Hello my Strong Runner friends! Hope you are all doing well and surviving this busy time of year. Stay strong and keep a calm head. Soon things will be over!
Today I will be bringing a new feature to the Strong Runner Chicks website. Continuing with the mental skills and sport psychology theme, my intention is to seek out professionals and coaches in this field and interview them for a feature on the website called A Layer Deeper. Should you want to see any professionals or coaches interviewed please leave a comment and I will do my best to get them on the website!
With this being said, I would like to welcome Shannon Mulcahy to the Strong Runner Chicks community! Shannon is a second year sport and exercise psychology student at Temple University and will be graduating with her Master’s this week (congrats Shannon!). She is working towards getting her certificate as a certified consultant in sport psychology and is a mental skills coach. Additionally, Shannon is a competitive triathlete and the director of a fabulous program called You Go Girls, an afternoon girls running club at The Philadelphia School. Welcome Shannon!
Please introduce yourself!
My name is Shannon Mulcahy and I am a sport psychology consultant. I received my BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from UMBC in 2014 and will be graduating with an MS in Kinesiology from Temple University this week actually! I grew up a competitive swimmer, which is how I discovered the field of sport psychology. I currently compete in triathlons, having finished my second ironman triathlon this past summer.
When should an athlete see a sport psychology consultant?
What I tell people when they ask me if they should see a sport psychology consultant is to ask themselves if they are performing up to their capability. Sport psychology can be helpful for all athletes, whether they are trying to overcome a particular obstacle or are trying to reach their full potential in their sport.
What do you see are the benefits of working with a sport psychology consultant?
Sport psychology consultants do so much. The majority of my work so far has been with college teams where I have done a lot working to develop a more unified team culture and improve communication within the team. When you can be completely open and honest with your teammates they truly become like a family and you can trust them and know that they are on your side and will have your back on and off the field. That in turn allows athletes to work on their own individual skills, like developing their attentional control and arousal control. Consultants can also help with injury recovery, setting goals, creating competition plans, developing positive self-talk, and having a greater sense of self-awareness. I could really go on and on here!
What would you say to individuals who think that seeing a sport psychology consultant means that there is something “wrong” with them?
I usually start by explaining what sport psychology is and what it can do to help them. There is such a stigma around mental health still and even though there is quite a big difference between my work and clinical psychology, sometimes seeing the word psychology can lead people to think it means something is wrong with them. Sometimes I will refer to sport psychology and mental performance or mental skills training because of this.
What is your specific niche in sport psychology?
I would say working with endurance athletes, however I have worked with a variety of sports including basketball, lacrosse, soccer, gymnastics, rowing, swimming, cross country, track and field, triathlon, and fencing.
You were once a swimmer and mentioned that you suffered from mental blocks. Would you mind elaborating on this?
Yeah, of course. Between the ages of 14-16 I struggled with competition anxiety and panic attacks. I would become so overwhelmed that both my mind and my body would eventually shut down. I felt like I was paralyzed by my thoughts. This then led to some seriously negative self-talk. I was lucky enough to have a coach who knew about sport psychology and recommended some books for me to read. I started learning not only that I could change my thoughts and my mindset around competing, but also how I could do it.
Now you compete in triathlons and the occasional cycling race. Has your mindset changed since switching sports?
My mindset is very different now than it was back when I was swimming. Some of that I think is getting older and more mature and learning more about myself as athlete. I have also been really cautious this go around. I have been able to identify triggers for myself and am always working to avoid them. Some days it is harder than others and I’ll be the first to admit that not every day is a success. It is a work in progress but something that I am happy to keep working towards. I also incorporate fun and joy into my racing now. I became very burned out as a swimmer and felt like I had to continue swimming because it was expected of me. Now I am the one in charge of what races I do or even if I do any races at all. I compete now because I love doing it.
I read that you are the director of You Go Girls. What a wonderful program to introduce to the young ladies at The Philadelphia School! Please tell the readers a bit more about that program.
You Go Girls is an after school running club held at The Philadelphia School. It is for girls in 4th-6th grade and each week we run anywhere from 1-3 miles with a variety of games and activities included. YGG has been a highlight of my time in Philly. There is nothing like getting to experience running through the lens of a child.
With this population do you notice an incidence of body image issues or disordered eating? If so, how do you combat it?
I have not noticed the incidence of body image issues or disordered eating luckily but I’m not going to say it’s not there. It’s hard when you only see them for a couple hours a week but I do go over with the girls what foods and snacks are good for running. We aren’t afraid to indulge though. Just this past week we ran to Penn Law School where we met one of their parents, who had donuts and fruit juice for them. It’s all about moderation, right?!
As a sport and exercise psychology professional, how do you approach working with athletes on positive body image and developing healthy habits?
Let me first state that because I am not a licensed psychologist I cannot “treat” an eating disorder. I can assist an athlete who has an eating disorder on their performance mindset but if an athlete comes to me to receive help for an eating disorder I refer them to a clinical psychologist. With that said, I do think it is important to help athletes develop a positive body image and healthy habits. What’s really important is talking about nutrition and how it can impact performance. Same with body image. I try to have the athletes I work with avoid focusing on weight or appearance.
Best piece of psychological advice for athletes?
This is a hard one! It might not sound like much but something I frequently find myself saying regardless of sport, level, or age is celebrate the small victories. Success doesn’t always come in the form of PRs and thinking that way can be troublesome as an athlete.
I was bit by a zebra when I was two years old.
Anything else you would like to share with the Strong Runner Chicks community?
Sport psychology consulting has been so rewarding and fun for me so far. I love being a part of helping athletes reach their goals but also develop as people. I love being a part of their journey and being the person I needed when I was swimming.
Thank you Shannon for taking the time to speak with me! Wishing you all the best moving forward and have a blast at graduation!
To connect with Shannon: