Posts Tagged ‘sports psychologists’

What is a Real Sports Psychologist?

Before you choose a sports psychologist it is important to understand what the difference is between someone who has completed a sports psychology/sports science education and a licensed psychologist. There are many people in the world who are perceived as sports psychologists but they lack the actual credentials to practice psychology in their state.

Most states require anyone who is practicing clinical psychology to be licensed by the state that they are practicing in. This helps to set a minimum standard of care and protect the general public. It would be against the law in most states to use the title “Psychologist” if you were not properly licensed.

A student who has successfully completed a sports psychology education will not be fully qualified to practice as a psychologist and will not be able to obtain a license from the state to do so. Their knowledge may be significant and they may be best known as a sports psychologist, however there is still a clear distinction between this type of sports psychologist and a licensed psychologist who is also a sports psychologist.

The most significant difference is that a clinical psychologist has been educated and trained in general psychology. This means that they have been trained to deal with general mental disorders and conditions like depression and anxiety. These are important fundamentals for all psychologists regardless of whether or not they focus on sports and athletes.

A real sports psychologist is someone who has been trained and educated in general psychology in addition to sports psychology.

I received a Master’s Degree from one of the best sports psychology programs in the country and I recall that in that process I learned very little about how to assess, counsel, or diagnose an athlete who had a general problem. Clinical psychology programs suffer from a similar fault in that the students here will learn very little about how to increase performance through mental skills training. There are numerous areas of study that a psychologist needs to become familiar with before they are truly qualified to practice as a sports psychologist.

So what is the most important element of training for a sports psychologist? While the initial education and classroom time is important to laying down the ground work for your knowledge base, the most valuable part of a psychologist’s education is the time spent doing on-the-job training.

This is where psychologists learn about how to interact with their patients and how to actually counsel them. This element is not part of most sports psychology programs and this is what I consider to be the most valuable part of the education phase. Psychology programs are set up to offer and require this while sports science programs are not.

In order to provide the best counseling and the most help for patients, a psychologist needs to understand their patients both as “people” and as “performers”.

So is it really necessary for someone to make sure that a potential sports psychologist is a licensed psychologist? Yes, the majority of the time that I spend counseling (even when working with athletes) is usually spent diagnosing, discussing, and resolving general issues that are not directly related to the sports field. In some cases this might be much as 70% of what we discuss.

While this article will likely provide a little bit of insight for my readers here, this is not any kind of revelation to the psychology world. Other publications like Sports Illustrated and the New York Times have published similar articles to this one that have made exactly the same point.

Are For-Profit Colleges Evil?

Editorial – JohnFMurray.com – I was given this interesting article by a colleage at a for-profit college in which I serve as an adjunct professor, Argosy University (Sarasota campus) in the EDMC umbrella. It’s interesting because so many take shots at for profit schools these days. I attended two great and well respected universities, Loyola University for my undergraduate work in psychology, and the University of Florida for all my graduate studies in becoming a clinical and sports psychologist. Still, I see the extreme value of education wherever and whenever you obtain it. Sometimes a for profit school is the best or only bet for an eager adult learner, so why knock it? Sometimes this avenue offers much more than at traditional institutions of learning. I personally developed three sports psychology courses, for example, for EDMC, and they now offer a rare opportunity to students at their programs that teach it. Since I teach a psychology class each semester at Argosy University, I’m also biased in believing that students are getting much more than they ever would gain at Harvard or Yales (wink! 🙂 … now I did not like how this article took a little pot shot at Washington State University for their large hot tub that holds 50 students in their deluxe athletic facility, and the slam on sports is not fair as sports provide so much to the excitement of a university, but overall I think you will enjoy the arguments put forth below, arguments in defense of for-profit learning. John F Murray, PhD
—————-
Author: Matthew Greenfield
I used to be a bit of a snob about for-profit colleges. O.K., more than a snob—I was arrogant, narrow-minded, and misinformed. Before I became a hedge fund manager, I got a Ph.D. in English at Yale University and taught at Bowdoin College and the City University of New York (CUNY), all venerable academic powerhouses. I remember the first time one of my CUNY students told me she was transferring to a for-profit technical college. This student, whom I will call Laura, is a remarkable woman who had been given a very unpromising start in life. After being horribly abused by her parents, she had run away in her early teens and grown up homeless, suffering in ways I could scarcely imagine. In her twenties, after having a child, she had become serious about education, gotten her G.E.D., and shown up in college.

Somehow, despite going nowhere near a classroom for most of her teens, Laura had become a dazzling writer, as good as the best I had taught at Yale or Bowdoin. Her cool, deadpan, yet fiercely moral prose reminded me of Joan Didion’s; she wrote unforgettable portraits of the monsters, saints, and lunatics she had encountered in her travels. Her very first college essay was good enough for Harper’s or the New Yorker. I
encouraged Laura to publish her work, but she was too busy raising her child, organizing for the New York Public Interest Research Group, and getting her degree. She would have made a fine candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship if she had any interest in it—and if she hadn’t already been over the age limit. But Laura’s academic career then took a new and unexpected twist: she told me she was leaving the CUNY system and starting the computer science program at a for-profit college. I was baffled. But Laura had a clear sense of what she was doing. What follows is the story of my own learning process, my education about for-profit education.

I could have understood Laura transferring to Columbia University. But why would she leave for a for-profit school? The CUNY system offered almost infinite opportunities and despite all its flaws had educated
numerous Nobel Prize winners and captains of industry. For-profit schools, on the other hand, were the bottom of the academic pecking order, weren’t they? I thought of the grubby storefront campuses of
some small technical schools, and the ads in the subway cars, alongside the ads for Dr. Jonathan Zizmor, dermatologist (“Are you suffering from acne, scars, or discoloration?â€?).

Why would Laura take on more debt to pay a higher tuition bill? And what about her writing? Had they tricked her in some way? That didn’t seem very plausible. Laura had fewer illusions than anyone else I knew, and after her years on the street she could detect any kind of dishonesty instantly, as if it were lit up in red neon. I tried to talk her out of leaving, but Laura had a clear, well-reasoned set of arguments. She said the for-profit would fit her schedule better, let her get her degree in half the time, probably also prepare her better for her first high-paying job, and definitely provide stronger job placement services. For-profit schools target the job occupations most in demand, work closely with employers, and develop new curricular materials (unlike the Yale professor who in the late eighties was still teaching a machine code course using a microprocessor from Zilog rather than one from Intel). For-profits are doing some impressive innovation in areas like multimedia online textbooks and medical simulation software. The for-profits use practitioners as teachers, and each teacher is thus also a career coach and unofficial placement officer. The for-profits offer rolling course starts every six weeks, so Laura didn’t have to wait for the beginning of a new semester to start a course. For-profits have streamlined, easy-to-use administrative processes, and they monitor the progress of their students closely. After a single absence, a for-profit school will probably follow up to see whether a student needs any help. I hadn’t known that the for-profits had so many positive qualities, but I was worried that Laura’s degree would be less credible and prestigious than a CUNY degree. Laura was
quite unconcerned with prestige. She wanted to know how to do things, and she thought my focus on the reputation of an institution was a little, well, quaint.

I have spent a lot of my life doing things that are prestigious, but I am starting to understand Laura’s point of view. I don’t regret any part of my wonderful education, but I am starting to wish that I had also pursued more knowledge of other kinds. And Ivy League institutions do have a rather narrow definition of what constitutes knowledge. When I learned from my CUNY students what it takes to manage a large construction project or to modify a car engine, I developed a higher degree of humility about my own
particular skill set. I now understand that the things I do seated in front of a computer do not involve a type of cognition that is more demanding or more admirable than that of the plumber or the electrician (for a fascinating elaboration of this point, see Mike Rose’s The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker). And I now look in a different way at diplomas from for-profit institutions: instead of seeing something that is not prestigious, I see something earned by the stubborn, disciplined, even heroic persistence of a working adult.

