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What Steven Hauschka Thinks About Being A ‘Clutch’ Kicker

After wrapping up my “Kickers Are Forever” article on Tuesday, I wandered to Media Day in Phoenix, site of a sporting event this Sunday, and found Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka, who — unlike a certain beastly teammate — was willing to answer a few questions.

Here’s how it went down, starting with what they were talking about just before I arrived:

Another reporter: Can you imagine Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo kicking field goals in the Super Bowl? Do you think they would be good?

Steven Hauschka: Yeah, I think Ronaldo would be really good at it. They both would. It’s a little different but I’m sure within a few minutes they could be kicking 50-yard field goals, no problem.

Benjamin Morris: Do you know how to bend a soccer ball?

SH: Yeah.

BM: What’s the longest field goal you’ve ever made in practice?

SH: 67 [yards].

BM: How often do you think you convert a field goal of 60 yards?

SH: In Arizona, I don’t know. Half the time or more.

BM: Why do you think kickers are so good these days?

SH: Because we grew up kicking. I started kicking at 3 years old. I think it’s just, we’re more athletic. I mean, not me in particular, but some of the guys out there in the league are just really good athletes who switched to kicking because they couldn’t make it as a quarterback or something.

BM: Do you think soccer has improved it a lot?

SH: Yeah, yeah I do. Most of the guys started playing soccer that ended up as kickers.

BM: Do you think punters have gotten better as much as field goal kickers have gotten better?

SH: I think some of the punters have gotten really good, but as a whole I don’t think they’re at the level of the field-goal kickers. I think there’s more put into the field goal at a younger age. I don’t think kids start learning to punt until a little later. Whereas field goal kicking, I think guys are starting pretty young.

BM: What are the odds that an average NFL player, non-kicker, could make a 25 yard field goal?

SH: Um, low. Twenty-five percent.

BM: Do you think there’s such a thing as clutch?

SH: I think if you’re a 90 percent kicker, the best you can do under the most important situation is be a 90 percent kicker. I think if you’re trying to stretch any more than that … that’s not realistic. Obviously the clutch guys make it when it matters, but there’s still that chance.

BM: If you miss a kick, do you feel bad about it? Or do you feel like, if you’re 90 percent, you’re going to miss one in 10 kicks?

SH: Yeah, that’s the goal: to understand that it’s going to happen every once in a while because no one is perfect. The goal is consistently to play at a high level.

Some thoughts:

  • That last one may read like a fairly bland answer, but his tone reminded me of how a lot of professional poker players ideally feel about losing: that losing is part of the process. But in reality that ideal is very hard to meet.
  • He obviously has a very high opinion of soccer, saying an average NFL player (who has presumably been handling footballs his whole life) could make a short field goal only 25 percent of the time, but top soccer players could make 50-yarders with only minutes of practice. The introduction of the soccer-style kick and the influx of former soccer players into gridiron kicking ranks are both likely contributors to kickers’ otherworldly improvement.
  • His answer about “clutchness” seemed to suggest that trying too hard to be clutch could be counter-productive relative to just trying to kick the ball. That fits with one of my pet theories of clutch, which is that, rather than being some kind of superhuman ability, clutch just means being completely normal in circumstances when others might crack.

Here’s hoping that kicking plays a big role in Sunday’s game!

Benjamin Morris researches and writes about sports and other topics for FiveThirtyEight.

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