Coaching with Emotional Intelligence - Part 2

The importance of understanding Emotional Intelligence and how it can help you as a coach is crucial to you being a successful coach but also a good person. Former Socceroo & Matilda’s Assistant Coach & Coach Educator, Robbie Hooker, follows up his initial article to apply the key messages from Esme Gullick’s workshop on Emotional Intelligence to Football.

Good coaches have the ability to understand their emotions and also those of the people around them. This is an important skill when dealing with situations that test the coaches and players resolve.

Player/Team Setbacks:
Every coach and player at some stage of their lives goes through setbacks that test their character and resolve. For Senior players and performance football these setbacks could include a period of poor form either individually or as a team. For young players in the development phase (Skill Training or Game Training) these setbacks could be the inability to grasp a new skill or a new tactical element or even a combination of both. Without setbacks and mistakes, it would be difficult to gain the experience needed to learn from these and be able to grow to become better.
Some of the common emotions that are felt during a setback can include,

  • Anger/Frustration
  • Annoyance
  • Fear/Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Embarrassment/Shame
  • Apathy
  • Despair
  • Jealousy/Envy

The coach’s job is to try to create a form of resilience in their players both individually and as a team by working with your players so that they are able to deal with setbacks in a clear and effective manner. The resilience can be both physiological and psychological/emotional. Being able to tolerate tough training conditions for your bodies muscles to adapt and become stronger and better or gaining the resilience to overcome a lapse in form are both examples of the sort of resilience that a coach needs to develop in their players along the journey.

It is also vitally important that you as a coach become resilient to the setbacks that you have or your team has and as the leader of the team you need to set the standard and the manner in which you bounce back from those setbacks.
It is crucial for the coach to observe the behaviours of their players after a setback and see who is coping and who is not and why not. Some of the common behaviours that may be on display during or after a setback,

  • Awfulisation (making a mountain out of a molehill)
  • Personalisation (taking the setback personally)
  • Blame (of fellow teammates and coaches)
  • Disregard (ignoring the issues and pretending everything is ok)
  • Self/Group Reflection (coming to terms with the personal contribution to the setback)
  • Optimism (hopeful about the future games)

There will be players that are not fazed by the setbacks and remain positive and will just get on with the job but there will be others that will not be able to cope or start to drag the team down with negative behaviours.

A coach needs to see what the team leaders are doing and use them to help influence the other members of the team if they are being positive. If the team leader/s are not being positive they could drag the whole group down with them so the coach now has to work with the team leader/s to generate some positive emotions and a positive vibe for those leader/s to take back to the wider group.

Do your players imitate your emotions and reactions to setbacks? If they do then it is important to be setting a good example so they can see that all is fine as this will provide some confidence to them to help them “move on”.

Senior Football and Performance Football:
In a sport that has a regular season with weekly matches such as football (Senior and Performance Phase) we have to develop a way to “move on” from every setback that a match may bring. Whether the result, or some problems identified during the match, it is important to reflect and review the events then deal with those and then start to focus on the next match. It is important to draw a line at some point from the previous match so that everyone can “move on” to the next match.

After a match it is important to review with your team areas that need working on. Some coaches will do a video session with their team to show both good things and things to fix and then work on the problems at the first training session after the weekend match. At this point it would probably be a good idea to then start to focus for the next match knowing that you have dealt with any issue from the previous match quickly. It is important that any issues do not hang around too long into your training week as it may impact on you and your team’s ability to then focus on the next match.

Youth Development:
As long-term development is the core of everything a SAP or youth coach does it is important to have that in mind when thinking about how to apply this approach in your environment. The setbacks can be seen as the errors or mistakes players make and that need fixing on a Cycle/Weekly/Daily basis. The approach is the same in that the problem needs to be identified quickly so that there is a clear understanding of what it is that needs fixing. A micro example of this is an intervention to fix a problem in a Skill Training or Game Training session.

