Darko Jekauc: The importance of Emotional Competence among football managers

The role of the manager in modern sports has experienced a radical change. Mega-money contracts have turned players into significant investments from a purely business stand point and have handed them most of the locker room leverage. All you need to do is look at the current Los Angeles Lakers and the immense sway Lebron James has on current and future teammates as well as head coaches. The Indiana Pacers fans made it crystal clear when Brandon Ingram was at the free throw line the other night and the arena chanted, “LeBron’s gonna trade you!” Another example of managers’ expendable nature reared its head when, for all intents and purposes, Paul Pogba and a few other Manchester United players essentially ran Jose Mourinho out of Old Trafford. And Mourinho was no slouch, in terms of high profile personalities.

Arguably, this shift in power has meant that the manager or head coach’s job is less about X’s and O’s and more about managing personalities and keeping everyone moving in the same direction. In order to achieve this, they need to be in complete control of their Emotional Competence. Any negativity or doubt will likely be passed along to the players and result in sub-optimal performances.

Darko Jekauc, from Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT), has studied Emotional Competence in European football Head Coaches and how different emotions affect their strategic judgment and how they interact with players. He discussed his research with SCINQ Sports.

SCIENTIFIC INQUIRER: Just for some context, can you briefly discuss your previous work done on Emotional Competence in sports, in general?

DARKO JEKAUC: In a recent meta-analysis which included 3.431 participants and 22 samples, we found a significant correlation (r = 0.16) between emotional competence and performance in competitive sports. Athletes who have better emotion regulation strategies seem to be more stable and less prone to performance slumps. Based on these findings, we developed a mindfulness program to improve emotion regulation strategies.

A recent experimental study actually confirmed our expectations. Compared to classical training in sport psychology, the mindfulness training improved emotion regulation strategies. To be more precise, athletes practicing mindfulness reduced maladaptive emotion regulation strategies like rumination or substance abuse.

SI: What prompted you to undertake the study of EC in football head coaches?

DJ: We know that in competitive sports emotional competence is an important determinant of success. However, we don’t know much about emotional competence of head coaches. Which emotional processes occur inside head coaches’ heads? How do emotional processes influence the work of head coaches in football? This was our urging research question.

SI: In what ways can uncontrolled emotions affect a head coach’s performance? How does that compare with athletes on the pitch?

DJ: The strongest triggers of football coaches’ emotions are the experiences of winning or losing. We have found that uncontrolled emotions (e.g. anxiety) firstly affect the self-confidence of head coaches, which then influences their behavior and appearance. In a state of lacking self-confidence, the coaches unconsciously start to adopt avoiding behavior. They become socially less open and gradually isolate themselves from the team and the club management. Emotional instability and rumination disrupt the concentration of ongoing tasks. In this way, the head coaches are less able to analyze the situation and will therefore make more mistakes.

Similar emotional processes even occur inside the heads of athletes on the pitch. Lack of self-confidence and low-emotional stability facilitate rumination which disrupts the athlete’s concentration and performance.

SI: What did your study establish in terms of how HCs cope with positive and negative emotions?

DJ: We have found that some emotion regulation strategies facilitate performance slumps whereas others help improve emotional stability. On the one hand, avoidance strategies such as distraction by excessive TV, media and alcohol consumption may lead to short-termed mood improvements, but in the long run to additional performance deterioration. On the other hand, communication (e.g. talking with a close friend) and relaxation strategies have been shown to promote sustainable emotional stability.

SI: When most people discuss “controlling emotions, they are usually referring to negative ones because of the obvious drawbacks associated with it. But what about positive emotions? If left unchecked, can they negatively impact performance?

DJ: When too strong, positive emotions can disrupt the concentration of head coaches, as well. Enthusiasm can lead to over-confidence and inattentiveness. However, the disruptive power of positive emotions is essentially lower than that of negative emotions. Negative emotions are stronger, and their effects on performance last longer.

SI: Can you discuss the circular model of emotional processes and how it relates to football head coaches?

DJ: We have found out that emotional processes are circular. The process begins with triggers of emotions. The major triggers in head coaches are success or failure, social relationships in the club, (lacking) support and leadership aspects. These triggers evoke emotional responses on physiological (e.g. increased blood pressure), cognitive (e.g. analysis of the situation) and behavioral (e.g. nonverbal behaviors) levels.

For example, emotions like anxiety lead to increased tension (physiological level), a thorough analysis of the situation by comparing the situation with past experienced situations and creating threatening scenarios for future (cognitive level), as well as corresponding nonverbal avoiding behaviors (behavioral level).

The excessive comparing with past negative situations and the analyzing of negative scenarios exhaust cognitive resources so that concentrating on what is going on is hardly possible. The coaches feel less confident and unconsciously isolate themselves from the team and club members. And so, the dissolution process begins.

Further setbacks and diversities amplify the process, which gradually becomes stronger and stronger. The teams and the club managers notice these emotional developments and react more or less skeptically. The process of dissolution continues and seizes further areas of work. The wave of negative emotions becomes bigger and bigger. It is very hard to escape this wave of negative emotions.

SI: How can your study and findings be applied on the football pitch and in the locker room? What advantages does it offer?

DJ: The aim of this study was to describe what is going on emotionally inside the heads of the football head coaches. I think coaches as well as team managers should be informed on this issue. We have not only discovered that emotion regulation strategies play a crucial role for maintaining emotional stability and communication, but also that relaxation strategies have been shown to be very effective.

In particular, mindfulness training has been proven to reduce misappropriate emotion regulation strategies and also to work well in high-pressure situations. I think we know now what really matters and that we need to elaborate strategies in order to deal with emotional challenges. The emotion regulation strategies like mindfulness need some time to develop its effectivity. Therefore, we need to start practicing emotional stability in calm phases of the season in order to be ready to overcome high-pressure situations and adversities.

In other branches, like management, in which high pressure is also part of the job, mindfulness and other relaxation strategies have already been successfully applied. Companies like Google, SAP or Apple offer, on a large scale, courses for their employees and managers to improve emotion regulation abilities. I think such courses would also be useful for sport coaches.

SI: Do your findings cross football cultural boundaries? For example, does what holds in Germany also hold true in England or France or Italy?

DJ: I think that these emotional processes are for all human beings equal. A big part of the emotional processes is unconsciously and biologically driven. Cultural aspects should not have a great impact on these issues. However, cultural aspects might serve as contextual variables, which moderate the emotional processes.

SI: Do head coaches further along the spectrum toward “professionals” display a better grasp of their emotions and using emotions to inspire their players?

DJ: Actually, we have found a positive correlation between the ability to deal with own emotions and success of the coaches. However, further studies and meta-analyses need be conducted to be able confirm our findings. As we have seen, these processes are circular and have the potential to substantially affect our efficiency in coaching sport teams. Showing emotions is also a kind of nonverbal communication, which players on the pitch perceive and receive. The head coach is to some extent like a broadcasting tower sending emotional signals to his team. He has the capability to spread and infect the team with emotions both in a positive as well as in a negative way.

SI: Finally, what is next for you in terms of research?

DJ: Our next steps will be to accomplish putting science into practice. How can we help coaches deal with pressure and unpleasant situations? We plan to develop curricula for coaches in order to transfer our knowledge into practice. Furthermore, we will develop specific interventions to support coaches and their teams with the management of emotional challenges which competitive sports brings along.

For sportpsychologymore information about Darko Jekauc and his research –

Homepage: https://sportpsychology.jimdo.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUYflv7eXe1kF0lJXmBj7vA

Twitter: @jekauc

WORDS: Marc Landas

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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