has sort of changed over time. The first time I taught was in my PhD program, my first semester, they gave me a textbook and 35 students and said, “Teach this.” I spent 40 hours a week preparing for teaching every week, and I found it stressful and overwhelming and also incredibly rewarding. I think I’m lucky that I had found teaching fun since I started, and I think that’s how I think about the classroom, is that if I’m not having fun, they’re definitely not having fun. For me, to be able to have fun, I have to be really well prepared. I have to have really thought about what I’m going to talk about. I have to be constantly trying to improve it. Then no one wants to listen to me go on for 50 minutes, so I try to incorporate lots of different opportunities for them to do activities. So it’s nothing all that groundbreaking I don’t think, but I think we have to enjoy what we’re doing, and it’s painfully obvious to students if we don’t.

I think COVID has made me really prioritize less is more, so I used to cover every possible thing.

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Hayley Russell:

Cover the things that I think are going to be most interesting, more important, and cover those well.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, music to my ears. Maybe in your discipline, certainly in the history discipline, my discipline, this tension between coverage, and some of us would rather focus on historical thinking skills, to use that overused word, but what you just said about… I’m kind of jumping out of my seat here with a big fat grin on my face, because what you just said about enjoyment, having fun, is absolutely true. I have learned that, kind of like you, the hard way. I used to think, “Oh, my God, I have to teach everything in this textbook. I have to have every lecture typed out. I have to have everything super tightly scripted.” I was lucky. I had good informal mentors at Gustavus. There was no formal mentoring in my early years and Kate’s early years.

I’ll never forget a professor telling, now retired, saying, Byron Nordstrom, basically just, “Jot some things down.” He showed me how he had done that. I went in with typed pages of typed notes. Man, was that liberating. He also wrote a book about that around the same time, and it’s just to be able to be spontaneous, just to have fun, right? And to also recognize that fun and hard work and learning are not mutually exclusive. They can all go together. Yeah, I think that point you just made is really important. Of course, you’re absolutely right. Students know. We were students. We knew, right? You can tell. It’s easy to tell who’s enjoying it and who isn’t. So good, very good advice.

Finally, earlier, you also referenced… I don’t know if you used the word awesome. You may have, but awesome, I’ll put that in your mouth, if you don’t mind… exercise physiology major. What’s your pitch for that at Gustavus?

Hayley Russell:

Oh, what is my pitch for exercise physiology? I think any of our health and exercise science majors are great, but my pitch for exercise physiology, which is the most similar thing to what I did as an undergrad, is that it provides a lot of different opportunities to think about the human body, to think about health, to think about sport, and provides lots of opportunities to think critically about… Sport and physical activity I think are something we think we know everything about, so if you play sport, you think, “I know what’s important in sport. I know all these different things about sport,” and there’s a whole body of literature that tells you you probably don’t know as much as you think. I think it’s such a wonderful opportunity.

That’s my favorite part of doing freshman seminar teaching, is introducing students to these ideas of critical thinking about something we’ve taken for granted, sport and physical activity. That’s only enhanced in the exercise physiology major. I also think there’s just great people in the exercise physiology major, as there are so many majors on campus. But it’s a great avenue into either going right into the professional field as a personal trainer or working in rehabilitation settings or going on to graduate school in physical therapy, a physician assistant, lots of different things. I just think lots of opportunities, and it’s a fun major, and you get to take really interesting things, like Stephanie Otto I think is the best group exercise teacher in the world, and she teaches a class on group exercise.

Greg Kaster:

Yes.

Hayley Russell:

That’s I think just something really unique at Gustavus and also such a great skill for students to come out with, that you can always find group exercise classes to teach. Some of my students who have graduated in that major will teach aerobics or teach yoga while they are in graduate school or while they’re working other jobs. I think there’s just so many tangible skills, as well as critical thinking skills that come out of-

Greg Kaster:

Right. Yeah, exactly. So it’s not that everyone who majors in that becomes an athletic trainer necessarily.

Hayley Russell:

No.

