Mayer and Salovey (1997:5) defined Emotional Intelligence (EI) as “the ability to perceive emotions, to assess and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth”. Petrides (2011:657) states that there are two EI constructs (trait and ability), differentiated by the methods used to operationalise them. Trait EI is measured via self – report questions, whilst ability EI is measured using maximum performance tests, i.e. questions that have ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers (Petrides, 2011:657). Trait EI is formally defined as a “constellation of emotional self-perceptions located at the lower levels of personality hierarchies” (Petrides, Pita, and Kokkinaki 2007:283). The table below presents a list of the 15 trait EI facets and what they mean.

The 15 Trait Emotional Intelligence Facets in Adults and Adolescents

FacetsHigh scorers perceive themselves as…
AdaptabilityFlexible and willing to adapt to new conditions.
AssertivenessForthright, frank, and willing to stand up for their rights.
Emotion PerceptionClear about their own and other people’s feelings.
Emotion ExpressionCapable of communicating their feelings to others.
Emotion Management (others)Capable of influencing other people’s feelings.
Emotion RegulationCapable of controlling their emotions.
Impulsiveness (low)Reflective and less likely to give in to their urges.
RelationshipsCapable of having fulfilling personal relationships.
Self-EsteemSuccessful and self-confident.
Self-MotivationDriven and unlikely to give up in the face of adversity.
Social AwarenessAccomplished networkers with excellent social skills.
Stress ManagementCapable of withstanding pressure and regulating stress.
Trait EmpathyCapable of taking someone else’s perspective.
Trait HappinessCheerful and satisfied with their lives.
Trait OptimismConfident and likely to “look on the bright side” of life.

A considerable amount of literature has been published on EI in recent years, first introduced by Salovey and Mayer in 1990 it is now a popular topic among researchers. Those who write about EI commonly hypothesise that high levels of EI contribute to success in what they deem to be important areas of life, such as education, work, and relationships (e.g. Goleman 1995; Salovey and Mayer 1990). Suggesting along with the table that it could play a role in sport, in particular with regards to team sports and leadership.

Emotions play an important role in sport performance (Jones 2003:471). The research below supports this. High EI has been proven to be beneficial for athletes of team sports; improving their performance. Crombie, Lombard, and Noakes (2009) found that team EI scores gained through an ability test in cricket were positively related to the team’s performance over two seasons. This suggests that team EI scores are a significant predictor of sports performance. Perlini and Halverson (2006) examined EI and success in the NHL. Results here indicate that EI scores were higher for NHL players than the general population; they also concluded that EI competencies facilitate the execution of hockey skills (Perlini and Halverson 2006:11). Zizzi, Deaner, and Hirschhorn (2003) investigated the relationship between EI in collegiate baseball players. Results indicated that EI was positively correlated with the total number of strikeouts by pitchers, again suggesting that EI is a sport performance indicator. Furthermore, according to Zizzi et al (2003), an athlete must recognise their emotions, as well as their teammates ‘and opponents’ emotions, in order to perform well in team sports.

Moreover, at the individual level higher EI was found to be positively related to the use of psychological skills, such as imagery and self-talk (Lane, Thelwell, Lowther, & Devonport, 2009) which have been proven to aid performance. Another positive effect EI is found to have in sports is its effect on stress when under pressure. Trait EI has been found to be related to task-oriented coping in table tennis players for different stressful situations (Laborde, You, Dosseville, & Salinas, in press). Facing stress and anxiety is common for all athletes. Especially those that are to perform at the highest level, they in particular must cope appropriately with stress when under lots of pressure.

To summarise, there is strong evidence to confirm that EI has a role in sport and that it is beneficial for performance. It is worth remembering that being ‘emotionally intelligent’ is not about having a positive outlook or cheery personality, it is about emotionally intelligent athletes being more ready to cope with the full array of emotions that accompany the challenges of sports participation allowing them to perform to a higher standard.