Sport Psych Spotlight: Kara Hoff

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Kara Hoff is a licensed clinical psychologist from Montoursville, Pennsylvania. She has spent the last two years with Virginia Tech Athletics and the last three years at the university overall, also working in the Cook Counseling Center.

How long have you been at Virginia Tech, specifically in athletics?

I have been at Virginia Tech for three years, and more specifically two years in athletics.

What made you want to get into counseling, specifically for student-athletes?
When I initially pursued counseling and psychology in undergrad, I have always been drawn to the field because I simply love to help people. I was trained as a generalist throughout graduate school because I was not even aware that sports psychology specific tracks existed… It wasn't until I was further along in my training that I stumbled upon the specialization of sports psych. I instantly knew I wanted to pursue more training in this specialty since I have been an athlete my whole life, and this was an identity that was craving to be reawakened. Being in a career where I could merge my athletic identity and passion for helping others felt like a 'stars aligned' moment.

How many counseling sessions would you say you host in a week?
I am currently splitting my time between VT athletics and Cook Counseling Center, but when I am on site here in athletics, the sessions can vary from 6-8 per day.  

You were a student-athlete yourself at Marywood University from 2009-2013. What kind of external pressures are the student-athletes of today facing that maybe student-athletes weren't facing when you played?
Oh goodness where to begin… For starters, I competed at a Division III private liberal arts school where the emphasis was on academics since that was the only way we could receive a scholarship. The difference between Division III and Division I is noteworthy in itself after witnessing the amount of time and sacrifice these SAs pour into their respective sport.  While the public may see the glamorous side of being a student-athlete (e.g. NIL deals, social media), many folks also don't see the behind-the-scenes demands that are placed on these young adults. They are often put under a microscope and evaluated in every space they walk into, which creates insurmountable stress and pressure to maintain this perfect/happy/grateful image of being a student-athletes, when in reality some of their lives are full of chaos and turmoil just below the surface. I often notice that these athletes feel that don't have a place or space to show any vulnerable emotions or discuss what may be brewing below the surface, which in turn leaves them bottling up different parts of self. Ultimately, we have to remember that being an athlete is just one identity they encompass, and not forget about all the other identities they are trying to navigate and discover at such a pivotal age in development. I would say in a nutshell, the pressures that student-athlete face continue to grow and evolve, and I suspect those pressures will only continue to intensify each and every season.

You place an emphasis in a "dynamic interpersonal approach" in your counseling. What exactly does that mean?
In counseling, I take a relational approach with the student-athlete, meaning our relationship is what guides the trajectory in therapy. To provide context, I am a big believer that our early childhood and past experiences play a crucial role in how we navigate our present-day world. The dynamic interpersonal approach in counseling will often look like we are in two places at once as we time travel and explore the student-athlete's past while being anchored in the present through our therapeutic relationship in session. For example, the student-athlete may stumble upon and gain insight how a certain behavior or interpersonal style they developed in the past will show up in our therapy session together, or perhaps show up in their daily lives with others. The approach allows them to not only gain insight into how the behaviors may have developed, but also provide them with the choice and empowerment to make a change if that's what they choose.

Can you describe a success story you've witnessed after the work you've done with an individual student-athlete or a team?
The way I define success in my work with individuals can show up different for each student-athlete. Sometimes just witnessing the courage and sheer vulnerability a student-athlete has by taking the risk to walk through the door of our offices is a success story.

Would you say that a high percentage of student-athletes, for the most part, are seeking help from a counselor?
Yes, I believe the number is somewhere in the 55-60% range, but that may have even increased over this past academic year. As I shared before, every SA is faced with countless pressures, therefore at CAMP we all emphasize the importance of an SA having a confidential space where they do not feel evaluated.

What would gifts from CAMP donors be supporting?
The CAMP staff has a constant hunger to learn so we are consistently looking for more relevant approaches and ways to relate and provide treatment to our SAs. We are here to serve their needs, so ideally donations would contribute toward any latest trainings, equipment, or certifications to provide the best evidenced-based treatment.

If you would like to support Counseling and Athletic Mental Performance at Virginia Tech, you can make a gift here.