Margaret Ottley, Ph.D., C'92
Margaret Ottley, Ph.D., C'92, Helps U.S. Olympic Team Go for the Gold in London
“Sports has been my life,” said Dr. Margaret Ottley, one of the industry’s most sought-after sport and performance psychologists. An athlete herself, it’s no surprise she works with the world’s most elite athletes, including the United States track and field team who she worked with tirelessly to ensure they were prepared for the London 2012 Olympics.
Dr. Ottley, a Trinidad native, played competitive field hockey in high school and as a national player representing Trinidad and Tobago at the U-17, U-21 and senior levels for more than 13 years. She graduated from Valsayn Teacher’s College in Trinidad and worked as an elementary school teacher. Dr. Ottley later left Trinidad – becoming a Spelmanite at the mature age of 26 – and studied child development. It was her own questions that sparked her interest in sports psychology. “I always felt that I never really played my best game and that I had trouble with coaches – a communication problem,” she explained. “I wanted to understand the mental aspect of sports.” She earned her undergraduate degree at Spelman, her M.Ed and Ph.D. in sports psychology at Temple University. and her post-doctoral studies at Purdue University.
Still searching for answers, Dr. Ottley said, “I felt that the information wasn’t addressing me as a Black woman in sports.” She started playing Capoeira Angola, an African Brazilian martial art with elements of music and dance, and looking at African aesthetics and movement. “Playing a sport at a certain level is a highly cognitive process and I wanted to explore it from that prospective.” Dr. Ottley created a niche which she calls SSI – Sports Skills Improvisations – and has since garnered interest from around the globe.
In 2004, she accompanied the Trinidad and Tobago elite teams to the Olympic Games in Greece. She worked with U.S.A. Track and Field teams at the International Association of Athletics Federation World Youth Championship (Morocco Africa), the World Junior Championship (Beijing) and the Pan American Junior Games (São Paulo, Brazil). In August 2008, she was one of two sports psychology consultants working with the USATF team in Beijing and graced the cover of the July/August 2008 issue of The Monitor on Psychology,a publication of the American Psychological Association.
Currently, she’s an associate professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, where she teaches graduate and undergraduate classes in sports psychology, motor learning and development. She is the founder of SANKO-FA HP (HyPower Performance) LLC, which conducts sports psychology workshops and presentations throughout the Caribbean, and recently held the Caribbean First Sport Psychology Conference in Trinidad and Tobago. She travels all over the world, consulting and working with athletes, coaches and administrators. In addition to working with the U.S. team, Dr. Ottley also worked to prepare the Trinidad and Tobago track and field team for the 2012 Olympic games. She does team-building exercises, group work, and one-on-one consulting. “These are the world’s best, most elite athletes,” explained Dr. Ottley. “To get to them you have to impress them.”
Recognizing she’s in a field that is grossly underrepresented by African Americans and women she explains, “For us as a people of African descent we have to be very diverse and we have to be very good at what we do. We almost have to be better.” There aren’t a lot of African American sports psychologists, so Dr. Ottley says her mentors were Caucasian. “I spent time mentoring them on how to mentor me. I knew what I wanted out of it.”
Determined to implement change and increase the number of women of color in her field, she actively mentors Black sports psychology students and shares her story constantly, so they won’t have to face the same challenges she did.
Dr. Ottley is a member of the Board of the Black Women in Sport Foundation, the Pennsylvania State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, and the Frederick Douglass Institute, a University program for advancing multicultural studies across the curriculum and for deepening the intellectual heritage of Frederick Douglass, former slave, author, and statesman.