Len is one of Canada's leading sport psychologists who continues to make a difference, helping pro teams achieve the winning edge.
A sport psychology trailblazer for 37 years, Len Zaichkowsky continues to lead the way - this time with the Vancouver Canucks.
It’s fairly normal for someone to want to specialize in their field of study, but for some, the field may not exist yet. Such is the legend of Len Zaichkowsky. Growing up in northern Alberta, Len came to the U of A to get his degree in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation with an eye to teaching and coaching. Then, as a teacher in Stettler, he realised he was not quite there yet. He was looking for more.
“I wanted to be a great teacher and coach, and I did coach many sports, but I knew I was really void in the area of psychology. So I went for my master’s degree and was advised that I should carry on and get my PhD. I was able to put together a multidisciplinary study of psychology, education, sports science, and I also studied neuro-anatomy in the medical school.”
Shortly after achieving his PhD, he accepted a faculty position at Boston University.
“I had intended to return to Stettler after I went to Boston University for one year, but I stayed for 37,” he laughs. Len had managed to cobble together a new field of study in sports psychology. “When I was at the U of A this field certainly didn’t exist. It took another decade before any courses were being offered, let alone any programs. When I got in it was at the grassroots of it all.”
While working at Boston University, Len published six books and well over 90 papers on sport and performance psychology, sports medicine, research design, and topics ranging from the benefits of biofeedback applications for elite athletes, weight training for cardiac patients to steroid use by high school and junior high students. But research wasn’t his only occupation. Soon he was in demand as a consultant, working with the U. S., Canadian, and Australian Olympic Organizations, the Boston Celtics, the Major League Baseball Players Association, the NFL, NHL Players’ Association, Calgary Flames, Sydney (Australia) Swans, the Real Madrid football club, and the Spanish World Cup Soccer Team (2006, 2008).
In keeping with his lifelong goal, he was also teaching the next generation of sport psychologists.
“That was a big part of my job, to educate people and not be the mad scientist in the white lab coat.”
As a result he was appointed to both the School of Education and School of Medicine, Division of Psychiatry, and Division of Graduate Medical Sciences at Boston U, where he directed a joint graduate specialization in sport and exercise psychology.
Len was also the president of the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology (1997-99), a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, and currently section editor on psychology for the International Journal of Health & Sport Science.
After 37 years of trailblazing research and work at Boston University and becoming the de-facto expert on sport psychology, does Len take this time to relax and enjoy the tranquillity of the New England shore? Of course not – Len is now working full time with the Vancouver Canucks, as their director of Sport Science. After helping to create his field of expertise, now he gets to be the practitioner.
“I wanted to make one more contribution, if I could, and that was to formalise science into professional sport organizations. That’s what I want to do here in Vancouver. I suspect, if I can really make a difference, others will see that we’re doing things based on good science, then other sports – football, soccer, whatever - will hire people like me who understand science really well and can apply it sports at the youth, amateur, Olympic, and professional levels.
“If I can lead that parade, then I will have made a worthwhile contribution, I think.”