Emotional Intelligence

Applied Practice in Football – A Perspective for Football Coaches

Positive mindset allows performance levels to increase because it facilitates direction and focus. The relationship between mental preparation and sport psychology therefore becomes important and there is evidence of its use in cricket, golf and tennis. It is therefore not surprising that football has also introduced sport science to their mapped programme of which sport psychology is an integral part. Given the contention that sport psychology plays an integral role within football it would be purposeful to argue of its merit for football coaches in performance settings.

One key concept that resonates closely with football is emotion and its impact during the competitive season. Football coaches will invariably elicit a range of emotions that have the potential to impact players. Therefore, football coaches need to understand the complexity of emotions and regulate these accordingly. Effective emotional regulation could lead to more effective and facilitated performance levels. The regulation of emotion can be understood through the theory of emotional intelligence (Goleman, 2004; Mayer & Savoley, 1990).

In examining the nature of emotional intelligence and its importance within football, this chapter advocates its value for football coaches. Through the use of grounded theory, football coaches will be supported to facilitate strategies to enhance and increase emotional intelligence levels for themselves and those that they coach. This chapter will be split into the following sections:

  • Outline the definition and conceptual space of emotional intelligence
  • Identify research avenues that promote the efficacy of emotional intelligence
  • Facilitate the purpose of emotional intelligence in football coaching with the use of the Daniel Goleman (2004) model


  • Definition of emotional intelligence and conceptual space

Emotional intelligence has been defined as ‘the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotion, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions’ (Salovey & Mayer, 1990, p. 189). A closer inspection of this definition clearly aligns to the work of a football coach. For example, football coaches are in constant dialogue with their emotions in both favourable and unfavourable situations. A favourable situation may surmount to success in an important match. An unfavourable situation may surmount to being knocked out of a cup competition. Based on these situations a football coach should be in a position to understand feelings and emotions of players they coach.

The framework of emotional intelligence provides opportunities for football coaches to engineer their own thinking and support performers they work alongside. Indeed, Mayer & Salovey (1990) suggest that people who exhibit higher levels of emotional intelligence are more likely to control their emotions and regulate these appropriately in order to support others. It is postulated that football coaches who are in control of their own emotions will demonstrate positive body language and display effective verbal expressions. Therefore, it is proposed that a football coach should employ emotional intelligence to identify own feelings and that of players they coach and moderate these in accordance with the situation. In consideration of this suggestion, it would be purposeful to evidence previous research that has utilised emotional intelligence in different fields.

  • Identify research that promotes the efficacy of emotional intelligence in different fields

Extensive research has been carried out on emotional intelligence within the last 30 years (Goleman, 2004; Petrides, Furnham, & Frederickson, 2004; Salovey & Mayer, 1990). The effectiveness of emotional intelligence has been largely evidenced through meta-analysis research carried out by (Van Rooy & Viswesvaran, 2004). Based on the meta-analysis results it would be prudent to examine how emotional intelligence can influence football coaches with evidence from other sectors.

The business sector can demonstrate possible relationships that co-exist within football coaching. One would expect football coaches and business leaders to lead with a clear philosophy, demonstrate competency and control. Further, business and football sectors share common goals that demand results and success. Arguably, one could resonate that business leaders and football coaches who think ahead and act on impulse are likely to direct performers to change strategy and action plans. Research by Freedman (2010) highlights that leaders with higher levels of emotional intelligence are more likely to achieve greater sales, productivity, profitability, and customer loyalty. In substantiating this evidence further, Freedman (2010) highlights a number of research explorations related to business that identify how awareness, self-management of emotions, motivation, empathy and social skills contribute to greater effectiveness in business. Arguably, aspects highlighted in the research by Freedman (2010) give credence to their utility and purpose within football coaching. Recently, Turner and Baker (2014) have also outlined how sport psychology can support the business sector to utilize transferable skills to increase performance levels. Therefore, there is clear evidence of how a relationship between business and football coaching can co-exist.

