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Emotional intelligence is integral to becoming a great coach

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  • Emotions drive thoughts, thoughts drive behaviour, and behaviour drives performance.
  • Coaches need to understand when to scale up and when to scale down their empathy levels.
  • It is important that coaches feel comfortable discussing and evaluating their experiences as a means of improving their self-awareness.
  • The more you know your player, the better you are going to be at coaching them.

This article deals with some important emotional issues.

Not the ones traditionally served up for discussion, like anxiety, depression or eating disorders. We shine the spotlight on the term ‘emotional intelligence’ and examine the gamut of everyday behavioural patterns associated with it.

Some coaches may have never heard of it, some consider it to be a myth; there are those who pay lip service to it without really understanding it, while others deem it the Holy Grail for sports coaches.

To the uninitiated, the ‘it’ in question might seem at first glance to be an intellectual concept probably best left to sports science degree students to investigate. But the principles of EI are actually quite simple to grasp. Putting it into practice – now, that’s the difficult part.

A definition

 Catherine Baker delivers education seminars on EI. She is the founder of Sport and Beyond – a behavioural profiling, training and performance company.

She is an EI disciple and defines it as the ability to understand and control your emotions in order to be able to perform to your absolute potential.

Embellishing on that abridged interpretation, she adds: ‘I explain to people that emotions drive thoughts, thoughts drive behaviour, and behaviour drives performance.

‘In a sporting context, and a coach dealing with an athlete, again, it’s that ability to understand and control your emotions and those emotions of the people you are working with and manage your relationships accordingly.’

EI has been a big theme in business leadership over the last five or 10 years, with advocates of EI claiming the more emotionally intelligent you can be, the more effective you can be as a leader.

It is being picked up more and more now in the world of sport and more specifically the coaching sector.

Take Joe Bloggs as an example. He is the newly appointed coach of Someplace Wanderers semi-professional football team. He is charismatic, has boundless enthusiasm and is highly intelligent. He is passionate about coaching, has his Level 2 badge and has more ideas for developing his squad than you can shake a stick at. He is going places as a coach. Everyone thinks so.

But just months into the job, Wanderers are stuck in the relegation zone and morale in the team is low. Why? Because Joe lacks EI. His changing room banter is upsetting several players who are intimidated by his caustic ‘wit’, he has fined his star striker for failing to turn up for training, not realising he has been going through some marriage problems. His assistant manager resigned a few weeks ago, upset that Joe would not share any responsibility for the coaching sessions, despite his assistant’s vast experience. Joe is perplexed. How did things go so wrong?

Failure to spot his weaknesses and an inability to put himself in the shoes of his players in order to gauge their emotions resulted in him ‘losing the dressing room’. All his undoubted qualities were rendered all but worthless.

Not so much emotional intelligence as emotional unintelligence.

‘It is understanding where you are on a scale and in which situations you might need to dial up your empathy levels, or dial down,’ says Catherine, who recognises that the role of a sports coach can be something of an emotional roller coaster.

But it’s not just a matter of buckling up and waiting for the inevitable highs and lows. It is about exercising the brain in the use of EI so you are better equipped to deal with and adapt to any given situation.

The brain is a muscle, after all, and can be strengthened so it is time coaches began exercising their minds too.

Are you self-aware?

Coaches must understand that their actions and behaviour can have an effect on their players or athletes and should look to nurture a strong relationship with their protégés.

‘It is important for coaches to know the person before the player,’ says Catherine.

‘I think it comes down to the basic premise of the more you know your player, the better you are going to be at coaching them.’

I ask, with that in mind, if it is easier coaching an individual than an entire team, bearing in mind the disparity of personalities and multiplied emotional scenarios likely to be encountered.

‘Yes, on an individual basis, you’ve got more of an ability to really get to understand that person and modify and adapt your behaviour accordingly.

‘Having said that, in a team situation, players can feed off each other. A coach can then build on the vibe going around a team in a particular session or season.

‘Every member of the team will have their natural behaviour and style, it’s about understanding where you need to modify or adapt your behaviour depending on particular players or even on how individuals are feeling that day.’

The key term in the psychological field of EI is ‘self-awareness’ – the clear understanding of your personality and how others perceive you.

Without self-awareness, how can you hope to recognise, understand and manage both your own and other people’s emotions?

‘What we are talking about is quite sophisticated and, like any section of society or occupation, I am sure there is a group out there who will probably have an attitude of, “It’s all a complete waste of time and I’m not interested,”’ says Catherine.

