Hello, I am Lucy Chilcutt, and I am guest-writing in place of Dr. Irv Rubenstein. To let you know a little bit about me: I am a senior at Cumberland University where I play basketball and softball and study Exercise and Sports Science. My chosen field of study is not entirely congruent with what I would like to pursue as a career: Sports Psychology. My plan is to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Sports Science, then enter a graduate program in the realm of mental performance.
I have had this unforgettable opportunity to shadow and assist Dr. Rubenstein for the past 5 months. One of my spring courses required us to earn 25 practicum hours for the semester, so I chose STEPS as my practicum site. It was conveniently just a short distance away from my physical therapy location. The 25 hours of shadowing went by fairly quickly but it was clear that a relationship had evolved between me and the STEPS family.
Summer was just around the corner, and I was searching incessantly for some part-time work. Just as I was on the brink of giving up, Dr. Rubenstein reached out to me asking if I would help him out as he was preparing to undergo foot surgery. This was a pleasant surprise, and I accepted his offer with no hesitation. As you all would expect, I was his “arms and legs” while he was still the brains of the operation. The two of us were able to successfully tend to the needs of his clients as he was simultaneously on his road to recovery.
What started out as a mere practicum requirement for school had turned into an educational experience that could never be emulated in the classroom.
Dr. Rubenstein has understood my personal career goals from the beginning. Being the intellectual that he is, Dr. Rubenstein was able to convey to me that Sports Psychology is equally as present in the personal training world as it is on the field or court.
The most important concept that I have learned through this entire experience is that everyone has something. This means that there truly is no normal. Each person has their own unique version of normal. As fitness and mental health professionals, we are to meet people where they are and understand what normal means to each of them.
There is a reason that STEPS is the longest-standing, most thriving gym that has ever existed. It all starts in the initial appointment that Dr. Rubenstein has with each of his new, inquiring clients. It is clear that Dr. Rubenstein is willing and able to be completely attentive to the unique needs and concerns each client brings to STEPS. This is pertinent when working with people in any capacity.
While Dr. Rubenstein was going through the interview process, he allowed me to sit in and observe. In these moments, I had noted the body language of the new clients. The majority of them presented classic signs of nervousness. They had the courage to take the first step (the hardest step): to reach out to STEPS and seek help for themselves. Upon arrival, they now sat across from a very experienced fitness professional, wondering if he could meet their needs or if he would even understand what they were going through. After an in-depth conversation about their life, health history, and establishment of their health goals, the wringing of their hands would calm, the tension in their shoulders would release, and an expression of eagerness took over their faces. Aside from the letters behind his name and years of experience in the field, one of the quintessential components Dr. Rubenstein brings to his business is his ability to understand people. He levels with them and meets them where they are in their fitness journies.
More often than not people would privately express to me how he is simply the best at what he does. “You can tell he really understands”, they would say.
All people want, especially when seeking to solve a personal issue, is to be understood. Each person has their own ailments, goals, and limits.
The goal of fitness and mental health professionals should be to create an environment in which each person feels as though they can achieve becoming the best version of themselves.
Being someone who has gone through several orthopedic surgeries myself, it can be difficult to feel “normal” again. Realistically, it can take years before one even feels close to how they did before any bump in the road. There are always high points and setbacks. If a personal trainer is willing to safely proceed as needed during both the highs and the lows, the outcome for the client is more than likely going to be satisfactory.
Even in observing Dr. Rubenstein with the clients that he has worked with for years, he continues to tend to their needs as they are ever-changing. Everyone has something. Whether it be fighting against the process of aging, recovering from surgery, or dealing with a personal issue, it is pertinent that personal trainers be prepared for anything. This takes a considerable amount of emotional strength, to be able to put your personal matters aside in order to sufficiently meet the needs of the client. There should be a reason that clients keep coming back for more. Maybe this is the best they have felt in years, maybe they are finally seeing the results that they had set out to achieve, or maybe they spent the money so they simply feel as though they’d better not let it go to waste.
In any way, clients should always know they are stepping into an atmosphere where they feel seen and heard. Ultimately, this leads clients to feel better than they did upon arrival.
Much like the personal training world, the same inviting persona should take place in the realm of Sports Psychology. The enlightening experience that I’ve had this summer has shown me in more ways than not that people want to be understood. My passion for Sports Psychology comes from a place of advocacy for the mental health of athletes. I believe each role on a team is equally as important as the next (coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, etc,.), but there has to be a separate entity for mental strength to be tended to. Putting all the pieces together can make for a highly successful team/individual.
As it goes, athletes have several responsibilities on their plate. Yes, that is what they knowingly signed up for, but there can be a point where it becomes too much. This is when it would be helpful to talk with the Sports Psychologist on staff. What if the athlete suffers from a season-ending injury, maybe they flunked their final exam and become ineligible for the upcoming season, or maybe there is a death in his/her family? A Sports Psychologist would be able to help athletes navigate their way through their sports, school, and personal life. They also have the ability to advocate for the athletes by professionally communicating concerns to coaches and/or athletic trainers.
Just like the clients in personal training, student-athletes have their own concerns that should be addressed. In his article What do Sports Psychologists Do?, Patrick Cohn defines the roles of a Sports Psychologist and how they are integrated into each team.
He explains how they help with setting goals, enhancing performance, maintaining motivation, and how they can also help athletes develop ways to continue to enjoy their sport. These attributes are embedded within the role of a personal trainer as well. Likewise, personal trainers are striving to help their client improve their quality of life.
From all that I have learned this summer, it is clear to me that people want to be seen and heard. Fitness and mental health professionals have an obligation to tend to the needs of others. I look forward to furthering my education in this field and am forever grateful for the opportunity that was given to me. I admire the professionals that I have met thus far and will strive to be just as intentional about helping people as they have been and continue to be.