In the years since that conversation with Laura, I have learned that almost all of my ideas about for-profit colleges were wrong. I was suspicious about the idea of a for-profit corporation educating students, but it turns out that non-profit schools have aspirations and goals that are fully as dangerous as the profit motive. I also thought that, as some hedge fund managers have recently charged, the for-profits were soaking up a
disproportionate amount of government money. But it turns out that for-profit schools cost the taxpayer a lot less than the alternatives, and many for-profits educate students while actually generating a profit for taxpayers. I thought that the drop-out rates at for-profits were too high, but then I learned that for students with similar demographics, the for-profits did better than the non-profits.

I will share some facts and figures later, but first I want to tell you a story about the origins of modern corporate for-profit education. I was surprised to learn that John Sperling, the founder of the Apollo Group and its University of Phoenix subsidiary, was an ardent socialist, a labor organizer too radical even for his fellow California college professors. Sperling, who grew up during the Great Depression, had a tough childhood
and youth, with frequent beatings, horrible medical problems, and severe social isolation. He had great difficulty with books until his teens, but when he joined the merchant marine he suddenly found himself with nothing to do but read. Many of the sailors were educated men and most were ardent socialists, and they talked about politics all day long. Almost overnight, Sperling transformed himself into a high-caliber intellectual. After graduate school at U.C. Berkeley and Cambridge University, he ended up in a teaching
post at San Jose State University. He also discovered that he had a talent for organizing, took over the Californian higher education branch of the American Federation of Teachers, and led a fierce but unsuccessful strike (see Sperling’s autobiography, Rebel With a Cause; I have checked facts with several people who know Sperling, and the book seems generally accurate, except that it may not give enough credit to some of Sperling’s colleagues for their contributions).

Sperling was also a wild and experimental teacher, one who stood out even in the sixties. One class project of his provoked a nationwide debate in the media, and a denunciation by Governor Ronald Reagan. To celebrate Earth Day in 1969, Sperling’s students decided to bury a brand-new car. The students earned money, bought a yellow Ford Maverick, designed the post-interment landscaping, negotiated with various
authorities, acquired all of the requisite permits, and performed a burial ceremony. This project was an example of what Sperling calls “action pedagogy.â€? Several of the students from this program went on to work with Sperling at the University of Phoenix.

Sperling also participated in an innovative program that had been funded to find ways of reducing juvenile delinquency. Sperling focused on teachers and the police, bringing small groups together first for discussions with experts and then for the implementation of a real-world delinquency reduction project. These adult learners loved the course and insisted that Sperling try to put together a full continuing education
program for them. They were unhappy with existing adult education programs.

Sperling never intended to become an entrepreneur. He just wanted to start an adult education program. But the administration of San Jose State was not interested. That was how, at age 53, the car-burying, strike-organizing, pot-smoking, quarrelsome socialist professor started what was to become a multi-billion-dollar corporation at the center of what was more or less a new industry. Initially Sperling ran a consulting firm
that operated adult education partnerships with traditional universities. After three years Sperling decided to try to start his own college.

From the moment it was founded and applied for accreditation, the University of Phoenix has had powerful enemies, much like the infant Hercules. While Hercules was still in his cradle he was attacked by two snakes sent by the goddess Hera. In the case of the University of Phoenix, the attack came from three powerful local deities: the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University. They
didn’t wait to see what kinds of programs the University of Phoenix would develop or how well it would implement those programs: instantly, the three established colleges denounced the University of Phoenix as a “diploma millâ€? and began to lobby the legislature and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the accreditation body that licensed schools in Arizona, to shut down the University of Phoenix. But the
North Central Association proved unexpectedly receptive to for-profit education. The traditional schools then went to plan B, asking the legislature to kick the North Central Association out of Arizona and replace it with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the accreditor of schools in California. WASC was notorious for its fierce hostility to for-profit education. Meanwhile, some unknown party even made an
anonymous accusation of bribery and persuaded the FBI to initiate a RICO investigation of Sperling and his associates, as if they were the Russian mafia instead of a group of socialist educators who had accidentally become entrepreneurs.

When I read this history, I was initially puzzled. The University of Phoenix is a large and powerful firm today, but it started in 1976 with eight students. Why did the traditional universities want so badly to kill it? Why would they put such an enormous effort into lobbying against UOP? Even the most powerful schools have a finite amount of political capital to expend. Denouncing someone to the FBI can easily backfire. And
for the three traditional universities in Arizona to attack their own accreditor was an incredibly risky move: generally even the most venerable universities will do almost anything to avoid irritating their accreditors. Could the traditional universities foresee how successful UOP would be? Or was it just that they were convinced that, even if UOP attracted only a small number of students, it would deliver such a terrible education at such a high cost that it would do all of its students irreparable harm? How could the
traditional universities be so sure that Sperling would do awful, evil things to his students? Didn’t he have strong progressive credentials and a history of successful educational innovation? Didn’t he seem to actually care about working adults? Why did the traditional universities greet the University of Phoenix the way cobras greet a mongoose?

Similar attacks on for-profit education have continued from 1976 to the present moment, waxing and waning at different times and in different regions. Today’s for-profit universities are complex institutions with strengths and weaknesses. At some of these schools there are abuses—misleading and aggressive recruiting practices, curricular weaknesses, and excessive tuitions. No one would argue that these offenses should not
be punished. Non-profit colleges, of course, commit similar offenses, and they should be punished in the same ways. It is unfair to generalize about either for-profit or not-forprofit institutions, and there is something feverish and disproportionate about the current attack.

There is an educational atrocity taking place in this country: we are ruining the lives of millions of innocent, infinitely promising children. But this atrocity is taking place not in colleges but in primary and secondary schools, not in for-profit institutions but in public ones. I wish I could believe that attacks on for-profit education were motivated by concern for students. But the evidence is pretty clear. Few politicians seem
to care about low-income minority students while they are being grievously injured by public institutions staffed by politically powerful unions. Only when some students are being injured by a for-profit institution do we begin to hear wrathful denunciations. And the wrathful denunciations are generally rather sloppy with their facts. The paragraphs that follow are chunky and packed with statistics, for which I apologize. But I am
attempting to present a balanced, accurate picture of a complex issue.

There has been a lot of discussion of how for-profit colleges overcharge. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/2010161.pdf), four year public institutions charged tuition and fees of $6,400 for in-state students and $15,100 for out-of-state students; private non-
profits charged $21,100; and for-profits charged an average of about $15,700. And these are just tuition costs. Public institutions actually have a much higher cost basis than for-profits, but taxpayer subsidies allow them to charge students tuition fees well below their actual costs. At public colleges tuition accounts for just 17% of revenues, versus 85% at for-profits. For-profits are also increasing their tuitions at a slower rate than non-profits. In the last three years, public tuitions grew at 9.1% for in-state and 7.5% for out-of-state
students. Over the same period, private non-profit tuitions grew 6.6% and for-profit tuitions grew 5.2%. If one focuses on total costs rather than tuitions, the differences are even more striking. In 2006-7 the total cost per student per year at public four-year colleges was $33,670; at private non-profit four-year colleges, $42,256; and at for-profit four-year colleges, $12,880 (in looking at these figures, one needs to remember that for-profits do a lot more online educating, which is less expensive than the traditional classroom). For two-year institutions, the cost differences are smaller: at public two-year colleges, $11,609; at private non-profit two-year colleges, $19,498; at for-profit two year-colleges, $13,848. Community colleges, which are by far the most efficient nonprofit post-secondary schools, have a slight cost advantage over their for-profit competitors (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d09/ch_3.asp).

