The Legends Campaign, a partnership between Reign FC and Avanade, honors women for their extraordinary contributions in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Prior to the September 7 match against the Orlando Pride, Reign FC will recognize Dr. Colleen Hacker, Ph.D. as a Reign FC Legend.
A sports psychologist and former collegiate soccer and field hockey coach, Hacker began working with the U.S. Women’s National Team in 1995 and has gone on to be a part of 10 world championships with the USWNT, USA Ice Hockey and the Olympic Field Hockey team. Hacker also serves as a mental skills coach to athletes in the NWSL, MLS, NFL, MLB, PGA, LPGA, USA Swimming, crew, track and field, speed skating and tennis.
Hacker says that her early mentors inspired her to pursue excellence. While a student at Lock Haven University, Hacker played field hockey under Sharon Taylor, who helped organize the first national field hockey championship and in 2018 was honored by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association with its first ever Lifetime Achievement Award. In basketball, she played for Carol Eckman, who helped organize the first women’s collegiate basketball championship. She pursued her graduate degree at the University of Arizona, studying sports psychology under professor Jean Williams.
Hacker feels that it is important to recognize the mentors that helped shape her future.
“Sharon used to say to us when I was an intercollegiate athlete and I say it to this day: ‘You need to know who paddled the canoe before you got in,’” Hacker said. “She made sure that we knew whose shoulders we were standing on and 40 years later I’m here doing the same thing. I’ve had an advantaged because of the women who had invested in me. I have been inspired because of the achievements and the accolades of the women who have come before me.”
“People should know Carol Eckman. People should know Sharon Taylor. People should know Jean Williams. There are millions of girls and women benefitting from their blood sweat and tears and their vision some 40-45 years ago.”
When Hacker came to Pacific Lutheran University, she took over as the head coach of the field hockey program. After guiding it to its first winning season in 13 years and qualifying for the national championship tournament in her second season, PLU dropped the program.
Since Lock Haven University did not have a soccer team when she attended, Hacker had no experience playing competitive soccer. Still, she helped found the women’s program at PLU and served as its head coach from 1980-95.
Citing similarity in the tactics and physical requirements of each game at the time, Hacker found immediate success with the Lutes, leading the program to five straight NAIA national championship games between 1988-92, and becoming the first school in NAIA history to win three national titles in women’s soccer.
Hacker was the first woman inducted into the United Soccer Coaches National Hall of Fame and was also the first woman to receive the Association for Applied Sports Psychology’s Distinguished Professional Practice Award. She has received the American Psychological Association’s Presidential Citation, the National Girls and Women in Sports’ Pathfinder Award, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education’s Inspiration Award and the Presidential Medal from PLU. She has been inducted into the PLU Hall of Fame, the Pierce County Hall of Fame, the NAIA National Soccer Hall of Fame, and the Lock Haven University Hall of Fame.
How have you seen the women’s soccer landscape change since you founded the program at Pacific Lutheran University?
How do I feel about the explosion and the notoriety and the quality and the number – the breadth and depth of programs in the United States? Well, for years I said that I feel like a proud mother. Now I feel like a proud grandma. It’s been that many generations. I am just so thrilled that so many girls and women get to enjoy the tremendous benefits that result from practice and competition in our sport. I could not be more thrilled, more proud or more delighted to see these changes. When Title IX was passed, I think there were only 700 high school players in the United States and that figure has exploded nearly 400 percent since the passage of Title IX. I think people know that it’s better, but I don’t know if people fully appreciate how the sport has exploded at all levels.
What attracted you to work in sports psychology?
When I finished my undergraduate degree, the career that I’ve spent the last 30 years doing didn’t exist. I didn’t know about it. There are probably hundreds of degree offerings. Why sport and psychology? Because I knew from the time that I was five years old—I didn’t have language for it, I didn’t have knowledge about it—but I knew that what was in your head and what was in your heart as an athlete was the difference between good, great and excellent. As an athlete, I was never the tallest, biggest, strongest or fastest, but I competed at the highest level. I knew that had to do with my work rate, my mental toughness. I didn’t know it was called imagery but I would picture what I wanted to accomplish. I was living it. When I was finishing undergrad, I knew then that there was an academic field in sports psychology. I asked my mentors, ‘where is the best sports psychology in the United States?’ They said the University of Arizona. That was all I needed to hear. I applied to study under Dr. Jean Williams, the preeminent sports psychologist in the world. I was so fortunate to be mentored by her throughout my career. I have been so privileged to be mentored by genuine historically significant individuals.
What lessons do you think young girls can learn from sports that can serve them in the business world?
The benefit of quality athletic participation under the guidance of qualified, competent coaches at all levels are extended and experienced by all the participants. I’m a social scientist by nature. Ernst & Young commissioned research looking at the female CEOs in Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies all over the world in 87 countries. Female executives in the C suites: CEO, CFO, CIO. 92 percent of female CEOs in 87 countries played a sport at some time in their lives or identified as athletic. Some of them didn’t play sport, but that was because they didn’t have the opportunity. Furthermore, over 50 percent of those women played intercollegiate sport. Those are the facts, it’s not my opinion. Sport is a perfect training ground for achievement in any domain. It’s a perfect training ground for business. It’s the perfect training ground for parenthood. It’s the perfect training ground for high achievement in any field because you learn essential qualities like time management, leadership, goal-setting, bouncing back from failures, self-confidence. I could go on and on. Those are the things we need to be successful in adulthood, regardless of our career.
What does being recognized as a Reign FC legend mean to you?
I’m a pre-Title IX student athlete. I had one tenth of the competitive opportunities that girls and women have now. I got the email from (Reign FC owner Bill Predmore) saying that we’d like to recognize you as a Reign FC Legend. Women’s professional soccer? Not only in the United States, but in my state? Not only in my state, but in my city? My heart is so grateful and so aware and I feel so utterly blessed to have lived through all of this. I can go backward up the chain as well. I served on the U.S. Women’s National Team coaching staff for 12 years. Our team, after winning the World Cup in 1999, those players started the first women’s professional soccer league. You see these common threads. The threads extend backwards and forwards. There are no words adequate to express my gratitude and awareness for being honored by Reign FC. This is my life. It’s overwhelming gratitude for all the people and the pieces who led to that moment.
What advice or experience from your career can you share with young women have a dream they want to pursue?
There isn’t just one answer. One thing is to actively seek out good mentors. Heather O’Reilly was just hired by (University of North Carolina head coach Anson Dorrance) to be his assistant coach. There’s an example. She’s a World Cup champion, she’s a multiple gold-medalist. Two, work for your passion. I’m tired of people saying ‘follow your passion’ as though it’s some happy-go-lucky journey of ‘find something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ What planet are you on? Passion requires discipline and hard work. Be prepared to invest with discipline and hard work in your passion. There’s no shortcut to success. The elevator to the top is broken. You have to take the stairs and you have to take the stairs one step at a time. Seek out quality mentors. Be prepared to work and be disciplined around your passions. You have to actively commit to being an ongoing learner in multiple platforms. You need to read broadly. I don’t just read football books. I don’t just read sports psychology. Read broadly and deeply. Go to conferences and workshops. Speak with a diverse group of experts. I’m so lucky to work in the NFL, in Major League Baseball. I have PGA and LPGA clients. Imagine all that cross pollination that goes into my consultancy, rather than just being a one-trick pony. I don’t mean this as a criticism, but people don’t know what they don’t know. When your entire life is limited narrowly to one sport, I think you sell yourself short. I am drawn to excellence. I want to read about and interview and work with people who are truly excellent in a broad range of disciplines, in and out of sport and across sports.