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Kurt Lindley
188
Coaching Skills

Emotional Intelligence: The Secret Coaching Ingredient

Emotional Intelligence is a key part of sports psychology, and coaches can use it in different ways to build relationships and improve performance

It is important that coaches understand their actions, behaviours, words and expressions can affect an athlete’s performance – and that coaching is largely a social activity, at the heart of which is an emotional bond built on trust between coach and athlete.

Coaching is more than just the instruction of skills and drills. It is also about building quality relationships and having the emotional expertise build those relationships.In sports psychology it is called Emotional Intelligence (EI). 

Why is Emotional Intelligence important?

EI is a learned ability to identify, understand, experience, and express emotions in healthy and productive ways. Do not underestimate the benefit of such self-awareness in building positive relationships.

For example, to lead and manage and achieve performance outcomes a coach needs to build bonds of trust with the athlete, their immediate support network (e.g. parents) and a number of sports professionals (such as sports scientists). On top of this they need to establish positive working relationships with officials and organisers to ensure the best possible preparation.

EI is important in building these relationships and ultimately contributes to performance.

EI strategies

It's accepted that Emotional Intelligence refers to the ability to:

  • perceive emotion (and recognise their meanings)
  • use emotions to facilitate thought (understand their relationship)
  • understand emotions (including recognising those of others)
  • and manage emotions (manage relationships with others).

Putting it into practice 

As the development of EI is progressive, the following strategies may help:

  • Observe how you/your athlete react to people. Do you/they make rush judgments before knowing all the facts? Do you/they stereotype? Put yourself in their shoes; consider their point of view and be more open to their perspectives.
  • Examine how you/your athlete react to stressful situations. Do you/they become frustrated when there's a delay or something doesn't happen as expected? Consider how you/they react and create simulated sessions where emotions can be felt and managed in a controlled setting.
  • People tend to have a very small emotional vocabulary using catch-all words such as happy, good, positive, angry, sad. Using this black and white language means people struggle to express themselves accurately. A broader vocabulary would help people express the ‘shades of grey’ they might be feeling. One solution may be to google ‘emotions and feelings words’ and print off and reflect on the words that can help people express themselves emotionally.
  • People tend to want to steer away from the true question and start their responses with ‘I feel that...’. Any response that starts this way won’t be about emotions e.g. I feel that it went well. A solution would be to repeat or reframe the question so that people can reframe their response.

Final thoughts

Remember being ‘emotionally intelligent’ is not about having a sunny disposition. If it is worth anything, it is to ensure coaches and athletes alike are ready to cope with the full array of emotions that accompany the challenges of sports participation.

Related Content

If you're interested in learning more, ConnectedCoaches - UK Coaching's online commuity for coaches from any sport or activity - has four Emotional Intelligence videos with actions, tools & techniques that will help you improve your coaching. In these videos, ConnectedCoaches Content Champion Catherine Baker talks about how coaches can recognise and approach coaching participants in a variety of coaching scenarios:

  • a nervous participant at your coaching session
  • an overconfident ‘know-it-all’ participant
  • a participant losing interest
  • participants for ‘the big game’.

Other articles and podcasts on Emotional Intelligence include:

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Kurt Lindley