Dr. Colleen Hacker joins the Beautiful Game to discuss sustained excellence, growth through adversity, leadership, and mental skills for peak performance. You’ve undoubtedly heard countless tips and tricks, read the lists of steps, or watched the documentaries revealing the secrets of greatness. Someone selling a pill for it would not surprise us. Alas, these are not the droids we’re looking for.
Excellence or greatness is simultaneously more complicated and more straightforward than we are often led to believe. The truth is greatness is all around us. It is accessible. For most of us greatness usually appears only in fleeting moments. But for the truly elite, excellence is sustained over long periods of time. Certainly, talent plays a role, but excellence can be learned, cultivated and honed. Through research, study and practice, we can learn the trade of greatness. Excellence is a craft.
Dr. Hacker is an internationally renowned scholar, practitioner, speaker, and consultant in performance psychology. As a coach on the US national teams in six Olympic games, whether in women’s soccer or ice hockey, her mental skills coaching gives teams the edge to win gold medals and World Cups. In addition, she works with international professional and Olympic athletes in a variety of sports from baseball to golf to tennis, swimming, and more. Dr. Hacker began her coaching career in field hockey and then led the Pacific Lutheran women’s soccer team to three national championship titles. She’s a Professor of Kinesiology at Pacific Lutheran, specializing in sport and performance psychology. She’s a hall of fame coach, earning innumerable national and international accolades during a career of sustained excellence.
Dr. Colleen Hacker
Tony Nicalo: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Beautiful Game, a show dedicated to helping us face change with confidence and improve a little each day. Beautiful game is produced by Weasels FC, a community of smart, tenacious, and sometimes underestimated people exploring resiliency in an uncertain world. I’m your host, Tony Nicalo. Join me as we learn to live, work, and play better.
I am here today with Dr. Colleen Hacker, who is an internationally renowned speaker, consultant, scholar, and practitioner in performance psychology. As a coach on the US national teams in six Olympic games, whether in women’s soccer or ice hockey, her mental skills coaching gives teams the edge to win gold medals and World Cups.
In addition, she works with international professional and Olympic athletes in a variety of sports from baseball to golf to tennis, swimming. The list goes on. Dr. Hacker began her coaching career in field hockey and then led the Pacific Lutheran women’s soccer team to five national championships, winning three of those. She’s a professor of kinesiology at Pacific Lutheran, specializing in sport and performance psychology. She’s a hall of fame coach. She has won innumerable national and international accolades, and I’m very pleased to be with Dr. Hacker today. Welcome.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:01:36] Thank you, Tony. I smile. That was a generous and kind introduction and I say this sincerely, if anybody’s having a bad day just have someone in their family introduce them as they walk in the living room or come down the stairs and the day is transformed.
Tony Nicalo: [00:01:52] Well, maybe not always someone in your family, but certainly someone that admires you. So the producer of our podcast is a community called Weasels FC. So we always start off by asking what you think of the animal, a weasel.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:02:08] Wow. I have had decades of interviews, and that is a question that has never been asked, so you stand alone in historic significance. What do I think of a weasel? I think of a clever animal, a crafty animal. I think of a creature who can find a way in crevices and cracks and dark and unusual places and find a way to whatever their prize is. That’s honestly what I think.
Tony Nicalo: [00:02:42] Part of the reason why I’m so excited to be with you today is that you have an open mindedness, a beginner’s mind, if you will, a curiosity about the world, and a real, generous positivity and you are one of the first people to not focus on the pejorative characteristics of a weasel.
I think as Julie Foudy says, listening to you is like going to church, and while I’m not particularly religious myself, I’m excited for the time that we have together. And I’m particularly privileged to speak with you because we’re certainly living in interesting times. People around the world are in various States of quarantine, isolation, and social distancing as we deal with a global pandemic. It is a bit like you described the World Cup or an Olympic games. It’s like every other time of life, but completely different. If people didn’t need to face change with confidence and adapt to uncertainty before, we certainly do now. And I’m very excited to be with you today to share some of your insights on how we can do just that and be more resilient.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:03:51] Well, there’s no question. I think that’s probably one of the most often quoted assessments for me, and I think it’s true in life. It’s certainly true. There’s zero doubt in my mind that that description, my characterization of World Cups and the Olympic games. I think conveys more than the simplicity of it conveys. They are exactly the same. I know in the United States, people of a certain age grew up watching the movie Hoosiers, and for the listeners that don’t know, first of all, I never want to see that movie again because it’s been used to death. But simply stated, Hoosiers is this, I’m putting in air quotes, motivational movie that the coaches just love sharing with their teams.
And one of the seminal moments of that movie is when the coach measures the distance from the free throw line to the basket and basketball and says, look, it’s the same for the state championship as it is back here in good old Hickory, and we’re all supposed to take comfort and motivation from that. Like, yeah, yeah, it is exactly the same distance. And this cavernous stadium is completely different. And what’s on the line is completely different. And how many people are watching and caring is completely different. And so my challenge to people, and one thing I’m very proud about , I’ve worked with so many different national team coaches and different compilations of teams. But people have a commonality is their recognition when I share the two sides to that equation. They’re exactly the same? True. And completely different? True. And you don’t have to be a math whiz to understand that if you only deal with one half of a math equation, you don’t come out with a true answer.
And so people, coaches, staff and athletes ability to recognize that it is completely the same and it is completely different. And to have strategies and techniques and a mindset in place for both realities. I think you’re going to be missing part of the equation, and I really appreciate you recognizing that that applies to a global pandemic that we’re facing right now. I don’t know that I’d say argue is too strong a word, but I would suggest that we’ve always faced this duality. It’s just Covid now has shown a light on it and we can’t ignore it anymore. And we are looking in the mirror metaphorically and literally more than we ever have before. And so the question is, are you planning for both sides of the equation?
Tony Nicalo: [00:06:40] Well, as someone who is certainly known for many catchphrases, I think that it’s a testament to you that many more of them are aphorisms than platitudes. And you knew the secret of a slight edge from a very early age. You’ve said that at five years old, you recognize that what was in your head or heart mattered in competition. How did you make the discovery?
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:07:05] Well, I’m smiling. You’ve done your homework and not always engenders respect for me. I just think it’s important as a professional, have you done your homework? Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, if I was given eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first six hours sharpening the ax. And I just commend you for sharpening the ax. You’ve done your work. And so, so many people want the outcome without the prelude, without the work that comes ahead of time. So I thank you.
Tony Nicalo: [00:07:37] We’ll talk about that and John Wooden’s words as well.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:07:40] Yeah, I thank you for that. But I did, and I do think, you know, I’m a social scientist by training but I think the research is clear that there is this nature nurture interplay. Some people are in fact born with different characteristics or strengths of qualities. They’re drawn to achievement domains or people. There’s no question that nature plays a role, but most research shows that maybe depending on the characteristic, anywhere from 40 to 60% is nurture. And so it’s a long answer to say, I think I was born curious. I think I was born seeking excellence. I was always, I don’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t drawn to the best at what they did. And for me at age five, I was a competitive swimmer for 10 years and diver and, you know, I’d look at and at that era, I don’t want to give away my age, but at that era, they were all male figures, right? The best that was available to me were male figures at this swim club, which was a top swim club in the state of Pennsylvania. And my family tells these stories, I would just go up to these guys like I’m five years old and go, can you show me that dive or how did you learn that dive? Just sort of shameless about asking people about how and why they are as good as they are, and what do I have to do to get me some of that? So it truly is, I’ve never known any other way. And so to not bore listeners, if we fast forward then to the next 40 years of my professional career.
That’s what I have spent a lifetime studying and researching and working with. In other words, that passion for excellence has never left me, never left me, and I wish, I truly wish, Tony, that more people would look to outstanding representatives of whatever role or discipline or performance domain in which they have interests. Who parents like you really want to parent, who teaches like you really want to teach, who coaches like you really want to coach, who plays the game the way that you really want to play the game ? Identify excellence and then backward chain, backward chain. There’s always a trail. There’s always a trail.
Tony Nicalo: [00:10:26] There’s a story you tell about Mia Hamm as it relates to leadership that I think is relevant here. The story of her celebrating her teammates attributes when asked what it’s like to be the greatest soccer player in the world. And I think that what you’re saying goes even a step farther, that role models are everywhere around us, that everyone has something to teach us. And that if we are truly seeking excellence, isn’t there an opportunity to find it everywhere?
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:10:55] Absolutely. And some of the people that I was referencing, I can see those divers in my mind. I can see those swimmers in my mind. But other than their family these are not famous people. To your point, we may not read about them in the history book, but they’re in our lives. Other people might not be aware of their excellence, but they’re in our lives. I’m paraphrasing a Zen proverb, but the teacher appears when the student is ready. When we’re open, when we’re open, these gifts are all around us and Tony, I don’t know if you shared it, and forgive me if it’s repetitive, but if you are going to tell that story, great. I’m happy to have you do that. I would love to share that story again about Mia because it is not hyperbole. It is not myth. It is not a juxtaposition of interviews. I was sitting there when that interview happened and it was extemporaneous. It was genuine, and it was so revelatory about her mindset and motivation. So I love that you lift that up and that that story endured for you .
