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Shannon Walton headshot

Affiliation: Alumna
Program: MS, Community Counseling
Previous education:  Bachelor’s in exercise science and a minor in psychology from Ithaca College

Athletes have coaches that help them run faster, kick the ball farther, swim with more speed and grace. Shannon Walton ‘08, who grew up playing soccer, believes that the best performances combine those technical tactics with an emotional confidence equally worthy of training.

That’s why she became a mental skills coach.

“I wanted to help people become a complete athlete, so I focus on their state of mind and energy,” says Walton, who launched Ultimate Mental Edge, a sports psychology consulting firm in Honeoye Falls, N.Y., just months after graduating from Warner with a master’s in community counseling.

Walton works with both children and adults, alleviating anxiety and distractions, and turning negative thoughts into positive ones, which is crucial for composure and concentration but has proven most challenging. She has found short-term goals to be essential, for example, for the sprinter who chokes under race-day pressure, or the basketball player who’s afraid to take any more shots after having a bad game.

“These are life lessons,” Walton says. “I tell my clients, ‘Things are not going to be perfect all the time. You’ll have bad days and that’s OK. But try to be aware of what you’re thinking and saying.’ It’s hard, but it makes you stronger."

Of course, taking our own advice isn’t always easy.

“I teach these skills every day, but sometimes I struggle with them because it’s so easy to jump on the negative bandwagon,” she says.

For Walton, an avid cyclist, the test often comes at the foot of a hill. “I start dreading hills as soon as I see them,” she says. “But one day, all of a sudden, I thought, ‘Why do I have this mentality? I should be telling myself that they’ll make me better.’ I changed my dialogue and now hills aren’t as hard anymore.”

Walton, who studied exercise science and psychology as an undergraduate, decided to pursue a master’s degree after a male soccer athlete she’d been working with started crying about a recent break-up that was affecting his performance on the field. At Warner, she had the opportunity to advise athletes at the University Counseling Center, gaining first-hand experience in using the various approaches—depending on the athlete or situation—being taught in the classroom.

Warner also assisted Walton in preparing for a little-known field.

“I had a very unique situation,” she explains. “I wasn’t going down the typical path of a Warner student, and the school was just so flexible and supportive.”