How sports psychologists help athletes on and off the field

Mental health plays a critical role in an athlete’s performance, but who is helping this student-athlete reach their full potential on and off the field or court?

When sports psychologists in Auburn determine whether or not an athlete is mentally ready, the student-athlete falls on a spectrum rather than being considered healthy or unhealthy.

This spectrum contains the colors: red, yellow and green.

When an athlete is green, they are considered successful and ready to go. You can stop by the Office of the Sports Psychologist for advice on how to maintain your mental health.

Someone who is yellow may have more stress than green. That person can drop by the office to determine what they’re struggling with and how to get back to normal.

When an athlete’s mental health condition is classified as red, that individual may have difficulty juggling academics, athletics, and maintaining a social life.

In all of these scenarios, a sports psychologist is responsible for helping student athletes cope with the demanding environment of college sports.

“Overall, I see my role as taking a holistic approach to the well-being of student-athletes and helping them discover how to best thrive in all areas of their functioning here in Auburn,” said sports psychologist Joanna Foss, who works at has worked in Maroon since 2020.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, this fall has been the first “normal” fall she has experienced since she was hired.

There are two pages on Foss’ work with Auburn’s student-athletes.

“The clinical mental health counseling side — that’s my licensed psychologist, which allows me to work with people who are suffering from clinical mental health symptoms,” Foss said. “And then the athletic performance side focuses on, you know how that really shows up in an athletics context and affects you and how can we help you get where you are right now to be a little bit better?”

The university offers student athletes individual and team therapy. Aside from talk therapy, sports psychologists teach athletes basic psychotherapy, such as: B. Pre-competition routines, including breathing techniques.

Foss and Doug Hankes, the executive director of sport psychology and mental health counseling, often spend more time away from the office going to training sessions and games to observe the athlete’s performance in those environments.

Along with sports psychologists, AuburnYOU is an organization that seeks to enrich the experience of students and athletes. You will be responsible for hosting events and providing resources that include personal growth, leadership development, social responsibility and professional development.

“AuburnYOU is our student-athlete development space,” said Megan Hooshyar, Assistant Athletic Director of Student-Athlete Experience. “It sort of encompasses all areas that would support our student-athletes, beyond their experience on the team and on the field… That would include collaboration between academics, student-athlete improvement… Counseling and sports psychology, nutrition, sports performance, strength and conditioning, and.” Sports medicine.”

As a student-athlete, there are unique stressors within college sports.

Hankes, who has been a sports psychologist for over 29 years and has been supporting student athletes at Auburn for 25 years, emphasized that the environment student athletes find themselves in can be demanding. Coaches never let athletes down, and they’re always under the watchful eye of fans.

From the moment they step onto the field or court, these student-athletes are expected to meet the ever-changing expectations of fans and coaches alike.

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Hankes also mentioned that most athletes struggle with the extra time commitment to their sport and the required commitment to science.

Earlier this year, Karen Hoppa, head coach of the women’s soccer team, emphasized the need for mental health awareness in relation to the pressures 18-22 year old female students face on and off the field.

“Finding out how to deal with a lot of these conflicting demands, as a human being, as an athlete, as a performer, all of those things are really important to have a space to explore all of that,” Foss said.

Auburn’s Mental Services for students and athletes has only been around for five to six years, but has been in the making for over 15 years. Hankes was an attorney for the Department of Psychiatric Services for Student Athletes.

To date, the athletic psychological services division is growing, and Jack Howard joins the roster.

“The really nice thing about our department, given our training in all areas, is that we’re able to meet people wherever they are and get them where they want to go,” Foss said.

However, the stigma of mental health is still prominent in esports, but Hankes noted that several changes have been made and the university is taking the necessary steps to change the way mental health is viewed.

He added that student-athletes are more open to getting help because of the vocalizations of professional athletes and former Auburn student-athletes.

Hankes commented on Auburn’s participation, along with more than 115 other universities, in College Football Mental Health Week Oct. 1-10, hosted by Hilinski’s Hope Foundation.

This foundation’s mission is to “save lives, remove stigma and scale mental wellbeing programs for student athletes” by telling Tyler Hilinski’s story and connecting students with mental health resources.

“While talking about mental illness can be difficult and sometimes uncomfortable, it is absolutely critical to the well-being of our student-athletes,” said Kym Hilinski, co-founder of H3H.

Appreciating the foundation’s success in breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health in sports, Hankes said Auburn is currently expanding it to other sports, such as cross country, volleyball and soccer.


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