Sport Psychologist Megan Cannon ’08 Helps Athletes Develop Competitive Edge
By Gary R. Blockus ’79
When Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors missed four straight three-pointers and walked off the court before halftime of Game Two in the 2016 NBA Finals, sports fans across the country sounded off about another athlete losing his cool.
Megan Cannon ’08 set them straight on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Cannon holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University and is a practicing sport psychologist with Mind of the Athlete in Bethlehem, Pa.
Cannon confirmed for SportsCenter host Zubin Mehenti what Lowry already says in his post-game interview: he was trying to decompress and refocus.
“I explained that a lot of athletes feel significantly more pressure in the playoffs than during the regular season,” Cannon remembers. “It turns out he does it during the regular season, but it became more magnified by the press in the playoffs.”
Her advice surrounding Lowry and other athletes experiencing frustration is direct and practical.
“Slow down. Focus on your breathing,” she says. “When anxiety occurs, our sympathetic nervous system goes out of control and our body goes into fight or flight. Emotionally we can be panicked, but nothing in that first half has any correspondence to what you can produce in the second half.”
SportsCenter found “Dr. Megan” after one of its producers thought that a sport psychologist’s interpretation would be interesting. The show’s producers have since asked her back to comment on several issues, including the emotional toll basketball star Kevin Durant felt returning to Oklahoma City for the first time after being traded to Golden State.
Cannon has presented sport psychology seminars to a variety of high school and college teams, including the Wilkes Student Athlete Council in 2016, Old Dominion University and Bucknell University.
“As a sport psychologist, I try to connect the dots between what an athlete is feeling internally and develop strategies to manage their stressors,” Cannon explains. “We’re not going to remove those stressors, but we can control our perspectives on them.”
Athletes at all levels are subject to pressures from family, relationships, school work, practices, competitions, even nutrition and sleep.
Cannon began her love affair with sports at Allentown Central Catholic High School, where she swam and played softball. She looked at several colleges, but Wilkes stood out.
“When I stepped foot on campus – and I know this sounds cliché – it felt right,” she says. “I went to a smaller high school, and the size of Wilkes really appealed to me.”
Cannon initially didn’t decide on a major but found out she had an affinity for psychology. She credits Wilkes with playing an enormous role in becoming the professional she is today. She found the professors in the department easy to speak with, helpful and caring.
She says professors Robert Bohlander and Debbie Tindell inspired her to pursue a doctoral program. Her favorite class was Behavioral Psychology with Associate Professor Ed Schicatano, the Neuroscience Program coordinator and Psychology Department coordinator.
“Megan was a bright, energetic and focused student,” Schicatano says. “None of our faculty are surprised to see how successful she has become. She has a commanding style of presenting that captures the athlete’s attention every time.”
After graduating summa cum laude with a psychology major and a minor in dance, Cannon earned a doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Nova Southeastern University.
“I attribute getting into a doctoral program directly to Wilkes,” Cannon says. “Lisa Mulvey and Carol Bosack at Career Services had a lot of insight into graduate school application. Had I gone to another college, there’s no way I would have gotten that personal care.”
When Cannon was a fourth-year doctoral student, she competed for and received an elective in sports psychology.
“Half of what we did was concussion management and baseline concussion testing,” she says. “We helped physicians with return-to-play protocol, the if-and-when an athlete can return. Additionally, we were the psychologists for the student athletes at the university. Through that I got immersed into the specialization. It was a really good fit.”
She matched with her first choice program at Pacific Clinics, a community mental health center in Pasadena, Calif., for her pre-doctoral internship. When she began looking for a post-doctoral position, she found Mind of the Athlete.
“She has a real heart for the high school athletes,” says Jarrod Spencer, founder of Mind of the Athlete. “Her growing practice has done very well, and she is a dynamic speaker.”
Cannon’s next big role will happen Aug. 31-Sept. 3 at the 2018 LEAD Sports Summit when she will serve as a clinician along with five-time Olympian Missy Franklin and three-time Olympians Kara Lynn Joyce and Elizabeth Beisel, among others.
Unless you see her on SportsCenter first.
Megan Cannon ’08, Allentown, Pa.
- Bachelor of Arts, Psychology, Wilkes
- Master of Science, Clinical Psychology, Nova Southeastern University
- Doctor of Philosophy, Psychology, Nova Southeastern University
Career: Sport Psychologist, Mind of the Athlete, Bethlehem, Pa.
Notable: Nationally recognized expert in sports psychology with appearances on ESPN SportsCenter to discuss issues regarding NBA and NFL player performance. Featured clinician and speaker working with athletes, coaches and sports officials on the high-school and college level.
Favorite Wilkes memory: “My memories ultimately boil down to the people at Wilkes. It’s a great community, and that’s what really stands out.”