Hi all! My name is Sophia and I’ve been interning at the Performance Psychology Center (PPC) for about two months now. I’m currently a student athlete studying Psychology and will be a Junior this Fall. I have a passion for athletics as well as Psychology, so this internship has brought me lots of insight into the field I am most interested in. In this week’s blog post I’ll be discussing my personal experience as a student athlete, how interning at the PPC has changed my view on how I compete and finally what’s missing with student athlete mental health in college.
My Experience as a Student Athlete and Mental Health
I feel as though I never truly understood the meaning of ‘mental health’ in athletics until late high school or early college. This is because the term and how it relates to my sport, track and field, was never explained or brought up to me. Of course I knew what mental health was and how it relates to everyday life but bringing it into the world of athletics is a little different. As I believe it happens for most people I thought I didn’t need mental health until something not so good happened. After having my first rough meet in high school I can remember reading the book Mind Gym and feeling so enlightened. After finishing the book I turned around months later and had one of the best performances for that time. I contribute the success to being stronger mentally than before. Going into college I carried what I had learned earlier with me, however I thought I’d be getting more experience with mental health because I am attending a NCAA D1 school. Unfortunately this was not the case, the idea of mental health was thrown around a couple times throughout the year by coaches but never fully addressed it. I’m going to be a Junior and I still don’t know who our Sport Psychologist is because its never talked about. Thankfully I’m in a good head space now but if I ever needed it I’m much more open to seeking it out. Also I know friends and teammates who would benefit from it if they knew what it was all about. This Fall I hope to take my new knowledge back to school and help spread the word about Sport Psychology, mental health and some amazing performance changing techniques.
How Interning at PPC has changed my view on how I compete
Prior to interning here I had some knowledge on different Sport Psychology techniques and just some things I would do on my own. I was excited to go through this experience of learning new techniques while also helping others with a similar situation to mine. In this internship my supervisor, Clinical and Sport Psychologist Dr. Joe Puentes taught me a lot about mental health and peak performance. I realized that a lot of the rituals I already do were actually called something and had reasoning behind them. For example deep breathing in addition to positive self talk was something I already did but never knew what exactly it was. Learning the terms and the science behind them made it much easier to remember while competing and to do it with a purpose. My season had ended back in May so I wasn't expected to compete again for many months. However unexpectedly I was chosen by Team USA to compete in the NACAC U23 Championship in Mexico. All of a sudden these techniques I learned I was going to be able to try out much sooner than I had imagined. As recommended by Dr. Joe, I refrained from using all the techniques at once as that would be too overwhelming to think about. I instead focused on the one tool that would help me the most, Reload and Repose (a combination of positive self talk and deep breathing to help refocus on the current task). I can honestly say it kept me so much more mentally calm and collected. I’m normally a pretty relaxed person even when I compete but just using this key technique helped me focus in while still remaining calm. Overall, I would for sure recommend for everyone to learn about Sport Psychology and the various techniques.
What's missing with student athlete mental health in college
Just want to start off by saying this is my personal experience with student athlete mental health at my college. I can understand that others might have a similar or very different experience. I talk about mine in hopes to help others and bring more awareness to the situation. In this current day and age I would imagine that the NCAA would have better resources and tools for student athletes to use. One thing I learned while talking with retired athletic director Bill Fusco, was that his main goal as an athletic director was to provide the student athlete with the best possible experience. I believe that in order to truly fulfill this goal it's important to provide athletes with access to Sport Psychology and mental health resources, to not would be similar to not having athletic trainers. It’s not only important to provide physical health but mental health as well because they go hand in hand. Without a strong mind it doesn't matter how ‘in shape’ you are if you can’t use them together. A big step in the right direction at least for my college would be to educate student athletes, coaches and athletic training staff. If everyone was educated they could be on the same page, which would help everyone to be aware and know what resources are out there. With this new inclusive community it would create a place where mental health could be openly talked about without confusion. In addition this would help break the stigma that going to see the Sport Psychologist means there's something wrong with you or you can’t talk about or share what's going on. Just with these simple adjustments I can see it taking off from there and becoming much more incorporated into the culture of not only my college but hopefully the NCAA to follow.
Overall my experience as a student athlete has been great and I’ve gotten to experience many wonderful things. I enjoy competing for my school but there's always a chance to make the experience even better. I hope to educate individuals who don’t know much about this and to change how mental health and performance psychology is done in the NCAA.