Tony Nicalo: [00:12:08] And when I heard that story, it was clear to me that her behavior was not a perfunctory endorsement of her teammates or a way to brush off the question. So I’d be delighted for you to recount the story.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:12:21] Thank you. Thank you. And I hope I didn’t back you into that corner, but I think these stories need really need to be shared.
Tony Nicalo: [00:12:29] I’m comfortable using my permission to say no card.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:12:32] You’ve done your work, you’ve done your work. I still have my little red card, by the way. So,you know, for many, even though we’re all on the us national team, or even though you’re on an NBA championship team and on and on and on. We don’t have the same experience. And so what I think right now, I don’t know if this is good or bad, but to make it contemporary, so many people are drawn to the last dance right now, the documentary about Michael Jordan, the most watched ESPN documentary in history. Good timing, by the way.
Tony Nicalo: [00:13:06] And a much better story than the Tiger King. I’m glad we’ve moved on.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:13:12] Well there you go. Choose your binge watching carefully. It does have an impact. But what I’m trying to say is, you know, people love to be these famous athletes or people until you peer back the curtain and really see what life is like. And so the reason I wanted to share that is , I’ve been in the locker room many times where there’s many lockers in that locker room and there’s 40 reporters and cameras and lights all on Mia Hamm. So it’s a pressure and a responsibility that is not evenly shared. And so who those leaders are and how they carry themselves in the light with the microphone really does matter. And one of my great blessings in life is being around leaders of that magnitude and character – Carla Overbeck, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Joy Fawcett. Each one unique and distinct in their leadership style. However, back to the Mia story. So here we are sitting in a locker room surrounded by cameras and microphones, literally a sea, and I know because I’ve been on this journey, Mia has been asked the same question. Virtually every time she gives an interview, what’s it like to be the greatest player in the world, what’s it like to carry the team on your shoulders? And notice how I’m not even annunciating to sort of disparage the repetitive nature, the lack of of work and insight and a missed opportunity for people that had access to this amazing athlete and human being and would keep bringing out the same. At any rate, and this is in the height of the World Cup, the world is watching this human being and I can see her take a deep breath and I can see her really reflect like, this is not going to be some quick answer. I’ve been asked this you want to know, I’m going to tell you. It was almost like, okay, here it is. And she was very specific. You know, when I have the leadership of Julie Foudy or Carla Overbeck; when I have the fitness level of Kristine Lilly; when I have the warrior spirit of Michelle Akers, then come back and talk to me. And I could go further and further.
Like she said, when I have the heading ability of Tisha Venturini now, Tisha Hoch, she just went through the lineup. And what I loved is everything she said was true. They were paragons of particular characteristics. The phrase I use with athletes is be on the hunt. Like when you have these skills and characteristics, no one is great at everything.
And I think when people are falsely believing that they’re great at everything, or that they are the complete player, watch out, because that’s the beginning of the slide down the hill. But you have to know what your signature strength is, you have to know what your superpower is and then be on the hunt, be on the hunt for opportunities to bring it out. And it’s such a beautiful way to approach the beautiful game- be on the hunt on how I can bring my signature strength to the team, to this game, to these opponents, to the challenge. And so Mia was very accurate. First of all, it wasn’t a compliment, it was an accurate observation. And she really provided greater insight than I think those reporters were hearing as to what her super power was.
And that was recognizing the excellence around her, recognizing what she was capable of doing and how much growth was still in her. You know, I’m smiling cause I’ll own it, but I do have phrases for probably too much in life. But one is when you’re green, you’re growing, and when you’re ripe, you’re rotting using the comparison to fruit.
And Mia was always green and growing. There was always more development. There was always more evolution and I have also been around so many well known names, well known players. They’re smart enough not to say it, but their true assessment was yeah, I’m good. Yeah, I’m good. I don’t know if you saw my last game, but I was awesome. I’m the best this club’s got and they carry themselves that way. And so if you’re green and you’re growing and the great, not just people who play at a high level, that’s already a separator, but the greats within the highest levels I have found are always green and growing. They never feel like…
Tony Nicalo: [00:18:15] That’s how they sustain excellence.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:18:17] That’s it. Earlier in my career, Tony, earlier in my career, maybe the first 15 years or so, long time. I was devoted to studying excellence. What separates good from great? How do you become great? What are the salient characteristics? What are the critical developmental moments? What are the competitive experiences?
I loved it. I studied greatness. Later in my career I’m much more drawn to sustaining excellence. And I just gave me goosebumps by the way. That’s how much I love it. Like I’ve been doing this for years and years and years. I’m telling you when you can sustain excellence, I want to watch you. I want to talk to you. I want to listen to you. I want to learn from you.
Tony Nicalo: [00:19:10] So did you grow up in Pennsylvania or did you just move there to go to Lockhaven?
