Last Updated on June 18, 2022
Interview with Dr. Alan Chu
Sports Degrees Online recently had the chance to interview Professor Alan Chu, PhD, CMPC, of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Dr. Chu tells the story of how he found his way into Sport Psychology and shares his thoughts on the growing awareness of mental health issues in sport, his research on social agents and motivation, and more.
About Dr. Alan Chu
Dr. Tsz Lun (Alan) Chu (PhD, CMPC) is the Chair of the Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology Program at UWGB. He earned his PhD from the University of North Texas in Educational Psychology.
Professor Chu, can you tell us a bit about how you found your way into sport psychology?
Dr. Alan Chu: Something common for people to be drawn into the profession is being an athlete and having an interest in knowing how the mind influences the body. That was the same case for me. However, how I found out about sport psychology was quite a coincidence.
When I was an undergraduate psychology student and collegiate athlete at the City University of Hong Kong, I often thought about what I could do with my degree for a career. One day, I was waiting to meet with a professor and saw different psychology career options listed on a bulletin board in the hallway. To my surprise, sport psychology, something I had never heard of, was listed! I asked my advisor about it, but he did not seem to know much about this career path as relevant courses and programs were not available (still true today).
Around that time, I was accepted to study abroad at San Diego State University (SDSU) during my junior year. When I had to register for classes, you know what, I saw Sport and Exercise Psychology in the catalog! I immediately signed up, fell in love with the subject (honestly, the city too) at SDSU, and decided to apply to sport psychology graduate programs after returning to Hong Kong and learning more about various career paths within the profession.
I was fortunate enough to be admitted to the M.Ed. Counseling Psychology Program with an emphasis in Career and Sport Psychology, and the rest is history.
You are now the Chair of the M.S. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology Program at UW-Green Bay. Can you tell us a bit about the program highlights and who the program was designed for?
Dr. Alan Chu: The M.S. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology (SEPP) Program at UW-Green Bay is housed in the Department of Psychology. The program is designed for students and professionals who would like to either have a master’s degree to pursue the Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC) credential or pursue a doctoral degree in the future to become a clinical/counseling sport psychologist or a professor.
The program outcomes and coursework align with the knowledge areas and tasks identified by the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) as central for competent work as a CMPC. The program has two tracks. The applied track requires an internship for students to gain practical experience. The thesis track allows students to complete a research project to showcase their research skills that are important for acceptance to and success in a doctoral program.
We anticipate adding even more practical experience to align with the upcoming brand-new graduate program accreditation under AASP. More program information and updates can be found via our webpage https://www.uwgb.edu/sport-exercise-and-performance-psychology/.
For more information about how to find the right sport psychology program for you, visit our Guide for Choosing a Sport Psychology Degree
Dr. Chu, it seems that we are living in an era where awareness of mental health issues for teams and athletes is at an all-time high. Can you talk a bit about the current need for schools and teams to have qualified sport psychology professionals/CMPCs on staff? Do you expect the demand for these positions to grow over the next decade?
Dr. Alan Chu: I would say the need has always been there. The difference between now and when I was a collegiate athlete is that athletes are more outspoken about mental health nowadays, which helps reduce the stigma of seeking psychological help. Also, after everyone has experienced a pandemic, there is a better understanding of and emphasis on providing mental health services.
Having said that, the need has been seen with some real actions to address it. There have been more clinically trained sport psychology professionals on staff in Division I and even Division II and III schools. I have seen these job postings almost every week since the start of the pandemic.
At the professional level, there also have been more relevant positions, including those for the relatively new USOPC Mental Health Department, which offers different services from the Sport Psychology Department.
I expect the demand for these clinical/counseling sport psychology positions to keep growing, but probably not as much for full-time sport psychology positions that solely focus on mental performance. More organizations are willing to hire CMPCs, but on a part-time or contract basis, and they are more likely to do so after they have taken care of their athletes’ mental health needs.
“I expect the demand for these clinical/counseling sport psychology positions to keep growing, but probably not as much for full-time sport psychology positions that solely focus on mental performance. More organizations are willing to hire CMPCs, but on a part-time or contract basis, and they are more likely to do so after they have taken care of their athletes’ mental health needs.”
Check out our Sport Psychology Career Guide for more information
Professor, you are also an internationally recognized motivation scholar conducting both qualitative and quantitative research on athletes’ motivation, and on the roles of social agents in motivation. Why should young people who aspire to work with teams and athletes consider becoming educated about these factors?
Dr. Alan Chu: A jarring statistic – 70% of youth sport participants in the US drop out of organized sports by age 13 (i.e., before high school) – from the National Alliance for Youth Sports a few years ago provides solid evidence for people involved in sports to be educated about motivation.
From many years of research, we know that motivation influences burnout, dropout, and even mental health issues in athletes we discussed earlier. Because organized sports involve intense training and wins and losses – which youths and young adults are not always ready to handle – it is particularly important for social agents (e.g., coaches, teachers, parents) to build a positive environment for athletes’ intrinsic motivation and coping skills. This intrinsic motivation can go a long way to keep athletes in sports now and in the future when things are hard. Also, it is not surprising that teams and athletes that are intrinsically motivated tend to be healthier, perform better, and win more.
“Because organized sports involve intense training and wins and losses – which youths and young adults are not always ready to handle – it is particularly important for social agents (e.g., coaches, teachers, parents) to build a positive environment for athletes’ intrinsic motivation and coping skills. This intrinsic motivation can go a long way to keep athletes in sports now and in the future when things are hard. Also, it is not surprising that teams and athletes that are intrinsically motivated tend to be healthier, perform better, and win more.”
What advice do you have for young people who are just beginning their journey into a career of working with student athletes?
Dr. Alan Chu: I have three pieces of advice:
1. Be willing and open to trying new things even though you think you may not like them. You may be surprised later by what you have learned (even if you still do not like them).
2. Find mentors, not just one, but multiple. You will need help from several mentors with different strengths and experiences to help you navigate challenges in your journey.
3. Expect a hard path while taking care of yourself. It is not easy to become a professional working with student-athletes at the highest level. You will be more likely to overcome challenges if you accept that it is a difficult journey. At the same time, establish coping mechanisms, including self-care practices and support from your loved ones, to keep you motivated and sane along the way.
What are the advantages of coming to study a field related to sports in Wisconsin?
Dr. Alan Chu: Well, we have the best football team…just kidding. Not only does “everyone” in Wisconsin love the Packers, but there is also a rich generational history within the state that promotes an atmosphere of celebration whenever possible.
When you go to a professional sports game in Wisconsin, you are going to high-five a lot of people you don’t know. Because Wisconsin does not have many big cities, professional teams, or Division I schools, every professional and college sport brings people together and promotes a great sense of belonging.
Sport professionals here also create a very close-knit community to work with one another. Students get a lot of opportunities to do internships and projects and interact with different sports and subfields (e.g., athletic training, nutrition) of the sport profession.