‘Other coaches will do it by instinct. We held a workshop this week where there were a lot of managers and coaches in the room. We were breaking down EI into different facets, and one experienced coach said, “It’s very useful to have that broken down, but I think I do a lot of that instinctively.” I think the more years of experience you build up, the more likely you are to have that larger awareness.’

The coaching connection

It might be that an athlete has the willingness and potential to learn and the potential to improve, but a coach just isn’t managing their relationship effectively.

‘This is where EI links to growing and sustaining participation,’ says Catherine. ‘Coaches need to understand how important their role is in terms of encouraging participation to start with.

‘There may be all sorts of factors why they are coming back again and again to sessions. It might be their mates are there or their parents are pushing them, but one of the key influences is the connection with the coach and their ability to work them out quickly, work out what is going to motivate them and how best to deal with them to keep them coming on an ongoing basis.

‘With children, obviously, the more enjoyable you can make the experience, the more likelihood that they are going to continue with it as an adult. Other factors, like success, will also have an influence, but, again, a key element is this connection with the coach.’

Catherine feels it is important for coaches to feel comfortable about discussing experiences they have had. By evaluating them, they will be able to pinpoint occasions when they showed too much empathy, maybe didn’t regulate their emotions enough or expressed themselves too much, making the other person feel uncomfortable.

She cites the example of the Yorkshire Rows – a group of working mums from Yorkshire who are rowing the Atlantic in December as part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

‘We have done a workshop with them around behaviour and also EI,’ explains Catherine.

‘They have already broken one world record as they are the first all-female crew to have rowed across the North Sea. One of the crew got seasick on that crossing, and she felt absolutely terrible for a part of the journey.

‘When they row the Atlantic, it will be an 8–12-week expedition, two hours on, two hours off all the time so if you’ve lost one of your four crew members, and they can’t do anything, it will clearly have a huge impact on the whole team.’

By examining the emotionality factors involved in their North Sea expedition, the crew have devised a game plan that could prove invaluable next time they are on the ocean.

Catherine adds: ‘Empathy between the team members and also the ability to understand their own emotions and to pick up on the emotions of others are crucial.

'Helen, the team member who was seasick, felt she was letting everyone else down. Nobody else had really picked up on that, they just thought she felt ill. One of the team members has huge levels of empathy and really wanted to sit down with her and tell her, “Oh, I feel so bad for you, are you all right?” but actually that was the last thing Helen wanted.

‘She wanted to be left alone. She felt so disappointed and felt so bad. So by having a conversation specifically around that, about emotion perception and empathy, now, the one on the boat with high empathy levels who is good at putting herself in other people’s shoes understands that, if that situation happens again, that isn’t going to be the right thing to do.

‘She might need to tone down her behavioural agility because it doesn’t work for everybody in every situation.’

I wish!

Put simply then, emotional intelligence is being intelligent about your emotions.

Those who successfully develop their behavioural agility will have the ability to maximise the capabilities and potential of the people they are working with, as well as their own.

They will have the mental skills to inspire people, helping to increase and sustain participation in their sport.

And whether you already possess it or need to work on improving it over time, one thing is undeniable, EI should be high up on every coach’s wish list.

Catherine's Top Tips for being an emotionally intelligent coach:

  1. Understand your EI make-up.
  2. Work on building up your behavioural agility.
  3. Reflect. A lot.
  4. Practice adapting your behaviour to suit the person/people you are coaching.

If you liked this article you might also be interested in:

We’ve also developed four EI videos that will help you improve your coaching:

This blog is also available as a podcast on a number of platforms including Itunes. Listen here.


Read more about Catherine and her work (including how to get in touch with her and her team) by visiting her coaching profile.

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Comments (16)

   
PaulineGourley
Great article everyone should spare time to read this.
04/11/15
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Melb
Great article and one we need to make sure we all implement. Catherine has done some great work and I have used her.... Make sure you do
04/11/15
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cheetham
Really thought provoking and essential for all coaches to have a greater awareness of this. "How can I understand others better" philosophy has enabled me to have a better understanding of those I teach and coach. I am sure this article will inspire others to find time to recognise the value of empathy. Coaching goes beyond the field of play.
05/11/15
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andrewb62
Really interesting.

