Emotional intelligence is defined as the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and to manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt environments or achieve one’s goal(s).
While some people might interpret emotional intelligence for coaches as being unnecessary, artificial, or even detrimental, modern-day sport scientists and forward thinking coaches would argue just the opposite — that it is precisely this kind of approach needed if coaches are to get the most out of their players. Rather than employing an “old school” way of coaching that includes humiliation, abuse, and intimidation, today’s modern coaches realize that treating their players with respect helps maximize motivation, focus, and resiliency. “New school” coaches employ clear instructions with reasons, empathy toward difficult situations, support during tough times, and countless opportunities for kids to approach them when they are experiencing difficult stress in their lives.
Emotional intelligence in coaching
It is important to note there is a very big difference between the supportive, empathetic coach and the coddling, enabling coach. The emotionally intelligent coach treats his or her players as people, reinforces effort, and uses praise and encouragement whenever possible. These coaches, while respectful of players thoughts and feelings, still employ rules, expectations, and standards; and they hold players accountable when they break team rules. What that don’t do, even though some misconstrue that they do, is let anything go, coddle their players without any sense of accountability, and look the other way when there are obvious problems.
Practical examples of emotional intelligence in coaching
- Knowing yourself. The emotionally intelligent coach knows that if he or she has had a bad day that it isn’t right or justified to take negative emotions out on kids at practice. Instead, these coaches take pause, cope with their stress, and re-calibrate their mood state so that they are fair, respectful, and supportive to the kids they coach.
- Understanding the kids you coach. Coaches who value emotional intelligence realize that kids often struggle with family issues, grades, relationships, and countless more life stressors. Rather than jumping on a kid for messing up repeatedly at practice, these coaches will attempt to learn whether there are outside factors impacting the kid — like parents going through a divorce. Furthermore, emotionally intelligent coaches will find strategic times to ask if the kid is OK, and if not, help find resources that can help.
- Not “piling on.” Savvy coaches do their best to learn about each player and his or her unique personality. In some cases, coaches learn early that the kid is much tougher on himself than any coach could ever be, and as a result coaches use restraint rather than piling on when it clearly isn’t needed. In fact, in examples like this the emotionally intelligent coach looks to help the kid deal with stress more successfully rather than stressing him out even more.
- Prioritizing positive attitudes. Attitude is a choice, and emotionally intelligent coaches work hard to impress upon kids how important it is to be upbeat, attentive, invested, and supportive of the team. These coaches also model a positive attitude every day, and work hard to inspire others to do the same.
Being unapproachable, scaring kids, and motivating from a fear are known as “old school” coaching methods, and becoming antiquated ways of coaching and mentoring kids. Coaches who still coach like this are encouraged to re-examine their coaching philosophies, and look to integrate an approach that is empowering, not intimidating. Not only will the kids you coach appreciate this style more, but you’ll likely win more games on the field as well.
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