It is unjust and counter-productive to generalize about either for-profits or not-forprofits: both groups contain extremely diverse populations. I agree with Senator Richard Durbin that it is obscene for a culinary trade school to charge $27,000 per year for a two-year program. But I also find it alarming that there are now at least 58 non-profit colleges and universities that have fees for tuition, room, and board over $50,000 per year, and the list includes not only Columbia University and Johns Hopkins but also less prestigious institutions like Lafayette College and Dickinson College. Meanwhile, NASDAQ-listed for-profit American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) charges $7,500 for the equivalent of a year of full-time bachelor’s coursework and, because of a recently formed partnership with Walmart, offers a further 15% discount to Walmart employees.
APEI has not raised its undergraduate tuition since 2000, a record probably not matched by any other U.S. post-secondary education institution. APEI management’s decision not to raise tuition might have sound business reasons as well as altruistic ones, but it certainly is good for students. For-profits have also managed to lower many ancillary educational costs. Textbooks frequently cost over $150 per course, which is over $1,500 for the equivalent of a year of full-time instruction (although this is somewhat mitigated
by the resale value of the textbooks). APEI gives students textbooks for free, and Bridgepoint has cut textbook costs in half. Also, since when pursuing online degrees, working parents can avoid transportation and possibly childcare costs.

There has also been considerable discussion of how for-profits waste taxpayer money. Accurate figures here are hard to come by, but it is abundantly clear that just the opposite is true. The University of Phoenix estimates that each UOP student costs taxpayers $1,509 per year, versus $4,509 for the average for-profit school, $7,051 per student at private non-profits, and $11,340 at public postsecondary institutions.
Interested or skeptical readers can check their analysis on pages 20-21 of their white paper “Higher Education at a Crossroadsâ€? (http://www.apollogrp.edu/Investor/Reports/Higher_Education_at_a_Crossroads_FINALv2[1].pdf). I think the University of Phoenix has substantially over-estimated the cost to taxpayers of for-profit schools, and their figure for the cost of defaulted debt includes the unpaid accrued interest as well as the principal amount.

Former University of Phoenix president Jorge Klor de Alva, an academic who also taught at Berkeley and Princeton, estimates that for regionally accredited, four-year for-profit schools, the for-profits that most resemble traditional universities, the cost to the taxpayer per student per year is slightly less than zero: the taxes paid by the corporation balance out the cost of government tuition assistance, including grants and
loan defaults (see pp. 5-6 and associated footnotes of Klor de Alva’s presentation at http://nexusresearch.org/1/NexusStudy8-31-10.pdf. Although I cite several reports from for-profit schools and organizations friendly to them, they are using raw data mostly gathered by the Department of Education). Klor de Alva also estimates the total cost to taxpayers of education at elite traditional institutions: for the 68 colleges that charge more than $50,000 per year, the cost to the taxpaers is $11,392 per student per year. At Yale, the figure is $52,113 of taxpayer money per student per year; at Princeton, $52,508; and at Harvard, $68,319. A significant portion of these enormous sums is not direct cash
subsidies but tax revenue lost because donations to college endowments are tax-deductible. But the numbers are still shocking, at least to me. These figures do not include the amount of government money spent on research at these schools, just the taxpayer resources directly devoted to education, housing, and recreation. This taxpayer subsidy is in addition to the portion of tuition paid by the parents.

I will leave it to you to decide for yourself whether this subsidy of elite institutions and affluent students is a good use of taxpayer money. What is indisputable, though, is that the current system funnels much more taxpayer money per year of study to affluent students than to poorer students. Many students at elite colleges do not come from wealthy families, but average family income is still far higher than at a community
college or a for-profit. Any reduction in the flow of funds to for-profit colleges also further reduces the percentage of education subsidies flowing to the poor and to working adults. At the same time, access to public universities is being severely constricted. For example, because of a budget cut, the California State University system, nominally committed to open admissions, will be forced to reduce its enrollments by over 40,000 qualified students even as it raises tuition and furloughs employees (http://www.calstate.edu/PA/info/budget-plan-factsheet.pdf). And non-profit schools simply do not have enough slots in high-demand specialties like nursing. If this nation is to train the workers it needs, for-profit schools are increasingly necessary.

There have been complaints by politicians, journalists, and hedge-fund investors about the cost to the taxpayer of student loan defaults. But a loan default is not necessarily a loss. Interestingly, even on defaulted loans the government on average recovers 102% of the value of the original loan (see the 2011 Presidential budget, table 3: Direct Loans; spreadsheet downloadable at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/search/pagedetails.action?granuleId=BUDGET-2011-FCS3&packageId=BUDGET-2011-FCS). The University of Phoenix seems to feel that the 102% number is gross rather than net and does not include collection costs. I have as yet been unable to determine whether they are correct. But even if the government continued to have high loan collection costs, they would be more than balanced by the corporate tax payments of for-profits. The government gets an excellent return on its investment in for-profit college education. In fact, if one uses hard measures like salary increases and tax receipts, the government gets a substantially higher return on investment from for-profits than the hedge fund industry has delivered to its investors. So short-seller Steven
Eisman’s characterization of for-profit colleges as “the new subprimeâ€? is rather misleading (http://www.scribd.com/doc/32274013/EismanSohnConference). If there is a waste of taxpayer money, it is not primarily at the for-profits. I recommend to Mr. Eisman that he take a closer look at not-for-profit universities before condemning the for-profits. I also recommend that, before continuing his jihad, he try a little harder to find an accurate figure for the amount the government recovers on defaulted loans. Rather than looking for the facts, he looked at the loans extended to students by two atypical for-profits, Corinthian and ITT, noticed that they had reserved for 50-60% losses on those loans, although they had not yet experienced such losses, and then blithely assumed that the government would collect less than this hypothetical 40% recovery. In fact, the government is an extremely effective and efficient collector of bad debt. The government’s figures are extremely complicated, and different documents seem to contradict each other, but the president’s budget seems to make the calculation in a reasonable manner. If I am wrong, I would be grateful for further information. Obviously, UOP and Klor de Alva are interested parties, but they clearly articulate the basis for their calculations, and their results concur with those of other studies like the
Delta Project (http://www.deltacostproject.org/). Unlike Steve Eisman’s presentation, the UOP and Klor de Alva white papers admit their biases openly, present their case in a balanced and reasonable manner, document their sources, and invite further dialogue.

Another accusation is that for-profit colleges aggressively recruit students who do not belong in college and saddle them with big debts. There are definitely institutions that recruit too aggressively, and these should be punished. But for-profits do not accept all applicants: on average, they reject 25%, a number only slightly smaller than the 31% rejected by public colleges and the 35% rejected by private not-for-profit schools. When Senator Harkin wrote to the Government Accountability Office, asking for statistics on recruitment standard violations by for-profit schools, the GAO failed to tell a story of rampant misbehavior. In the years from 1998 to 2009, the GAO recorded violations at a total of thirty-two schools out of over 2,800 (Harkin, clearly unhappy with this result, was inspired to commission his own highly selective GAO sting operation; see
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10948t.pdf.). Like Harkin’s sting, many of the news stories about recruiting abuses have been built to order. A Bloomberg story about the recruitment of students at homeless shelters turns out to have been fabricated by a researcher working for a hedge fund (http://www.propublica.org/article/investmentfunds-stir-controversy-over-recruiting-by-for-profit-colleges). It is possible that the
Department of Education was lax in its oversight. But it must be remembered that whistleblowers in successful suits against for-profit schools can potentially collect tens of millions of dollars. This alone provides a major incentive for for-profit schools to follow the regulations closely.

