Student athletes can receive special help with sports psychologist

Petruzzelli provides mental health support for student athletes


Courtesy of Hornet Athletics

Steven Bryla and Aaron Jackson

Gloria Petruzzelli is the clinical and sports psychologist for Sacramento State, giving student athletes performance enhancement training along with mental health wellness services.

She has been with the athletics department for three years and has been at Sac State for eight. Petruzzelli became the first licensed clinical and sport psychologist to be housed in an athletic department in the California State University system back in 2016.

Petruzzelli assists students who go through stress and traumatic issues, including sexual assault.

“The first thing I do is create a safe space to make sure the student is heard and make sure they have support,” Petruzzelli said. “Sexual assault can create a lot of anxiety and trauma, so it’s important to make sure a relationship is established.”

She added that her colleagues and herself have the component of explaining the student-athletes rights if they want to report a case of sexual assault.

She began her first five years at Sac State in the student health center and still works in conjunction with Student Health and Counseling Services for the entire student population.

“The health center did a great job with creating packets for students that informs students of their rights along with medical treatment, collection of evidence and campus accomodations,” Petruzzelli said.

Petruzzelli said that the trauma suffered during an attack would affect an athletes performance.

“The level of it depends on the intensity of their situation,” Petruzzelli said. “Sometimes the onset of symptoms can take months to even years. There is no set path.”

She added that she has seen both male and female cases of sexual assault in her time at Sac State.

“The #MeToo movement has been very empowering for people to know there are resources and support,” Petruzzelli said. “As far as outside of the confidentiality space, I think more and more people in general are coming forward.”

Petruzzelli is not only a psychologist for Sac State student athletes, but she also regularly works with other sports teams and athletes across the country through her private practice, regularly giving talks.

“I help break down the stigma for athletes when it comes to handling emotions,” Petruzzelli said. “In athletics culture, the stigma is that there is one way to handle emotion. Suck it up and cope with it. If you can’t, there’s this message that you’re weak and I break down that stigma by letting athletes know if they see me it’s not because they’re weak.”

Petruzzelli became a sports psychologist because she wanted to empower people. She is an athlete herself, and played competitive soccer for 18 years before transitioning to competing in triathlons and road racing. She said that when she played sports and competed, she learned social skills that have stayed with her for her entire life.

“The same patterns that play out in sport are the same that pan out in life,” Petruzzelli said.

“When listening to others, I put my own personal reactions aside and listen to the other person, their experience and then make sense of it,” Petruzzelli said of how details of sexual harassment cases make her feel.

Megan Kyle, a former Sac State gymnast and also a victim of sexual assault, said that when she would go visit Petruzzelli, she would feel safe to talk about any issues and express her emotions.

“I think when I had to make the decision whether I wanted to go back to school or get help, she always pushed me to get help and I really thank her that,” Kyle said. “I think she is helpful for all athletes in general, because athletes have that kind of ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality.

“I think a lot of athletes struggle with that, so the mental side you just kind of push it away as an athlete and I think Gloria can give that space to people that really need it.”