Today we’d like to introduce you to Leah Howard.
Leah, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
When I first started college, I did not know what I wanted to major in or do for the rest of my life. I first picked a major I thought would make my parents happy, but that decision was not satisfying my soul. Making a lifelong career decision at 18 years old seemed overwhelming so I started setting small goals for myself, the first being completing my degree. While I was in the process of selecting a major, I worked a job as a camp counselor over the summer at Alabama State University and I enjoyed the experience so much that when I entered my sophomore year I switched my major to Education. Working with students was such a fulfilling job, I knew that I could find happiness as an educator. I researched more opportunities to get experience working with students and secured a position as a residential counselor at UCLA.
My senior year when I worked as an intern at Dekalb Elementary School of the Arts I taught English/Language Arts for three different class periods totaling 75 students. I realized that the kids needed more personalized attention than I was able to give them in one day. That sparked my interested in becoming a School Counselor so I could really have the opportunity to address the social and emotional needs of the students. I started grad school at Georgia State University, two weeks after graduating from college, to pursue a Masters in School Counseling. About halfway through my program, I was inspired with the idea to specialize my focus towards working with athlete populations. Being able to combine my love of person centered counseling and sports was something I had not considered, but I immediately began to research other professionals in the field and how I could make it happen, and the rest is history.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It definitely has not been a smooth road, but that’s what makes the journey interesting. In college, I was the captain of the tennis team and because of the discontinuation of the athletic department I was unable to play for the team my senior year. With athlete activism as well as female athletes continuing to defy the norms while being visible on their platforms, I was very much torn over the decision of my school to no longer offer sports at my college. At the beginning of my journey of combining sports and counseling I was met with a lot of resistance because many people had not heard of sports counseling. There were many times in which people placed limitations on my goals, and I had to research a lot on my own because of limited training and resources. Many people were also not as open to the idea of talking about counseling as they are now. Now that mental health is becoming a popular topic of conversation, athletes and non-athletes are becoming more comfortable having discussions surrounding seeking counseling and therapy and tending to their mental health.
The Sports Counselor – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I am currently working on my PhD in Counselor Education with an emphasis in Sports Counseling. I am a certified educator and professional school counselor. I have a certificate in Sports Counseling and Student Athlete Mental Wellness and have completed the USA Mental Health First Aid Training Certificate. I will also become a Licensed Professional Counselor. I do not believe in waiting to complete a degree to start making a difference. Most people probably know me best for using my Instagram platform to advocate for mental health for student and professional athletes. It’s cool because the positive responses and interactions with a growing community of advocates and athletes has been amazing! I think what sets me apart from others is that I believe in being the best at what I do. I’m not afraid of challenges and doing the necessary work to achieve my goals in order to best serve clients. As a former athlete I have experienced wins and losses, debilitating injuries, career transitions, and share some relatable experiences with many people in the athlete community.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I personally define success by how much of a positive impact I make in the lives of others. My happiness and life satisfaction is also a criteria of my success. Being a counselor means being on a continuum of having difficult movements and breakthrough moments. It’s important to understand that everyday won’t feel satisfying which is where good self-care practices and support systems come into play. Sometimes success seems hard to measure when we don’t use money as a measurement tool, but when I get emails and letters of gratitude from some of the former people I’ve counseled I use that as a reminder that I am making a difference. A piece of advice I would give people is to never use someone else’s journey as your definition of success. I am mindful to not place limitations on myself. Apart from being a counselor, I am also publishing a book to be released soon which I am very excited about.
- Email: thesportscounselor@
- Instagram: thesportscounselor