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:19:15] Yeah, no, I did. I’m a country girl. I grew up in a small, what people tell me , I haven’t been back, is a small farming community. Lititz Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half from Philadelphia if that helps place people geographically.
Tony Nicalo: [00:19:30] I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:19:32] Well, there you go. My family, my maternal family were all coal miners in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, so I have a whole clan from Western Pennsylvania. But Lancaster County is Amish country, and so we were the only non Amish family. We’re surrounded by Amish farms. Part of why I’m choosing to answer your question for a longer period of time, not to help people win the Colleen Hacker trivia contest, but there’s another example in watching. Excellent. I don’t even have to close my eyes. You can see behind me a handmade Amish Hutch, handmade, no particle board. Each nail crafted, done by hand. You see behind me, like right there, a perfectly crafted Amish, a kind of cut paper art. So I grew up around quilt making. I grew up around barn raisings.
I grew up and all of that came with labor and investment. I’m going to say that again, labor and investment, so being good at something from the earliest age was tied in my world to hard work, to generational modeling. That children learn from their parents, parents and grandparents. So I watched excellence, not in sport, but in life, from the earliest age.
Tony Nicalo: [00:21:10] I’m beaming because I knew you went to Lockhaven and also now that you’re at Pacific Lutheran university. My grandfather who fought in world war II to help build the Lutheran church in our community in Erie, Pennsylvania. He had a garden that was over an acre. He was the first in his family to not work as a farmer. And when he left his job where he was a supervisor at a tool and die shop, they had to hire three people to replace him. And so what you’re saying completely resonates with me.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:21:43] And it shows, I don’t know if this is going to be video or audio, but I’ll just say for listeners. I listen not just to what people say, but how, and you felt it, you knew it. You don’t just hear. It came in. And so the authenticity, the genuineness showed, not just in your words, but in all of those non-verbals that indicates so much. You get it. You come from that stock. I don’t know how else to say it. You come from that.
Tony Nicalo: [00:22:17] So we only have an hour together. I could certainly talk to you all day. I feel Julie Foudy’s pain at this point. You decided to go to university at Lockhaven. And you played field hockey and basketball there. And from there you moved across the country to Arizona to be able to do your masters and study with Jean Williams, who literally wrote the book on applied sports psychology. As you’ve said many times, you are someone who is drawn to excellence. So what I want you to help people with is how do you find mentors like Jean or your coaches at Lockhaven, Sharon Taylor and Carol Eckman? How do you build and sustain relationships with them and how do you learn from them?
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:22:59] What a powerful question and I love you using those folks names. Like we need to reclaim history. I have to start with Lockhaven because it’s emblematic of exactly what we’re talking about. I was devoted to field hockey. I was devoted to basketball. This is so common and it just repeat when it comes to graduate education. So I asked top basketball people . And Pennsylvania was a hotbed at that point. Kathy Rush at Immaculata, multiple national championships, so luckily I lived in a state that was a national hotbed.
So I don’t want to get into the particulars, but I want to explain the process. So I’m asking people who’s the best in basketball in the United States right now? And I didn’t say within an hour’s drive or where I could get money, or, how big is the university, or who’s showing interest in me? I ask people who’s the best at their craft. I really don’t think people know the half of it and I want to share this story. You talk about I didn’t have a chance to be normal because of who I was exposed to. I chose Lockhaven because of who was there. I wanted to play for what was regarded as the best in the United States at their craft.
Well, this is not opinion when I share these two facts understand it. One university in one career, I played for the coach who is credited for establishing the first inter-collegiate women’s national basketball tournament in the United States of America. First ever. So all of these people every time I hear about March madness, I’m like, yeah, and where did that start? Oh yeah. And remind me again who started that? Carol Eckman. So I played with a historic icon that changed literally millions of lives from that moment on. Tara VanDerveer, the famed coach at Stanford, not last year, but the year before, won the Carol Eckman award for integrity. So my college coach is that relevant today.
Okay. Wait, there’s more. My intercollegiate field hockey coach, which you named Sharon Taylor? You cannot make this up, Tony, is credited with being a member of the committee that can you finish the sentence and I played in, it began the first intercollegiate national championship in field hockey. So I played for historic figures who had visions, and were change agents for making possible what millions of people get to participate in now.
And it pains me to say, and they don’t know why, and they don’t know from whom. They just are happy to take the presents and run. One of the things that Sharon drill into us, she’s a voracious reader, voracious reader, and her historical knowledge would rival historians. But Sharon always said to us, it’s your responsibility to find out who paddled the canoe before you got in. And that’s her way of saying, learn the sport, learn the history, know the game, know their names. What did they do? I challenge current generations to be able to do that. I really do challenge them to be able to do that.