The education sector is another area that resonates closely to emotional intelligence and football coaching. For example, one key characteristic for educators and football coaches relates to guidance and support to foster learner development and progress in delivering success. To supplement this further, practitioners within education deliver excellence to their students to provide a pathway for future success with facilitated learning. A key determinant within education and football coaching is motivation, which compromises both intrinsic and extrinsic values. To supplement the facilitative nature of motivation it is suggestive that practitioners utilize a mixture of strategies. Arguably, educators and football coaches require an inner self-drive to enthuse those that they are providing opportunities to succeed. The demonstration of communication is also important to education and football coaching. For example, educators and football coaches have limited time to communicate knowledge and raise awareness. Although this is a very short synopsis of the possible co-existence between education and football coaching they are closely aligned to emotional intelligence.

Within football coaching it is suggested that coaches regulate their emotions by employing strategies to remain in control during pressure situations. A closer examination of emotional intelligence therefore is suggestive that football coaching demonstrates alignment with emotional regulation. In making this assumption it would be ideal to propose the impact of emotional intelligence and coaching efficacy. One could argue that there is a close alignment between emotional intelligence and coaching characteristics including game strategy, technique and character development. Research evidence of Thelwell et al. (2006) has considered the relationship between emotional intelligence and coaching efficacy to determine coaching relationships. Thewell et al. (2006) identified characteristics of coaching efficacy aligned closely with emotional intelligence.  The key emphasis of the research outlined that coaches whose levels of emotional intelligence were high were likely to support performers more effectively.

The evidence presented above demonstrates co-existence and effectiveness of emotional intelligence within the business, education and sport sectors. In consideration of this, it has become pertinent to assess the potential relationship between emotional intelligence and football coaching to enable opportunities to apply transferable skills within applied practice. In consideration of this, the purpose of the next section is to apply emotional intelligence to football coaching. It is proposed that emotional intelligence will allow football coaches opportunities to increase self-awareness of practices. Through self-awareness a football coach could self-regulate their emotions and support players with motivation. Further, it is proposed that building empathy and addressing relationship management skills would facilitate effective coaching practices.

  • Propose the Daniel Goleman (2004) model of emotional intelligence and associate its link to football coaching

The Daniel Goleman (2004) model of emotional intelligence contains five aspects that align closely with football coaches. Given the flexibility of this model it provides opportunities for football coaches to employ it through an interchangeable process. Therefore, an explanation of each aspect of the model and its influence to improve performance levels will be provided. To utilize this influence an emphasis on promoting the use of activities that could help increase emotional intelligence will be offered.

1) Self-Awareness

One of the central tenants of the Goleman (2004) model is self-awareness, which is defined as ‘the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others,’ (Goleman, 2004, p. 88). Self-awareness is an integral process as it provides a platform from which a core basis of the emotional intelligence paradigm is built. Arguably, to demonstrate and facilitate high quality coaching sessions one could postulate coaches require increased levels of self-awareness. Football coaches who exhibit high levels of self-awareness better understand their own emotions and regulate these accordingly. Further, football coaches that exhibit increased levels of self-awareness are more likely to assess and evaluate their own sessions and employ self-reflection. Therefore, football coaches who are self-aware of their ability to communicate during coaching sessions are most likely to engineer appropriate responses from players. Indeed, coaches who increase their own self-awareness levels are most likely to help facilitate and guide performers to increase performance levels. The process of increasing self-awareness could be formed from facilitative techniques and strategies. In raising self-awareness levels we are educating young and upcoming coaches the art of understanding their own behaviour and to regulate emotive patterns.

Given the important context of self-awareness and its relationship with effective performance, it is proposed that football coaches utilise the process of identification. Through the process of identification it is hoped that coaches build their own levels of self-awareness. One example of raising self-awareness is through the process of identifying emotions and their impact during successful and unsuccessful situations as demonstrated by the worksheet below.

Worksheet 1: Positive and Negative Cycle

Positive Cycle Negative Cycle






















It is recommended that football coaches focus on thought processes, body language and expressions displayed to outline their emotions during positive and negative cycles. Football coaches should compare and contrast various emotions to increase levels of self-awareness. To facilitate levels of self-awareness, it is recommended that football coaches implement the use of reflective practice (Knowles REF). Reflective practice is pertinent as it allows football coaches to identify their own strengths and areas to improve. In application, it is proposed that once emotions have been identified and a period of reflection takes place, opportunities emerge for coaches to implement strategies to facilitate applied practice. Through the use of the positive and negative cycles, it is further recommended that football coaches utilize the practice of assessing their emotions on a consistent basis.

