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Professor coaching at Olympics again

July 14, 2008

Professor coaching at Olympics again

For Colleen Hacker, being on the coaching staff of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Field Hockey Team brings her professional and athletic careers full circle. It also marks the fourth time the PLU professor of movement studies and wellness has been on the coaching staff of a U.S. Olympic Team.“It really is quite exciting,” Hacker said. “One Olympic experience is rare, but this upcoming games is historic on many levels.”

Field hockey is really where her athletic and coaching careers began, Hacker explained, not in soccer as most assume. True, she’s served as the sport psychology consultant for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team since 1995. And true, under her tenure the team won two gold medals and a silver in the past three Summer Olympics.

But it was in field hockey that Hacker competed at the national level 10 times. It was where her PLU coach career began, and where during her second year as head coach, the women’s team qualified for the national tournament for the first time ever. This August in Beijing, she’ll serve the field hockey team as a sport psychology consultant and mental skills coach.

“This has that extra-special emotional component to it,” she said. “I really feel it on a personal level.”

Hacker is an internationally recognized authority on the psychology of peak performance. At the Olympic level, there aren’t significant differences in the physical abilities of the athletes, she said. The difference is in an athlete’s ability to manage the mental challenges.

“We try to help athletes reach their individual and collective potential as athletes and teams,” she said. “We try to increase their highest level of performance, then how to sustain that level of performance over time and to bring the best when the best is needed.”

In addition to working with athletes, this year Hacker has been charged with facilitating the Olympic friends and family program for the United States. In Beijing, she’ll provide friends and family with guidelines about how to best support their Olympian.

Hacker stressed she is part of an amazing team of coaches that includes strength and conditioning experts, video and technology gurus, medical staff and her fellow sport psychology consultants.

“Who you get to work with as athletes and who you get to work with on staff is the greatest part of the Olympic experience,” she said.

It’s an experience she brings back to the classroom at PLU, heading up the university’s sports psychology minor.

“Our students get to benefit from course work that includes theory and application from the world’s largest and most prestigious stage,” she said. “I think students respond to that and appreciate it.”

Hacker has worked with professional, international and Olympic athletes in a variety of sports, including Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the Women’s National Basketball Association. She has also served as the sport psychology consultant for the under 16, under 19 and under 21 United States Youth National Soccer Teams.

Learn more about Hacker here.