UD women remain focused from sports psychologist

By Doug Harris,

Staff Writer

Updated 1:39 AM Friday, March 2, 2012

Jim Jabir, the University of Dayton women’s basketball coach, saw positive
results of sending his players with personal problems to Dr. Rebecca Cook,
the associate director of the counseling center at UD.

After several years of watching troubles turned to burdens lifted, he wondered
what Cook’s department might be able to do for his team.

“He asked me, ‘Does anybody up here get sports psychology?’ ” Cook recalled.

“I said, ‘What do you think I’ve been doing with your players?’ Yeah, I’ve
been working on their issues, whatever they may be, but I’m always working
on performance enhancing and how can I make your performance better. He got

After more give and take between coach and counselor, the Flyers ended up with
their own volunteer team psychologist. Cook comes to practice, attends every
home game and even will be on the bench at the Atlantic 10 tournament this
weekend as the Flyers try to nail down their first league crown.

Since coming aboard two years ago, she’s been a calming influence on the

“I think Becky’s brought, I guess, an uplifting spirit to our team,” senior
star Justine Raterman said.

“As any athletic team knows, you go through ups and downs in a season. You go
through things in your mind that you really can’t explain. Becky is always
even-keeled. No matter how bad we played or all the negative things that
happened, she’s always positive, and I think that’s so refreshing in a

“A lot of people can get focused on details, and she looks at the big picture.
I know a lot of girls have really turned to her for help with personal
issues and issues in basketball as well.”

Raterman experienced Cook’s impact in a key Atlantic 10 game this season. One
of the psychologist’s ploys is to walk the Flyers through some guided
imagery. She encourages the players to picture themselves for several
minutes completing various basketball functions successfully.

When Raterman was fouled with five seconds left as her team trailed by two
against Richmond, she didn’t feel pressure or dread. She practiced the
mental technique she learned from Cook.

“Before every practice that Becky is there, we go through visualizing. I
always stand at the free-throw line and visualize free throws (going in)
through repetition,” Raterman said. “And that came into play when I had to
make the free throws to tie the game.”

The all-league forward connected on both foul shots, and the Flyers prevailed,
81-78, in overtime.

“As a coach, I’m always, pushing, pushing, pushing. I think sometimes the
emotions get involved,” Jabir said. “She gives us a pause, a breath, an
opportunity to take a step back and re-evaluate with a different set of
eyes. We usually find out things weren’t as terrible as we thought. And I
think she focuses the kids, gives them a lot of confidence.”

Sports psychologists are abundant with individual athletes such as golfers,
and they’re gaining acceptance on the team level, too. Jabir said most
schools in the six power conferences have them, although the expense can
sometimes be a deterrent.

Another hindrance is the stigma that seeing a psychologist signifies weakness.

“I don’t think it’s for everybody. I think a lot of people think it’s
hocus-pocus,” Jabir said. “But I do think it has a place. I think in
athletics in general, anything physical is pretty mental. The more relaxed
we are, the more focused we are. And it would just make sense that you would
try to develop that part of your game.”

Cook has worked with other sports at UD, including golf, tennis and volleyball.

Basketball is her love, though. She grew up in hoops-crazed Indiana and
attended Purdue University, which has a rich history in the women’s game.

“I told Jim, that’s my therapy,” Cook said of being around the Flyers. “I can
have a tough day with students — because we have some tough issues that come
in — and I can go to practice, and it’s heaven for me. I can sit and relax,
and I know he appreciates what I do, and the players appreciate what I do
and the coaches appreciate what I do. It feels good to be appreciated.”

Sometimes, though, the sports doc needs a little therapy herself.

“It’s crushing when they lose,” Cook said. “I go, ‘Oh my God, what did I do
wrong?’ I remember the first game they lost last year after I started
working with them. (Jabir) said, ‘Becky, this isn’t about you.’ But I said,
‘It sure feels like it.’ ”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2125 or dharris@DaytonDailyNews.com.

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