Some people watch the Olympics in the comfort of their own home or even in an overly crowded sports bar. This is not the case for alumna So Young Baek ’14, who is currently in PyeongChang as the Chief of Starters and Operating Specialist for Ski Jumpers at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. She has the opportunity to witness the 2018 Winter Olympics up close and personal.“I have to fight with the cold outdoor temperature at all times especially when I stay at the highest point of the field ski jumpers jump from,” says Baek when explaining her time at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Not only is she trying her best to stay warm in the slopes of PyeongChang, but she also examines how the ski jumpers are dressed according to the Olympic dress code.
Baek is also responsible for making sure the athletes start on time. Before bringing her skills to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, Baek previously worked for the Rio Korean Paralympic Games back in 2016. She proudly held the position as a mental coach where she helped swimmers control their psychological condition. When reminiscing about her time in Rio, Baek says, “I met many worldwide medalist athletes and enjoyed sharing conversation with them at the Athlete’s Village.”
As a mental coach, Baek makes profiles of each athlete’s mental strengths and weaknesses through observation or interactions. After making the profile she then develops a strategy through private counseling and long term relationships. Baek clearly has a passion for bringing out the best in her athletes. “My athletes won three gold medals and two silver medals in Paralympics in 2016, which was such a fruitful outcome of my career,” says Baek. Before working with Olympic athletes, Baek was an athlete herself back in South Korea where she grew up. Her parents introduced her to bowling in seventh grade where she later played for middle and high school. “My parents were very much involved in my pursuit of sports, and their support plays a big role in my achievements so far’, says Baek. She also majored in modern dance at Korea National Sport University. Through her involvement in sports, it sparked her to have an interest in sports psychology which led her to pursue a master’s degree in Korea. During her masters program, she worked for national and international sports events then decided to come to Montclair State University and study education.
“It is not a secret that Montclair State University has a great curriculum in pedagogy and professional faculty members,” Baek notes when asked about why she chose to attend Montclair State. “In order to be a mental coach, pedagogical understanding is needed.” Learning how to understand the differences of others in the course Adopted Physical Education is a class that Baek recalls fondly. “This class gave me a chance to embrace other people’s uniqueness and differences,” says Baek, and notes that this class helped her successfully work with professional athletes with disabilities at the 2016 Rio Paralympic game. Baek is deeply motivated to continue her rewarding career. In the future, she hopes to run her own mental coaching center to work with various athletes worldwide but until then she will continue using her skills to get athletes mentally ready for their games.
-Zahnia James, Communications Intern, Office of Alumni Relations