By Tierney Hogan ’21 / Sports Information Office
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – As a lifelong New England resident and a four-year soccer player at Eastern Connecticut State University in the mid-2000s, Melissa Lambert ’07 listed her “most memorable sports moment” as a junior in 2005 as the Red Sox winning the World Series.
In view of Boston’s most recent World Series win last fall over the Los Angeles Dodgers, she may have to stifle her inner feelings, for Lambert has exchanged her red socks for Dodger Blue.
A native of Montville who excelled academically as a psychology major and athletically as an All-New England defender, Lambert was hired last Sept. 1 to work as an EAP and mental skills coach for the organization, and relocated to the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear last February.
Lambert, 34, landed a number of jobs – including one as a primary therapist at Natchaug Hospital in Norwich – before being offered the position with the Dodgers. She brings over ten years of experience – plus an M Ed. in clinical mental health counseling -- to the organization
With the Dodgers, she says that she will manage crisis situations with the organization, provide mental health awareness training and provide individual and family sessions for all players and staff while travelling to all of the Dodgers’ minor league affiliations while in season.
Says Lambert in explaining her responsibilities, “You might have a player or coach who just needs something in the moment, whether it’s in the clubhouse or on a bus trip or a phone call or they just need to vent as they try to balance and adapt to the demands and the stress that goes along with being a professional athlete”
A passionate sports fan who still remains active in soccer, Lambert says that, initially upon graduation from Eastern, there were few opportunities in the still developing field of sport psychology, so she decided to go the clinical route. Most recently, she worked at East Haven High School as a behavioral health clinician and as a therapeutic crisis intervention trainer at the Village for Families and Children in Hartford.
In addition to her fulltime duties, Lambert satisfied her sports passion by serving as a program director for the Performance Training Clinic in Waterford, and as a performance and mental skills training coach at Diamondzone in North Haven, among other ventures.
Lambert says that the connections that she made over the last ten years were vital in making the connections with the Dodgers. Lambert’s experiences upon graduation from Eastern included working for several years in a hospital setting and gained experience working with families in crisis before becoming a program director and gaining additional experience in a number of environments, including in the intercity.
In the high school setting, Lambert says that the majority of her clients were student-athletes and that she witnessed “the increase in anxiety and depression. It’s a different day and age from when I was a kid, so technology and social media just being right there prompted an increase in struggles with mental health.”
Among her many certifications are those as a licensed professional counselor in the states of Connecticut and Arizona, as well as certifications in cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, sports nutrition and motivational interviewing.
At Eastern, Lambert started on three post-season tournament teams and two Little East Conference regular-season and tournament championship squads. She was named to All-New England teams by two organizations as a senior, earned All-LEC honors three times and qualified as an Eastern Scholar-Athlete in both seasons of eligibility.
Current Eastern head women’s soccer coach Chris D’Ambrosio describes his former student-athlete as “one of our most consistent players and hardest workers, not only on the field but off the field in the weight room, nutrition-wise, and in the off season.”
Nutrition and fitness testing have always been very important to Lambert and D’ Ambrosio says that she was one of the pioneers behind getting team members on a stricter fitness schedule that the program uses to this day. D’ Ambrosio continues to talk about how team-oriented Lambert was and says that “she had that intrinsic drive that you look for in a student-athlete.”
Playing soccer at Eastern helped Lambert grow into the person that she is today, and her coach said that it definitely turned her into a strong leader. Lambert uses the skills and growth that she found in Eastern’s soccer program in her current career with the LA Dodgers.
What made the Dodgers’ job appealing to Lambert was the opportunity to help a larger population. She wanted to be able to “impact the athletes as humans first, athletes second” and she says that is one of the most attractive things about the position.
A person who acted as a mentor to Lambert during her undergraduate years – an individual with who she maintains a close relationship -- is Dr. Carlos Escoto. chair of the psychology department. Lambert characterized her former professor as “challenging, but he gained my respect immediately.” From Escoto’s point of view, Lambert “was just dedicated and focused. She’s always been particularly mature, very easy to talk with. Her passion for athletics and training just kind of complemented everything else.”
When asked about her feelings as a successful professional, she says, “I never look at it in that sense of success or accomplishment… I recognized late that it wasn’t just about hitting milestones and building experience, it was really the substance in-between.” – an attitude which truly shows Lambert’s humbleness toward her achievements in her life.
Time allowing, Lambert plans on visiting Eastern this coming fall semester to talk to student- athletes about mental health and self-worth. D’ Ambrosio is planning to also have Lambert talk about “being a part of something that’s maybe bigger than you, and embracing that and striving to be the best you can become to help the team be successful.”
Having attended college 30 minutes from her home and being a lifelong Connecticut resident, Lambert had ambivalent feelings about re-locating to the West Coast.
“I built up a lot of strong relationships with people in New England and that’s always hard to leave,” she admits. “There is comfort in those relationships and the skills and all the things I’ve learned being in the area, but then you realize there is a lot more out there. You can get very closed off staying in comfort, so that was kind of the inspiration to say ‘nope, let’s do this’ and know that everything will play out as its going to play out.”
And, who knows, she may eventually find out that wearing Dodger Blue may be an adequate replacement for her red socks.