Emotional Intelligence in Sports: How Does it Help You?

· November 4, 2018

The psychology of sports and physical activity is a branch of psychology that studies cognitive behavior while a person engages in sports or another physical activity. This applied science seeks to understand and optimize an athlete’s internal world. In this sense, researchers study the different psychological processes that influence athletes’ behavior, including emotional intelligence in sports.

These processes refer to concepts such as motivation and emotional processes and how they affect an athlete’s performance. They also study different aspects related to how psyche intervention affects performance, initiation, and health.

By using this knowledge, sports psychologists help athletes control stress since stress produces an emotional and behavioral imbalance that affects performance.

Goleman published his book Emotional Intelligence in 1985. As a result, people began to study emotional intelligence in different areas. Since then, social and scientific interest in emotional processes has increased. However, emotional intelligence wasn’t applied to sports until 2001. In 2009, it truly became an important aspect of sports and physical activity. 

A person swimming as a sport.

What’s emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is another way of understanding intelligence. It goes beyond cognitive aspects such as memory and the ability to solve problems.

Emotional intelligence is your ability to effectively interact with others and control yourself. It also involves connecting with your emotions and managing them, motivating yourself, controlling impulses, and overcoming frustration. Daniel Goleman, the guru of emotional intelligence, explains that there are four basic supporting dimensions in this field:

  • Self-awareness: It’s your ability to understand what you feel and staying true to your values and your essence.
  • Self-motivation: This is the ability to strive for your goals, recover from setbacks, and manage stress.
  • The third dimension deals with your social consciousness and empathy.
  • The fourth dimension is the philosophical pillar of emotional intelligence. This is your ability to relate, communicate, reach agreements, and connect positively and respectfully with others.

Emotional intelligence in sports

In sports, athletes have to deal with many expectations and demands. Differences in performance aren’t just due to physical training and nutrition, but also to mental states. Thus, sports psychology is responsible for analyzing, studying, and observing the behaviors, reactions, and emotional responses of an individual or team.

When you’re playing sports, you have to control your emotions or redirect them so that they don’t negatively affect the outcomes. In sports, you have to make quick and appropriate decisions.

Emotional intelligence is very interesting in the realm of sports. Intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects are really important here. Self-awareness, self-control, self-motivation, social skills, and empathy are things that every athlete manages to a greater or lesser extent.

Sports psychologists share many different relaxation techniques as well as exercises in concentration and visualization. Clubs, associations, and coaches are now hiring professionals to implement these techniques. Their goal is to improve the athletes’ performance.

Many of the tools that emotional intelligence and sports share have one thing in common: they’re very practical in day-to-day life.

A woman sitting on the pavement.

The importance of controlling your emotions

Many studies show the importance of controlling your emotions when practicing a sport. Hanin and Sirja (1995) found that emotions and success in sports go hand in hand in an individual.

However, it’s different in teams. Each athlete handles stress differently. So, each athlete requires different levels of positive and negative reinforcement for optimal performance during a game.

There aren’t many studies on emotional intelligence and sports. This is surprising if you think about the importance it has in other areas such as education. However, what the few available studies tell us is that emotional intelligence is very important to performance.

Benefits of emotional intelligence in sports

Emotional intelligence in sports can lead to more success, better performance, and improved motivation. However, emotional intelligence depends on the athlete’s personality and how they perform under pressure.

When an athlete is under pressure, they have to make split-second decisions. This creates huge spikes in their stress levels. Therefore, professional athletes must be trained to deal with stress.

Here are the benefits of emotional intelligence in sports:

  • On an emotional level. It makes the desire to achieve goals stronger. It also strengthens competitiveness, personal and professional values, self-assessment, teamwork, leadership, empathy, and emotional control.
  • On a physical level. It helps the athlete prioritize and not obsess about the sport. It helps with time management, knowing when to rest, and establishing proper eating habits.
  • On a social level. It improves the relationship with teammates, coaches, physiotherapists, etc.
  • On a rational level. It helps athletes learn how the game works on both technical and tactical levels.
Man listening to music while exercising representing emotional intelligence in sports.

As you can see, emotional intelligence in sports has many benefits. Although there’s not a lot of research out there to support this fact, new studies are being conducted all the time. In sports, little things matter. A second or a centimeter can mean the difference between winning and losing. So, although emotional intelligence in sports is a small thing, it can make a big difference.