Former SK, URI star Norman finds a new sports passion

Marissa Norman was a little skeptical of her accidental introduction to the world of sports psychology. She was a junior at South Kingstown High School and a member of the Rebels track and field team. In preparation for the state meet, coach Joyce Harvey told Norman and her teammates on the 4x100 relay team to close their eyes and visualize the race.

“I didn’t understand why we were closing our eyes,” Norman said. “I was like, ‘Why aren’t we actually practicing it?’”

Whether the visualization did the trick or not, the Rebels ran well.

And Norman found the spark for her future.

Always interested in psychology, Norman started doing research on the sports realm of the field and began to chart a course. It included a career with the University of Rhode Island track team and degrees from Barry University and William James College. Now, 11 years after she visualized the state meet race, Norman is working full-time as a sports psychologist in a post-doctoral position with Premier Sport Psychology in Minnesota.

“It’s been quite the journey,” Norman said.

There is no tried-and-true path for a career in sports psychology. Some take a road through general psychology and eventually specialize. Norman carved out her own route, buttressing the basics of psychology with a range of carefully selected fields of study. To a bachelor’s in psychology at URI, she added minors in kinesiology and sociology. At Barry University, she earned a master’s degree in sports and exercise psychology. At William James College, she pursued a doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Every stop brought important experiences, particularly the ones she drew on from her own athletic career at URI. Norman started with the Rams as a walk-on in sprints and the high jump, but she became fascinated by the pentathlon and heptathlon.

“I told my coach, ‘I want to do this,’” Norman said. “I think he thought I was joking because I needed to learn how to do pretty much all of the events.”

Marissa Norman was an Atlantic 10 champion with the University of Rhode Island track and field team.

Norman liked the excitement of the event and the challenge of learning - and constantly perfecting - the different disciplines. It ended up being a perfect fit. Norman won three Atlantic 10 championships and earned herself a scholarship.

For her future career, everything about the journey was valuable.

“I just learned so much about how minds can impact performance,” Norman said. “You can say, ‘There’s no way I can do this or there’s no way I can win,’ or you can choose to be more positive. That can make such a big difference.”

After her final meet at URI, Norman turned her attention to the endeavors of other athletes. As part of her masters program at Barry University, she worked at the Chris Evert Tennis Academy. With that degree completed, she pursued a Psy.D., as opposed to a Ph.D., in order to work in clinical sports psychology. While at William James College, she worked with college and high school athletes on goal-setting, confidence-building, focus and body awareness.

The post-doc program has taken her to Minnesota, where she works with athletes at the University of Minnesota and with the Junior Olympic curling team. Her work includes the usual performance enhancement, but also mental health.

“It’s been really rewarding,” she said. “It never ceases to amaze me how resilient student-athletes are. They might be struggling with mental health and they’re still going out and competing. It’s amazing.”

Norman will be in Minnesota for at least two years and would like to make her way back to New England when she finishes her post-doc work. With the NCAA showing an increased awareness of sports psychology, more college athletic departments may soon employ full-time sports psychologists, and Norman would like to find one of those spots.

“I love the college population, and I’d really like to keep working with them,” she said.

Like a relay race once upon a time, she can picture it.

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