How do Emotional Intelligence Skills Help Athletes?

Watch: The Mental Difference Between Clutch or Choke

Are You Playing the Mental or Physical Game?

Some say that sports is 90% mental and 10% physical. While others believe it is more an even 50/50 split. Which one is it?

In our experience, while an athlete is in development before turning pro, performance is 50% mental and 50% physical. At the highest levels of competition, it is more towards the 90/10. This is because at professional levels, the majority of athletes have access to the same science and training to maximize their physical conditioning. The question is—‘How do certain athletes, even ones that are not as genetically gifted, perform in the “clutch” versus “choke” when it counts'?’

Regardless of athletic level, one thing is certain; most athletes spend the majority of their development period using a “neck-down” approach. And yet, training the “neck-up” can be the difference between turning pro or being lost in the pack.

Defining Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Skills

According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped to popularize emotional intelligence, there are five key elements to EQ:

  1. Self-Awareness

  2. Self-Regulation

  3. Motivation

  4. Empathy

  5. Social Skills

YouEQ has integrated Goleman’s framework, along with other popular models, while adding our understanding of how emotional intelligence applies to mental health and performance.

Emotional intelligence can become a competitive advantage to athletes in any sports. We teach emotional intelligence skills using our Performance EQ model.


How Emotional Intelligence Skills Apply to Sports

Athletes with Self-Awareness Perform Under Pressure

YouEQ teaches athletes to recognize what they are feeling and what to do about it. When athletes become distracted, or even overwhelmed, by an emotion, performance suffers. These emotions can come from the sport itself, the athlete’s sense of identity or events outside of sports. Unchecked emotions can cause a stress response (flight, fight or freeze) that affects an athletes physical to command—regardless of the hours of practice, preparation and planning.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

- Mike Tyson

Self-Regulation is the Difference Between Clutch or Choke

With self-awareness, athletes with high emotional intelligence are able to manage their emotions during competition. This is enhanced by the skill of emotional agility—which is the ability to be accurate with emotional recognition and react quickly. During competition, this could equate to a fraction of a second difference between wining or losing. This is one of the main reasons some athletes are unfortunately known for always choking during the “big game.”

It is important to mention that self-regulation is a key factor in recovery from injury and performance issues. Injury can be one of the most devastating losses an athlete can endure. Self-regulation for mental health and performance recovery is accelerated with EQ skills.

Athletes Must be Intrinsically Motivated

Intrinsic motivation is what sets the average athlete apart from the superstar who is first to show up for practice and last to leave the training facility. Intrinsic motivation relies on EQ to understand one’s drive for purpose and mastery of a sport. Motivation also relies on emotional responsibility. Tiger Woods is an example of an individual who has combined emotional responsibility with intrinsic motivation to author arguably one of the greatest performance comebacks in sports history.

Teams Win with Empathy

The common understanding of empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling. However in sports, it goes far and beyond. Empathy can be used in team dynamics to sense where teammates will be and how they will respond in real time. It is also used to enhance and protect team chemistry.

The best example of this is Lebron James. James is the preeminent basket player of this generation, yet it is no secret that other star players (even coaches) can ride an emotional roller coaster when on the same team as the King. Regardless of his basketball IQ, empathy as an EQ skill is critical for the emotional maturity of the whole team beyond one superstar.

Social Skills Protect Mental Health & Performance

Not a year goes by where there isn’t a story of an athlete that reaches the heights of their sport, just to come crashing down in their personal lives. The personal conduct of athletes is under more scrutiny than ever.

All athletes must ultimately answer the question, “Who do I want to be and who do I want to be me with?” This is a matter of using EQ-based social skills, because the fact is, sports is a business that exists in a complex social system. By combining emotional agility with emotional maturity, athletes can manage their personal lives to maximize career longevity. Tom Brady comes to mind. Not only is he highly disciplined in football, outside of the NFL he is a “no drama” family man that quietly goes about his business with strong social support. We also should mention the rise of esports which is creating a new culture of gamer athletes who are facing unseen challenges in terms of mental health as they are thrust into the spotlight.

YouEQ Neuro-Gamification for Athletes

YouEQ adds game dynamics to brain training for emotional intelligence. For athletes, playing games to develop new skills is a natural fit. Training is fast, fun and affordable—compared to traditional sports psychologists and training. Participants have access to certified trainers with athletic backgrounds and competitive experience.

Coaches, trainers and parents of athletes are also welcome to get certified.