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SED’s Power Couple

Husband-and-wife faculty team makes sport a positive force for athletes


John McCarthy and Amy Baltzell are dedicated to making sure athletes thrive in their sport. Photo by Vernon Doucette

John McCarthy and Amy Baltzell met in a counseling class in 1995 as graduate students at the School of Education. He was the offensive coordinator for Terrier football. She was newly retired from professional sports, having just sailed in the 1995 America’s Cup.

A decade and a half later, McCarthy (SED’04) and Baltzell (SED’96,’99) are married, raising three kids, and still passing each other in the halls of SED, where they’re both assistant professors dedicated to improving the lives of athletes.

McCarthy teaches coach-education courses, with a focus, he says, on the “philosophy, values, and the psychosocial development side of sport.” He urges his students to seize opportunities as coaches to teach kids good habits and positive social values.

McCarthy also directs SED’s Institute for Athletic Coach Education, which aims to improve training for the part-time and volunteer coaches who head up the majority of youth sport teams. The institute sponsors coaching workshops and provides speakers for coaching programs. McCarthy teaches “coaching theory sessions” to the hundreds of youth football coaches who attend USA Football Coaching School at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., each spring.

The institute takes an active role in Boston youth sports. McCarthy and colleagues recently completed projects with six Boston-area sports organizations—including baseball leagues and nonprofits that bring lacrosse, rowing, and soccer to urban kids. They helped the groups clarify their educational goals and teach their coaches methods for meeting them. The institute also joined Step UP, a partnership between area universities and the Boston Public Schools. McCarthy and SED grad students work directly with students at English High School each week and help to train coaches and administrators.

Baltzell coordinates the sport psychology specialization in SED’s counseling program. Most of her work centers on elite athletes and how they deal with the intense pressure of competition. She teaches courses in sport psychology and positive psychology, runs a study on the impact of meditation on collegiate athletes, and recently published a book, Living in the Sweet Spot: Preparing for Performance in Sport and Life.

A member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic rowing team, Baltzell says she “poured her heart and soul” into the book. “I gave the very best of what I’ve learned as an Olympic athlete, professional athlete, professor, researcher, practitioner,” she says. “It’s a book I wish I had had when I was 20, because I was physically gifted, but I didn’t know how to deal with the pressure. I had great success, but I could have had more.” And, she adds, she could have been happier along the way.

In her book and her broader work, Baltzell’s aim is not only to help athletes perform well, she says, but also to find joy and fulfillment whether they win or lose. Although McCarthy and Baltzell focus on different aspects of sport, he training coaches and she counseling professional athletes, what they both care about, in McCarthy’s words, “is that people are thriving, are flourishing in their experience with sport.”

Corinne Steinbrenner can be reached at cks@bu.edu.

A version of this article originally appeared in the fall 2010 issue of @SED.


6 Comments on SED’s Power Couple

  • Anonymous on 12.06.2010 at 9:24 am

    Yay! I love those guys! Every department could use a power couple like them. It wasn’t until I took JMc’s classes this semester that I actually felt like a grad student.

  • Anonymous on 12.06.2010 at 11:46 am

    Feeding the ego not the body

    The amount of money spent on sports education and sports could feed and clothe hungry and homeless. I think it shows a lack of moral clarity and commitment for BU to encourage sports.

    • Paul Maitino on 03.10.2015 at 11:57 am

      As a BU graduate in coaching education, I take offense to how remarkably uninformed your comments are here “anonymous”. The work that coaches do with children is amazing and on an almost exclusively pro bono basis. Get a life, and write to your congressman for the issue on homelessness.

  • Anonymous on 12.06.2010 at 11:58 am

    Positive Psychology was the best!!

    I loved loved loved Professor Baltzell’s positive psych class! (And no, I’m not an athlete… so the first commenter needs to stop hating on sports- those classes are great for everyone)

  • nataly on 12.06.2010 at 5:29 pm

    amazing teachers

    being a students of Amy Baltzell and proffesionaly meeting McCarthy severl times, I can say that BU and the students are verly lucky to have them both as member of the faculty. they are amazing poeple and great teacher, I was very lucky to have had Baltzell as my mentor back in 2003.

  • Wyndy on 12.17.2010 at 9:59 am

    Amy Baltzell Rocks!

    I agree that positive psychology was an amazing class. I am not an athlete either. I used the techniques from class as a school counselor.

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