Dr. Suzanne Pottratz heads a unique program which not only benefits students in the East Central University Department of Psychology, but ECU Athletics as well.
In 2017 ECU, under the direction of Pottratz, launched a Sports Psychology Program, the only one like it in the entire state. The program is an option under the umbrella of ECU’s Master of Science in Psychological Services.
Pottratz, who is a certified mental performance consultant, currently works with ECU athletes and teams in enhancing their mental approach to training and competitions.
“It’s performance enhancement through mental skills training,” said Pottratz, who earned her Ph.D. from Springfield College in Massachusetts, master’s degree at Brunel University in London and undergraduate degree from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky.
Among the tools used in the program are imagery, positive self-talk, goal-setting, relaxation, overcoming anxiety and handling pressure.
Pottratz, currently an assistant professor in ECU’s Psychology Department, shared an example when she worked with a college swimmer, who had a drop in confidence due to an injury.
“The college swimmer really struggled with confidence. She was a very good swimmer, but she would get really anxious before competitions,” Pottratz said. “We worked on things like confidence, imagery, performance routines and positive self-talk. As a result, she swam better. She got back to where she had been before.”
Athletic teams as a whole can benefit from this program, according to Pottratz.
“Team cohesion is an example. If members of the team are not getting along well it can affect their athletic performance. A team building activity might help like setting teams goals, having a team mission statement where everyone is working for the same thing,” said Pottratz.
Sport Psychology is a growing concept as more and more teams are employing them at not only the professional and collegiate level, but in high schools and at the youth level. Many NCAA Division I programs have sport psychologists, according to Pottratz.
“It’s a great time for students to get into the field. We have the only Sport Psychology Master’s Program in Oklahoma,” Pottratz said. “I would like to see it continue to grow as far as number of students and number of opportunities.”
Pottratz says the relationship between the program and the ECU Department of Athletics has been positive.
“It’s been very enthusiastic. Athletic Director Jeff Williams is all for it and we have worked with most of the teams on campus,” said Pottratz. “We need more students in the program. Most of the teams want us to work with them more, but we have to do it strategically as we work to grow the program.”
The sports psychology field of study has led to a vast array of career opportunities, according to Pottratz.
“MLB (Major League Baseball) have mental skill coaches with every one of those teams. The U.S. Olympic Committee employs sport psychologists to work with the Olympic athletes,” Pottratz said. “There are life coaches and exercise psychology consultants. A lot of people go on to be coaches because they have a better understanding of their athletes’ psychological needs.”
Williams says that the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguard an Medical Aspects of Sports, a committee in which Williams serves on, has targeted issues such as mental health status, sleep patterns and recovery periods for greater understanding , as they can impact student-athletes’ health, safety and well-being.
“The lives of college student-athletes are very hectic and demanding,” said Williams. “Student-athletes are challenging the physical limits of their bodies. They are academically engaged in full-time course loads pursuing a degree and they are trying to balance the demands of their time and effort within the undergraduate student experience on campus.”
Sport Psychology takes on another dimension besides athletic performance on the field or court, according to Williams.
“That has no doubt proven to be beneficial as many NCAA Division I members have employed sport psychologists to facilitate regular interactions with their student-athletes. But more importantly than making free throws is a holistic view that sport psychology can be just as impactful off the court and in life with the development of lifelong skills that will be useful long after their competitive sports career ends. At the NCAA Division II level, we are blessed to have this program on campus and available to work with student-athletes and coaches at ECU.”
ECU Women’s Head Basketball Coach Matt Cole has certainly seen some positives with the program, though it’s in the infancy stages. Cole’s Tigers are off to a 6-3 start to the season.
“It reinforces what we as coaches say to them all the time. It boosts their confidence,” said Cole. “Suzanne and her staff have done a great job and they’re communicating with our team at least once a week. It’s a health benefit for our athletes.”
One positive that Cole has observed is the individual goal-setting as it relates to the team.
“I don’t know what those individual goals are but it’s something do on their own and it is a way they are encouraged,” Cole said.
For more information on ECU’s Sport Psychology Program contact Pottratz at 580-559-5188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.