Purdue soccer captain excels in psychology in the classroom, on the pitch

Sarah Griffith prepares to kick the ball past opponents during a Purdue soccer match.

Sarah Griffith, left, prepares to kick the ball past St. Louis University defenders during their Sept. 5 match at Folk FieldPurdue Athletics, Kierstin Vorst

Written by: Tim Brouk, tbrouk@purdue.edu

Sarah Griffith applies psychology in the classroom and on the pitch while helping lead Purdue University soccer to its most successful season in more than a decade.

A senior in the Department of Psychological Sciences, Griffith has raked in three Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week awards while getting some airtime on ESPN “Sportscenter’s” Top 10 Plays segment. Her 15 goals led the team and the entire Big Ten for the regular season, which earned her Big Ten Forward of the Year honors. Her 90 shots and 48 shots on goal were also conference leaders.

As a forward and team captain, Griffith said psychology comes into play when reassuring a struggling young teammate during halftime or watching her opponents’ body language. Mental plays are as abundant as corner kicks.

“Half the season is super mental,” she added. “Just learning how to be there for each other and what drives each other. People react to different things. It’s all a learning process. It takes years to get to know your teammates.”

Sarah Griffith celebrates during a Purdue soccer match.

Sarah Griffith celebrates during a rainy Purdue soccer match.Purdue Athletics, Kierstin Vorst

Griffith and her No. 2 seeded squad will take on Michigan in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4, in Piscataway, New Jersey. The match can be viewed on the Big Ten Network.

While developing your goal scoring skills, what career passions have you found while studying psychological sciences?

I like to focus more on the clinical side. I love abnormal psych. I really want to go into humanitarian work and just helping others. That’s something I’ve known since I was little. My whole life I knew I wanted to go into a helping career.

I love learning about behaviors so being in psych, I can really focus on every aspect of the brain and behaviors and hopefully continue that after I graduate.

I love psych because you really can have so many different jobs and careers throughout your life. If I want to change things up one day, I could work with kids, adults, clinical or research. We’ll see what the future holds.

What happens in the brain after you score a goal?

When you score a goal, you remember it so vividly, or you just completely black out. It just depends.

What psychological hints can you glean from your opponents?

The psychology of the opponent is interesting because it comes out verbally, through body language, the way they move, the change of the rhythm of the game — whether they’re going to go long, go super direct, if they’re confident. You can really tell what a team is thinking and their game plan by watching what they do on the pitch, what they’re talking about. … There are verbal and physical cues we prepare for and look out for.

How do you use psychology with your teammates?

Every girl on this team is so different. We have 30 girls. They all bring something so special to the team. Especially being a captain, you really have to learn what motivates everyone. That’s something we’ve focused on so much in psych is what motivates, what drives people. It’s one of our goals as a captain to individually learn about everyone and what’s going to make them succeed the most and work the hardest. That’s something that ties right into the classroom and right onto the field that I use every single day when I step onto the pitch. Especially with our freshmen and sophomores, those first two years are such big learning experiences and valuable moments. They’re either down, or they’re up. You have to find a way to motivate them but also teach them what they can learn from it without them putting their heads down, especially after losses. You have to learn how to move on from things and learn from things.

How would you sum up the soccer season so far?

This season has been so amazing. The rankings are amazing, but everything we’ve put in this past summer and this past season, we’re starting to see results. We’re excited to keep it going and really show everyone how much work we’ve put in and what we can do on the pitch.

What are your thoughts on this being your last season with Purdue soccer?

When it’s your last year, you’ve learned so much in the past four years, and you’re just trying to enjoy the year and make something out of it. I think that’s what all the seniors are really focusing on is keeping this up and getting to where we want to be but also just enjoying the moment and enjoying seeing our hard work pay off and ending our college careers just the way we wanted to.