America’s First Sport Psychologist

The April 2012 issue of the American Psychological Association‘s Monitor on Psychology is now online. This month’s Time Capsule section includes a piece from AHP‘s own Christopher Green who recounts the story of psychologist Coleman Griffith’s early work with the Chicago Cubs. In America’s First Sport Psychologist, Green writes

Griffith opened America’s first athletics research laboratory at the University of Illinois in 1925. Although the lab attracted some attention at the time, university trustees shut it down after only six years. Official accounts blamed cutbacks on the Depression, but rumors circulated that Illinois football coach Robert Zupke had recommended its closure. Griffith was shifted into a middling administrative role, and it looked like his sport research days were over. But then Wrigley came calling late in 1937 not only with a job, but also with an equipment budget, a laboratory in Chicago and an invitation to join the Cubs for spring training on Santa Catalina Island off the southern California coast. Griffith bought his lab gear — including high-speed movie cameras and chronoscopes — and headed west.

Whatever benefits Wrigley and Griffith thought a psychologist might bring to a professional sports team, the Cubs coaching staff had other ideas. Manager Charlie Grimm had apparently slid into a depression so severe toward the end of the previous season that he had been temporarily replaced by one of the players, catcher and future Hall-of- Famer Gabby Hartnett. The team led the National League into late August of 1937, but slipped into second in the first week of September and finished there. Grimm returned for the 1938 season, but most of the players did not think he would last. Apparently, Grimm felt the pressure. He mocked the “headshrinkers,” as he called them, and ordered his players not to cooperate.

Read the entire piece online here.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a doctoral student in the History and Theory of Psychology program at York University. Her dissertation explores the early history of questionnaires in American psychology.

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