What Students Should Know About Sport Psychology From A Specialist In The Field

With a surge of awareness from many mainstream media outlets and a newfound push to teach the importance of mental health, psychology has never been more popular and readily accessible to the public. Although there has been an increase in awareness, there are still many fields and subjects of psychology that are not as commonly popular or are simply unknown. 

After having graduated university, I felt a sense of confusion with the ever-present question of “what will I now do with my life?” My entire life until now had been structurally planned and now my training wheels have been removed and I am now on my own to veer and steer. As many psychology undergrad graduates, there is an eventual plan of continuing school, but exactly which subject in the wide spectrum of psychology? And exactly how many fields of psychology are there, apart from the commonly known?

Hence, the introduction of this interview. This blog post highlights a particular field: Sport and Performance Psychology. Apart from its research and publications, the APA also encompasses the many fields of psychology through various divisions. Each division or interest group is regulated and organized by a wide range of members, specialists, and psychologists nationwide. One such popular group is Division 47- Sport, Exercise & Performance Psychology and due to its high viewing volume, I decided to interview a specialist in the field to answer questions you may have as a student interested in the field of Sport and Performance Psychology.

About Dr. Shapiro:

Dr. Jamie Shapiro is an Associate Professor and the Assistant Director of the Master’s in Sport and Performance Psychology program in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver. She earned a Ph.D. in Sport and Exercise Psychology from West Virginia University (2009), an M.A. in Community Counseling from WVU (2008), and an M.S. in Athletic Counseling from Springfield College (2005). She earned a B.S. in Psychology from Brown University, where she was on the gymnastics team for 4 years. Dr. Shapiro is a Certified Consultant of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (CC-AASP), listed on the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology Registry, and a National Certified Counselor (NCC) by the National Board of Certified Counselors. She is currently the secretary-treasurer of the Society for Sport, Exercise & Performance Psychology (Division 47) of the American Psychological Association.

Dr. Shapiro is a consultant for Sport & Performance Excellence Consultants based in Denver, CO. She has consulted with youth, collegiate, elite, and Paralympic athletes from a variety of sports. Dr. Shapiro’s specific interests include the psychology of sport injury, mental training for athletes who have disabilities, psychology of performing arts, exercise psychology, and ethics and training in sport and performance psychology.

Isabelle: What do you do?

My primary job is at the University of Denver, where I am an associate professor and assistant director of the Master of Arts in Sport & Performance Psychology program in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology. In this program, we train students to become practitioners (mental training consultants) for athletes and performers. My roles include teaching several courses, supervising students’ field placements, advising students, chairing students’ master’s projects, and coordinating organizational tasks for the program such as handling prospective student inquiries.

My secondary job is as a consultant for Sport & Performance Excellence Consultants, where I do mental training with athletes and performers. I work with performers in the Denver community and beyond and also work with United States Paralympic athletes, elite athletes who have disabilities. My work with performers includes helping them excel in performance and life by training them in skills such as goal setting, motivation, focus, energy management, and confidence.

What were your plans when you first started university?

I was on the gymnastics team at Brown University and knew I wanted a career that involved working with athletes. I was exploring whether I wanted to major in human biology or psychology and decided to major in psychology and get a bachelor of science so I could incorporate the science classes I enjoyed. There were no sport psychology classes at Brown, but I did my own research into the field and also did an independent study in sport psychology. After that, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in sport psychology and went to graduate school (master’s and doctorate) and continued my career from there!

Who is your role model, and why?

My role model in the field of sport psychology is Dr. Judy Van Raalte. She was my mentor during my master’s program at Springfield College, and it was wonderful to have a female mentor in a field that historically was dominated by men (that seems to be changing, as I have more female than male students now). She is a superb teacher, supervisor, scholar, mentor, and leader in the field, and I continue to collaborate with her today.

How do you use psychology in your job?

I am constantly using psychology, whether I am teaching, meeting with students, or practicing with my clients. Building rapport with students and clients is of utmost importance before delivering feedback or an intervention. My theoretical orientation to performance excellence is a combination of person-centered and cognitive behavioral therapy. With performers, I focus on helping them manage their mental energy to focus on productive factors for performance and well-being.

In your opinion, why is it important to study sport psychology?

I would say it is even more important to study performance psychology since the concepts are applicable to many performance domains, including sport, exercise, performing arts, business, and high risk occupations (e.g., military, police, firefighters, surgeons). It is very fulfilling to help performers achieve their goals and improve their performance and well-being as a result of training their mind or seeing things from a different perspective. There are many potential stressors, distractions, and pressures that are placed on performers and it is important to help them manage these.

What did you want to be when you “grew up?”

I wanted to be a gymnastics coach! While I am not exactly that, I could be considered a “mental coach”, working with athletes from many different sports, so it is not too far off!

Favorite books and why?

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch – so many great life lessons, and it makes me wonder what my last lecture will be someday! I also love all of the Harry Potter books (because you have to escape to fantasy land sometimes)!

Favorite scent or sound?

My happy place is the beach (which is difficult living in land-locked Colorado!), so I suppose my favorite sound is the ocean!

About the Author

Isabelle Orozco
Isabelle is a recent graduate of Penn State University with her degree in neuropsychology and French. During her years at university, she worked in research ranging from PTSD studies to code-switching in bilingualism. Presently and imperatively, her hobbies include: reading dystopic novels, watching Bollywood films, dancing classical ballet, and photojournalism.