For-profit schools also have other strong financial incentives not to recruit students who cannot complete degrees and who default on their student loans. If a school’s cohort default rate stays above 25% for three years, that school can no longer obtain federal education grants or loan guarantees for its students, and the school is out of business. Enrolling large numbers of under-qualified students is a form of institutional
suicide. Delivering an inferior educational product is also at the very least extremely dangerous for a for-profit institution. In the words of Richard Ruch, a dean at Devry, “My years in the for-profit sector have taught me that the two factors above all others that drive profitability are educational quality and customer service. No for-profit college or university can survive without providing a reasonably high-quality educational
experience and a high level of customer service. If someone imagines that these institutions make profits merely because they offer a substandard education on a massive scale, they are largely mistaken. Student consumers, especially the more mature students typical of the for-profit providers, are knowledgeable and demanding customers who are not easily satisfied. They demand a substantive and rigorous educational experience for their tuition dollars, along with a high level of convenience and customer service. And if they do not find it, they will go elsewhereâ€? (See p. 17 of Ruch’s Higher Ed, Inc.: The Rise of the For-Profit University).

It is true that on average for-profit schools have lower graduation rates than not-for-profits. But this is because they serve different populations: for-profits are much more focused on working adults. If one wants to make an apples-to-apples comparison of graduation rates, one can look just at two-year schools, where public and for-profit institutions serve students with similar demographics. According to a study by the
Parthenon Group using Department of Education data, two-year for-profits have a graduation rate of 65% versus a graduation rate of 44% for public community colleges (http://www.parthenon.com/GetFile.aspx?u=/Lists/ThoughtLeadership/Attachments/17/Parthenon%2520Perspectives%2520%2520%2520Private%2520Post%2520Secondary%2520Schools%2520Value%2520Pro position%25204%25201%252010.pdf). Part but not all of the difference is that more students transfer out of community colleges than out of two-year for-profits. Students at community colleges take on an average of $8,300 in debt, while students at two-year for-profits take on $14,600 and pay an average of $162 per month to service that debt— roughly equivalent to a cable television bill, if one has a premium channel or two.

What about four-year institutions? Department of Education statistics show average debt loads at degree completion of $19,839 at public institutions, $24,635 at for-profits, and $27,349 at private non-profit schools. The majority of students at American Public Education, Inc., take on no debt whatsoever. Students at Bridgepoint’s Ashford University take on an average of $13,500 of debt. We do not hear senators denouncing auto dealers for selling people new cars, but the average debt levels for a four-year degree
are comparable to the $28,000 average cost of a new vehicle (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/autos/aut11.shtm). It is true that this comparison excludes the payments a student makes while completing a degree, but remember, the true cost of ownership of a car includes many expenses other than loan
repayments, and you don’t have to get a new bachelor’s degree every seven years.

Current University of Phoenix students—those still working on their degrees–have an average annual income of $56,000. They are entirely capable of paying several hundred dollars per month on their student loans.
One must also remember that colleges and universities cannot control how much student debt people take on or how they spend it. Students are free to take on student debt for living expenses and even entertainment. It is the government that sets annual limits for federally guaranteed student loans, and schools are not permitted to prevent students from borrowing up to the limit, even if the amount borrowed exceeds the cost of tuition, fees, and supplies. Currently, over-borrowing on student loans is an extremely seductive option for students: the terms of student loans are infinitely more attractive than those of credit card debt. It seems bizarre to punish for-profit schools for excessive student debt when schools have no control over the amount of debt that students take on.

In fact, the Career College Association has begged the Department of Education to enact regulations preventing students from borrowing more than the cost of tuition and other academic expenses. Another common accusation against for-profits is that they deliver a weak education. This is a murky area, since outcomes assessment in higher education is still rudimentary. One can, though, make a general observation about the teachers who deliver this education: full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty do less and less of the teaching even at non-profit colleges and universities. Both public and private non-profit traditional universities are increasingly reliant on adjunct teachers. This is especially true for the divisions of non-profits that focus on working adults, like the Harvard University Extension School and NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study (both of these schools, by the way, are extremely profitable for their parent universities and indistinguishable from for-profits in almost every respect except, perhaps, for their avoidance of taxes and their superior branding). Often the very same adjuncts teach at both for-profit and non-profit schools. Research universities, of course, have another source of low-cost teaching labor: their own graduate students (for whom fewer and fewer tenured jobs wait at the end of the rainbow). In general, it is just a subset of graduate schools and liberal arts colleges where full-time instructors still do most of the teaching, and it is a still smaller subset of schools where those full-time instructors do their teaching exclusively in small seminars rather than partially in large lectures.

One common refrain in indictments of for-profit higher education is that online education is ineffective, an inferior substitute for the traditional classroom. But a Department of Education study which screened over a thousand research papers reached an unambiguous conclusion: “The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instructionâ€?
(http://www.slideshare.net/Peetey007/us-dept-of-education-online-learning-study). A mix of online and classroom instruction works even better than online alone. Particularly effective, apparently are tools or features that encourage students to reflect on their level of understanding and their learning process. The use of technology to individualize and personalize the learning experience also looks extremely promising (for a vision of the future of personalized learning at the primary and secondary level, see http://schools.nyc.gov/community/innovation/SchoolofOne/default.htm). My own experience of mixed-mode classroom and online teaching supports the conclusions of the DoE study: classroom discussion can be a powerful tool on a good day, but there are many students who do not speak in class and yet will contribute extensively to online
discussions, and there are others who need to examine material at their own pace to assimilate it. And the tools for online teaching are still in their infancy.

What the DoE study does not say is that learning outcomes are much easier to measure in online programs, and online education providers are continually using these data to improve instructional methods. Over time, we can expect data-driven online programs to improve their edge over traditional classrooms (for a compelling vision of the future of assessment, see http://www.intered.com/storage/jiqm/v5n2_cyberq.pdf). It is possible that some of today’s most prestigious universities are the Sperry Univacs or the Wang Laboratories of tomorrow, unable to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. Online education is a good example of what Clayton Christensen calls disruptive innovation. Stanford University will certainly continue to prosper, but over time there will probably be more and more functions that for-profit Capella University performs better (for physicist and former USC provost Lloyd Armstrong’s thoughtful take on this topic, see http://www.changinghighereducation.com/2010/08/has-for-profit-highereducation-missed-its-big-opening-into-the-mainstream.html). For-profit post-secondary schools have done a poor job of getting the message out, but they are innovating at a much faster pace than traditional schools. As someone who studied, wrote about, and taught Shakespeare for seventeen years, I have a keen sense of the value of tradition and
resistance to change. But innovative, flexible institutions are also necessary. Remember, for a long time institutions like Harvard and Oxford wanted to stick to theology and the classics: only reluctantly did they embrace flashy, unsound new disciplines like engineering, sociology, and modern literature.

It is inarguably true that for-profits do not graduate many students with degrees in the traditional liberal arts. But this neglect of the liberal arts is driven not by philistinism but by regulatory constraints. Since in order to survive for-profits must keep their job placement numbers high and their cohort default rates below 25%, they no longer have the ability to produce significant numbers of liberal arts graduates, whatever the student demand might be. Congress and the Department of Education have decided, for better or worse, that working adults should probably not major in comparative literature.

The current assault on for-profit education will have both good and bad effects. The Senate hearings probably will lead nowhere. I think Senators Harkin and Durbin have been displaying their indignation in order to improve the chances of their teammates in the midterm election. If Senator Harkin had any real intention of creating new legislation, he would have tried to get it passed before the elections. This is a partial
excuse for the biased, uninformative nature of Harkin’s hearings. Political kabuki theater requires broad, unambiguous gestures.

