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5 Ways Emotional Intelligence Is Critical For Coaches and Team Leaders

mental performance Sep 14, 2021

Nobody Is Born A Leader 

We have all seen movies where the main character has the perfect blend of charisma, courage, and inspirational speeches.
We’re made to believe this person was born to be a leader. Destined to guide his or her team to the championship.
But that’s not how it works in real life and there is research to prove it.
Academic articles and studies have gone to show that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) along with technical skills and IQ all play a role in high performance. And it’s emotional intelligence that separates people in leadership positions.
So whether you’ve had success leading in the past and are wanting to get better or if you have always believed leading isn’t in your DNA, this is good news for you.
There are five elements that drive your emotional intelligence which, if you work to develop, will make you a better leader.
They are:
Social Skills


I would argue that self-awareness is the most important skill in life. Without awareness, you cannot change and grow.
Self-awareness can be defined as the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives as well as their effect on others.
One of the hallmarks of self-awareness is confidence.
Self-aware people know who they are, which allows them to say yes to things that align with their strengths and say no to things that aren’t authentic to them.
Jobs and relationships are two areas where self-awareness is important because if you lack self-awareness you make commitments that will not make you happy. They leave you insecure, making it harder to lead.
A person lacking awareness says yes to things that don’t align with their core values and identity.
Self-awareness for an athlete requires the individual to objectively assess their strengths and stay true to them. When you know what type of player you are, it allows you to play to your strengths and be more successful.
If you aren’t a home run hitter, stop trying to hit home runs. It takes self-awareness to realize that.
Socially, your self-awareness is essential for you to understand how you are affecting the team around you.
Whether it’s on the field or in the conference room, you need to be able to assess your actions and how they are affecting others so you can adjust as necessary.
Leading a team requires you to first know who you are and where you are going.
Combine your rootedness will social skills to read your team and adapt and you are well on your way as a leader.

 Development Tools: 

Meditation (check out my podcast for tips for building self-awareness through meditation)
Journal: Make your thoughts tangible by putting them on paper for you to reflect upon
Take personality tests (16Personalities, Truity, Humanmetrics)
Receive feedback from your entire circle: friends, colleagues, mentors, coaches and spouses


Self-regulating your emotions is one of the hardest things to do. Even when we think we handle things calmly, our body language betrays our conscious attempts to keep it all together.
It can be defined as our ability to control or redirect disruptive moods or impulses. It’s the likelihood of us as humans to suspend judgement and use reason.
One of hallmarks of this is integrity.
It is NORMAL to feel negative emotions. I highlight normal because I want people to realize that feeling angry, sad, anxious, shame, etc is not an indictment on your mental state.
How you react to them is.
How much does it cost your team or your relationships when you act out of anger.
15 yard penalty?
3 game suspension?
2 weeks “on the rocks” with your significant other?
If you were to wait 90 seconds after you were upset, I’ll bet the outcome would have been completely different.
Skeptical? In her book, “My Stroke Of Insight”, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor shows that it’s actually science. It takes 90 seconds for the chemicals in your brain that cause anger to subside.
When you self-regulate, you give those following you someone to look to when shit hits the fan.
This cultivates trust and within the group as others will look to your integrity and composure when things get hard.
One of the other hallmarks of self-regulation is adaptability.
As a leader, you need to be able to roll with the punches and maintain your composure.
Think of all the changes the can happen throughout a game. There are numerous ups and downs.
Those that are able to self-regulate and remain steadfast throughout the peaks and valleys will be the ones that succeed the most as leaders.

Development Tools: 

Breathing Exercises: Teach yourself to respond with 5 deep breaths before you respond
Identify Your Triggers: Knowing your triggers allows you to anticipate them and respond mindfully
Make Yourself Accountable: Public declarations of goals and values give you leverage to challenge impulses when willpower seems insufficient


There is a difference between athletes and leaders that separate 2x All-Stars from Hall of Famers.
Some people get the big contract and they never perform at the same level.
Some athletes get better every year and awards, salaries, and other external factors play little to no role in their drive to achieve.
Leaders and elite performers are motivated by achievement and growth.
They are driven by a passion that is fueled by the process of achievement rather than the achievement itself.

One of the hallmarks of someone with high motivation is optimism.

These are the types of leaders that look for alternative ways to win. They galvanize a team to keep pushing even when the odds seem small.
Combine this with self-regulation and you have someone that remains positive in the face of failure or frustrating circumstances.
Another trademark is commitment.
Committed people are more likely to stay with the team or company because they are passionate about their role and are driven by achievement within it.
Of the five elements, motivation is one of the most obvious and contagious traits of leaders. It’s very unlikely that a strong leader will be lacking in this category.
Here are some ways to fan the flames.

Development Tools: 

Measurement: Develop measurement techniques so you can find ways to optimize towards improvement
Journal & Meditate: Use these to build awareness of personal strengths and passions


Empathy might seem out of place in a team setting where toughness is required to succeed in most environments.
But a closer look at empathy shows the value of it for a leader of a team or a coach.
Empathy is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people. It’s what happens when you consider other people’s feelings before taking the next step.
As a catcher, it was my job to understand the emotional make up of pitchers because some needed to be coddled and some needed to have a fire lit under their ass.
How does a quarterback get a wide receiver’s mind in the right place after a couple dropped passes?
Sometimes a teammate or player is upset with the how they are being used or treated. Often times the person upset just wants to feel heard. If they feel heard, they will still continue to buy in.
Leaders have to make hard choices that are better for the collective, but not all individuals.
It’s much easier to practice empathy than it is to find new talent to replace someone that has checked out.

 Development Tools: 

Listen: Make active listening a goal in your conversations with your team and outside. Listening better and showing the person that you understand their point of view will help build your empathy
Reading Fiction Books: Reading books where you have to understand the emotions of different characters trains you to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. This also works with movies if you turn the volume down and practice reading the body language of people

Social Skills 

Social skills combine the previous four elements to help you move people in the direction you want them to go.
One of the hallmarks of social skills is persuasion, an essential skill in effectively leading and driving change.
The positive energy of a teammate rubs off on others even when the situation seems negative. That’s motivation at work.
Building relationships with other teammates requires empathy.
Self-awareness and self-regulation play a role in a leaders ability to stay in control of their emotions and understand how their reactions affect others around them.
Let’s look at another way self-awareness plays a role.
The most persuasive person is the person most certain of their position.
If there was a pending flood you would want to climb to the highest mountain.
If you are 100% certain your mountain is the safest mountain, you won’t leave it. But if you have an ounce of doubt on where you stand, you’ll climb of the mountain of the person telling you their mountain is the safest.
Self-aware people are confident and rooted. They will attract everyone to their mountain.
Lastly, social skills can pay dividends even when you’re off the clock.
Team bonding is a great example of social skills and give leaders a playground to grow their tribe.
“I would do anything for that guy.”
The above statement might derive from two people who bonded bar or dinner or on the golf course. Far from the arena, field or office.

Development Tools:

Develop the first four elements of emotional intelligence
Create opportunities for deep connection: Team activities where the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives
Transparency begets connection: Be open and raw and you’ll be able to draw people to be open and raw with you, strengthening ties

Final Thoughts 

You might be saying you don’t play sports or you aren’t in a managerial position.
But I want you to realize that everyone leads someone. Fitness instructors leads clients.
You will need to lead in your romantic relationships.
Parents are leaders for their children.
We all seek connection and developing your EQ will give you a deeper connection with those around you. 

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