Coaching with Emotional Intelligence

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 shares his vast experiences and learnings from a recent workshop on Emotional Intelligence.

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.
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to generate, perceive and understand the range of emotions of ourselves and others.

All successful coaches and athletes have usually built good rapport and relationships with each other. Successful coaches must have the ability to relate or connect with their athletes and staff including administrators, parents and stakeholders. There is a need to understand your own emotions and be able to control your emotions so you can display leadership qualities that are crucial to success.

These coaches will continually strive with a clear sense of purpose based on core values and be able to put everything into perspective and balance. They will also look to continually reflect and strive to get better. Studies have shown that coaches with increased Emotional Intelligence will result in a better coach/athlete relationship which will lead to better athlete well-being which in turn will lead to enhanced performance and better coach well-being.

Getting to know your players and where they have come from so you can better understand who they are and have a better understanding of how to communicate to them to build a better relationship is something I try to do with all interactions with all players and coaches I work with. Studies have shown the power of touch or physical contact such as high fives, touch fists etc can have a significant impact on athlete confidence and well-being and improved performance. In Basketball this is always evident particularly when shooting free throws or after making baskets or big plays etc. We could possibly use this in football in a penalty kick situation where attacking players would touch the penalty taker to provide confidence and a sense of “we are right there with you no matter what happens”. This could also be used with the defending team with the GK.

In today’s environment of Coronavirus there may not be encouragement to touch although with most team sports having some form of contact in the game it would seem rather silly if it were completely banned. Please be aware that the coach, in a position of power, should keep physical contact limited to high five or a pat on the back when dealing with athletes especially under age athletes.

The power of praising athletes is an underestimated tool but if used wrongly can be more harmful than good. The types of praise a coach may use include verbal, behavioural and physical. When praising athletes, it is important to be specific with what it was they did that was good. For example, “That was a great run even though you didn’t get the ball.”

Praising the effort, the process and progress and not just the outcome is important as it places less emphasis on the end result. If praise is entirely centred around winning performances then it may be
a long time between positive praise and the hard work, disciplined approach and great technique may go unnoticed and may lead athletes to become disillusioned with all the hard work and processes that provide the best chance of success. This is crucial when dealing with up and coming young athletes trying to learn how to deal with winning and losing and the “right way to do things”.

Praising behaviour over skill when possible and praise at the right time is crucial to the effectiveness  of the praise. If you continually just praise good skill or goal scoring then it may be the same players getting the praise when all the discipline and hard work and effort of the other players is being ignored. Avoiding overpraise is also important to remember as it can start to have little effect if it is done all
the time. It would also lead the athlete to an inflated self-esteem. Be careful not to single out the same athlete/player for praise all the time as it may lead other
players to think they are not good enough.

Try to find even the smallest reason to praise players/athletes that would not normally get praise. Being conscience about this so that all your players experience some sort of praise or boost to their sense of well-being and confidence is crucial to you being able to build a good coach/athlete relationship. Praising the athlete in private can be effective as they will gain confidence but praising in front of the team can inspire other payers to work hard or improve so they can get the praise as well. The praise can come into football coaching in the form of “coaching on the run”, or at an
intervention when players have done something good to lead into the area, they need help with.

Some parts of the PDE maybe good so praising that before then trying to help with other parts of the PDE would be effective to give the player a sense that they are doing the right things and are on the right track. For example, “That was a really good decision to play that pass as it got us in behind their back four but do you think a lofted pass would have made it more successful?”

Praise at the end of the training session or after a match would have a big impact as this is where most players and coaches measure performance/effort and effectiveness of the training/coaching. Praising the group as a whole for the effort and discipline can also be effective as it will pull all the players together in the same direction emotionally especially if some of them may have been
struggling for confidence. You can then speak to individual players that you may think need extra support privately.

The power of praise is one way to help your ability to connect with your players/staff and other stakeholders and is crucial to all long-term successful people.

Robert Hooker