Athletes quickly learn that physical activity is only half the battle when it comes to playing the game. What’s possibly even more important is the mental piece of the puzzle. Graduates of Olivet College’s sports psychology program learn how to channel that mental capacity and use it to help athletes — and non-athletes — exceed in their endeavors.
The interdisciplinary major encompasses three academic areas — health and human performance, psychology and sociology.
According to Nancy Van Hoozier, associate professor of health and human performance, Olivet College was the first college in Michigan to offer sports psychology as an undergraduate degree.
“We are still one of the few colleges or universities to offer the undergraduate program in the nation,” she said. “Students get to engage in research and receive hands-on training in the field. It is a good time to get into the field because of the proliferation of the sports industry domestically and globally.”
“Many athletic programs are starting to explore the idea of sports psychology and the mental side of athletics,” Bailey Tyler ’17 said. “This is a field that will continue to grow, especially considering the importance our culture puts on athletes.”
Beyond the Playing Field
Sports psychology graduates work in a variety of settings including the military, colleges and universities, amateur and professional sports organizations, rehabilitation centers and hospitals, and fitness and wellness centers.
“In these settings, the performance professional will work with athletes, coaches or clients on the psychological elements of performance,” Professor Van Hoozier said. “This work usually involves goal setting, motivation, self-talk, attentional focus and confidence.
“The emphasis of this major is developing techniques to increase individual and group performance. Students learn to work with individuals in one-on-one situations or in group settings. Many performance coaches also consult in the non-athletic realm to achieve maximum performance levels. Oftentimes mental coaches are sought out to help individuals, teams and organizations improve motivation and group dynamics or to shape and strengthen leadership qualities.”
For junior Nicholas Worden, the major provides him with the opportunity to expand his skill set.
“Sports psychology allows you to better understand people and how athletics can affect them,” Nicholas said. “The major provides you with knowledge on living a healthy and fit lifestyle along with the information on how to get others to do the same.”
Bailey chose the sports psychology major based on her personal experience and drive to help others.
“After graduating high school, I was given an opportunity to coach my high school bowling team,” she said. “I enjoyed the experience and ended up coaching for the next three years. I love working with athletes and helping bring out the best competitor in each person. I realized that my own experiences from sports were ones that I could draw upon to help those around me. I decided that sports psychology
was the best fit for me because as an athlete, the mental game is where I struggled most. I realized growing up that the mental component of sports was not focused on as much as the physical part. I want to be able to help athletes mentally prepare themselves on and off the field.”
Bailey plans to pursue a master’s degree in exercise and sports psychology. She would eventually like to work with college athletes.
Nicholas sees his experiences in and out of the classroom as invaluable preparation for his future.
“My major is preparing me for the professional world by helping me find ways to motivate others and keep them performing at their best,” Nicholas said. “It is also providing me with communication skills that allow me to speak and think intellectually with others.”
After graduation, Nicholas plans to attend Michigan State University to obtain his Ph.D. in sports psychology. Following that, he hopes to work at a Division I university or in the Navy.
Overall, Bailey feels well-equipped to enter the sports psychology field.
“My major has prepared me to work with athletes — and non-athletes — from all backgrounds of life,” Bailey said. “No two people are the same and no two athletes are the same. There is always something new to learn.
“I’ve learned to not be afraid to try. My professors really pushed me to think outside the box. I was given the opportunity to explore different perceptions of ideas without the fear of being judged. I was encouraged to try and see things from different points of view.”