Amato a re­source in grow­ing move­ment

For­mer Notre Dame-GP hoops star help­ing ath­letes with their men­tal health

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Tim Shoe­maker

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.”

RESHANDA GRAY PHOTO

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.

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