Okay, so you know where I’m going, right? Who’s the top sports psychology people and there’s more than one, but who are the top sports psychology people in the United States? When I went to do my master’s degree. Two, three, four names, bubble to the top. I’d never been in the state of Arizona before. Right. I’m trying to make the point that there aren’t these familial connections. It’s not easy. It’s truly based on doing the work, doing the research to find out who’s the best, and then saying, what do I have to do to study under them? What do I have to do to learn from them? And those people are in me every day of my professional life.
Tony Nicalo: [00:27:28] I would say that it’s the same as you describe your top athletes that sustain excellence. It’s not enough to just know what to do. To be great, you actually have to do it. And so for you, you knew what to do, but then you went and it.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:27:47] Yeah, you have to do it. I’ll bring that section to a close, because all of my students for 40 years, know this in my office. This has been the case of every single day in any office I’ve ever occupied. I have photos about head height of people that have been powerful influences in my life. Dr. Williams is there. Sharon Taylor is there. Dr. Miller is there also at University of Arizona and Coach John Wooden is there. Those people watch me. And all my students hear that story because they have directly and personally influenced my life. And so their photos sit there to watch me. I have them there not to remind me. I don’t need photos. Their photos are there to watch me so that I always conduct myself worthy of their investment in me. I’m on the phone, am I conducting myself in a manner and a standard that would make those people proud? I’m writing an email, am I writing an email to a standard that would make those people proud?
I am watched and I’m watched for decades, and I hope I’m watched till my final breath to be worthy of their investment in me. And I’m very, as you can hear, I’m very explicit about that and I’m very forthcoming about that and I wish I heard that story more. That should be the norm rather than the exception.
Tony Nicalo: [00:29:29] So after you completed your PhD at the University of Oregon and you began teaching and coaching at Pacific Lutheran, and you’ve had this experience and exposure to great. You were the head coach of field hockey, and then as I understand it, the program was folding and despite no experience playing competitive soccer, you founded the women’s program, coached it for 15 years, won three national championships. And as a coach of players and someone who approaches life with a beginner’s mind and genuine curiosity and extraordinary humility,even for someone as brilliant as you, there must’ve been some challenges along the way.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:30:11] I don’t know if it’s an ascension or decline. It was an unending series of challenges, but look at what it does to me, it’s like that’s what makes it interesting. I look back on that with fondness and pride and humor. Yeah. Lockhaven didn’t start the first women’s soccer program till 1994. Well, let me just say it this way. I graduated in an era, two numbers before that first number. I’ll let you figure out the math. So yeah, no competitive soccer. In the East coast everything for girls was field hockey, field hockey, cross field hockey, lacrosse, field hockey. There was no soccer. So when you say no, soccer, put that in all caps and underline.
But I have said for my entire life, Tony, and I believe this in every fiber of my being and the greats, whether they use this language or not, I have found them adopt this mindset and mentality. And I lift up Tony DiCicco as an exemplar. But you coach players, who play a sport. You’re coaching human beings. You’re motivating human beings. You’re engaged in behavior change with human beings. You’re challenging human beings to develop their skillset. On and on and on. Human beings first who play the great game of soccer, and I never lost sight of that. I have shouted from the mountaintops when I coached and now and in whatever role I’m in now, I’m never quite sure what my role is now, but I just think we need to remind ourselves that players can be athletes and players can play the great game of soccer or anything without coaches. End of story. I can go play football, I can go play soccer, I can be a soccer player without a coach, but no one can coach without players. So if you want to know the chain of command and the hierarchy, just remind yourself of that. So I don’t want to in any way, just like I talked about the leadership styles, very distinct, very unique with Lill, with Jules, with Carla, with Mia, with Joy, Brandi, et cetera. Very distinct. There’s nothing cookie cutter. So anybody that tells you, here’s the 12 Cs of leadership and here’s the four Ds of, you know, I just chuckle. When people tell you how to be a leader, as though it’s prescriptive, like have you been out in the world at all and you want to come with me, you know, outside at all? It is not prescriptive and 25 years of Gallup research tells you that is not prescriptive.
At any rate, I digress. The mentors that I had were not cookie cutters. The coaching of Sharon Taylor, very different from the characteristics and qualities. I think as a result of that, even early age, I’m what’s called an eclectic scholar. I am an eclectic coach. I am an eclectic reader. If you don’t want to get out your, thesaurus or dictionary, eclectic simply means, taken from various sources. That I try to look for exemplars of what I’m trying to bring about. Exemplars of change, exemplars of tactics, exemplars of physiology, exemplars of mental toughness, exemplars of motivation. And as you so wisely said earlier, they’re all around us. They’re all around us.
