Dr. Nicole LaVoi

Interview with Dr. Nicole LaVoi

Dr. LaVoi is a renowned sports psychologist and professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Kinesiology. She is an expert in youth sports psychology.

1.       What is your definition of “clutch”?

Based on sport psychology research, I believe “mental toughness” is a more accurate and academic term that is used in our field. There are many definitions of mental toughness but I like Jim Loehr’s: performing at the top range of pervious performance standards on command, regardless of the situation.

2.       Do you believe that clutch is an ability that can be improved or something that someone either has or doesn’t? If one can improve this, how so?

Yes it is a learned skill. Some people learn it by experience, and others need to be taught specific skills  that will increase the likelihood it occurs.

3.       When thinking of high profile athletes, what aspects of their upbringing influence their prospectus of becoming a clutch player?

Many things influence mental toughness: parental influence, quality of coach, teammates, individual skills, having a role model, being taught how to do it, having the opportunity to be mentally tough in pressure situations, learning how to fail and persevere…there are many more facets, but these are some.

4.       What would you expect a clutch athlete to be like as a child?

I have no idea. I think there is a lot of individual variability in adult mentally tough athletes in terms of their dispositions and skills as a child.

5.       How much of an impact can a child’s parents or coaches have on the development of athletic psyche?

A great deal. These two social influences are the MOST important in the life of a child up until adolescence.

6.       How does someone’s pregame mental preparation resonate throughout the game and into those clutch moments?

I’m not sure what you’re asking here, but mentally tough athletes have very detailed competitive rituals and stick to them regardless of the situation.

7.       From what I have read in my research, some psychologists believe that fear is the driving force through clutch moments while others say it’s more of an instinct. What psychological feeling do you think clutch moments are most similar to? (ie. fear, survival, ect.)

I’m not sure I can say for sure.

8.       What impact have social media sites had on athlete’s psychology? Also, if you were a coach or owner, would you want your players to have twitter accounts and actively use them? Why?

Social media is a distraction for athletes and should not be allowed during pregame or during a game. I have written a blog about this very topic and you can read it here:  “Tweets during sport events: A sport psychology perspective”


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