My Journey to the Field of Sport Psychology by Johanna Van Arkel
My name is Johanna Van Arkel and I’m a Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology student at Georgia Southern University. I graduated from Grace College with a bachelor’s in Sport Psychology in May 2020. I love spending time with friends and family, watching any and all sports, and being outside.
I have loved sports my whole life and enjoyed playing softball and volleyball through high school as well as competing in many unorganized games of knockout. Outside of playing sports, I have always enjoyed watching them, especially football. I love getting to know the players on my favorite teams and learn about their lives; what motivates them, their goals and aspirations, and what they like to do off the field.
When I was in elementary school the son of a family I knew committed to play for my favorite division 1 football team. I was thrilled! He went on to have a very impressive college career and declared for the NFL draft. After two seasons in the League (and one Super Bowl ring) he was cut during training camp. He moved back to my hometown and really struggled to adjust back to regular life. After a couple of challenging years home, he passed away suddenly from an accidental overdose, and was later diagnosed with Stage 3 CTE (the brain disease from multiple concussions).
About 5 months before he died, one of his family members shared with me how hard life had really been for him and his family since he had been cut. The CTE had caused awful depression, anxiety, confusion, and mood swings. Some days it was as if he was a whole different person. They also shared that some of his college teammates who had also not made NFL rosters had suffered from depression and suicidal ideation. They struggled to find purpose and meaning outside of football. Many also lacked adequate social support when they moved home.
"No one understood the intense scrutiny and pressure of the NFL, paired with the overwhelming sense of failure after not making the team. It left them feeling alone and miserable."
This conversation proved to be one of the main reasons that I decided to pursue a career in sport and exercise psychology. I never want anyone to go through what my friend and his teammates did. I want to help athletes like these football players process and cope with their situation, so they never reach this point. I want to be the person with the training to make a difference through the challenging time of transition and retirement.
As I begin my consulting career, I am looking forward to helping athletes improve their performance and overall well-being. By providing mental skills training, including imagery, self-talk, concentration, and relaxation from a person-centered approach, I want to help athletes develop as whole people. To see themselves as more than just athletes but as people of infinite value outside of sports and performance. As coaches, friends, and family members, we can contribute to the overall well-being of our athletes by building relationships independent of performance,
reminding them of their worth outside of sports, and just listening.