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Mental skills coach remembers Olympics

September 1, 2008

Mental skills coach remembers Olympics

For the last month, PLU Professor of Movement Studies and Wellness Education Colleen Hacker has worked as the mental skills coach for the U.S. women’s field hockey team at the 2008 Summer Olympics, as well as working with individual players on the now-gold medal winning U.S. women’s soccer team. The event has been beyond description, Hacker said in an e-mail interview from Beijing this week. But she gave a go at it anyway, in an electronic chat that took place over several days and a 15-hour time difference, as teams won or lost games. Last week, there was the U.S. women’s field hockey loss to Spain, 2-3, in sudden death over time, which Hacker described as heartbreaking.

On a happier note, Hacker also watched as the U.S. women’s soccer team scored a 1-0 win against Brazil, again in overtime, taking the gold medal.

Even though this is her fourth Olympics, Hacker said the event never fails to amaze. Here are some of her comments.

Did you attend the opening ceremonies? What was that like? Did you march in with the athletes?

Yes, I was at the opening ceremonies in the sections with the United States Olympic Committee. Basically, here, think dead middle and half-way up. They were phenomenal seats! The event was beyond description. The precision, the variety, the color and choreography, the spectacular nature of everything.

I have marched in the opening ceremonies of other games…Sydney as well as the closing ceremonies at Atlanta. But for theses games they had fewer slots available and the USOC had a lottery of seven slots for a ton of staff.

Have you done any sightseeing? Or have you had time?

I’ve tried to get to some of the sights around here. Both the notable ones and, just being in the city, walking around and seeing more than just Olympic Green. The Great Wall is truly memorable. As was the Forbidden City, the Bell and Drum Tower, the Summer Palace, the Night Market, and the Silk Market. One of my favorites was spending time in a specialty tea shop, tasting, learning about teas, how to prepare them, and the types. The owner was a remarkable woman.

What has been the reaction to you, when they find out where you are from, that you are an American?

The people are so eager to help. They are very earnest. They will stop and try to help and will personally, sometimes physically, take you to where you need to go, rather than just point. The taxi drivers often try out their English. Many people will just want to stop and practice their English with us. They teach us words and ask us words. Honestly, I cannot imagine a more helpful response from a host country.

As a mental skills coach, what sort of things do you help the athletes with before they take to the field?

My role centers on teaching skills of psychological skills for performance enhancement. This includes relaxation techniques, imagery, concentration and distraction control strategies, goal setting, team building, positive self-talk. I do not work in a vacuum, but rather complement the philosophical and programmatic goals of the coaches. My approach has been eclectic from the start. It represents a combination of knowledge and experiences gained from three primary sources: my own competitive background as an athlete, my tenure as an intercollegiate coach, and finally my education and training in sports psychology.

Aside from field hockey, are you working with any other teams?

The previous three Olympic Games have been with soccer (gold, silver, gold) and for the last year and a half, I’ve been basically full-time with field hockey, although I went to Portugal with the Olympic soccer team in March and I work with several players, still, on a one-to-one basis. Both teams are now in Beijing, so it’s been very nice for me to have them all here. This is the first time, since Korea, more than 20 years ago, that the field hockey team as qualified for the games.

Okay, final question. What is the food like?

I go back and forth between the Olympic Village and the High Performance Center. The food is excellent. In the village, they basically have food from every nation. It is HUGE cafeteria style. So one meal, we will eat next to Michael Phelps, and the other day, Roger Federer (tennis) will walk in. The entire world passes through, and the food is diverse, fresh and quite good.