If I have understood this correctly:

First - know yourself.
Then - know the player.
Only then - coach the (whole) player, not just the skill, or the player's (technical) deficiencies.
06/11/15
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liammccarthy16
A great read on Empathy here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Empathy-Why-Matters-And-How/dp/1846043859 and easily applicable to coaching practice.
06/11/15
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Melb
Love the interaction on this and would love to see if we can champion it with Catherine. Robert - how can we make this happen?
06/11/15
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robertkmaaye
Leave with me Melanie and I'll see what I can do!
09/11/15
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CatherineBaker
Evening all, really appreciate these comments and suggestions and it's great to have the endorsement of coaches doing this on the ground. If anyone would like to follow up, please do get in touch.
08/11/15
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Brett
Hi, I'm new to this platform, trying to familiarise myself and read as much as I can (especially this morning sat on a coach travelling with the team). And this was a really interesting read. As mentioned, I feel that EI is vey much an instinctive skill but reflecting and being exposed to different situations to 'utilise' behavioural agility is essential.

Are their shortcuts? Or do we just need to amass the hours and experiences?

I recently led a 3 day camp with a selected group of elite under 15 year old girls and conducted 1-2-1s with them all on the the last day to reflect and feedback. After which I felt like I knew so much more about their motivations, insecurities and general personality. I questioned where knowing this at the beginning of the camp would have altered my coaching in any way and whether it would have made a difference... Perhaps I'll be able to next time and can then share my thoughts?!?!
09/11/15
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robertkmaaye
Great to see you have joined Brett. Welcome to the community! Glad you find the post interesting. It would be great if you did want share your thoughts in the future either as a comment on this blog or if you prefer we do encourage members to submit relevant blogs. There is more info on our participation guidelines page under blogs https://www.connectedcoaches.org/participation-guidelines.aspx
09/11/15
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Dave
I have really enjoyed this article and the attached comments and wholeheartedly agree with all who realise just how important it is to "read" the student or participant in any activity at any level at that point in time to develope performance whether it be as an athlete or student of any discipline a student teacher or coach.

Andrew's comment on to know oneself is so important. Over 40 years ago Zbigniew Czajkowski referred to it as an "open eyes" style of coaching in fencing. Unfortunately it is difficult to visualise and understand certain concepts properly or fully in another language sometimes - the precise and actual words and/or concepts simply don't exist in it.

I think Catherine's work and thoughts in this area are actually quite vital in coach development at any and all levels and it's something which is really still mostly lacking as a key pin in the initial training or CPD of most coaches/teachers or managers in Britain.

I am with Melanie and Rob on this one, what can we do next to progress the issue?

More than happy to get involved and might I suggest that we try to involve/look at certain dance and skating trainers in this or at least look at how they do things. From what I have seen these concepts are more fully understood and utilised in areas like dance where you are dealing with physical performance and colaberative effort to produce an outcome which on the face of it is not intrinsically seen as competitive but colaberative. Actually you might be very surprised at the amount of competitive behaviour exhibited and the amount of totestorone kicking about in these areas of physical endeavour if you have not been involved in it but I suspect because of the time spent together "training" then performing regularly trainers and choreographers on the whole seem to understand these ideas and work with them better although I am going to have to ask around a bit to find out how or if this is addressed in there formal training.

I do know that the Italian artistic roller skating coaches address these issues in their training of coaches and a chap called Bill Begg a New Zealand inline speed coach fully understands and preaches the need for coaches to understand this.
09/11/15
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robertkmaaye
Thanks for your comments David. Glad you like the article. I’m going to have a think about the best way to go about “Championing” EI and then will be in touch at the appropriate point.
09/11/15
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LawrieOK
Rob there are 'commercial' companies offering behavioural profiling; not inexpensive I might add!!! I have had a profile done, and was so disappointed with the outcome I have not proceeded with their process(es) - others have also used them successfully so it is for each person to decide if the service provided is for them or not. I attended the presentation and then did the online 'questionnaire' but when I received the feedback profile it bore almost no resemblance to myself at all; I showed the feedback to family and friends who have known me for many, many years and they were all in agreement that the profile was incorrect. TBH I was totally frustrated as I had hoped to introduce the EI concept into the Team I was coaching, and eventually into the Club I was associated with as I could see the real benefits of the self-awareness for coaches and players alike and the consequential impact that could have had on the relationships within the Teams and between Coach and players/Team. If my personal profile was inaccurate I could not recommend the process to the audience I had intended targeting. I am totally in accord with the EI approach and would appreciate being kept abreast of any progress you might make iro developing a connection with CB's work for the Connected Coaches Group.
09/11/15
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Dave
Thanks Rob, I do understand Lawrie's concerns. There is a definate problem sometimes with the problem of the services offered by commercial companies providing this sort of thing.