The Department of Education’s negotiated regulation process, on the other hand, will have a powerful and lasting impact on for-profit education. The DoE regulations will apply a new set of restrictions for eligibility to federal funds. The old regulations focused on the cohort default rate (the percentage of students who default on their loans within three years of the inception of the repayment period). The new “gainful
employmentâ€? regulations contain three tests of eligibility for federal funding. The second and third tests, which focus on debt service as a percentage of income, still remain somewhat nebulous. The first test focuses on the percentage of student borrowers who begin paying principal as well as interest. Unlike the old cohort default rate thresholds, this new test focuses on dollar amounts rather than numbers of borrowers. The draft regulations require that principal as well as interest be repaid on at least 45% of loans to students of any for-profit school. Schools that pass this “principal repaymentâ€? test will not be required to pass the second and third tests. For some schools, like Bridgepoint’s Ashford University and the University of Phoenix, the principal repayment figures were unexpectedly good. Others, like Grand Canyon Education and American Public Education, were expected to do well and did so. For some high-quality schools, most notably Strayer University and Capella University, the figures were much worse than anticipated. Strayer came in at 25%, a figure which they are disputing. It is worth noting that Harvard Medical School came in at 24%: their graduates aren’t defaulting, but they tend to use interest-only loans until they have finished their low-earning internships. This is just one little reminder of how regulations can have unexpected effects, some of them extremely undesirable. Harvard University Medical School is not in the regulatory cross-hairs at the moment, but Strayer probably shouldn’t be, either.

Many journalists, politicians, and, ironically, hedge fund managers seem to feel that the profit motive corrupts and dirties the educational process. They don’t seem bothered by the astonishing profitability of NYU’s Gallatin School or the Harvard University Extension School, and they maintain a touching faith in the purity of the motives of non-profit institutions. But if the for-profits worship Mammon, non-profit schools have their own violent, carnivorous hunger for something other than student success. What non-profits crave is prestige.

One aspect of academic prestige is luxuriousness. Non-profit schools are spending absurd amounts of money, in some cases the majority of their budgets, to brand themselves as luxury goods like Prada handbags and Juicy Couture tracksuits—the things the hyper-affluent must buy for their children as a proof of their love. In their quest for prestige, non-profit colleges and universities build monumental sports complexes and recreation centers that divert hundreds of millions of dollars away from teaching. Washington State University-Pullman’s 160,000-square foot student recreation center has a 50-person Jacuzzi, doubtless very helpful in raising Washington State’s standing among its educational peers. One excellent liberal arts college with 2,350 students has its own 18-hole golf course, a ski slope, a private beach, and a hockey rink with 2,600 seats. Numerous non-profit universities offer such recreational amenities as water slides, in-line
skating courts, juice bars, indoor waterfalls, climbing walls, massage tables, facials, golf simulators, and salt-water fish tanks. In the water park in the University of Missouri Columbia’s recreation center, students can watch large-screen televisions while floating on the “Lazy Riverâ€? or soaking in “the Vortexâ€? or the 20-student spa. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh has leaped into the upper academic echelon by offering its students manicures and pedicures as well as massages.

Where athletic programs are concerned, it is not just the facilities that are costly. Some college football coaches make salaries of as much as $4 million per year. Do these athletic superstars pay for themselves? Not even close. The total cost for a Pac-10 athletic program? Don’t ask. Who can put a price on the glory of a winning NCAA division III team? Major athletic programs also have a high human cost. Many high-level athletes simply do not have time for real coursework: they are being used and injured for the glory of the school. Non-profit colleges also build rather swanky dormitories, with grocery delivery and maid service, and gourmet dining facilities. If, dear reader, you have a morbid curiosity about just how far universities will go in
marketing the superiority of their gourmet offerings, I highly recommend that you watch Boston University’s video about its visiting chef series (http://www.bu.edu/dining/about/index.html). Wild partying, vile fraternity misbehavior, and underage drinking are also essential selling points for many non-profit colleges.

Many commentators have complained that for-profit schools think of their students as customers. Well, yes, but at least the for-profits are thinking of their students as customers who are buying an education rather than a leisure experience. Capella University does not ask taxpayers to foot the bill for four years of beer pong, jello shots, bong hits, and recovery from hangovers. Non-profit schools also pursue various forms of academic prestige, some less healthy than others. Non-profits create new doctoral programs whose graduates are unlikely to find tenure-track jobs. They hire expensive academic super-stars for endowed
chairs with almost no teaching responsibilities, although this expense is trivial next to the recreational and athletic ones listed above, and is pardonable because it is so closely related to the task of educating students. Non-profit schools also divert precious scholarship money away from the poor and into the pockets of students with high SAT scores who come from affluent families (SAT scores correlate more closely with family income than with academic success, but SAT scores are what count for rankings like those of U.S. News and World Report).

Even notoriously lax ratings agency Moody’s, which entirely overlooked the housing bubble, has gotten off its La-Z-Boy to offer some mild disapproval: “we continue to see institutions borrowing heavily for projects that serve more to enhance an institution’s status rather than to advance its mission or to meet current pressing facility needs. These projects include mixed-use commercial developments, high-end residential facilities, research parks and lavish student recreation buildings and performing arts centersâ€? (the Moody’s quote and many of the colorful facts above come from a wonderful Bloomberg article by Liz Willen; see: http://noir.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aMJLUNQEijjA&refer=us). Prestige is very, very expensive, and it would be difficult to argue that the quest for cash is more corrupting at for-profits than at non-profits.

When they aren’t pursuing prestige, non-profit schools have an unfortunate tendency to focus on what is best for professors and administrators rather than for students. In the years from 1993 to 2007, the University of Phoenix’s old nemesis, Arizona State University, has increased the number of administrators it employs by 94% while actually decreasing the number of instructors and researchers by 2% (of course, this
has something to do with the increasing burden of regulatory compliance). For some reason, school administrators across the nation seem to think of hiring more administrators as one of their highest priorities, regardless of the need. American research universities employ more administrators than teachers. In 2007 private nonprofit universities employed 53.6 employees for every 100 students, 11.3 of them full-time administrators and only 8.2 of them engaged in teaching, research, or academic service (see http://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/article/4941). The figures for public universities are only slightly better. Creating a streamlined and usable interface for students is not a high priority: somehow, despite the presence of all of those administrators, students in search of answers still frequently get sent from one office to the next. Full-time faculty members have many goals, most of them laudable, but a crucial goal is to be left alone—in some cases, left alone to do research, and in other cases left alone to pursue other forms of self-cultivation.

Of course, despite all of these awful institutional malformations, the U.S. university system is probably still the most effective in the world. We are fortunate to have a diverse educational eco-system, one where innovations flourish and competition forces everyone to try a little harder. But make no mistake: for-profit schools are an essential part of this ecosystem. Disclosure: I believe that some but not all for-profit education companies do useful and honorable work, and my fund owns stock in American Public Education, Inc., Bridgepoint Education, Capella Education, and Grand Canyon Education. My family owns stock in these companies as well as Strayer University, privately held Post University, and several educational software startups. I have in the past shorted Moody’s.

I hope you enjoyed this article shared with Dr. John F Murray and I hope you will use the search box to find thousands of others articles on the topics of clinical psychology and sports psychology.

What is Real Sports Psychology?

The public needs to know that there are many people practicing within the field of “Sports Psychology” who lack the proper credentials and/or a good working knowledge of the profession. These may try to tackle issues without proper training or licensure. It can harm the public when a proper referral is not made or proper treatment is not conducted.
 
