Emotional Intelligence for Coaching Rowing


Chris Shambrook: Intelligence for Coaching 

Discuss the most rewarding coaching experience you ever had round the table.  What did you feel like?
Emotional intelligence for coaching rowing
First task

  • Write down 4/5 words about the athletes who are easiest to coach
  • Alongside write down 4/5 words about how you feel when coaching them

Chicken or Egg?  What comes first – the great athlete or is it how you are thinking / feeling leading their response to your lead.
Discuss (now do the reverse for negative feelings).
We felt you have to ‘act’ and always be positive, but when you get nothing back from the athletes it is draining emotionally.
There is resource you have available to you influences the performance of the crew.

Performance = potential minus interference which prevents performance

  • Coaching performance
  • Individual athlete performance
  • Crew performance

Quote from Jurgen Grobler “We often ask is it the athlete? Or is it the coach.  Well that is a challenge, a big motivation for me.”
Chris described this a ‘healthy’ paranoia…..!

Boat speed

  • Physical, technical, biomechanical, tactical options.  If we have exhausted improved boat speed via these means
  • Then focus on EI (Emotional Intelligence) by getting athletes more consistently in tune to how they are thinking and how it makes them feel is there an advantage to be gained here?
  • Will EI unlock more potential with the core elements?
  • Value of explicit EI work versus implicit consideration through good coaching

Stephen Covey mantras

“seek first to understand and then be understood”

We need to be world class in our ability to do this.
What’s it like to be in the receiver mode when you are asking an athlete, why don’t you understand what I am saying?
“we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviours”
Many athletes seem to have the intention of doing stuff wrong because their behaviour is showing mistakes.  Clearly this isn’t true all the time.

Can you be confident that the athletes’ behaviours are matched up with their intentions?

Is your communication as positive and helpful as possible and are you receiving back in a positive way and recognise what you get back in order to then be positive back again to the athlete?

Both of these result in the asking of different questions and a changing of perspective.

Sometimes being autocratic in coaching is exactly the right thing to do

If you don’t keep control of thoughts and emotions at key points in a game / match difficult things can happen – computer rage, players fighting.  A dis-connect between thought and emotion.
Most of the time EI is probably working very well because you don’t see the negative things coming out.
Good examples of many people interacting at the same time and keeping focus e.g. open heart surgery, F1 pit crew (24 people for 10 seconds round a car), rowing coaches monitor many things at one time (water conditions, how others are moving, stopwatch, megaphone, drive a launch – multi tasking).

You’re contagious

Attitudes are contagious – is yours worth catching?  Use this when selecting athletes and how they will perform in the changing room, in training, during a match.  When you spend time with people you tend to share moods – within 2 hours.  Research in work meetings proved this.

People who are more committed to the team are likely to link moods more readily.

Task 2: Think about your club / squad.  Which person is most likely to set the mood? Where does the emotional lead come from?Coaches tend to set the tone

  • Emotional spread is often done by leaders – because they talk more, but people listen to people with authority and has more chance to influence
  • Leaders tend to comment first on matters and subsequent comments build on that first comment
  • The leader’s interpretation of a situation provides the reference point for the group so appropriate emotional reaction is a function of the message sent out by the leader.
  • Where are the opportunities when you can choose to spread a positive / negative mood?  Team debrief after an outing, before a race briefing

Positive emotions = better performance

Feel more relaxed / confident, relaxed.  Increased mental efficiency, flexibility of thought, mopre likely to break a movement pattern if they feel positive.  If not feeling like that they revert to safety their traditional way of moving.
Upbeat moods increase the positive view of others – tends to make better connection for teamwork.
Increased optimism of success leads to increases creativity and decision making and helpfulness within the crew.
The ability of a leader to pitch a group into an enthusiastic, cooperative mood can determine success.