2) Self-Management of Emotions

The second aspect of the Goleman (2004) model is the self-management of emotions, which is defined as ‘the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods; the tendency to suspend judgment to think before acting’ (Goleman, 2004, p. 88). Managing own emotions is important because it offers a sense of control and the ability to think logically. Further, managing own emotions enables coaches to facilitate directive actions. Given the varied role of coaches it is unsurprising that they will exhibit a continuum of emotions from players. Therefore, the football coach should employ strategies to facilitate and self-mange emotion. Research by Thelwell et al. (2006) identified that effective coaches arguably are those that can regulate their own emotions. In other words coaches who fail to regulate their own emotions will not be successful in controlling those of their players. Good coaches are more likely to be in control of their emotions and regulate these during appropriate situations on a consistent basis.

To self-manage emotions the worksheet below is designed to allow opportunities for coaches to facilitate their own emotions. It is proposed that coaches facilitate opportunities to identify both positive and negative emotions within their own practices. The self-management process worksheet is designed for coaches to examine and assess reaction to both positive and negative emotion outcomes. It is hoped that coaches can through identified interpretation and raised self-awareness regulate and self-manage emotions in a reflective process.


Worksheet 2: The Self-Management Process

Anger/Disappointment/Frustration Happy/Excited/Joyful




















3) Empathy

The third aspect of the Goleman (2004) model relates to empathy, which is having the ability to understand players and their needs but also finding the balance with own requirements. A coach who demonstrates empathy with their players would understand needs and emotions more effectively.

Empathy is an important aspect and coaches should look at facilitating as many opportunities to support players. Through the use of empathy it would be useful for players to know that peers are responsive to their needs and requirements. Building empathy in football is important because coaches with higher empathy levels better understand players.


Benefits of empathy Opportunities to increase empathy levels
1) Better understanding of other coaches 1) Peer observation with fellow coaches
2) Demonstrates opportunities to support other coaches 2) Video/visual recording of oneself and other coaches
3) Allows the implementation of strategies at an early intervention stage 3) Maintain a reflective log or journal to write down how you deal with situations
4) Associates with ability to assess body language 4) Use mirror images – to see yourself in reflection so you can ask questions of your body language, expression or emotions
5) Associates with ability to assess expressions 5) Have regular scenario building meetings to examine empathy levels
6) Associates with ability to assess emotions 6) Associate with practitioners from different sports to increase transferable skills


The worksheet on empathy is designed for coaches to better understand their working practices. In proposal, it is suggestive that coaches identify peers that they work with and assess how they relate to working under pressure. To facilitate this activity, it is proposed that the coach identifies two coaches (present or from previous experience) and assesses their empathy levels and emotion when working under pressure. Having considered this process, the football coach should seek to understand their peer coach behavior and also how they would react to similar situations. This approach provides opportunities for football coaches to examine their own levels of empathy in given situations.

Worksheet 3: Empathy

Individual 1 (Positive Football Coach)

(Working under pressure)

Individual 2 (Negative Football Coach)

(Working under pressure)


(Working under pressure)




















4) Motivation

The fourth aspect of the Goleman (2004) model is motivation, which is defined as the inner self-drive to achieve goals. Coaches should be in control of their motivation to engineer motivational responses from players. A popular strategy employed by many coaches is the use of goal setting. It is highly recommended that coaches employ goal setting that include process and performance goals in addition to outcome goals. It has been demonstrated that when goal setting is employed effectively it increases motivational qualities (Locke & Latham, 1990). Goal setting provides opportunities for coaches to direct focus and direction to increase motivational properties of their own working practices and players. Given the value of goal setting, it is proposed that it should be employed to enhance levels of emotional intelligence and motivation.