Did you know that there are generally two types of individuals who may be perceived as Sport Psychologists by the public? Were you aware that a clear distinction needs to be made between them?
 
The first type (coming primarily from sport science programs) may have taken courses in sport psychology and may be excellent scientists, researchers, or teachers, but they are 99% of time neither trained nor licensed (the minimum standard of care required by a state) to provide psychological services. They may not hold themselves out to the public as Sport Psychologists in private practice in the vast majority of states. If clinical issues are suspected (e.g., anxiety, depression, anger), they must refer the athlete to a licensed professional (such as a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist) to allow for proper care.

The second group, the practicing Sport Psychologists, are licensed psychologists who are additionally trained in the sport sciences with supervised training in providing both counseling/psychotherapy and performance enhancement services to athletes. These Sport Psychologists offer the benefits of training athletes in performance enhancement while conducting assessments and counseling as needed rather than having to refer the client to another professional.

It is extremely important to ask if individuals who call themselves Sport Psychologists are licensed in their states as psychologists, and then inquire about the extent of their supervised training and experience in working with athletes and teams.
 
Practicing Sport Psychologists combine two separate academic and experiential backgrounds – psychology and the sport sciences. Proper credentials and training in BOTH disciplines are essential to hold oneself out to the public as a Sport Psychologist. Unless the professional has been trained and experienced in BOTH disciplines, and licensed in psychology, the person is not a true Sport Psychologist and is not permitted to advertise as a Sport Psychologist.
 
But … just as highly trained sport scientists without proper training and licensure in psychology cannot use the title “Sport Psychologist,â€? the same holds true for authentic licensed psychologists who have not undergone rigorous and proper training and supervision in the various sport sciences, or who have not received the proper supervision by another legitimate Sport Psychologist.
 
State laws, you see, prohibit any permutation of the title “psychologistâ€? unless the professional is state licensed. State laws protect the use of the title “psychologistâ€? and only allow licensed psychologists to legally use the title in order to protect the public by establishing a minimum standard of care.
 
I know why this is wise. I learned almost nothing about how to counsel, assess, or diagnose an athlete with a general problem when I was studying and receiving a Masters degree in one of the best sport science programs in the country. Similarly, while studying in a clinical psychology program, I learned almost nothing about how to improve an athlete’s performance through mental skills training, or how to structure practice conditions. The thousands of hours of supervised training or “on the job” work with hundreds of clients, however, was the critical piece that would have never in 20 years been possible to acquire in a strictly sport science program. While performance principles are key, knowing about people, how to diagnose and treat problems and how to counsel is infinitely more important! Psychology programs are set up to provide that kind of training. Sport science programs are not.
 
When I am working with an athlete, I find that much of our time is spent discussing and resolving general issues – perhaps even 70% of the work! This goes way beyond mental skills training or performance enhancement. Reducing and resolving problems off the court or field can help an athlete perform better just as much or more than specific mental skills training! I believe that holistic care requires an understanding of both the “person” and the “performer.”

It is important to at least communicate this message to athletes, trainers, players and executives.
According to many reports, pro sports teams are not always giving their athletes the proper care because they do not have the properly trained professionals on board!
 
In sum, becoming a licensed “Sport Psychologist” is necessary for the individual who wants to handle serious personal or clinical issues, enhance performance through mental skills training, and use the title “Sport Psychologist.” While gaining this extra training takes more time and effort, these professionals are more versatile than either “non-psychologist sport scientists” or “non-sport scientist psychologists.” Licensure also carries its weight in gold in terms of client well being and public safety.
 
Is this news? Not according to Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated and Selena Roberts of the New York Times. Both have addressed the seriousness of real Sport Psychology in their articles on the subject. They know how important this is.

 

Head Games on the Diamond

Charleston Mercury – May 7, 2009 – Spencer Broom – Three seconds on the clock. Your team is down by two against your hated rival, and Joe the Kicker is lined up 42 yards away on the right hash, wind barely brushing against the flags in the distance, the crowd tantalizingly silent.

The whistle blows, bodies begin clashing. The snap, the hold, the kick is up….

Fundamentally, only two results can occur in this scenario. Either ol’ Joe misses it, sending you and your buddies to the car in a foul mood and cursing the relationship you have with your team. Or Joe becomes your new hero and is carried off the field as the toast of the town, not to be forgotten in the near future.

Yet, despite those two reasonably simple and contrasting outcomes, the variables that are put into play as foot meets ball can go much deeper than plain leg strength.

Just ask Dr. John F. Murray, one of the premier sports psychologists in the world.

“There is an art and a science to understanding how each player ticks and also how to be able to bring out the best in that person,â€? Murray said via phone from Palm Beach, Florida, where he runs his practice. “You have your talent, your physical skills, and then you have your mental skills. Those all go together with effort to determine performance, and how well you perform determines whether you win or lose.â€?

Murray, dubbed “The Roger Federer of Sports Psychologistsâ€? by Tennis Week and “The Freud of Footballâ€? by the Washington Post, has been providing sports psychology along with clinical psychology services to help individuals, organizations and teams succeed for over 14 years, not to mention writing a best-selling book, Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game.

While it seems fans and media types alike would prefer our athletes to be cut from the mold of Terminator – robot seeking to destroy the opposition without so much as a glitch – it is a vision that is confounded by real human deficiencies.

Athletes struggle with common problems like everyone else, problems such as anxiety, low confidence or improper management that unavoidably effect performance, Murray says. He estimates about 80 percent of the people he sees are seeking to perform better in their individual sports.

Murray has worked with individual athletes from tennis players – he has played and coached tennis including an ATP professional at the Australian Open — to quarterbacks, as well as entire teams, and says one of the most common issues he encounters is athletes that perform well in practice but can’t reach the same level of performance in live game situations.

Yogi Berra once stated, “Baseball is 90 percent mental — the other half is physical.â€? And though Yogi’s math was a bit rusty, the basic principle holds true in all sports.

“If you ask any group, ‘How important do you consider mental skills?’ depending on the sport you will get inevitably people raising their hands and saying 70,80,90 percent,â€? Murray explains. “Then if you ask, if its 70-90 percent, how often do you train your mental skills, how much time do you spend on that in your training time, they will always say 5 percent to nothing.â€?

The lack of training represents the challenge for a sports psychologist. Nearly everyone recognizes the magnitude of the mind in athletics, yet it is hardly practiced enough, like, say, offensive or defensive drills.

“That’s the gap that you are filling,â€? Murray says of the function of a sports psychologist. “You’re a high performance advantage to somebody with the science of success that’s derived from many years of solid research, in both psychology and the sports sciences.â€?

A bit of the research that Murray mentions includes his own Mental Performance Index (MPI), which is a measure of an overall football team’s performance in a game by looking at every meaningful play and including mental aspects of performance. He calls it the percentage of perfection.

Progress is obviously being made within the field, though Murrays says it is difficult to gauge the overall awareness.

However, one needs to look no further than the recent NFL draft to see the influence of sports psychology. Amidst 400 pound bench presses and 4.4 40-yard dashes, more and more professional organizations, specifically the NFL, are taking the time to administer psychological assessments, especially among skill position players (namely quarterbacks) in the scouting stage of amateur players.

With money on the line, teams are attempting to slim the chances of wasting a big payday on a player who shows signs of psychological immaturity or imbalance that weren’t correctly taken into account. In sports, the mind is gaining ground on the legs and arms in terms of usefulness on the field of play.

But Murray still sees plenty of room for growth.

