Sports Psychology Provides Mental Edge For Student-Athletes

OLEMISSSPORTSDOTCOM Josie Nicholson visits football practice.
Josie Nicholson visits football practice.

Aug 14, 2013

This is the second in a series of stories related to the Health and Sports Performance Division of Ole Miss Athletics.

Part 1: New Facility, Staffing For Ole Miss Athletics Nutrition

By Austin Miller,

OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss is one of just three Southeastern Conference athletic departments with a full-time clinical or counseling sports psychologist on staff, along with Vanderbilt and LSU, and one of less than 25 Division I programs in the nation.

Josie Nicholson, Ph.D., is the department's sports psychologist. A native of Oxford, Miss., she joined the University Counseling Center staff in 2011 and began her work with student-athletes at Ole Miss.

In 2013, she transitioned into a full-time role within the athletic department as part of the Health and Sport Performance area and is now housed in the FedEx Academic Support Center, where she is better integrated into the department and more accessible to student-athletes.

"Josie is not only a certified sport psychologist, but she is also a counseling psychologist, which means that she can help screen and assess our athletes who have anxiety and depression, as well as issues that may be affecting them on the field, or on the court," said Shannon Singletary, Senior Associate Athletics Director for Health and Sports Performance.

"In her day-to-day, she participates in team functions and does team-building and leadership exercises. For example, she takes our rifle team and teaches them breathing and mental focusing. She takes our individual-sport athletes and she works with them from a mental standpoint of how to block out the crowd and block out everything you are thinking about, so you can focus on your sport."

Nicholson has a master’s and doctorate in counseling psychology and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Sport Psychology with the University of Florida Athletics Department. A licensed counseling and sports psychologist, Nicholson said it was important to be trained clinically as a generalist because student-athletes come in with a wide variety of issues and then benefit from her specialty in sport performance.

Nicholson is also a Certified Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and is on the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) Registry of sport psychologists approved to work with Olympic athletes and national teams.

Her specialty training also includes EMDR, a specialized psychotherapy treatment developed for post-traumatic stress, and clinical hypnosis.

Although much of Nicholson’s work with athletes focuses on performance enhancement, many student-athletes also seek support for other concerns. For Nicholson, her function as both a clinical psychologist and sports psychologist are not separate.

"If you have something going on in your life, it's going to affect you on the field," Nicholson said. "If you are dedicated to your sport and that's not going well, it's going to affect you personally, so the two go hand in hand."

Nicholson said two of the biggest things she encounters in her work with student-athletes are depression and anxiety, as well as mixing up aspirations with goals, which Nicholson said can lead to anxiety.

"An aspiration is something someone wants," Nicholson said. "A goal is something that's within your control. These are things that are measurable. These are things that are obtainable. These are things that are within your control. Making all-conference is not within your control. Doing everything that you can so that you're a candidate for all-conference is: that’s a goal.

"I think that because they mix them up, there's self-blame, there's pressure, there's performance anxiety. Typically, if they're having performance anxiety on the field, they're also having anxiety over tests and more anxiety in other situations as well. And that comes from a lot of pressure, a lot of displaced pressure."

Nicholson said one of the unique mental challenges is for individual-sport athletes, such as golf, rifle and tennis, because they grow up competing in their sport individually. Then when they come to Ole Miss, there’s a sense of team and community, and there’s an added pressure, compared to team-sport athletes who are better acclimated to dealing with that pressure.

“It's so internal compared to the external,” Nicholson said of the pressure for individual-sport athletes. “At this level, for golf, for tennis, for rifle, the mental game becomes the ‘make-it or break-it.’ That's the same for all of the sports, but it's more pronounced for the individual sports.

“There's a lot of concentration. In those sports, the coach is not necessarily in their ear their whole time. The other thing is, they may go to a tournament by themselves. That creates an internal pressure, where there's no diffusion of responsibility. Everyone is looking at you. That's a different kind of pressure”

Women’s soccer is a team sport Nicholson works closely with, helping players with performance enhancement, team dynamics, injury recovery, and personal concerns such as handling stress, whether it’s academic, athletic or personal.

“Josie has been a huge addition to our program,” head coach Matt Mott said. “She spends a lot of time with our team. She travels with us at times. She is a great resource for the girls, from a psychology standpoint.

“She has done a lot of team bonding stuff with us. When she's on the road, she has individual meetings with players. Her ability to comfort and relate to players has been fantastic. She understands the psyche of the athlete.”

As she moves into her new office, Nicholson’s professional charge remains the same: the overall well being of the student-athlete, on and off the field.

“I was born a Rebel, and this is my hometown. I’m proud to be part of this amazing program, working with some of the best athletic staff in the nation, supporting some of the most amazing athletes in the country,” Nicholson said. “It’s all about helping student-athletes be the best possible versions of themselves, on and off the field.” 

Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller

    • Seniors Shine, Records Broken in Magnolia Bowl

      Saturday, November 21, 2015 - Football

      By Steven Oubre, Ole Miss Athletics Media RelationsAfter a bounce that didn't go their way against Arkansas, the Rebels knew tonight was a must-win situation. No. 22 Ole Miss knocked off rival No. 15 LSU 38-17 in a top-25 matchup... read more

    • Drama Rules The Day at Vaught-Hemingway

      Saturday, November 7, 2015 - Football

      By Brandon Lee, Ole Miss Athletics Media RelationsDrama in front of a sold-out crowd of 60,680 between the No. 18 Rebels and Arkansas? It was that and a whole lot more in a back-and-forth Saturday night knockdown, drag-out SEC West... read more

    • Rebels Dominate In Prime-Time Spotlight

      Saturday, October 24, 2015 - Football

      By Steven Oubre, Ole Miss Athletics Media RelationsIt wasn't pretty, but the Rebels got the job done. No. 23 Ole Miss and No. 15 Texas A&M combined for seven turnovers, but a dominant defense and a balanced offense led to... read more

    • Midseason Checkpoint: Rebels Control Their Own Destiny

      Wednesday, October 14, 2015 -

      It seemed like it was just yesterday that the Ole Miss football team continued through the motions of fall camp, and we all were just ready for the season to finally begin. Fast forward with a little Talladega up-tempo... read more

    • Rebels Bounce Back at Home

      Saturday, October 10, 2015 -

      By Steven Oubre, Ole Miss Athletics Media RelationsOle Miss raced past another non-conference opponent at home this week. The Rebels returned to their usual form after a conference loss at Florida last week, racking up 665 yards of total offense,... read more

    • Ratings, Exposure Huge for Ole Miss-Alabama

      Tuesday, September 22, 2015 - Football

      Ole Miss' historic win over Alabama last Saturday was not only popular with members of Rebel Nation, it was among the most-watched college football games of the year.The Rebels' thrilling 43-37 victory over the Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium was the... read more

    • Rebels Pass First Test in Search of Playoff Berth

      Sunday, September 20, 2015 - Football

      By Steven Oubre, Ole Miss Athletics Media RelationsThe road to the College Football Playoff includes many tests along the way. The Ole Miss Rebels (3-0, 1-0 SEC) just passed their first, proving that they are a legitimate contender after knocking... read more

    • Kelly Makes Statement in Big Rebel Win

      Saturday, September 12, 2015 - Football

      By Steven Oubre, Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;... read more

    • Big Plays Highlight Season-Opening Win

      Saturday, September 5, 2015 - Football

      Offense, defense and special teams. Ole Miss dominated all three aspects of the game as the 15th-ranked Rebels routed UT Martin 76-3 in the season opener. The 60,186 fans, mostly dressed in white, anticipated an exciting start to the 2015... read more

    • Time to Take a Stand

      Monday, August 31, 2015 -

      It's finally week! It's been 242 days since the Ole Miss Rebels last took to the gridiron for a clash of the helmets. After a successful 2014 campaign in which Ole Miss knocked off a No. 1-ranked team... read more

    • Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge to Air on ESPNU Aug. 1

      Thursday, July 30, 2015 -

      Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE ATLANTA - On Saturday, fans can tune in to see the Rebels duo of Head Football Coach Hugh Freeze and former Ole Miss basketball player Sean Tuohy compete in the Chick-fil-A... read more

    • Rebels Emerge on Four Watch Lists This Week

      Friday, July 17, 2015 -

      Only 50 days until The Grove is full, the constant shouts of "Hotty Toddy" are in the air, and football kicks off 100 years in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium! Looking forward to this upcoming college football season, seven Rebels were named to... read more

    • Football Rebels All Over First Week of Watch List Releases

      Friday, July 10, 2015 -

      As we near the 2015 college football season, national organizations have started to release watch lists for their respective awards. Through the first week of watch lists being released, multiple Rebels have been announced as players that fans need to... read more

    • Engram, Hilton and Johnson to Represent Ole Miss at SEC Football Media Days

      Wednesday, July 8, 2015 -

      Along with head coach Hugh Freeze, three Rebels will represent Ole Miss at the annual SEC Football Media Days next week. Junior Evan Engram, just named to the John Mackey Award Watch List for college football's most outstanding tight end,... read more

    • Five Rebels Tabbed Preseason All-SEC in The Birmingham News

      Tuesday, June 30, 2015 -

      Five Ole Miss Rebels were chosen as preseason All-SEC selections by some of the people who work closest with the student-athletes, the football media relations directors. The 14 football media relations directors of the Southeastern Conference institutions voted in the... read more




  • Loading Tweets...
    1 second ago



» «