To provide opportunities to increase motivation levels the goal setting matrix has been designed to support football coaches. The goal-setting matrix enables football coaches to design purposeful interventions to enhance performance levels. To elicit short-term gains, it is proposed that football coaches utilize the matrix on a three-week period. This short period will allow football coaches opportunities to provide individual feedback. It is recommended that coaches introduce mental, technical, physical and nutritional goals to facilitate performance levels. Further, this matrix will enable coaches to focus on integral aspects relative to performance levels.

Worksheet 4: Goal Setting

Aspect Goal 1 Goal 2 Goal 3









5) Relationship Management

The final aspect of the Goleman (2004) model is relationship management, which is the consequence of developing skills and strategies in managing others. Good relationships allow opportunity for effective team unity and group cohesion. Arguably, effective group cohesion increases the likelihood of success. Developing effective relationships with peers and players is important as they can exhibit an array of differing personality traits. The management of relationships is important given the varied role of football coaches that resonate from training needs, match strategies, technical aspects and team selection.

The following strategies are recommended for football coaches to implement within their coaching practices to facilitate relationship management:

  • Setting ground rules that inform players of roles and responsibilities
  • Develop coaching practices that enable players to combine and build group dynamics through training
  • Incorporate methods into training practice to support players that increases task and social cohesion
  • Process avenues that foster intrinsic and extrinsic motivation


The Relationship Management Model

The Relationship Management Model

Football coaches should consider the model above to demonstrate the importance of effective relationship management. Effective relationship management skills should enable coaches to coerce players to engineer associated group cohesion. Therefore, football coaches should be implicit in developing practices that form effective group cohesion. Building effective group cohesion enable teams to impact performance levels more effectively than those who have ineffective group practices. It is recommended that coaches should also implement the following strategies:

  • Foster effective relationships through engagement and reflective practice to enable coaches and players to develop self-awareness.
  • Implement varied training methods to encourage players to facilitate problem-solving skills.
  • Football coaches are encouraged to implement transferable coaching skills from other sports to elicit different behaviours but also allow engagement within own practices.
  • Allow opportunities for players to engage with performance and social related activities to develop effective group building exercises to increase cohesion levels.


The main emphasis of this chapter was to highlight the benefit of sport psychology and in particular emotional intelligence within football coaching. Through enhancing levels of self-awareness football coaches should be in a position to make applied practice more effective. In addition, football coaches who increase their own self-awareness levels will facilitate effective self-regulation and emotional control. Enhanced levels of emotional intelligence would also enable the formation of increased motivation and regulated empathy. The rubric of emotional intelligence also allows coaches to develop effective relationship management to increase group dynamics. In summary, the evidence clearly stipulates the benefits of increased emotional intelligence to enhance performance levels.



Goleman, D. (2004). What Makes a Leader? Harvard Business Review, 82(1), 82-91.

Knowles, Z., Gilbourne, D., & Tomlinson, V. (2007). Reflections on the application of reflective practice for supervision in applied sport psychology. SPORT PSYCHOL, 21(1), 109-122.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:Prentice-Hall.

Petrides, K. V., Furnham, A., & Frederickson, N. (2004). Emotional intelligence. The Psychologist, 17, 574-577.

Salovey, P. & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185-211.

Thelwell, R., Lane, A. M., Weston, N. J. V., & Greenlees, I. A. (2008). Examining relationships between emotional intelligence and coaching efficacy. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 6, 224-235. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1612197X.2008.9671863

Turner, M., & Baker, J. (2014) What Business Can Learn from Sport Psychology: Ten Lessons for Peak Professional Performance. Amazon.

Van Rooy, D., & Viswesvaran, C. (2004). Emotional intelligence: A meta-analytic investigation of predictive validity and nomological net. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 65, 71-95.

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About the Author: Gobinder Singh Gill

About the Author: Gobinder Singh Gill


Gobinder is an expert on emotional intelligence and has written books on the subject for sport, coaching and education. He has engaged audiences through workshops, staff development and one to one work.

Gobinder produces research that outlines how emotional intelligence influences performance levels and has presented to audiences both in the United Kingdom and abroad.

For more information on podcasts, worksheets and other useful materials please visit: www.psychologicaledge01.com

You can also follow Gobinder on Twitter – @psychedge01


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