Tony Nicalo: [00:34:09] So there is no shortage of material on the undoubtedly great impact that you’ve had, particularly on the US women’s soccer team. And I encourage. Anyone who wants to know more about that to read. We’ll have some resources below the podcast. Read your book that you wrote with Tony DiCicco. Read the countless stories and interviews that you’ve done about that and the interviews that the players that you coached continue to give to this day to talk about the impact that you had on them and helping them win the first Olympic gold medal in women’s soccer.
But I want to skip that part for our purposes today because there are still some people haranguing on about whether we should call it football or soccer, and you’re leading across sports and sectors with clients in soccer, American football, golf, ice hockey, swimming, baseball, business. But you are not an alchemist conjuring some unknowable magic. Like strength training of muscles, mental skills can be developed and strengthened, can’t they?
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:35:21] Absolutely, and thank you for, for making that clear. One of my mentors that I’ve mentioned before, Dr. Donna May Miller had a wonderful quote, and she used to say to us all the time, as graduate students, opinions are not like votes each to be counted equally. I feel like I’m living in a world where people’s evidence is well, so and so said and so and so said, and I talked to these four guys the other day and they all agreed with me. Opinions are not like votes each to be counted equally. I’ll use my state as an example. the capital of the state of Washington is Olympia. It doesn’t matter if 60 people say that it’s Bellingham that doesn’t change the facts, and so I just really struggled and back to hard work. There is clarity of opinion in sports science.
There is clarity of evidence and research. This isn’t the wild west. We’re not living in a she said, she said, he said, he said. we should be basing the work that we’re doing on evidence based, replicable science as opposed to anecdotal information and anecdotal. Just meet like I have a life experience. It’s true for me, but it’s anecdotal. It’s one sample. Research looks at aggregation of large numbers so that viable conclusions can be put forth. So we want theoretically driven evidence-based research. And when you’re prepared to speak to me and have a conversation with others, with the facts and with the knowledge, then we can debate implementation or style.
Most of life is both art and science. But the science world is fairly consistent. Despite what people would have you think that it’s opinion based. And I would just say on a whole host of issues, you know, we’re living in a pandemic right now. The medical community is not fractured. The medical community doesn’t have 50 different ideas. There is clarity, there is consistency, and that’s the beauty of science. That’s the beauty of basing what we’re doing on a theoretical foundation, and I’m going to go a step further, especially in my field. It also requires specific training and expertise. We’re all not medical doctors.
Tony Nicalo: [00:38:09] Well, you’ve always been a scholar and practitioner, and have always talked about how important it is to do both of those things. And you’ve mentioned John Wooden, and one of the implications of, of what you’re saying is that, we now live in a world where people want to learn the tricks of the trade without learning the trade. And you know, the tips and tricks, of course, are just the last step. And one analogy that you’ve used is about the weather.
And so I want to talk about just one possibility of where to start, which is essentially changing your outlook so you can begin to do the research and the work and to learn the trade of better mental performance. You wake up, you don’t hope that the weather is sunny. That’s not a strategy. Hope is not a strategy. You don’t just hope you have a good day. You have to do it, live it.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:39:05] You have to make it a good day.
Tony Nicalo: [00:39:06] And so something that you’ve said is how do you bring a hundred percent of your 80% game on days where things aren’t going well? How do you still perform your best? How do you be where your feet are? How do you seek excellence? Not the tips and tricks, but how do you begin to cultivate a life, a career, a profession, an individual game that allows you to bring those qualities to bear?
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:39:37] Again, I just, my heart is so grateful and so aware of the work and the time and the investment that you provided just to formulate that question, and I hope listeners recognize where there totality of what you just said came from because I am and I’m aware and I’m grateful, so thank you for that.
It’s as simple as do now well. Do now, well. I’m sorry in some ways, if this has been reduced to a bumper sticker, it’s not meant to be, but there’s three points in time, and I’m not the 500th person to mention this. There’s the past over which we have very little control, but many of us live in it as though it were an Olympic sport. And then there’s the future, which is a wish, hope, and a dream. But I have only marginal control over it and then there’s right now. Do now, well. I’m going to switch gears a little bit just to make this point. One of the top reasons I’m a marathoner and a half marathon. That’s what I do for fun.
The number one reason, in fact, 70% of Americans, the number one reason they use for not being physically active to the extent that they should, is that they don’t have time. 70% and I want to say, okay, okay. I have 60 seconds in my minutes. I have 60 minutes in my hours. I have 24 hours in my days. I’m assuming if you live in a time-based culture, and I’m not trying to be flip, not all cultures are time-based.
Some cultures are event-based, but I’m assuming if you live in a time based culture, you have those same 60, 60, and 24 so it’s how you’re using them. It’s how you’re using them. I love New Yorker cartoons, and I actually do read the New Yorker, not just look at the cartoons.
