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Finding her footing in the field of sport psychology

For Ms Jeevita Pillai, the Singapore campus of James Cook University was the place where she discovered and nurtured her twin passions of sport psychology and dance fitness.

Finding her footing in the field of sport psychology

As a sport psychologist at the National Youth Sports Institute, Ms Jeevita Pillai supports Singapore’s national youth athletes with their performance, well-being and development. Photos: James Cook University/Lim Swee Ming

Ballet, Indian dance, hip hop, reggaeton, netball, running, kickboxing, Zumba – Ms Jeevita Pillai has done them all.

And it was at the Singapore campus of James Cook University (JCU) that she realised she could combine her love of physical activity and her chosen profession of psychology into a fulfilling career. Today, Ms Jeevita is a sport psychologist with the National Youth Sports Institute (NYSI), having graduated from JCU with a Bachelor of Psychology in 2015.

As a young girl, she was inspired by her parents’ resilience as they juggled multiple jobs, managed their health issues and cared for her. “Growth and self-development have always been important to me from a young age, and I have always been motivated by helping and supporting people to be better versions of themselves,” she said. “Even though I did not know what field of psychology I wanted to pursue, psychology was what resonated with me most.”

When it came to choosing a university, she did her research and was impressed by JCU’s staff who were welcoming and open to answering all her questions.

“It was also important to me that the degree was internationally recognised, as I had heard stories where people spent a lot of time and money at a university only to face problems when pursuing further education,” she added. JCU’s Bachelor of Psychological Science is accredited by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council.

A SEMESTER ABROAD

As part of her JCU degree, Ms Jeevita had the opportunity to take part in the Inter-Campus Mobility Programme, which allows students to spend up to two semesters on JCU’s Townsville or Cairns campuses in Australia.

Her time in Cairns was life-changing.

“I will always be grateful for the Inter-Campus Mobility Programme, which gave me the experience of studying overseas,” she recalled. “Cairns was where I was first exposed to a Sport Psychology module, which is exactly what I am doing now. It was also where I had my first experience in the field, as an assignment required us to meet and observe athletes.”

She added: “It was like I finally found something that just clicked and made sense to me. I have always been curious about the mind and why people behave the way they do, but narrowing that down to athletes, physical activity, performance and the constant drive to be a better version of yourself was just so aligned to who I am and how I live my life.”

Ms Jeevita also enjoyed experiencing the Australian lifestyle and meeting students from different cultures and backgrounds, which contributed to her personal and professional growth: “The semester in Cairns encouraged me to learn to adapt and work with different people. This is why I am such an advocate for living and studying abroad. There are just so many invaluable lessons and skills that one can learn.”

A PLATFORM TO DO MORE WITH DANCE

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Ms Jeevita’s role as a sport psychologist at the NYSI involves supporting Singapore’s national youth athletes with their performance, well-being and long-term development. On a day-to-day basis, she conducts customised one-to-one sessions, group workshops as well as research, such as a qualitative study on youth to senior sport transition in Singapore.

“I also work within a multidisciplinary team alongside sport nutritionists, strength and conditioning specialists, physiotherapists, physiologists and performance analysts, with the aim of supporting youth athletes in achieving their highest potential in their sporting endeavours,” she said.

On top of her day job, Ms Jeevita has a thriving sideline, Afrowithjeevi. Her African dance fitness classes are inspired by her time in Cairns, when she was exposed to the local African community and their joyous blend of lively music, dance and culture.

Ms Jeevita, who has almost a decade of experience as a dance instructor, programming director and performer, was given her first teaching platform at JCU, where she started a Zumba fitness club.

“JCU has always encouraged students to explore activities beyond studies and did not hesitate to support me in this pursuit,” she said. “Students from JCU started to attend my classes and we started performing at JCU events, too. The platform JCU gave me to grow a dance fitness community was what propelled me to pursue it further, beyond JCU.”

Even her teachers were supportive, with Ms Jeevita’s honours thesis supervisor Dr Aoife McLoughlin working with her to include Zumba fitness in her research study.

Explained Ms Jeevita: “We combined both our areas of expertise – time perception and Zumba fitness – to create research that was eventually published, titled Exercise and Time Perception: An Exploration of the Impact of High Intensity Cardio Exercise (Zumba) on Human Timing. We have kept in touch over the years and she is always open for a chat whenever I reach out, even till now.”

A STRONG START FOR HER CAREER

Looking back on her education, Ms Jeevita said that JCU gave her a firm foundation in psychology that prepared her well for the workforce.

“I always tell people who want to do psychology to do it at JCU,” she said, recommending that first-year students be open and patient, and enjoy the process of discovering their professional interests.  

“Sometimes, it may feel daunting, and it may feel like we need to know what we want to do immediately and then get fixated on that,” said Ms Jeevita. “Sometimes, it is really about enjoying the process of learning itself and being open to what the entire field can offer.”

Visit the 24/7 Accessible Open House by James Cook University for more information on the Bachelor of Psychological Science programme.

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