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Catch Them Being Good: Soccer coach, professor and motivator Colleen Hacker offfers keys to success in new book

(From Winter 2002)


The Women's U.S. National Soccer team is credited with re-energizing women’s soccer and raising interest in the game.

And much of the credit for the success of the team goes to PLU's Colleen Hacker, who has served as the team’s sport psychology consultant since 1996. Hacker, assistant dean of the School of Physical Education, professor, the winningest women’s soccer coach in NAIA history and an internationally recognized authority of peak performance and team building, helped motivate and build confidence among teammates. She offers tips for others in a new book, "Catch Them Being Good," written with head coach Tony DiCicco and the assistance of writer Charles Salzberg.

Though the book is aimed at learning to successfully coach girls, Hacker – who coached the Lutes to five consecutive national championships and three titles and is now one of the assistant coaches of the national team – said it’s accessible and useful for anyone.

"These are really principles for success in life," she said. "They transcend sport, they transcend gender. They are techniques that can be used in coaching, in your family life, your personal relationships and in the workplace."

The book includes real-life stories of working with soccer greats including Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers, and Hacker offers several team-building exercises and peak performance principles she uses with the team and as a consultant to corporations.

Here is just one of them:

COLLEEN’S TEAM-BUILDING EXERCISES
Wrong-Way Wiffle Ball

Objective
To layer peak performance strategies into everything the players do, including training sessions and competitive games. As a sport psychology consultant, I provide outlines of principles and techniques to the players as a group and then follow up with the athletes individually.

I advise players about a three-part reframing process they can use after failing or making errors, which is termed the three Fs: Fudge, Fix and Focus.

1. Fudge: When there is an error, the player first reacts with, "Oh, that’s a bummer!" Or maybe she says the word "fudge." It never feels good to make an error, so the first thing the player needs to do is to acknowledge it emotionally.

2. Fix: Often, the first emotionally based reaction is an automatic response, usually anger, frustration, disappointment or fear. But a player can’t let herself get stuck in that emotional phase. The next step, which requires thought, practice and effort, is to progress forward to task-oriented thinking. The athlete learns to ask herself: What was the error? What should I have done? What can I do now? This is rational analysis.

3. Focus: There are only three points in time for an athlete: past, present and future. Wherever you focus, that’s where your energy goes. Does it do any good to focus in the past or in the future? No. The focus must be in the here and now. So the final step is the combination of a focus or cue word to bring the person back to the immediate performance. The focus should be on this play, this moment. It’s right-now thinking and awareness. That’s where maximum control is for athletes: Right now!

Here’s a concrete illustration you can use to show your group how this process works in reality. Perhaps a player missed a shot on what clearly should have been a goal-scoring opportunity. Of course that’s disappointing. Of course the player made an upsetting mistake and so her first reaction is to acknowledge it and take responsibility for it. So the fudge portion becomes, "Doggone it, I blew it." But very quickly the player has to analyze the reason for the error and attempt to fix it. In this case, she may say, "I have to keep my head down and knee over the ball longer. That will help keep my shot low and on the goal frame." Then, the final step is to focus on the present. Focus on this play, this moment and this particular game responsibility. Players can’t perform when their attention is focused on the past or the future. So the player now focuses on hustling back to the proper defensive position to try to win the goal kick being sent by the keeper.

Wrong-way Wiffle ball is an exercise that will have your team dealing with and learning from failure while also having a lot of fun.

Equipment
Wiffle bat, Wiffle ball, and four bases.

Number of Players
Two teams of 6 to 10 players.

Space
Large enough for a small-to medium-size softball field.

The Game
Most softball rules apply, although the game is played backward. In each inning, everyone on the team bats once. The other team is in the field. People pitch to their own team. You must bat on your nondominant side (that is, lefties bat righty and vice versa). Batters run the opposite way, to third instead of first, and continue around the bases in that direction. You can accumulate people on bases, that is, more than one player on a base at a time. A fly ball is an out. A ground ball must be touched by everyone on the fielding team before they try to get the opposing player out. In other words, if the ball is hit toward the third base, everyone on the team would run to that spot. The ball would then be fielded and touched by everyone on the team before the attempt to get the runner out. You may only throw the ball with your nondominant arm. Runners may keep going around the bases until they are stopped at one or are tagged out. You may round the bases as many times as you can. The team that scores the most runs wins the game. Adjust the number of innings played to the interest of your players and the time available.

Lesson
This game is fraught with failure: Runners forget to run or they run the wrong way. Fielders forget to touch the ball or they throw it to the wrong base with the wrong arm. But as the game goes on, players learn from their mistakes and they improve. The lesson? If you’re demoralized, you’re done. If you stick with it, failure can eventually breed success.


The book is available at major bookstores, the PLU Bookstore or through Luteworld at luteworld.plu.edu.

 

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© Scene 2004  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Summer 2004

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