Women's History Month Highlight: Nicole LaVoi
In honor of Women’s History Month, USTA Northern’s Zeny McCoy recently sat down with Nicole LaVoi to discuss her research and advocacy for girls and women in sport. Originally from St. Cloud, Minnesota, LaVoi is an experienced tennis player and coach. She graduated from Gustavus in 1991 where she played four years of college tennis and has coached at all levels, including as a USPTA Professional. Her college coaching career consists of years as an assistant coach at Carleton College ('91-'93) followed by a head coaching role at Wellesley College ('94-'98) in Boston, Massachusetts.
Today, LaVoi is back in Minnesota where she acts as the Director at the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport. She is also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Minnesota for the School of Kinesiology and serves on the Board of Directors for the espnW (college committee), the Sports Advisory Network for the Women's Sports Foundation, and Gustavus Women in Leadership (GWiL) Advisory Board.
With her extensive tennis and professional background, her passion for proper representation for girls and women in sport is clear and impactful. But LaVoi’s mission developed long before her time as a collegiate athlete. “I always say my passion for gender equity and for girls and women in sport, and for fighting for what you deserve and what you want to do . . . started when I was 10,” LaVoi stated.
She described her experience as a 10 year old in 1979, not long after Title IX was put into place which allowed girls to have equal opportunities in schools, when she tried out for the boys traveling basketball team. After making the team, she sat down with her elementary school principal who had received letters from parents displeased with her position on the roster. “I did play and it was a long season, a lot of tears and changing in the broom closet…” she remembered, “You know, all those stories about discrimination and harassment.”
LaVoi carried that negative yet memorable experience with her into adulthood and turned it into a positive one. “I really got interested in using sport as a vehicle for positive development for girls and women because of my experiences in sport and how much they had empowered me,” she explained.
LaVoi went on to devote most of her time as a professional to changing the narratives about girls and women in sport and how to develop a culture that values and supports women. One thing she reflected on is the help it requires from others.
“I have been given the opportunity to do a lot of things as a young woman and those opportunities were given to me by men,” LaVoi stated, “We can’t do it alone. We need our male colleagues' support as well because social change doesn’t happen when it’s just women fighting for women.”
LaVoi and McCoy go on to discuss the current gap in participation levels between girls and boys sports at the high school level, how women can keep moving forward to make a change, and her hopes for the future of tennis. If one thing is for sure, it’s LaVoi’s love for tennis and the confidence it instilled in her throughout her life path to advocate for women.
“Tennis has impacted every aspect of my life. As a human being, personal development, my professional career trajectory; I would not be talking to you if it were not for tennis,” She shared with McCoy, “Tennis has provided me amazing opportunities to develop, to travel, to meet great people, to be mentored and then to be mentored in return, it has shaped every part of my life. . . I am very grateful for the game.”
For more information and resources on LaVoi’s research, please visit the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport website here.