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Grad assistant’s work with student-athletes earns national recognition

A WVU sport and exercise graduate assistant was one of 10 people recognized by the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and the AASP Foundation in their 2018 award cycle.

Sport and Exercise Psychology doctorate student Zenzi Huysmans, from the Kingdom of eSwatini in southern Africa, was awarded the Distinguished Doctoral Student Practice Award.

“I feel beyond honored to receive this award,” she said. “My consulting experience has by far been the most meaningful and simultaneously challenging experience for me here at WVU. The athletes I worked with were some of the most inspiring and courageous young people I’ve had the privilege to work with.

“Being in a position where athletes trust you with their vulnerabilities and fears, and willingly take on every challenge you set for them, has been an indescribable privilege.”

“In my journey as a budding sport psychology consultant, I have been helped by so many people along the way,” Huysmans said. “My supervisors, Drs. Ed Etzel, professor, Sport and Exercise Psychology, and Scott Barnicle, teaching assistant professor, SEP, have encouraged me, supported me and challenged me to continue growing and discovering my identity as a consultant.”

Huysmans prides herself on her consulting philosophy, which is based on perpetuating an inspiring mindset.

“My consulting philosophy is based on a humanist approach that emphasizes positive psychology and mindfulness and acceptance-based principles,” Huysmans said. “The humanistic approach emphasizes treating athletes as inherently good and capable of reaching their potential.”

Through the award, Huysmans hopes to achieve constructive outcomes. First, she prioritizes a “people first and athletes second” mentality. Secondly, she strives to build emotional intelligence of patients, including their ability to identify, differentiate between and understand emotions.

Additionally, she focuses on affirmative mindfulness and the capacity of the athlete to reroute their thoughts toward positivity. Finally, Huysmans attempts to nurture athletes’ self-compassion during times of high pressure and demands.

Huysmans’ goal is to contribute to positive development of her home country, eSwatini, via skills that she has learned through CPASS.

“To me, giving back to the community means using the skills I have been privileged to be able to learn and build to help others grow and flourish,” Huysmans said. “We have all had mentors and role models who have taken a chance on us at some point in our development so giving back means bringing that mentoring full circle and becoming a mentor to others.”

Huysmans fulfilled 100 hours of direct contact with patients, which she completed with a Division I athletic team through group and individual sessions. 

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