Last week, the Board of Regents approved the creation of a new Master of Science in Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology (SEPP). This will be the first graduate program in the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and will build on a very strong undergraduate program in psychology.
Sport psychology is a subfield of psychology that brings together aspects of counseling psychology, health psychology, kinesiology, human biology, and other disciplines. Students in the SEPP Master’s program will be able to become Certified Mental Performance Consultants (CMPC), as the planned curriculum is aligned with the standards of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). The program has both thesis and applied options so that students can tailor the degree plan to their needs and career goals for them to be successful, may it be continuing for a doctoral degree or working with sport and professional organizations.
I spoke with some of the people involved in creating SEPP about the field of sport psychology and what it was like to build a new graduate program.
- Dr. Jenell Holstead: Chair of Psychology
- Dr. Jana Fogaca: Chair of Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology
- Dr. Alan Chu: Assistant Professor in Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology
- Dr. Chuck Rybak: Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences
Let’s start with this: What is Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology?
Jana: It is a field of study that investigates how psychological factors (e.g., anxiety) affect performance and how participation in various performance settings (e.g., youth sport) affect psychological factors (e.g., mental health). Sport psychologists are psychologists (with a license) who help not only with their clients’ performance but also with their mental health. It is important that they study sport psychology (and not just psychology) because they should understand the sports context and culture. For example, they should understand how long-term injury may affect levels of depression and interventions that have been shown to be effective in these cases.
Jana and Alan, tell me about your journey to become sport psychologists. When did you know you this is what you wanted to do?
Alan: I first experienced the importance of psychology in sport when I was in 10th grade. After I failed to make the table tennis junior national team back home in Hong Kong, I lost my motivation to play and frequently experienced performance anxiety in competitions. Since then, I learned and applied mental skills as an athlete, majored in psychology in college, and decided that I wanted to be a sport psychologist one day.
Well, the journey was long (surely applies to any psychologist)! It was actually a very fun and rewarding journey along with many challenges. While I enjoyed everything that I learned in my seven years of graduate studies, my favorite experience was working with an NCAA Division I team for three years and seeing them win the conference championship for the first time in school history. However, trying to do sport psychology was very challenging for me at first as there were no sport psychology programs back home. I had to apply to many schools across the globe and finally moved to the US. There were cultural differences in sport and in life that I had to adjust to as well.
Jana: For me, the first time I was exposed to sport psychology was in a study group in my undergrad and I loved it. I could suddenly understand so many things from my life as an athlete. Then I went to a conference and it was great as well. So I looked for internships and worked with athletes for 3 years before I graduated. I decided to go to Europe for my masters because in Brazil the master’s programs focus a lot on research and I wanted to improve as a consultant as well. There I had a class with a professor from WVU, which led me to the PhD there. It has been a great journey!
Chuck, how excited are you about launching CAHSS’ first graduate program?
Chuck: This is a true milestone for the College, and I feel honored to play even a small part in our taking this momentous step. My hope is that this program breaks the seal on CAHSS graduate offerings, with more soon to follow. We are an undersized institution for our region, so a logical area of growth lies at the graduate level. We are already in discussions with different programs looking to make a similar leap, and I could also see Psychology adding another graduate program in the future.
Jana and Alan, you are both relatively early in your careers. What has it been like to build a graduate program from the ground up like this?
Jana: It is great to be able to build the program from the ground up. To think about what our strengths as a department are and where the field is going, so our future students are prepared to be effective professionals. We will be able to offer all the courses necessary to become a certified mental performance consultant (CMPC) and both Alan and I are able to supervise their practice, which will be a great attractive to the program as well. I’m very excited to receive the first students next year!
Alan: It’s been an incredible experience, especially since I really enjoy creating things! There are not many opportunities for building a sport psychology program from the ground up, so I’m really grateful for having this opportunity at UWGB. What made this experience more enjoyable was the informational and social support from the university, the psychology department, and my colleagues, particularly Jana, Jenell, and you, Ryan. I also enjoyed learning about other graduate programs at UWGB, as well as various sport organizations in the community that we will potentially work with.
Jenell, how does the program fit into the broader plans for the psychology program?
Jenell: We are very excited to launch the first Master’s program in the Psychology department at UWGB in the area of Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. This particular program fits into our plans for the department to expand our undergraduate offerings with a complementary graduate program that continues and expands our relationships with the community. Graduate students in this program will benefit from partnerships we have established with Bellin Health Care, Aurora, and the Green Bay Public Schools, as well as others, to complete internship and practicum experiences. In addition, we are excited that this program will also benefit our undergraduate major, as undergraduates will get to work alongside graduate students in numerous ways. Our long-term vision is to have a robust undergraduate psychology program, with a few graduate options to attract students who want to study psychology in Northeast Wisconsin. This particular program is our first step in achieving just that.
Before we finish up, do you have anything else to add?
Jana: We’ve been building great connections with the community already and we’ve been finding that not only many sports teams and institutions are open to collaborate with the program but also some music programs and other artists are interested in having the help of a performance psychology consultant to be ready to perform under pressure.
Chuck: The great thing about working as the Dean for CAHSS is watching our faculty and staff perform and excel, which they do every day. Our undergraduate Psychology program is easily one of the best in the nation, and it has been both fun and exciting to watch this all come together over the last year and a half or so. We believe this program will serve as a beacon in our state to all those interested in the intersections between performance–in any number of fields–and psychology.
To learn more about Dr. Jana Fogaca and Dr. Alan Chu, check out their appearances on the Psychology and Stuff podcast.
By Dr. Ryan C. Martin
Ryan Martin is an Associate Dean for the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and a member of the Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He researches anger, manages the blog All the Rage, and teaches courses on mental illness and emotion. Follow him on twitter at @rycmart or All the Rage on Facebook.