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Emotional Intelligence in Sport Leadership

This is an excerpt from Contemporary Leadership in Sport Organizations 2nd Edition With HKPropel Access by David Scott.

Why Is EI Important for Sport Leaders?

As mentioned in the introduction, sport leaders often operate in an emotional environment, especially in competitive professional, intercollegiate, and amateur sports. They also frequently have many internal and external constituents who are directly or indirectly affected by the decisions they make. Hackman and Wageman (2007) suggested that effective leaders need considerable emotional maturity in dealing with their anxieties as well as the anxiety of others. According to Hackman and Wageman, leaders demonstrating emotional maturity can move toward an anxiety-arousing situation rather than moving away from it to reduce anxiety. Another important component of leadership these authors identified is the ability of leaders with emotional maturity to inhibit impulses, whether these be to immediately try to correct emerging problems or to exploit immediately appearing opportunities. Hackman and Wageman also suggested that leaders with emotional maturity can wait for an appropriate time to get involved—that is, wait until they feel that organizational members are more open to an intervention.

Research and EI

The concept of EI has been the focus of considerable research over the last several decades in many academic fields. A search of the EBSCO Sport Discus database reveals 23 academic articles have been published since 2020 on studies of EI in sport or physical activity.

It is important to mention that there has been notable disagreement among researchers regarding the constructs of EI and whether many of the elements or traits associated with EI belong in the domain of personality or IQ studies. Additionally, some researchers have argued that many EI studies have methodological issues and that claims of EI as a primary factor in determining real-world success have not been validated (Waterhouse 2006). However, many others argue that EI has considerable support from empirical research and that it is linked to performance outcomes as well as to work and life success. It is also noteworthy that the concept of EI has become increasingly prevalent over the last several years in human resource departments and executive training programs across many industries.

EI and Sport Leadership

Schneider (2013) wrote an academic article saying that “emotional intelligence is a common thread to the successful management of sport organizations” (abstract). Schneider pointed out that the ability to manage personal emotions as well as that of employees enhances the overall success of a sport manager or leader. Below are three examples in which a leader’s fundamental understanding of EI can be helpful for navigating challenging issues internal and external to a sport organization.

  1. As a professional sports team owner or manager, you discover that illegal use of steroids has been reported, implicating several members of your team.
  2. You are a high school athletic director and have been approached by an extremely agitated parent of an athlete in your school. The parent is demanding that a coach be reprimanded or fired.
  3. You manage a sport and fitness club where political tensions have been increasing and some verbal altercations have occurred.

As you continue to learn more about EI in this chapter, return to these questions to think more about how knowledge and application of EI could apply.