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So You Wanna Be a Sports Psychologist

If you ever watched USA’s Necessary Roughness, a show thatclaimed to depict the life a sports and entertainment psychologist, and thoughtyou had a good idea of what a sports psychologists is, I’m sorry to tell you,but you’re wrong.  Contrary to the show, sports psychology is filled with well-rounded, hardworking, dedicated professionals who are committed to their clients and the field of sports psychology.  It’s been a field that’s interested me for some time, so when I found out that an old college friend of mine was working in the field I HAD to get an interview with her to get a realistic look into the practice of sports psychology.  Hopefully we can encourage more dedicated, bright individuals to become involved in a relatively new and growing field.  


GladiatHers, meet Ashley Coleman.  Ms. Coleman is an adjunct professor at a private university where she teaches an introductory psychopathology course to first-year graduate students.  What occupies most of her time is her position as an advanced doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University. Ms. Coleman is working toward completing her dissertation on her way to becoming a clinical psychologist who focuses on sports psychology.  Her research areas of interest include student-athletes, college students, African-American women, resilience and religion/spirituality.  Let’s see what she has to say.    

1.     Wow, your work and studies sound very interesting and demanding.  Before we get into that a bit more, can you explain to our readers how you become a sports psychologist?

To become a clinical psychologist, one needs to obtain a Bachelor degree, Master of Arts in Psychology or a related field, and a doctorate…in Clinical Psychology. Then after accumulating 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience through a full-time internship and post-doctoral fellowship, one sits for two licensing exams. The first exam tests general knowledge of psychology and the other exam tests knowledge of the legal and ethical standards of practice for the state where the person would like to practice psychology.

[C]linical psychologist[s]…can provide individual, couples, or group therapy.  [They]…can [also] teach, conduct assessment[s], and provide outreach to the community or consultation to groups or individuals.

[A] sport psychologist…has been known as someone who helps an athlete improve performance through development of skills (e.g. goal setting, guided imagery, and anxiety management). [They] also address concerns that impact the athlete’s well-being and provide consultation to coaches, teams, and other athletic professionals.

2.     Ok, so the doctorate is in Clinical Psychology and then you specialize in sports psychology.  Gotcha.  How did you get into the field?  And what prepared you most for the field?

I have always been that person who people could confide in- and trust that their business would not be revealed at a later date. There is something so humbling about being able to witness someone “tell their story” and feel relief after.  I became interested in psychology as a discipline after one of my favorite basketball players, Chamique Holdsclaw, suddenly retired from the WNBA due to “personal issues” which were later revealed to be related to depression.

Two of the things that prepared me the most for the field were support and guidance…God has placed the right people in my life to help me grow personally and professionally, which has allowed me to succeed and persevere. One of my biggest sources of support has been family. My parents supported my interest in psychology by taking me to career fairs and introducing me to mental health professionals that mentored me.

Once I became a graduate student, I was blessed to receive encouragement and support from mentors and supervisors specifically regarding my interest in sport psychology. I credit my advisor, Dr. Shelly Harrell, for approving my sport-centered dissertation topic and helping me to brainstorm opportunities for me to acquire sport psychology related experience. I’d also like to personally acknowledge USC Chief Sport Psychologist, Dr. Robin Scholefield, for giving me one of my first opportunities to work with student-athletes at USC.

3.     It definitely sounds like you are a perfect fit!  What school(s) did you attend and what was your first internship in the field?

In May 2006, I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Howard University (BISON-You Know)! In May 2009, I received my Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. I decided to remain at Pepperdine for my pursuit of a Doctor of Psychology (Psy D.), which is an applied psychology degree.  

In 2014, I completed a year-long full-time pre-doctoral internship at UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services. Under the supervision of Dr. Nicole Green, I provided individual…and group therapy to college students (including student-athletes) and conducted psychological assessments for students with academic and personal difficulties. Additionally, I provided consultation to coaches, worked individually with student-athletes, and presented to several teams on various topics including sexual assault prevention, academic integrity, and coping with work/life stress.

4.     It seems like there are a number of women in your field, why is it important for women to be involved in sports psychology?

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, women’s and girls’ participation in athletics has skyrocketed. Research shows that women athletes face unique stressors that warrant specific interventions. It’s essential for people to feel comfortable when seeking help and frankly sometimes women athletes feel more comfortable discussing their concerns with a female therapist.

5.     Sports is a diverse profession, why is it important for people of color to engage in your line of work?

Many people of color have a healthy suspicion or mistrust of the field of psychology given the discipline’s controversial history. The mistrust paired with the fear of being labeled “crazy” or “inferior” has largely contributed to the barriers of people of color seeking help from a mental health professional. I’ve found that some of that stigma can be reduced when clients have the opportunity to work with a therapist that not only understands his/her cultural worldview but also shares membership in some of the client’s cultural groups.

6.     What are some of the issues that you see plague female athletes today?

[Some of the biggest issues are finding a] work/life balance; managing multiple roles and relationships; [planning a career/preparing for retirement or transition]; and eating disorders/body image concerns.

7.     What are some current projects that you’re working on?

My first priority and on-going labor of love, blood, sweat and tears, is my dissertation.

Recently, I co-authored a chapter with my advisor, Dr. Shelly Harrell and a fellow student,  Tyonna P. Adams, entitled “Toward a Positive Womanist Psychospirituality: Strengths, Gifts, and the Optimal Well-Being of Women of African Descent.” The chapter is available in Thema Bryant-Davis, Asuncion Miteria Austria, Debra M. Kawahara, and Diane J. Willis’ book: Religion and Spirtuality for Diverse Women: Foundations of Strength and Resilience. It’s available on Amazon.

8.     You’re published! Awesome.  Who are some of your professional heroes?

Dr. Shelly Harrell and Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis (psychologists and professors at Pepperdine University); Dr. Tracy Shaw (counseling psychologist/sport psychologist); Dr. Pamela Ashe (clinical psychologist); Tina Sloan Green (co-founder of Black Women in Sport Federation); and since I’ve become an educator; I can say my mother, Sherry Coleman; she is the best educator that I know.

9.     What advice would you give to young girls who are interested in your line of work?

Find a mentor! It’s never too early to reach out to people who you admire.  You never know… that person could possibly connect you with the right people who will play an integral part of journey.

10.  Ok, so the question we ask every interviewee, what’s your definition of a GladiatHer?

To me, a GladiatHer is a woman who pursues her goals persistently without being deterred by barriers imposed by others.

Thank you so very much for giving an interview, Ashley!  I sincerely appreciate it.  Make sure you keep up with Ashley via her Facebook page!! The interview that I provided is a bit edited, so if you’d like to read the full interview, click here.  


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