SheaBalish13882449_1336198043074612_6712191539249810260_n

What I Do
I’m currently a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education at the University of Toronto.  I study the determinants and outcomes of sport participation, particularly during adolescence. My research focuses on the systems that regulate status striving and friendship alliances, and how these systems can help explain youth sport participation, including youth sport attrition (e.g., dropout) and gender differences therein. Although most of my research is situated at the individual level and can best be categorized as sport psychology, I employ an interdisciplinary approach that focuses on multiple analytic levels (e.g., biological, individual, team, community, country).
In parallel, I’m also the CEO and co-founder of REP (www.repthegame.com) – an educational platform for learning that occurs below the neck. REP helps everyone build better, and healthier athletes by (1) open-sourcing physical curriculums, and (2) automating expert feedback on skill execution using machine learning and advances in computer vision. REP is truly changing amateur sport: anyone with a WiFi signal can now access the best training programs and receive the best coaching. Not to mention, REP is free for everyone, forever. We are democratizing athlete development.
Biosketch
I was born and raised in a rural fishing village located on an island: Lockeport, Nova Scotia, Canada (pop. ~400). I’m probably the only Canadian that can’t skate, and even though I practically grew up on the ocean I can barely swim. However, I did learn to shoot a leather ball through a metal hoop, and so took up the opportunity to play basketball at Dalhousie University. While at Dalhousie I completed an undergraduate honours degree on the topic of athletic development. This led me to dive deep into the nature/nurture debate, and after reading some Steve Pinker and Dan Dennett, I swiftly realized the powerful insights offered by taking an evolutionary perspective. This evolutionary informed thinking helped me clarify the nature/nurture debate, and why people often talk past each other. At the end of my undergraduate I published a review paper that argued against Ericsson’s theory of deliberate practice and the infamous 10,000 hour rule. I later also spoke at the  MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference where I critiqued this 10,000 rule and Malcolm Gladwell’s ideas on this topic (they asked me to “go easy” on Gladwell, who was a keynote at this conference…give me a break). If you didn’t know, most scientists reject Ericsson’s and Gladwell’s ideas on the 10,000 hour rule. See here and here.
I enrolled in a Masters degree at Queen’s University where I studied developmental sport psychology under Dr. Jean Côté. I was lucky enough to give another talk, this time at the inaugural TEDx Queen’s conference. During this span my interest moved toward studying broader community level factors that can help explain what some communities are “hotbeds” for sport participation and talent development. During my time at Queen’s I consulted with several athletes and varsity teams, coached competitive basketball.
After Queen’s I went back to Dalhousie University where I enrolled in the Interdisciplinary PhD Program to study under Drs Chris Blanchard and Daniel Rainham. This allowed me to further realize my interests in synthesizing theory from disparate disciplines and to apply these insights to the context of youth sport and other health domains. My primary interests converge on the topic of behaviour change. I have conducted research on youth sport attrition, sex differences in sport participation, community influences on sport participation, and moral judgement in sport.
Most recently I was awarded a Banting Fellowship to study youth sport motivation at the University of Toronto. The Banting Fellowship is Canada’s most prestigious postdoctoral research fellowship. I’m currently developing and testing large-scale behaviour change interventions in youth sport using advanced machine learning. Outside academia, I coach youth basketball and consult with athletes from a variety of competitive levels.

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