The 2021 ACSM Annual Meeting is in the rearview mirror and hopefully, so is the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was fantastic, and as usual, the buffet of educational opportunities was overwhelming. Like every annual meeting I have attended, the choices were numerous and often conflicting.
My first annual meeting was in 1982. When I walked through the doors of the Minneapolis Convention Center, I found my people. I learned so much from the clinicians, researchers, and educators interested in active people, who were themselves active people. I saw the science presented and explained several years before it appeared in the mainstream clinical literature and went home with information I could apply in the clinic and on the sideline. As I was leaving the conference on the last day, I saw a box of forms with a handwritten sign, “Become an ACSM fellow.” I took two. The form became my early career checklist and I looked at it regularly, until I became a fellow. I have attended every annual meeting since my first experience in Minneapolis, and I leave every meeting with a new sense of energy and purpose. I would not be who I am or where I am in my career without the College. ACSM provided the knowledge, network, foundation, and platform to advance my research, clinical, writing, speaking, and leadership skills. Becoming a Fellow in 1986 allowed me to increase my service to the College and advance in the organization leadership.
While the annual meeting education opportunities are huge, the friendships built over the years are what I missed most in this virtual meeting. Catching up on a vast network of colleagues and collaborators is not the same on a digital platform. I must admit that my desk chair was much more comfortable than most convention center seating, it was easy to see and hear the speakers, and it was nice to stand without the worry of blocking someone’s view. However, the lack of personal interaction left a gap in the experience, and I will happily return to uncomfortable chairs and too cold rooms for the human touch that is absent in the virtual space. I missed the social time and the chance to greet new members and new Fellows. Most of all, I missed seeing the ACSM staff I have worked with for so many years.
There were, as always, some key take away points from the meeting and I am sure all of you have a list of topic or ideas, both new and resurrected, from your virtual experience. Here are three that I jotted down as I listened to presentations:
- Athlete at the center: An athlete-centered approach focusses our efforts on safety, health, and performance for the individual good. What athletes and patients need may be different from our perceptions of their reality. Optimizing mental and physical health is essential to promoting life balance and success in the short and long term.
- Mind the Gap: We still have much to learn and each of us can contribute to the wall of knowledge for athlete and population health, safety, and performance. It is easy to forget our athletes and patients come from differing backgrounds and the social determinates of health affect their world experience differently from our own.
- Believe athletes: If we do not believe and believe in athletes; who will? From sexual abuse to adverse outcomes in training and competition, we must believe what athletes tell us and be prepared to step in, whether that is reporting sexual abuse or forcing a hard stop to abusive training, our athletes are depending on us to listen and to help.
A featured speaker put it simply: The path from competent to proficient to expert is as varied as the people aiming for the same goal, but it takes time in the trenches and a strong support network to achieve any goal. The College is a conduit toward the expert level in our field that combines the power of clinicians, scientists, and educators working together to improve the short and long term health and performance of both our athletes and the general population.
While I found the ACSM Annual Meeting in the virtual space as educational as always, I am looking forward to the 2022 ACSM Annual Meeting in San Diego, in person! See you there.
Dr. Roberts is a past president of ACSM. Dr. Roberts has no conflicts of interest to report.