  • The coach needs to explain what it is and how and why it happened.
  • The coach needs have a plan/script on how to fix the problem so that the player can understand easily.
  • The coach then needs to allow the player time to execute the solution/s satisfactorily during the session.

While doing these things in the intervention the smart youth coach will also be paying particular attention to how the player is perceiving this setback and, are they displaying any of the above behaviours because of the mistake or error they made. This will allow the smart coach to adjust the tone of voice or the manner of feedback or the type of intervention needed. This skill along with the use of clever Q/A will guide the coach in adjusting his/her coaching behaviour to suit the individual in that intervention or as a general guide on how to approach that player in future setbacks/mistakes/errors. Once this process has been completed it will allow the player to “move on” with the next play or task they need to focus on.

It must be remembered that young players will fall back into the same mistake/error from time to time as there may not have been enough time to make this a good habit or change of behaviour. As long as you are consistent in your approach the process will eventually pay off once the “penny has dropped” for most young players. For both Senior/Performance Football and Youth Development the above can be put more simply with the following.

  • Acknowledge and accept responsibility for the setback/mistake/error and the frustration it is has caused.
  • Review the setback/mistake/error and determine how and why it occurred.
  • Have a plan to fix the problems observed.
  • Execute the solutions and then get on with the next match/play.
  • It is important to create a positive team/training/match environment to counteract any negative emotions.

Player Injuries:
In most sport, injuries are part of the game. These injuries can be seen as a setback or a challenge depending how you look at them. Everyone will have a different view on what the injury brings for the player. When players get inured, they can feel a range of emotions that can impact on their ability to get back onto the field quickly. A good coach needs to understand and display empathy toward a player that is dealing with an injury no matter what type or the seriousness of the injury.
Some of the feelings that a player may go through can include,

  • A loss of identity (no longer the player I used to be)
  • A loss of role (I am no longer an important part of the team)
  • A loss of self-esteem
  • A loss of a healthy coping mechanism (my exercise was my way to escape)
  • A loss of social connectedness (I have less to talk about with my teammates)
  • A loss of structure
  • A loss of confidence
  • A loss of a goal (dream)

Injured players often feel isolated from the team as a lot of their recovery is alone or with a medical professional away from the team environment. Showing empathy by meeting with the player at this time not only gives the player some more social connectedness but it also strengthens the coach/player relationship (knowing your players as people as well as players). The player will be able to connect better with a coach that they feel supports them especially in their time of need. The coach can show some of the below empathic responses,

  • Acknowledge their pain
  • Share how you feel
  • Show gratitude that they came to the training/match
  • Show interest
  • Be encouraging
  • Be supportive

As the coach you can try to make the player see this as another challenge to get through. Share an injury story from your past if you have one. Preferably a positive story about how you recovered from the same injury and went on to do great things once you were back. Stay connected with your player during the recover process and take an interest of where they are up to in their recovery. Reassure the player you will be able to help them through this period of uncertainty. This will demonstrate that you care for them as a person.

Provide the player with an alternative role within the team that they are capable of doing. Possibly helping on match day with gear duties or taking stats on the match or helping out with the set up and conduct of training etc. This gives them a sense that they have a role within the team and are contributing to the success. Where possible include them in training sessions. The injury may allow them to do just the warm up or may be able to be a neutral/target player in the main part of the session. For example, a GK with an arm or upper body injury may be a server/feeder or target player to bounce balls off. This will keep them connected with the team and also allow them to practice their first touch and distribution skills in the team environment. Trust the medical and team professionals with the player’s recovery and always consult with them with the players well-being the priority.

Finally, the mental health of injured players can quite often be overlooked. It is crucial to your players that their mental health is monitored more so than normal when they are injured especially if it is a long-term injury. Players that have a more balanced life away from football with other interests or hobbies are less likely to experience mental health problems during periods of setback and injury.

Robbie Hooker