Little little New Yorker joke there. That’s the extent of my humor. But there’s a really famous new Yorker cartoon of two women sitting in a hot tub , and the phrase at the bottom says, you know what, I really should write a book. And you’re sitting in a hot tub, like we should all write a book, but you’re not going to do that sitting in a hot tub.
So most people’s wishes, hopes and dreams and exceed their commitment and desire to put forth the requisite effort that those wishes, hopes and dreams require. Do now, well. And so , I joke on this one run that I go on, I pass a zillion houses. And I think to myself, all these poor people living in those houses, because I know there’s conversations like, well, I’d fix the steps, but I just don’t have time.
Well, I’ll get that painting done. But now all of a sudden, whoever’s putting off, their to do list is sort of run out of the number one excuse for not getting it done. I don’t make light of it. I’m tired too. I’m busy too. I’m on the road a lot too. I’m trying to balance my home life with my work life. I’m in no way being dismissive of that. But at the end of the day, you got 60 seconds, 60 minutes and 24 hours. So we find time. Here’s what I will tell you, and I believe this about money as well. These are opinions, not facts, and I try to be clear about that, but I’m of the opinion that we find money for what we value.
So when a university says we don’t have money for X, what they’re saying is we don’t value X as much as we do Y. And we find time for what we value. When we look at how much time we spend watching television, that’s a lot of time. What if that time was used to impact career development, skillset, development, relationship development?
The time is there. We’ve joked about this, but Brandi Chastain, there’s times that you wanted to be in her room and times that you didn’t want to be in her room. When we’d be watching TV with the national team, and we’re in Brandi’s room, every commercial, we had to do pushups and sit ups during the commercials.
So it’s that. What if everybody got out and ran, you know, or walk fast or, yeah, or just bicep curled soup cans. Anyway, I know I’ve taken a couple turns, but I’ll come back to your question is I think many people are more invested in finding an excuse than finding a way. I am much more motivated to find a way. What’s the solution?
And you go back to not having soccer experience. Let’s start a soccer program. I just felt like soccer was going to be the next big thing. It’s similar to field hockey. It’s outdoors. I want to coach. How’s that for non-scientific? Right? I’ve got all these field hockey players that are incredible athletes. Let’s turn them into footballers. What’s the first thing I did? The very first thing I did, well, I would say time. We had a men’s soccer team. At that point. I went to the men’s soccer coach. His name’s Arno’s Zoske. Arno, I am going to coach soccer. And we would go out to the field and he’d teach me and I’d drill and he’d teach me, and I’d drill, and he’d teach me and I’d drill. I had to learn the craft. Who do I need to study? Who do I need to study? Who do I need to study? So at that point, this is , 1980 there’s a few icons, very few icons. Anson Dorrance was one of those icons, dear friend, I just emailed him today. So these people are in my life for decades, for decades. It’s an investment into relationships. Sharon Taylor is in my life today. Dr. Williams is in my life today. Sorry, regrettably, Carol Eckman’s passed away from complications of breast cancer. You know John Wooden’s passing. But these people were in my life from the moment I met them till now. So that investment.
At any rate, who are the icons? So you will see much of PLU women’s soccer – what was Anson preaching in the early eighties? Measure it. Hold people accountable. What did we do at PLU? Soccer? Uh, I don’t know. Measure it. Hold people accountable, and then give credit where credit is due. I’m amazed at how often I’m in the world where in academia it’s called attribution. Like that you have to attribute your sources. If you don’t, it’s called plagiarism, right?
Tony Nicalo: [00:46:36] Yes.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:46:36] And I’m amazed at how many phrases and I’m like, where did I hear that? Just because you say it doesn’t, doesn’t mean that you created it. Anson’s wonderful about that as a matter of fact. He will tell you what he’s learned from the Germans, what he’s learned from the Dutch, what he’s learned from the Japanese, what book he’s read. Give credit where credit is due. It doesn’t make you look smaller. It makes you look larger. It shows that you have read broadly. It shows that you have studied, it shows that you do know the masters who have come before you. To go back to my earlier phrase, it shows that you are aware of who paddled the canoe before you got in.
Those are my two. The first thing you should hear is I did something. I didn’t just think about it. I acted on it, so I knew I had to learn the techniques and the tactics and I went to who I had access to on a daily basis. And then I got my head up a little bit and say, who are the national leaders that resonate, to me? And I identified those people and then I studied them. And then, and then, the art becomes trying to make that your own.
