Ball State’s sport and exercise psychology master’s program has been named one of the best in the United States, according to Online Psychology Degrees.

Ball State ranked No. 15 in the nation and is one of two schools in Indiana on the list. Programs were selected based on criteria such as cost of attendance, number of degree and specialization options offered, accreditation and acknowledgement by a national ranking body.

Sports psychology — which deals with the mental aspect of being an athlete — allows professionals to help athletes mentally prepare for their best performances.

The two-year program at Ball State is taught and directed by Lindsey Blom, and Ball State is now in the process of hiring another professor for the 30-year-old program, which currently has 18 masters students and five doctoral students enrolled.

As coordinator, Blom handles inquiries from prospective students, helping them with campus visits and applications, as well as helping current students coordinate conference visits.

“I think what this [ranking] really means is it’s a condition for students and faculty over the years, and the hard work and diligent work that they’ve done,” Blom said. "They often do good work in the field, so it’s really kind of just a recognition that over the years that they’ve been doing the right thing as well as the university's support for our program is recognized and appreciated as well."

Blom said the field of sports psychology is growing, along with the appreciation from consumers, which makes the demand higher for trained students in sports psychology.

“I think we’ve had a lot of success recently because we have a strong connection with the counseling psychology department,” Blom said. "So we have a lot of students who get a dual master’s degree with clinical mental health along with our [degree], which allows them to get more of the individual counseling skills that help them be a better sports psychologist once they go on to get their doctorate."

Alee Wade, a second year master’s student in the Ball State program, majored in psychology and government as an undergraduate at Bowdoin College in Maine. In between undergraduate and graduate school, she was a trainer at an elementary school and a high school track coach.

Wade said her interest in sports psychology started while she was coaching and witnessing her athletes struggling with anxiety and team dynamic.

“I obviously hope the best for my athletes and really wanted to help them, but I feel like not having any experience in sports psychology, I couldn’t really do much [when I coached them],” Wade said. “But now, I feel like I can go back and I feel a lot more confident in providing sports psychology services to youth athletes.”

With her master’s degree from Ball State, she is interested in working with young athletes through a non-profit sports organization.

“Perhaps they’re involved with positive development for children through sports or even coach training or parent training for youth athletes,” Wade said. "So kind of anything that would influence a youth athlete’s experience in sports."

Jorge Ballesteros, a third-year student in the program studying counseling with an emphasis in clinical mental health, is currently an intern at Ball State’s Counseling Center. He said he's currently applying to doctorate programs in counseling psychology and hopes to be a professor at an undergraduate institution while conducting research and working with athletes, if he gets the chance.

“It’s different compared to sports psych — the issues that they’re coming in with [at the counseling center]. Both have their ups and downs, but it’s definitely one that I think is rewarding at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s time consuming, but I’m training that skill of being a counselor.”

Originally from Los Angeles, Ballesteros found out about Ball State’s program through a Google search. Now happy with his school choice, Ballesteros said Ball State’s high ranking is special, especially for a field that is still growing.

“I definitely came a far way — Muncie is a little different compared to LA — but it’s OK. I love the program [and] I love the chances I've had to work with athletes here on campus — it's been a very rewarding two and a half years,” he said. "For Ball State, for us to be ranked 15, it talks about how well our professors are, how well the students do and kind of what we do after. So the impact that we still have on the field after we leave Ball State is strong."