Inevitably at the beginning of practice every year when I was at RIC and at Maine, things would get pretty intense. We took pride in how hard we competed, and everyone was fired up at the beginning of the year not just to compete but to prove they belonged and earn playing time. The intensity level would always lead to some pretty strong emotions.

Usually after a few days we’d have a conversation about emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize your own emotion and the emotions of others around you, and to move forward making the right decisions. It is a big part of competitive excellence, something I have talked about in this space before. Competing is playing hard all of the time. Competitive excellence is being able to handle the emotions that go along with competing that hard all of the time.

Teams that lack emotional intelligence struggle to compete at a high level because they can’t handle the emotional investment. You know those practices where everyone is playing hard, but then they start getting chippy with each other, bitching and complaining about everything that doesn’t go their way? That happens with every team that competes, especially early in the year. That’s when we would have the conversation about emotional intelligence. Can we handle the emotion that goes along with playing this hard all of the time? It’s one of the reasons why I think a competitive environment is so important. Your team needs to get used to feeling that way all of the time. As that happens, they’ll learn how to deal with it.

I do think emotional intelligence can be taught, learned and improved over time. But you have to be intentional about it and willing to talk about it regularly. It’s okay that we compete really hard to beat one another every day. It’s not okay if, whenever we compete at a really high level, we start fighting with one another.

Make sure you are aware of your team’s emotional intelligence, and make them aware of it as well. Put them in challenging situations where they are pushed mentally, and hold them accountable for their approach and performance. It will help your team get comfortable competing at a championship level.

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