Emotional Intelligence in sports


By Alexandria Olton

IF you would, take a moment with me…it’s 2016, we’re at Eden Gardens Kolkata watching what has been quite an exciting T20 thus far. England’s Rashid and Willey have eliminated Simmons, Russell, Bravo and Sammy leaving The West Indies with a loosened grip on the acclaimed World Cup title. Samuels and Brathwaite find themselves as the “last hail Mary,” for the side.

The West Indies need 19 runs from the very last over. It’s a mixed bag of emotions for the batting pair; a combination of decision-making under pressure, managing their own emotions, sustaining their focus on the task at hand and all while simultaneously attempting to block out emotions/jeers expelled by the English team and fans. Indeed, it is a tall order but somehow Brathwaite pulls four consecutive sixes out of the bag claiming the title of World Cup champions for the West Indies and etching into the history books one of the greatest T20 matches of all time.

In the world of sport successful athletes are often those associated with great skill and confidence, the ability to think on their feet, and adapt to any competition situation they may face. Further to this, you might add that they are the athletes who can, “get in the zone,” and perform (successfully) from that space. During that final over in 2016, Brathwaite and Samuels found themselves in that very place.

But why are some athletes able to perform from “the zone,” more consistently, while others dip in and out? Why are some athletes better at making decisions under pressure, or adapt more readily to an environment, over others? Collectively, we in the world of sport psychology, attest this to Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

A concept most familiar to those within the business world, it is “The quintessential ingre-dient to surviving and thriving in the corporate world…” and other blurb material.

But we find EQ creeping its way into other fields that demand consistent successful performance, including sport.

In this April 3, 2016 file photo, West Indies's Carlos Brathwaite(R)and teammate Marlon Samuels celebrate after victory in the World T20 final against England, at The Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium in Kolkata, India. (AFP PHOTO) -

But what exactly is EQ and why is it so impactful? The very authors of the subject, Salovey and Mayer (1990) define it as,

“The capability of individuals to recognise their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).”

Simply put it is recognising and labelling our emotions (and those of others) and adapting our behaviour to achieve the best possible outcome.

For athletes, this means the higher your EQ the better you are at adapting to stressful situations on and off the field. You can make more task-focused decisions rather than be emotion-driven, develop better relationships with teammates and coaches, have higher levels of resilience when faced with adversity, be more productive during self and performance reflections, increase levels of sport-confidence, increase motivation, competitiveness and the list goes on…

So how do we begin to develop EQ? There certainly is no quick fix, but we may begin by looking into our self-awareness and emotional awareness. Here are a few reflection questions you can use to begin:

1. Do I know the difference between a thought, a feeling and an emotion?

2. Do I use helpful language to label my emotions (not just say “good” “bad” “fine”)?

3. Do I know how my thoughts and emotions affect my behaviour and performance in training and competition?

4. Do I allow my emotions to lead my decision-making during competition?

Whatever your responses to the questions try to then think of some ways that you might improve or change your habits to better your performance and put them to practice during training sessions. After all, as Will Durant says, “we are what we repeatedly do.”

Feel free to submit any questions you might have about this topic or sport psychology on the whole to alexandriaolton@outlook.com


"Emotional Intelligence in sports"

More in this section