Greg Kaster:

That’s all well said. All of this, by the way, is making me… Some podcasts make me want to eat something if we’re talking about food. This makes me want to go out for a walk and exercise. But you reminded me of one of my… a memory I have. It’s not that long ago, that I will never forget, is when… It must have been when Stephanie was coming up for, must have been maybe promotion or tenure, I don’t know which it was, but I was on the faculty personnel committee, and I was assigned to observe her teach one of her group exercise classes, right?

So there, I don’t know, 30 students in there in gym shorts, Stephanie, and I’m sitting in a folding chair in my street clothes, my sports coat. I just felt like such an idiot. I didn’t have time. I would have loved to have worn shorts. I just didn’t have time, because I had to rush to a class of my own right afterwards. I had to go teach right before too, but I just felt, “My God, I just want to crawl under this chair. I’m so embarrassed,” but she was great. It was fantastic. It was hard to sit still. I remember the music. I don’t know if it was an aerobics or what it would have been, but it was a group exercise class, and it was really fun to watch.

All well said, so young people listening, come to Gustavus and certainly take courses with Professor Russell and others in her department even if you don’t major in exercise physiology.

This has been super interesting. I mean it about maybe team teaching at some point. That sounds so, it’d be a way to explore gender, and I could learn more about psychology. Oh, and the other thing I want to say, by the way, what you just aid about sport and people assuming they know everything about it or a lot about it, I feel exactly the same way. I think my colleagues do too about people’s attitudes toward history, “So just anybody can do history. Oh, history, what’s that? I don’t…” No. In fact, historical thinking is a skill. You’re not born with it. Yes, just because you participated in sport doesn’t mean you understand everything about it. I think that’s a profound point you just made. Certainly you’re good at opening students’ minds in that regard.

This has been fun. Thank you so much. It’s been fun to chat with you and get to learn more about your work. I didn’t know that about your injury, which you’ve certainly come back from. How old were you? Sixteen, you said, when that happened?

Hayley Russell:

I was 16. I think I’ve had three knee surgeries on that knee, but it’s all part of it.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Wow. I worry. I sometimes joke about people. Some of the people that I’m talking about, we were alluding to, people I know who are I would describe as exercise fanatics, and they exercise so much that they wind up, they need knee replacements. They need this, that… Is that happening at a younger age too? Is this extreme sports? It seems like the number of injuries occurring among young kids is really skyrocketing, or am I wrong about that?

Hayley Russell:

No, you’re right. There’s been this trend, and it really started in the eighties but has been much more pronounced over the past 10 to 20 years in early sports specialization, and that is kids choosing one sport and playing one sport year round before the age of 12. One of the things that happens with that is an increased risk of injury. It also comes with some negative psychosocial potential outcomes like being burned out or not liking sports anymore.

One of the areas that I’m hoping to work on in my sabbatical next year is thinking about the impact of sport participation on long-term physical activity, because for most of us, we’re never going to be a professional athlete. The ultimate goal of sport should be you have some fun, learn some skills, and then become a physically active adult.

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Hayley Russell:

You just don’t see that happening. Or participation in youth actually is not a good predictor of physical activity later in life. One of the theories that’s been proposed about that is because of the high risk of chronic injuries, and that’s especially true in sports like football, where there is a lot of collisions, where there may be unhealthy body types promoted, which put increased pressure on the body. So sport can be a both health promoting and not so health promoting form of exercise.

Greg Kaster:

Wow. Again, I just learned something, so I would have thought, yeah, being athletic as a kid is a predictor but not necessarily. All right, we’re going to leave it there.

Hayley Russell:

All right.

Greg Kaster:

This is my version of the Minnesota Long Goodbye on the podcast, because I keep thinking of things I want to talk about. So Hayley, again, it’s been a pleasure. Take good care. Good luck with the J-Term. Thanks so much, and hope to see you on campus at some point soon.

Hayley Russell:

Thanks so much, Greg. We’ll go for a walk in the arb.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, that would be fun. I would love that. All right. Take care. Bye-bye.

Learning for Life at Gustavus is produced by JJ Akin and Matt Dobosenski of the Gustavus Office of Marketing, Gustavus graduate Will Clark, class of ’20, who also provides technical expertise to the podcast and me. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Gustavus Adolphus College.

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

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