Amato a resource in growing movement
Former Notre Dame-GP hoops star helping athletes with their mental health
In March of 2018, NBA star Kevin Love wrote an article for The Players’ Tribune titled “Everybody Is Going Through Something.” In it, he has a frank conversation about panic attacks and mental health.
“For 29 years,” he writes in the article, “I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem.”
Love now advocates for mental health issues in the NBA, which now requires teams to have a mental health professional on staff.
Last month, Liz Cambage of the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA wrote about handling her mental health, also in The Players Tribune, in an article called “DNP-Mental Health.” In it, she discusses depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
This trend of openness about mental health is a good thing, according to Dr. Julie Amato of Williams Township, Northampton County. Through her onewoman company, Elite Mindset, Amato works with athletes from Lafayette College, Princeton University, CalBerkeley and the New York Liberty of the WNBA.
She calls herself a “resource” in most cases. She meets with groups of athletes, individual athletes, coaches and others in athletic departments on a regular basis.
Amato played basketball at Notre Dame of Green Pond in the 1990s, scoring 2,136 points. She is sixth all-time among girls in the Lehigh Valley. She went to Brown University, earning a degree in Psychology, and got her doctorate in Psychology from the University of Virginia.
“[Mental health] feels like a movement, like the concussion movement.,” Amato said. “Our level of concern is raised. I’m fortunate to be someone who is a part of the conversation. I’m fortunate that there are progressive places like the New York Liberty, Lafayette College and Princeton University that care enough about the mental health of athletes to have somebody who has specialized knowledge and can be a resource.”
Amato said maybe the stories of Love and Cambage can serve as high-profile role models for others.
“We’re really conditioned to believe, ‘Suck it up, don’t whine, don’t complain,’ “she said. “So many of these athletes hold stuff inside and hold onto their story instead of being vulnerable and telling their story. … When you’re upset or you’re angry, you need to talk about it. When you hold it in, there are consequences down the road.”
After earning her doctorate, Amato worked in state prison systems. She recalls working in an all-male prison with 2,200 inmates while 32 weeks pregnant with twins. After the birth of Brooklyn and Decker, who started second grade this week, she got back into counseling at Lehigh and then into
sports, her first love.
The connection to sports was aided by her relationship with Lindsay Gottlieb, the former Cal women’s coach who was a teammate at Brown. Gottlieb is now an assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA. Gottlieb brought in Amato to speak to her team at Cal, where she also met then-assistant Charmin Smith, who went onto become an assistant with the New York Liberty.
That’s how Amato became connected with the Liberty. Smith has since returned to Cal as head coach, replacing Gottlieb. Amato remains a Cal resource.
“I am a clinical psychologist by trade and training,” she said. “My job is to treat mental illness. Carving out this niche in sports psychology, you are seeing athletes on this mental health continuum. “
Lafayette women’s basketball coach Kia Damon-Olson has coached all over the country. She believes in the necessity of having a mental health professional in the college environment.
“A lot of the game is in between the ears, especially at [the Division I] level. That’s the separator,” she said. “The more you can keep your head clear and focus on the task at hand, the more you are going to be successful. That’s true not only in sports, but in life.”
This is especially true with incoming freshmen, who are making the transition to college life.
“Freshman have a high level of anxiety,” Damon-Olson said. “Over time, you can start to see kids handling things better. I’m sure it’s a direct correlation with the time they spent with [Amato]. We all can use it.”
Brad Potts, Lafayette’s Assistant Athletic Director for Peak Performance, sees a greater need for mental health professionals.
“What most colleges are seeing is that there is no true credentialed professional out there,” he said. “To handle the area of the mental part, the NCAA has said that those needing mental health are at an all-time high. That could be that we’re advocating for people to come forward and speak about it.”
“[Amato] has been able to fill everybody’s needs from a quality of care standpoint.,” he said. “She is just very good at what she does. … Anywhere she goes, people want to draw her in and keep her there.”
Dr. Julie Amato, right, a Notre DameGreen Pond graduate and sports psychologist, has worked with Reshanda Gray of the WNBA’s New York Liberty among others.