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Hacker wraps up her last year as sport psychologist for women's national soccer team with a trip to the 1999 World Cup TournamentB Y N I C K D A W S O N , S P O R T S E D I T O R
But unlike the "football" fanatic who will fork over $25 and more for a stadium seat, or the casual viewers on ESPN, Hacker's perspective will be up close and personal.
That's because since 1995, she has served as the sport psychologist for the U.S. women's national soccer team. As she did when the American women's team won Olympic Gold in 1996, Hacker will take her seat on the bench with U.S. head coach Tony DiCicco and other support personnel during the 1999 World Cup. This is her last year with the team.
It's a place — and a task — Hacker couldn't have envisioned back in 1995 when she was first invited as a guest coach to attend the U.S. team training camp in San Diego.
"Things went very well. I thought that would be the pinnacle of my career," recalls Hacker, who as Pacific Lutheran women's soccer coach from 1981-95 led the Lutes to 232 wins and three NAIA national titles —earning national coach of the year honors three times.
Indeed, her interaction with the players and coaching staff not only went well, it earned her an invitation — heartily endorsed by the players — from DiCicco to serve as the team's full-time sport psychologist. For the past four years, Hacker has balanced a one-weekend-a-month (and sometimes more) national team commitment with her teaching and administrative duties in the PLU School of Physical Education.
"I had to think long and hard about that decision. In all of our lives there have to be priorities," says Hacker, who recently returned from a weekend trip with the national team for a "friendly" match against the team's top rival, China.
"My commitment to PLU is first, then comes my commitment to the national team." After that comes the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, where Hacker serves as one of 35 members of the national coaching staff, and finally, as the busy Hacker says, "everything else in the world." With such a full plate, Hacker has had to turn down plenty of dream opportunities, such as working with the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League.
Working with a wide range of players — from 17 to 33 years old, many single, some married with children, a handful with barely a dime to their name and others in the millionaire category — Hacker has found ways to help the players blend their talents to become one of the world's best women's soccer teams.
Her work proved to be crucial in helping the United States turn the corner from 1995 World Cup runner-up to 1996 Olympic Games champion. "What Tony found is that the difference in 1996 compared to 1995, after a year of psychological skills training, was a sense of confidence and all the things that come with that," says Hacker.
Last month, Hacker relocated to the team's training base in Florida where she will work through the duration of the World Cup competition, June 19-July 10. She is meeting with the players, observing, listening and spending long hours preparing personalized audio and video tapes to help their mental preparation for each tournament game. She will emphasize positive self-talk, communication and mental imagery.
Hacker has met with as many as eight different players in a day when the squad is in training. In the team's recent contest against China, she had individual sessions with four of the women on game day. All of this was done with the express purpose of helping the United States to retain its status as the best in the world.
"There's a relationship and a role I have with the team that is unique," admits Hacker. "If I was the coach, I wouldn't have it." Another role she has, and one she relishes, is that of fan.
"I'm so amazed at who they are and what they do on the field with the ball," says Hacker. "I'm working with and watching what will be known in 100 years from now as the world's greatest soccer players. I love what I do."