“[Professional leagues] are not doing it preventively or proactively,â€? Murray says. He is currently working on a book based on football and psychology. “Usually what they do, they have people they pull from when they need them, when there is a problem they can’t solve. In my opinion, that is putting a bandage on it after it’s too late. “

Murray would prefer consistent contact with athletes in order to understand their needs fully, their strengths and weaknesses, thereby developing an ongoing plan to move forward with accordingly.

He rehashes on a time he approached former (2000- 2004) Miami Dolphins and current Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Dave Wannstedt about bringing in a sports psychologist for regular office hours to work with the players as needed. His idea was rebuffed. And a “we’ll call you when we need youâ€? attitude was given in return.

“For a league that is so invested in success and professionalism, that’s really the thinking,â€? Murray says. He cites a Good Old Boy system that is prevalent within coaching ranks that would rather utilize more of their own former teammates and coaches to come in and speak with their players than a sports psychologist.

Small steps seem to be the most prudent approach at this point in time for sports psychologists in professional sports. Know that we’re here and we can help you; just let us show you is the mantra right now.

Murray, who says that there are fewer than a handful who make their living exclusively practicing sports psychology, which might a potential roadblock to growth, wants to assist others the way he did professional tennis player Vince Spadea. Spadea suffered from the longest losing streak in ATP history; after working with Murray, he rose from 300 in the world to the top 10.

A broken psyche, a wounded confidence or a misguided culture within a team or program is truly where Murray’s field begins.

“It’s just being able to help that person in a professional way to perform at his or her highest level, to do it in a systematic, ongoing training way,â€? says Murray. “There are so many possibilities that could be affecting that person because we are all so complex.â€?

One athlete’s problems can be complex enough, but when you begin to imagine a full squad of players there is an innumerable amount of psychological variables that can have a profound impact on a team’s success, or lack thereof.

The easiest and most common expression thrown on a sports entity that has struggled over a number of years is curse. Murray scoffs at the word, calling it ridiculous. And what sports psychologist wouldn’t? Because for every Chicago Cub’s Curse of the Billy Goat that is still ongoing, there is a Boston Red Sox Curse of the Bambino that has been seemingly broken. Does anyone even remember the Red Sox “curseâ€? anymore?

Changing a losing culture, Murray says, can only take a small dose of success, breaking through the wall of low confidence. Though he does believe the past influences the present and the future, Murray points to a famous Henry Ford quote, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.â€?

Finding the happy medium of personalities to productively lead a team along with correct psyche is essential.

Take a team like Murray’s own Miami Dolphins. For the past decade, a once proud organization had been reduced to nothing more than a laughingstock, barely sniffing anything remotely close to a winning record. Then enters the rough and tough disciplinarian Bill Parcells, a man who will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame with two Super Bowl rings. As the new vice president of football operations prior to last season, he begins to transform the mentality within the team through personnel and coaching moves and — boom! — they are AFC East champions in 2008.

“What he does, being tough on his players, making sure things are done the right way, is very similar to what a sports psychologist does,â€? Murray says. “What we are doing as sports psychologists is taking it to another level, being available to the players and understanding much deeper so we can help the Bill Parcells of the world have their players perform even better.â€?

All in all, psychology and its use in sports is still in the infancy stages, and Murray says he will know they have progressed past that when his phone is ringing off the hook from the likes of the Yankees and the Dolphins, though the foundation that has already been laid creates optimism for the future of the field.

So next time Joe the Kicker lines up for the game winner, perhaps he will have the security in knowing that when the ball is in the air he has been prepared to perform at the peak of his ability, physically and mentally.

By the way, the kick was good. Now everyone can go home happy.

NFL teams examine minds of potential draft picks, too

McClatchy Newspapers (Published in over 70 media outlets including AP Wire, Kansas City Star, Boston Herald, Honolulu Advertiser, and more) – Kent Babb – April 19, 2009 – KANSAS CITY, Mo. — They want a breakthrough. They want to dig deep enough to scratch a nerve, break it down and tear through the protective layers of toughness and ambition.

Here’s the scene: A stranger taps you on the shoulder, pointing the way toward a room or a hallway or a corridor, and that’s where he’ll ask questions about your childhood or your past or your parents. You met this person two minutes ago, and you trust the stranger because — why? He’s working for a NFL team at the league’s scouting combine, yet another of a hundred questioning gatekeepers, like the man who measures the vertical jump or the other who initiates the bench-press display.
This stranger is giving a test, and with the right answers, you may pass through his gate and hear your name called at next weekend’s NFL draft. The right combination of answers, and entrance could be worth $40 million.

What if your father is in prison? Or you busted your roommate’s nose at the beginning of sophomore year? Or skipped class for three weeks straight? Or told your coach once to take his playbook and shove it? Or tried Ecstasy once, or was it twice? Or don’t especially enjoy playing football?
“Questions about yourself, nitpicking at your character,â€? says Chiefs offensive tackle Branden Albert, a first-round pick last year. “You’ve got to be honest.â€?

He’ll ask those questions and make notes. He’ll measure your words, your tone, your body language. When he’s finished, you’ll head toward another test, and the sports psychologist will begin compiling a report to share with more strangers, and they’ll determine not just whether you’re worth millions, but if you can handle the reality of being worth that kind of money.

As pro football races to adapt to its next generation — with its growing salaries, refined branding and sharper scrutiny — there is a disturbing byproduct that the league is now trying to curb: Some men are just not mentally prepared for the NFL’s demands.

Former first-round draft picks such as Vince Young, Matt Jones and Plaxico Burress have, within the past year, allegedly displayed regrettable judgment and signs of perhaps questionable mental health, and teams are trying to figure out whether to help players with psychological problems or simply avoid them. They’re trying to settle that debate by examining draft prospects’ minds in the same exhaustive way that, for years, teams have tested players’ bodies.

The combine used to measure height and weight, and that was about it. But that was when an entire team could be paid what a lower-rung player makes today. They might have missed some things back then, and that might not have always been a bad thing.

“There’s got to be some sort of psychological problems with me,â€? says Joe DeLamielleure, a Hall of Fame guard who was drafted in 1973. Joe was undersized, and the Buffalo Bills overlooked that. They also overlooked that before Joe finished Michigan State, his mother was the educated one in the house, having completed eighth grade, and Joe was one of 10 children and a bed wetter and a kid who woke up at 2 a.m. on weeknights to clean his dad’s bar in downtown Detroit, and then he’d climb back into bed for two good hours before it was time to dress for school.

“Teacher told my mother that nobody yawned as much as me,â€? Joe says now. “These days, they’d have looked at all those issues and said, ’Nah, I don’t think this kid can do it.â€?’

NFL teams want the whole truth, and that means digging deeper than ever. Whether it is the best or worst new habit by NFL teams, it is difficult to argue that some don’t yet know how to appropriately gather and digest this information.

According to two well-known doctors, sports psychology in the NFL is held back by intimidation and soiled by inexperience. The problem with all that is teams have never placed as much emphasis on players’ mental framework as they are doing now.

Teams want to eliminate risk, and they have embraced psychological evaluations as a worthy research tool. It’s a start, but some teams’ commitment, comfort and expertise in the science remain in their infancy.

“We’re still in the dark ages,â€? sports psychologist John Murray says. “There are going to be a lot of mistakes as people stumble around.â€?

That was made clear in February, when Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, the likely No. 1 overall draft pick, was evaluated at the scouting combine. A psychologist affiliated with the San Francisco 49ers reportedly prodded Stafford, 21, about lingering issues related to his parents’ divorce. Stafford bristled, and that made him look evasive; bottled up. The psychologist compiled a report and delivered it to team officials. Stafford’s reaction to the probing compelled a testy but resolute Mike Singletary, the 49ers coach, to say on a radio show that Stafford had failed an essential test — and as a result, Singletary’s team wasn’t planning to draft Stafford.