Tony Nicalo: [00:47:56] So I want to be considerate of your time and all you’ve already shared today. So this is going to be a slightly longer question because I’m going to summarize a couple of things. You were on Julie Foudy’s excellent podcast, Laughter Permitted recently and the story that she tells of her being nervous and having butterflies and you talking to her about those being a privilege. That they’re not going to go away, they’re good. We certainly don’t have time to talk about event criticality today, but if you’re interested, I’ll have some resources below. And they’re good. When you’re doing something important, the butterflies will be there. You just need to teach them to fly in formation. One way that I teach them to fly in formation is I’ve worked with a speaking coach called Gail Larsen, and as a result, before I go on stage, I will picture my family’s love for me as a warm light shining down on my head, and it just calms me, fills me with joy and gratitude, and I’m able to take a deep breath and go on stage. And I think that as you’ve described, pressure is a privilege. And we’re all going to make mistakes in life, and I think it’s important for people to look at your work and understand some techniques.
Box breathing, around finding focus, mistake rituals, because we will make errors. Some of those can be done with imagery. We’ll add some more resources around mistake rituals. But where I want to end with you, is because it’s not just enough to listen to a podcast or find a coach or mentor. As you’ve so eloquently described today, you have to do the work.
We have to be active participants if we want to improve our mental skills, our resilience in the world. So let’s end with Confucius. I hear, and I forget, I see and I do not remember. I do, and I understand. We’re going to becoming out of isolation in various forms soon. It’s graduation season. You’ve had a career in a field that didn’t exist when you graduated as an undergrad, in your opinion and opinion is fine here.
What are the first actionable steps a person might take on a journey to understanding? On a journey, if you will, to becoming unaware and skilled?
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:50:20] What a powerful question. And it’s one that I hope every single listener is asking themselves. And I’ll start with a statement and then I’ll finish with a simple question.
As a result of these last two, three months, everyone should be different than they were January 1st. They should be different. And so my answer to you is step one is can you clearly identify growth through adversity? The number one way that I want to be different whenever we go back or begin to go back to whatever the new normal is.
I ought to have grown in tangible, known and specific ways because of the adversity. And while I didn’t wish for the adversity . It’s not a blessing. I really struggle with it- well, this has just been a great… no, it’s terrible, it’s awful. But I am different because of it. And if I am stronger or more resilient, or if I’ve had opportunities to implement grit more frequently, then I did before, then I come out of it on the other side, a stronger, more aware, and more empowered version of myself. And that I would maintain is available to each and every one of us. We might not have wanted it. We might not have wished for it. It wasn’t needed, but it was. And so growth through adversity is a powerful springboard to the next steps.
Tony Nicalo: [00:52:08] I knew in advance that it was going to be a pleasure to speak to you. I told my wife as I was preparing that I feel like this is a conversation where I could say hello, Dr. Hacker, and it would be one of the best episodes. And it’s been a pleasure, as you say, doing the work and getting to know you. And I wish we had more time and I hope to meet you in person in the future. And I thank you so much for the privilege of getting to learn about you and you sharing some of your story with us today.
Dr. Colleen Hacker: [00:52:42] Tony, thank you. Sincere gratitude to you for all that you do for so many. Your decision to reach out, to secure experts, to make it available to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access these folks. It truly is a gift. And I’m grateful and aware of that which you provide to so many.
Tony Nicalo: [00:53:09] Thank you, Colleen. Have a good day.
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Positive Coaching Alliance with Brandi Chastain https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjNpj–BR60&feature=emb_logo
Oympian’s Mindset https://www.positivecoach.org/the-pca-blog/adopting-an-olympians-mindset
3 Myths of Sports Pscychology https://www.active.com/health/articles/3-myths-of-sports-psychology?page=2
With Mia Hamm https://www.olympicchannel.com/en/original-series/detail/gold-medal-entourage/gold-medal-entourage-season-season-1/episodes/the-mastermind-behind-a-historic-win-usa-soccer-s-mia-hamm-ft-dr-hacker/
Mental toughness and mistake rituals https://www.espn.com/espnw/culture/sports-business-leadership/summit/2018-summit/story/_/id/24863277/5-secrets-mentally-tough-athletes
United Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame https://www.plu.edu/resolute/winter-2019/colleen-hacker/
The Quest for Gold http://www.zoneofexcellence.ca/Journal/Issue04/The_Quest_for_Gold.pdf
High Performance Podcast (good discussion of event criticality) https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/172-sustained-excellence-on-fire-colleen-m-hacker-ph/id1034819901?i=1000408523526
Terry Orlick Wheel of Excellence http://www.zoneofexcellence.ca/free/wheel.html
Einstein’s Wisdom and Chinese Proverb https://appliedsportpsych.org/site/assets/newsletter/pdf/AASP2013SpringNewsletter.pdf
Teambuilding session https://unitedsoccercoaches.org/rl_item/2015-convention-teambuilding-session/
Discussion with Brandi Chastain https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjNpj–BR60