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Emotional Intelligence Can Help Athletes in Sports - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

Lots of people think that athletes only need a strong, coordinated body and lots of practice to be successful. In reality, sports are as much a mental game as a physical one. Emotional intelligence may be a concept that's growing in popularity in offices, but it's still relatively unknown in training athletes. That's a shame, because emotional skill and maturity can make athletes better teammates and better players. Here's why emotional intelligence is such an important quality for student athletes to develop before they try to go pro.

Emotional Intelligence Skills Make a Difference

The concept of emotional intelligence was first introduced in 1990, but only recently has it become a buzzword in business. Emotional intelligence is defined as "the ability to accurately perceive your own and others' emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others' emotions."

In short, emotionally intelligent people are self-aware and self-regulating, and they're more empathetic and able to communicate with others. It's a quality that's often overlooked in student athletes, but it can be a huge asset for athletes as they play on teams at school or professionally. It makes a difference when players are aware of their own and others strengths, weaknesses, and feelings. It helps them to support one another and to continually work toward improving their skills.

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan

Athletes with Emotional Intelligence Have the Upper Hand

The best athletes are those who are consistent. People who can perform brilliantly in one game and then completely lose their brilliance in the next game aren't going to be top performers. Coaches and teammates need to be able to count on a player to be consistent, and without the ability to regulate one's emotions, it's impossible to play consistently well. Anything that's "off" on that day could have a negative effect on the inconsistent player's game.

Athletes with emotional intelligence, however, have the upper hand. Emotional intelligence allows players to focus, understand their own emotions, and regulate them when the time comes to play the game. The bulk of athletic performance is mental, and athletes with emotional intelligence are able to get in the zone when they need to while understanding which skills they might need to work on for even better performance.

Athletes Perform Better and Strengthen Leaderships Skills

Of all the skills that emotional intelligence encompasses, self-awareness is the most important when it comes to sports. Why? Because self- awareness influences everything from performance and growth to leadership abilities. Although we think of the coach as the leader of any sports team, some players need to have leadership qualities as well-think of the quarterback in football.

Not only does self-awareness allow players to proactively analyze their own performance and make changes when necessary to excel, it also helps players understand their teammates and build trust. Teams function the best when players and coaches have mutual respect and trust for one another. That trust is built through empathy and understanding-both of which are components of emotional intelligence. When players trust their coaches and each other, they build influence and loyalty with one another.

Businessmen Shaquille O'Neal and Peyton Manning
Businessmen Shaquille O'Neal and Peyton Manning

Creating Emotional Maturity Helps with Sports and Business

Professional athletes can't just play the game and go home. They need to understand how business works and be able to relate to all kinds of people. Young athletes often think of the glory and paycheck that's involved with playing on a pro team, but they'll need to learn business and communication skills to help them manage everything from sponsorship deals to making a good impression during interviews. Emotional maturity is a key skill whether you're on the field or in a conference room. Plus, not every player makes it to the pros, and learning business skills now as they develop their athletic abilities can be a good starting point later on in any career.

Developing Emotional Intelligence: Another Type of Training

Young athletes are often surprised that they need to train both their bodies and minds in order to succeed. Developing emotional intelligence isn't easy, but it's something that can benefit any player at any stage of their career. Think of it this way: it's just another type of practice.

Articles by Sarah Daren