“Maybe he doesn’t belong here,â€? Singletary told Bay Area radio station KNBR.

Singletary’s comments underscored that NFL teams are no longer muting the importance of mental health. But Stafford’s case also raised concerns about the unpolished manner in which the player was evaluated, worries that the details of a confidential meeting with a psychologist had been discussed and judged publicly, and the reality that some teams view this delicate and complicated science through a black-and-white lens: that a player is either fit or unfit to play professional football.
“You have something that people don’t understand,â€? says Jack Stark, a clinical psychologist who conducted player evaluations during the combine in 1996. “They don’t know what they want.â€?
Here’s the scene: It’s late January 2003, and Barret Robbins is gone again. He’s the Oakland Raiders’ Pro Bowl center, and he has picked Super Bowl week as the time to disappear, wandering San Diego’s streets at night and heading across the border to Tijuana, Mexico. He’ll say later that he drank himself into a stupor and even considered suicide — all because he’s uncertain he can handle the expectations and pressure of playing in the Super Bowl.

After nearly a week of wandering, Robbins is incoherent at the team’s Saturday night meeting. The Raiders suspend Robbins for the Super Bowl, which the team loses, and Robbins’ teammates are furious. A year later, Oakland gives up on him, and Robbins won’t play football again. It is revealed too late that Robbins suffered from bipolar disorder and severe depression. A more haunting fact emerges: Robbins’ problems could have been treated years earlier, possibly preventing his Super Bowl breakdown and a chain reaction that killed his career.

“There were some signs,â€? says Robbins’ agent, Drew Pittman. “It’s a brutal, brutal thing. My awareness of it was changed forever by … seeing the things that happened to him.
“Society in general is not very sympathetic. Over the last five years, society has changed dramatically. The same thing is happening in the NFL.â€?

With Robbins in mind, and last year’s mysterious one-day disappearance of Tennessee Titans quarterback Young, the league is setting foot on unfamiliar ground. The principle of mental evaluations is decades old, but the emphasis is new. Until recently, teams haven’t ruled out prospects because of their psychological profiles.

“If Jeffrey Dahmer could run a 4.2 40,â€? Stark says of the old way, “somebody would go after him.â€?
Today’s standard is driven by the hope that, one way or another, episodes similar to Robbins’ can be avoided — for players’ sake and so that teams’ high-stakes gambles are more likely to pay off. With many examples of breakdowns still fresh, teams are finely tuned to erratic behavior, and they’re no longer burying mental-health concerns under a sea of toughness and machismo, a pair of elements that might have made players reluctant to seek help or admit they needed it.

Most NFL teams do not employ team psychologists. Some keep doctors on retainer or contract them as consultants, such as the time Stark evaluated players for the Miami Dolphins in 1996. Stark says he interviewed two or three players at a time, making notes of the players’ traits — self-promoter, team player, violent history, introverted, etc. — and submitted a single-spaced, one-page report on about 75 prospects. But he also noticed that some team psychologists were not qualified to assess players.

“People would call themselves doctors who weren’t doctors,â€? he says. “The owner will hire somebody they knew or because they did marriage counseling with their kids. It’s not like they go and look for the top 10 guys in the country.â€?

Stark says one “psychologistâ€? at that combine held no doctoral degree and possessed no sports psychology experience. He was, in fact, a counselor at a prison in Louisiana.

“An old boys’ network,â€? Murray says. “Legitimacy is ignored. They’re going to get what they paid for.â€?
Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of public relations, says the league doesn’t regulate how teams conduct evaluations, enforce a standard for teams to follow, or suggest whom a team should choose to analyze prospects.

More unsettling, Stark says, is that some haven’t acknowledged that psychology begins, and doesn’t end, at an evaluation. As teams struggle to understand what their observations mean, players with perceived problems are being shunned.

“There’s a stigma,â€? Pittman says.

Here’s the scene: At the same combine that Stafford was questioned, scouts were eager to watch another potential No. 1 pick, former Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith. He is big, strong and athletic — the prototype NFL lineman. Earlier this year, Smith had been rated by ESPN’s scouting service as the most talented prospect in the 2009 draft class. But there was a problem when it was Smith’s turn to face the gatekeepers: He had disappeared.

Last month at Alabama’s pro day, Smith, a 332-pound lineman, stunned observers by removing his shirt before lumbering down a track. Last week, he fired his agent. All this after Smith was suspended for January’s Sugar Bowl.

Smith’s episodes of unpredictable behavior have added up, and he’s seen as a risky player. Now, ESPN ranks Smith as the No. 14 prospect, and he might fall from the draft’s top 10, perhaps costing him millions. Alabama coach Nick Saban, a former NFL coach, has tried to slow Smith’s fall by explaining to league officials that he simply received and followed bad advice.

“Andre Smith is a good person, a good guy,â€? Saban says. “This is a little bit of a lesson for maybe all players to learn.â€?

Stark says he has recommended to coaches that they hire full-time sports psychologists to help players who display erratic behavior, sometimes an early signal of a disorder. That way, the team that drafts a player such as Smith can determine whether he is among the 40 percent of the United States population that, according to Stark, suffers from mental illness.

“It could be a red flag,â€? he says of Smith’s behavior, “but it could be a normal reaction to being scared. Some of these kids have nobody to talk to.

“If I’m going to pay 25 million for this guy, I need to know if he’s going to walk out of camp if my coach yells at him. But let’s get him some help from the day he gets here.â€?
Stark says at least three teams — the Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers and New York Giants — acknowledge the value of thorough evaluations conducted by qualified doctors. He says their examinations are comprehensive and as thorough as time constraints allow.

“They know what they’re doing,â€? he says.

But some executives and coaches remain skeptical. He says some have told him it is the coach’s job to manage players’ moods, and in the event of a crisis beyond the coach’s expertise or patience, players are directed to the team chaplain.

Stark says he would be surprised if Stafford ever trusts a therapist after his combine interview. Worse, the episode might have stifled the NFL’s progress toward taking mental health seriously. Stafford was, in a way, punished for being honest — and Stark says Stafford, and others who paid attention, might have taken from that experience that it’s better to deny or ignore problems than to address them. Stark says that contradicts what psychology is meant to accomplish.

“It’s a mess,â€? he says.

Murray says that players’ inevitable hesitation will not ease until teams invest in licensed, legitimate doctors and understand that a player’s mind cannot be disassembled and understood in the 30-minute blocks afforded each team at the combine. San Francisco 49ers director of public relations Bob Lange would neither identify the psychologist who interviewed Stafford, whether he or she is licensed, or reveal whether he or she was a team employee. Lange says that as a matter of policy, the team doesn’t discuss any part of the team’s medical approach.

“For too long,â€? Murray says, “they’ve tried to sweep it under the rug and say it’s not important. But now that they’ve embraced it, they’re doing it awkwardly.

“It’s a complex, mysterious thing, the mind. It’s a very delicate thing you have to deal with. You get all this training and you get all geared up to go, ready to help some team, and they’re afraid of it.â€?
Murray says that teams haven’t mastered how to retrieve information or find a suitable avenue to use it, but he admits it is encouraging that the NFL has begun to acknowledge the mind as a pathway to success or failure.

The mind, after all, might be the last natural frontier of predicting the difference between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, players who look the same on film but are far different in how they approach success and handle it. An informed, educated opinion might win a Super Bowl, and a wrong decision might set in motion a $40 million mistake.

“That decision is so critical,â€? Stark says. “Any little edge is huge. They’re looking at you and saying, ’Jack, I can’t be wrong on this one. I’ll lose my job.’ There’s just too much money involved. You can’t afford to guess wrong.â€?