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Sport psychology builds life skills, mental well-being

Athletic success is built on speed, strength, and skill, but preparing for sport in today’s world involves one more part of the puzzle: the mental aspect of athletic success.

‘There are two approaches to viewing sport psychology,” said Daniel R. Czech, associate professor at Georgia Southern University. ‘Our students not only examine the mental aspects of optimally consistent sport and exercise performances, but also look at how sport and exercise performances can affect mental well-being. Our lab is set up to work with anyone who wants to improve performance, not only athletes, but also actors, musicians, military officers”we really want to try to help as many people’s performances as possible from a mental perspective.” Czech, who is certified by the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, directs Georgia Southern’s graduate program in sport psychology, a part of the Health and Kinesiology department in the College of Health and Human Sciences.

When you step into the sport psychology laboratory at Georgia Southern, it feels like a large comfortable living room, until you see the scientific equipment: a stabilometer, anticipation timer, dexterity stars, reaction timer, and accompanying computer systems. One adjacent room has a ‘relaxation egg” a comfortable egg-shaped cocoon with a sound system that offers quiet relaxation. A second adjacent room is equipped with video capability and a 42-inch plasma screen for one-on-one performance enhancement counseling.

‘We use a variety of psychological techniques for both team education and one-on-one consultations,” said Czech. ‘For teams, we offer workshops and interventions that build team chemistry and increase psychological skills to improve consistency. For individuals, we teach exercises that improve mental well being, and we use one-on-one counseling to help with performance issues. Learning these psychological skills can make a tremendous difference for student athletes not only on the field, but in their lives.”

‘Our vision is to offer supervised, applied experiences that are unparalleled at the master’s level,” said Jonathan Metzler, an assistant professor who is Czech’s sport psychology partner and program co-coordinator. Together they oversee the work of graduate students pursuing a master’s degree in kinesiology with a specialization in sport psychology.

The program is a two-year immersion in the field and requires each student to work with one of Georgia Southern’s athletic teams on psychological skill development or with any team member one-on-one. First-year students shadow the more experienced second-year students, and in the second year, students are assigned responsibilities for their own team.

‘To get applied experience at the NCAA Division I level as a master’s degree student makes this program a very unique and highly desirable graduate environment,” said Sam Whalen, who is currently a graduate student associate director of the sport psychology lab.

The graduate program in sport psychology includes three important professional opportunities: a trip to New York City to train athletes for the NFL Combine; a summer course in Key West, Fla., that teaches health behavior change to incorporate a healthy lifestyle into everyday activities; and an international trip (England in 2007), where the students will view sport psychology from a transcultural perspective.

‘The experience of New York City, Key West, and GSU women’s soccer was amazing and very helpful in my development as a sport psychology consultant,” said graduate student Lacey Sorenson ‘Not only did I enjoy the different cultural environments, but the applied experiences of working with elite and collegiate athletes from a performance enhancement perspective, and with sedentary individuals who wanted to change their behavior, were opportunities that have shaped my approach to sport psychology.”

Because graduate students are working on research projects, they often attend and present at conferences. This year Metzler and Czech took 12 graduate students to the International AASP conference in Miami Sept. 27-Oct. 1, where Metzler and Czech gave four different research presentations. All second year graduate students recently presented their research at the Georgia State Conference on Health and Physical Education in Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Career opportunities in sport psychology can be found locally in community sports and youth groups such as the YMCA, CHAMPS Life Skill Program, The First Tee Golf Program for Youth and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Some graduates move into careers with professional and amateur sports teams, while some choose to go on for a doctorate in sport psychology. Certification, which is available through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), can lead graduates to consulting work with professional and collegiate sports teams and with individual athletes. With appropriate training and direction, sport psychology consultants can also become life skills directors at major universities.

‘We are finding that life skills such as communication, time management, study skills, and conflict resolution skills are often neglected in the athletic university setting,” said Czech. ‘We are trying to incorporate this side of life development as well to all of the students who come to the laboratory.”

Students interested in graduate study in sport psychology can learn more about the program at http://chhs.georgiasouthern.edu/health/m_sport_psych.html or by calling Dr. Dan Czech at 912-681-5267.

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