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Meet HNU’S New director of Sport and Performance Psychology

Q&A with Alison Pope-Rhodius

Alison Pope-Rhodius

What is Applied Sport and Performance Psychology?

Applied Sport and Performance Psychology as a profession is about working with performers to help them think, feel and behave more productively in order to perform to the best of their ability and enjoy their performances more. The field of Sport Psychology has been well established for several decades: it got its foothold on applied work with athletes in the U.S. in the 1980s. Degree programs were initially developed with a focus on sport psychology for athletes and coaches, then some programs introduced the concept of exercise psychology, and most recently that of performance psychology is emerging in some programs.

Our new master’s program at HNU is designed to train students to be ethical, professional, and culturally competent as they adapt to the needs of their clients. The program follows the criteria to become a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC) through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Our students will also learn how to identify issues that would need a licensed professional to help further so they can make client referrals.

What drew you to the field of Applied Sport and Performance Psychology?

Growing up I was a good high school tennis player, but I had a lot of trouble winning matches. I realized that it was more about what was between my ears than my technical ability–I should have won a lot more! Going into my undergraduate studies I didn’t know sport psychology was a field until close to graduation. Once I found this out, I explored the options and chose to do a Master’s in Sport Science in the U.K. I absolutely loved it and decided to stay on to do a PhD. During that time, I learned that working with performers was my passion. Unfortunately, applied work wasn’t part of the curriculum in a typical PhD program, so I found myself two experienced supervisors to oversee me while I learned how to do the work. My first clients were elite archers and I ended up working with these types of athletes for almost 30 years. I wish I had known more about how to train to be a practitioner, it would have saved me quite a bit of time!

After finishing my PhD in 2000, I came to the U.S. and started to work in educating and training graduate students to become practitioners in sport psychology. In the last few years I developed a podcast called “Wee Chats with Brilliant People.” Interviewing performers such as musicians, actors, visual artists, business leaders as well as athletes and coaches, made me realize that I wanted to diversify beyond sport to include working with performers in other domains. Coming to Holy Names to start a new program is such an amazing opportunity and I am very honored to be here.

What excites you about bringing this program to Holy Names?

Being able to start a brand-new program at Holy Names is a dream come true and an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. I have a lot of experience developing and growing a program in sport psychology, both online and on-campus, but now I get to expand the program to include other types of performance, including the performing arts, business and the military. I get to be on a campus with students and work with on-site student-athletes and performers, while having the opportunity for online learning in addition.

What is special about this program?

The emphasis of our degree is on the ‘applied’ nature of the work. We have athletes and performers on campus, thus applied opportunities for training practitioners will be available year-round. Some other program highlights are:

  • Learning from highly skilled faculty face-to-face on campus with opportunities to learn online.
  • Observing experienced practitioners working with performers. We follow the philosophy of: Watch it, practice it, teach it.
  • Working with performers under faculty supervision.
  • Developing a portfolio project throughout the program.
  • Attending masterclasses with renowned practitioners.
  • Attending professional development workshops.
  • Having classes/workshops on business practices for consultants.
  • Having the opportunity to specialize in fields beyond the sporting domains.

Will this program be connected to HNU’s athletic program?

Yes, definitely. We will offer placements or internships in the athletic department. I know they’re also excited to be able to have interns work with their teams as they train.

Will this program offer graduates the chance to be certified?

Yes. We will be offering all the necessary coursework at HNU and the applied hours of experience that would be needed to be ready to apply to be a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC) via the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP).

Will the program be online or on campus?

Students will typically be on campus but there will also be opportunities to take classes online in the first year. We are preparing for different scenarios as they relate to the COVID-19 pandemic so that we can deliver classes safely come fall. When it is safe to do so, we will provide a two-week “intensive applied placement” experience to new students that will involve observing experienced practitioners in action, discussing the work with them, and then preparing with their peers for the following week of work with athletes and coaches.

What kind of career will this program prepare students for?

There are many career path possibilities with this applied degree. The focus is on training students to do the work in the field with athletes, coaches and other performers. Students typically wish to start their own private practice, so we will guide students on some essential steps to setting up their own business. Many students may be interested in working with the military as a Mental Resilience Trainer (MRT), and some will go on and work in colleges or full-time with teams.

When does the new program start?

We will start offering the first classes in Fall 2020, which begins in August.