Watch lots of sport, read about it or involved in coaching? Chances are you’re familiar with the term ’emotional intelligence’. Commentators might use it when assessing the mental resolve of a performer or team. But what is it, and how does it impact upon our performance? The term emotional intelligence describes our awareness and the control we have over our emotions. It is also used with reference to our ability to relate to others and to control our relationships with others. Looking more specifically at sports and competitive arenas we are talking about controlling our emotions during the different events that occur in play. For example, our ability to display a ‘cool head under pressure’ or to control aggression in contact situations.
The Need for Emotional Intelligence in Sports
Pressure in competitive sports comes in many different forms. We can apply our own pressure through the expectations we have of our selves. Team mates and supporters apply pressure through expectation and feedback. And of course, opponents are intentionally trying to place performers under pressure. How athletes respond to this pressure often defines their performance and the outcome of the competition. Anyone familiar with elite sport and performance environments will know that training is also a high pressure environment. By its very nature, training is a form of stress to which the body overcomes.
‘If it doesn’t challenge you then it wont change you’
Not every athlete possesses a high level of emotional intelligence. Sport specific interventions that encourage athletes to identify and reflect upon their responses to specific scenarios improve emotional intelligence. Elite sports coaches will now assess an athletes ability to cope with the pressures of elite sport. These potential stressors include training, competition, administration, recovery and nutrition. That’s right, even eating the right foods is enough to send some athletes into a flat spin!!!
When is Emotional Intelligence needed?
There is a growing consensus amongst high performance coaches that the training environment must match the competition arena. Competition environments are highly stressful for athletes. Many training environments are not by comparison! For training to be truly effective, it must reflect the intensity of the competition arena in some way. This is why some elite strength and conditioning coaches are putting heart rate monitors onto their athletes prior to training. Heart rate is a simple way of measuring the physiological strain an athlete is under.
A Personal Perspective on Emotional Intelligence in Training
I’ve recently started to train quite seriously for CrossFit competitions. The competitive aspects of CrossFit are replicated in training. Sources of pressure come from the ability to perform certain movements efficiently, lift heavy loads in specific lifts and string together these elements against the clock. I experience pressure during every training session. Resistance loads are ever increasing and the time frame to complete work ever decreasing. Add to this the frustration of not being able to complete all of the gymnastics moves! Whether it’s missing lifts, failing movements or simply racing the clock with everything I have, my emotional intelligence is tested every single day. I have to control the elation of a personal best, and pick myself up when I fall short of the workout goals.