I do know that Reykjavík University has a big interest in this area and its included in its masters program which covers coaching style and technique. "Power/strength" athletes which Icland produces in abundance tend to have issues in these areas - sometimes not helped or actually caused by the medications and types of training they are involved in the professional sport. Some of their coaches are extreamly skilled at handling things.

Most of Icelandic sports clubs are family and multi sport based and the whole culture of the country tends to be supportive and geared towards volentear participation like Denmark but more so. They are very introspective as a race helped by their own language and the fact that most of the country speaks at least three of them helps a lot.

I am likely to be over there again either later this year or early next year and can probably get some contacts for you if you want. They are very heavily into technology and the idear of webinars would probably appeal to them - they tend to be a bit isolated out there but fall over themselves to be involved with things when asked.

There is another lady I know over hear who is now working academically but used to run the RAF program for profiling its pilots who might be interested in giving input if asked. Again happy to try to put you in touch if it helps.
10/11/15
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CatherineBaker
Just catching up with all these comments and again it's great to see the level of interest raised. Plus it is incredibly helpful to get insights and thoughts from you all. I am particularly upset to hear that Lawrie, you had a bad experience of behavioural profiling. We make a point of stressing that it's about the right tools, in the right hands, for the right purpose. We are a new organisation, but we use BPS registered profiling tools in our business. We have already had the privilege of working with Olympic athletes through to city lawyers (our team has background in law, education, and sport) and as an ex-tennis coach myself (and an ex-corporate lawyer) I know what a difference the 'understanding yourself' piece can make to performance. In terms of the EI piece, as per the blog, it's not just about understanding where you 'sit' on the EI scale, but also learning to understand and read where your athletes and fellow coaches might sit, and adapting your behaviour accordingly. I would love to bang the drum more as I am so passionate about this behavioural side of coaching, but I don't think this is the right forum. I will get in touch with Rob and see what we can come up with.
10/11/15
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traceyhutch
I use NLP a lot in my coaching and this is extremely helpful in focusing on my own 'state' and the impact I have on others. Great tool. Great blog, thank you!
12/11/15
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robertkmaaye
Great to see you've joined Tracey. Glad you like the post!
12/11/15
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LawrieOK
Rob/Catherine is Tandem Performance offering something similar to CB's work on EI?
13/11/15
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NickRuddock
Catherine, are there any books you would recommend on this topic for coaches? Thank for a great read.
14/11/15
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CatherineBaker
Haven't heard of that particular organisation but yes, there are others out there. The key for us is ensuring that any work around EI is insight driven (which we ensure by using the leading trait EI questionnaire in the market) and also with a real focus on the practical applications and implementation - ie increasing your effectiveness as a coach.
Re books, Daniel Goleman's "Emotional Intelligence - why it can matter more than IQ" is the best place to start. Dr Steve Peters' The Chimp Paradox is accessible and quite a fun read.
The definition of EI can cover many things - for us the key is what is actually relevant for you as a coach to move from good (skills/competencies), to better (experience), to great (behavioural).
16/11/15
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CatherineBaker
Just read a great piece by Steve Hansen in the New Zealand Herald. He makes some interesting comments re emotional intelligence, understanding what makes your players tick, and handling pressure. http://m.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/article.cfm?c_id=4&objectid=11559601
13/12/15
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robertkmaaye
Great read Catherine thanks for sharing!
14/12/15
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Goose

Evening All
Just stumbled across this article it ties in really well with a podcast I listened to regarding coaching EGO vs. EQ or EI, I deal with children who have severe social and emotional, mental health needs everyday and find that you have to stay very grounded (not to take things too personally) or 'Stay in the Blue' to quote James Kerr's book 'Legacy'. The more grounded and here in the now you can be, allows you as a coach to can attune with the environment and players, identifying the emotional needs as they players come into, participate and then leaving the session. You are understanding where they are mentally when they enter the session. It could be they need validating. For example them wanting to share something about their week or noticing that they are agitated so you can adjust your persona,body language, and spoken language. The smile is my greatest weapon of choice when it comes to EI as it is this that immediately breaks down barriers and sets the fun element for the session.The more in tune you are with yourself means that you can be more in tune with players being the coach they need you to be in the hear and now. I have also found that by being more understanding of myself it has contributed to me stopping being the shouty coach and am now more the reflective coach, being the coach the players/athletes need. Ego v EI, If you have not already the link is below well worth a listen.
http://www.athletebydesign.com/category/ego-vs-eq/

11/05/17
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