Coaching is far more than just teaching sports skills to individuals and teams. It is also about inspiring, giving confidence and motivating others by building quality relationships. You need to poses the emotional expertise in order to build those relationships with an individual or within a sports team. In sports psychology this emotional expertise is called Emotional Intelligence (EI).

There is clear evidence to substantiate that EI is beneficial for performance as outlined in my last article. This short article will demonstrate the usefulness of EI for sports coaches and what I takes to be an emotionally intelligent sports coach.

My last article included a table of the 15 Trait Emotional Intelligence Facets in Adults and Adolescents. I have chosen five of these to expand upon in relation to coaching, I have chosen the five that closest relate to Goleman’s (1998) components of EI important for leaders: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill.

  1. Emotion Perception

The ability of a coach to be clear about their own and other people’s feelings is a useful one. A successful coach will have a good perception of their performers. Emotional perception also relates to self-awareness. Highly self-aware coaches are confident, have a realistic view of their abilities, and aren’t afraid to admit their mistakes in order to improve.

  1. Emotion Regulation

It is important for a coach to be capable of controlling their emotions. An emotionally intelligent coach will be able to maintain control during pressurised situations, which regularly arise in sporting situations such as team selection, high importance matches, and team talks. Emotion regulation also refers to adaptability-being flexible and willing to adapt to new conditions.

  1. Self-Motivation

A highly self-motivated coach will be driven and unlikely to give up in the face of adversity. A successful coach needs to be motivated to coach for the sake of coaching not driven by the thought of winning trophies and titles. A coach must look to maintain their own motivation and also motivate their performers to get the best from them.

  1. Trait Empathy

A coach high in this facet of EI will be capable of taking someone else’s perspective. Coaches who have the ability to empathise are able to build strong relationships with their athletes as they will feel comfortable going to the coach with their issues and problems.

  1. Social Awareness

A coach that has social awareness will be an accomplished networker with excellent social skills. Coaches who are socially skilled will be better at managing relationships and will be capable of influencing others.


Although having strong technical and tactical knowledge for a given sport may make a good and highly successful coach, the research into EI does suggest that other qualities can play an important role and separate good from great coaches. An emotionally intelligent coach is one who leads with emotion perception, emotion regulation, self-motivation, trait empathy, and social awareness and they will create a team environment conducive to enjoyment, trust, and maximal effort resulting in better performance.