Sports psychologist talks to soccer team

After four straight seasons without advancing to postseason play, women’s soccer head coach Tanya Vogel was at a loss. She knew her team was talented enough, and that they were putting in the effort needed off the field, but something was keeping them from performing – and Vogel didn’t know what it would take to get them over the hurdle.

So when junior goalkeeper Bridget Mohan talked about the research work she was doing in sports psychology for a class with one of her professors, Dr. Amanda Visek, Vogel’s interest was piqued.

“We had a lot of the pieces already in place,” Vogel said. “We had the work ethic, the team dynamic, but something was missing and it was the intangibles, and I thought ‘Why not?’ So I turned to Dr. Visek, and told her I needed her to figure out what those intangibles were.”

This was not Vogel’s first time turning to outside help. Vogel had an earlier Colonials team meet with a sports psychologist and, although that team had more interpersonal and dynamic issues, Vogel hoped that working with Visek could help this team gain an edge.

“A lot of the time when you turn to a psychologist or turn to help from outside there’s a stigma associated with it,” Vogel said. “But I just wanted an outside perspective on whether there was something missing that could help us.”

One of the first discussions that Visek had with the team was about thinking about the game. When Visek asked how much of playing the game was a mental battle, the team responded that a majority was. Visek then asked how much they practiced mental skills, to which the answer was silence.

“People underestimate the power of the mental elements in sports,” senior defender and co-captain Emily Gower said. “So the sessions with Dr. Visek have been really great, and we’ve talked about what we need to do, and what she thinks we need.”

Visek, a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Services, also has a practice in addition to her teaching and research duties. For her, this was the first opportunity to work with a Colonials team.

“I had spoken to the athletic department when I first joined,” Visek said. “I knew they didn’t have a sports psychologist in-house, and while I’ve worked with some athletes one-on-one, it is a different experience working with the whole team.”

At their first meeting, Visek had the team fill out surveys individually to assess where the team stood. The surveys asked players about different elements of the game from motivation, to communication to handling criticism. Visek then went over the results with the team at their next meeting, comparing their results to each other and to research done on national trends.

For Vogel, the discussion dealing with taking the focus off winning and losing has had the most impact.

“As an athlete, you get stuck on the outcome, either the win or the loss,” Vogel said. “One of the first things Dr. Visek did was to say that we’re not going to think about winning or losing anymore, we’re going to focus on the process. It was eye-opening, and something I’ve learned from.”

The team has met with Dr. Visek three times so far, who has also attended practices and a few games. Vogel hopes to continue the sessions through the season.

“Working with Dr. Visek has definitely already had an impact,” Gower said. “We’ve learned to communicate better, and to learn how to cope when we make mistakes on the field and bounce back. We just need to be able to work hard individually to meet our team goals.”

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