Emotional Intelligence in Sport – Does It Fit?

I have been talking about emotional intelligence in sport the past few weeks with colleagues. As I was discussing it, it got me reflecting, so I have decided to put something together under the over-arching theme Emotional Intelligence in Sport – Does It Fit? Subsequently, in this post, I will discuss the why, what, where, who and when of emotional intelligence and then will leave it up to you to decide if it fits! Let’s get started…

Why Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is what we use when we have authentic, open and honest conversations with our coworkers, effectively work with customers and staff in business, empathise with our spouse or significant other, perform under pressure and support a challenging or distraught child / student. It allows us to understand ourselves better, build connections and relationships with others and live a more authentic, healthy, and happy life.

The World Economic Forum indicated that emotional intelligence will be in the top 10 required skills individuals require to thrive by 2020. There are many other reasons, both professional and personally, of why emotional intelligence is important, including –

  • being able to better adapt to and cope with change,
  • building high performing teams,
  • increased employee engagement,
  • developing trust and empathy within relationships,
  • having a clearer vision and building a great culture, and
  • executing performance effectively and efficiently.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Originally John Mayer and Peter Salovey (1997) defined emotional intelligence as involving the abilities to –

“…monitor one’s own and other’s feelings, discriminate among them, and use this information to guide’s one thinking and action.”

However, since 1997, Mayer and Salovey have redefined emotional intelligence as –

1. the ability to perceive emotions,

2. to access and generate emotions to assist thought,

3. to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and

4. to reflectively regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth (Mayer & Salovey, 1997).

Then in 2016, Mayer et al, further refined their definition as the four-branch model of emotional intelligence, with the four branches being –

1. perceiving emotion, 

2. facilitating thought using emotion, 

3. understanding emotions, and 

4. managing emotions.

Where Could Emotional Intelligence Be Applied in Sport?

Simply – everywhere! Emotional intelligences for everyone – whether you are a parent of an athlete, an athlete (past or present) or a coach. And emotional intelligence flows out in to all areas of your life. You can become aware of your emotions as you are reading this. Yes, I know it can be challenging as emotional intelligence is not spoken about much or taught (which is one of the reasons I am passionate about emotional literacy and intelligence).

If you are an athlete (past or present), a parent of an athlete or a coach – what impact could being emotional intelligent have? Would it benefit you to have emotional equilibrium, focus and attention in your day? If you are a current athlete – what impact would emotional intelligence have on your performance? Have you ever felt stressed or as though you couldn’t cope with the pressures of performing at an elite level? I certainly wish I had learn how to cultivate emotional awareness and harmony when I was playing tennis 🙂

Who Can Be Emotionally Intelligent?

Again, simply – everyone! If we go back to the definition above, can you see the benefit of perceiving your emotions, facilitating your thoughts using emotion, understanding your emotions, and managing your emotions, so you can be your authentic self? And as I have discovered, the more emotional intelligence we can have for ourselves, the more we can model and share it with others and grow empathy and compassion.

When Can We Be Emotionally Intelligent in Sport?

Mmm – think you may be getting the drift of this! Again – as much as possible. Emotional intelligence starts from when we get up in the morning to the moment when we go to sleep at night. Some specific examples include –

  • Failing to meet personal goals and expectations or making mistakes within sport,
  • Working through injuries and focusing on what to do to recover,
  • Managing a performance or training plateau,
  • Helping you reach your full potential and live your purpose,
  • Managing communication and developing relationships,
  • Persisting and concentrating on what you can do (not what you can’t),
  • Taking responsibility for difficult sporting experiences, and
  • Keeping a balanced perspective, managing stress and allowing yourself to move on.

From my own experience, this is a never-ending adventure and practising starts with self-awareness and turning within.

How Can I Be Emotionally Intelligent? –

I think it goes back to Tolle‘s explanation of presence. He says –

“To stay present in everyday life, it helps to be deeply rooted within yourself…. To always have some of your attention in the energy field of your body. To feel the body from within, so to speak. Body awareness keeps you present” (p. 94).

Over to You…

I hope this post has given you some insight in to Emotional Intelligence and whether it fits in sport. If you have any questions, please leave any questions or comments below.

References –

Mayer, J. D., & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? In D. J. Sluyter (Ed.), Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Educational implications (pp. 3–34). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D. R., & Salovey, P. (2016). The ability model of emotional intelligence: Principles and updates. Emotion Review, 8 1-11.

Tolle, E. (1999). The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual EnlightenmentVancouver, Canada: Namaste Publishing.

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