The clinical and research practice of Aynsley M. Smith involves all aspects of sports psychology — performance enhancement, team building, dealing with adversity, goal setting, resiliency development, and the relationship between psychosocial variables, physiological response, critical situations and their impact on performance.
Smith's studies involve golfers affected by the yips, hockey goalies, musicians, intensive care unit nurses and interventionist cardiologists performing under stressful conditions. One of her particular interests is in physiologic and psychological responses to injury.
- Since 2008, Smith's injury studies have focused on the psychological and physical ramifications of head trauma in contact sport participants and military personnel.
- Smith and colleagues have developed multi-institutional partnerships to investigate the basic science, prevention, epidemiology, diagnoses, individual athlete exposure times and player characteristics that predispose risk and resiliency.
- Smith and colleagues have studied acceleration forces that accompany head impacts using an investigative model. This ice to axon model relates the recorded in vivo magnitude, frequency and location of head impacts in hockey players to derived strain and strain rates within a human brain and tests four hypotheses in rat brain cells to explain neuronal response.
- Smith and her team plan to validate novel measures integral to the diagnosis of concussion that to date have been a subjective process, influenced by denial and over-reporting.
- The role of behavioral modification using a fair-play program has been a core of Smith's emphasis on prevention. She implemented a Minnesota Hockey Education Program and annually analyzes the effectiveness of fair play in reducing dangerous penalties. In 2014, she is analyzing the influence of fair play on concussions and related injuries in youth hockey players.
Significance to patient care
The desired outcome of Smith's research is to develop inhibitors to block axonal and dendritic retraction. This benefits athletes and soldiers at risk of the devastating psychological and neurological consequences of head trauma.
Preventing sport concussions results from education such as a behavioral modification program (for example, fair play) and rule changes. Smith and her team track fair-play points earned and penalties called in games each year. The effects of rule changes are being studied, such as eliminating body checking in peewee players, which decreases diagnosed concussion. Prevention efforts have been further studied by the international Ice Hockey Summit: Action on Concussion series, hosted at Mayo Clinic in 2010 and 2013, which has resulted in preventive action plans.
Smith and her colleagues from five academic institutions also are addressing the basic science of concussion. This has great promise to increase understanding of the neurons' responses to contact sport and blast head trauma. Mayo investigators working with Smith include kinesiologists, sports medicine physicians, neurologists, genetics experts, neurosurgeons, radiologists, biomechanics experts and engineers. External colleagues include bioengineers from the Karolinska Institutet and Simbex with expertise in head trauma. Additionally, recorded in vivo head-impact acceleration measures are being reconstructed by finite element modeling to serve as inputs to a rat neuron model.
- Member, Association for Applied Sport Psychology, 2011-present
- Member, American Psychological Association, 2011-present
- USA Hockey Excellence in Safety Award, 2011
- Live for Others — Healthy Community Award, Olmsted County Public Health Services for outstanding service to the community and helping to create a healthy future for Olmsted County, 2008