4 quadrants of Emotional Intelligence

  1. Self awareness – this has to be high – your mental and physical state.  What about your personality and how it interacts with other people.  Are you conscious of your fatigue, concentration levels physically as well.  Remember to look after yourself as well as your athletes
  2. Self regulation – can I make choices to change me from how I am now to where I need to be.  How good am I to shift a mood or a thought process to a different one?  How good am I to get phycisal rest and recovery?  Coaching sharpness this is really challenging when your body is tired and your brain needs to pick up on this.
  3. Awareness of others – pick up on them once you’ve sorted yourself!  How good are you at others’ physical state, mental state.  Vital.
  4. Management of others – how good are you at putting things in place that allows them to shift and move to the most appropriate state for functioning now.

Task 3

Think of each EI quadrant as 100% score possibilities.  What is your current profile in each of the 4 segments?  Consider the right side and the left side of the grid.

You are doing this technically all the time with athletes technically. Now add in the EI side to include emotion and thought. Will this help you as a coach? Making a conscious choice to bring this into your coaching will that make it more effective. If you do it implicitly you could probably

Improve from unconscious competence to conscious competence.

Ask the question, do I need to change how the athletes are in order to change what they are doing?

Be alert to what is interfering with the communication process. May be worth taking off the water for a discussion rather than trying to solve it during an outing.

Most of sports psychology is about getting athletes to choose their thoughts and feelings in order to deliver success. Can you do this systematically (visualisation, arousal levels, pep talk, pre-race plan) and can you do it consistently?

The challenge

There is the here and now version of the grid. What’s happening now?

Then what happens in preparation – project ahead to a situation you are going into. How am I typically and how do I need to be in this situation – and for the crew.

Make proactive decisions about how you and they need to feel and then do everything possible to ensure that you deliver on those behavioural / attitudinal goals.


Set and evaluation thinking and behavioural goals

The Self Management Recipe

  • Mood management – how strongly can you rate yourself, recognise and change it or accentuate if required
  • Self-motivation – regular conversations with yourself to keep you motivated, focused. How easy do you find that.  How much time do you invest in this? Regularity?
  • Using intuition – a coaching skill you should pay attention to regularly.  Do you suppress it?
  • Dealing with setbacks – how good is your self-management on this? This is a skill you will be faced with on a regular basis.  If prepared, you can take positive steps on from a setback.  You know how to deal with them.  Visualise the situation.  Sets a good example to athletes
  • Managing energy and peaking for a performance – for yourself.  When is peak moment, how effectively do you have all the resources ready for that moment? When an important week comes up, look at the week prior to ensure you go into the big week as prepared as possible
  • Switching on and off – when you leave the boathouse, can you leave it there and not think about it.
  • Identify your strengths and play to them as often as possible.  Practice your key mental skills.
  • Concentration attending to the right thing at the right time.  What are the key things at this time?  Managing energy enables better concentration management.

Management of relationships

  • Motivating others (or not demotivating them) Most people turn up with all the motivation they are going to have and leaders tend to reduce that level of motivation! Can you give a pep talk?
  • Leading others – giving them a view of where you are going, the map of the journey.  What is your style of leading?
  • Coaching others – most of your time is spent doing technique, can you add in other umbrella concepts as well
  • Collaboration – how good are you at this?
  • Confrontation?
  • Facilitation relationships between others – allowing each athlete to be aware of the strengths of others, how to get the most out of them when in crew boats together,

Getting on the same page… if all this works

Being emotionally intelligent involves

  • Noticing feelings
  • Paying attention to them
  • Recognising their importance
  • Using your thoughts about them to make decisions about how to respond

This applies to your own feelings and those of others.

Crew Emotional Intelligence

  • A crew may react differently e.g. stroke may be very self involved and not aware of what’s going on around
  • Bow may be very focused on everyone else but not very focused on themselves
  • 2 – may be focused on the thoughts and feelings of the coach rather than themselves
  • 3 – may be good at focusing both on themselves and the crew as a whole
  • As a coach you have to consider both the individuals and the whole crew…. what is the style of each athlete…..
  • Athletes who are good at noticing feelings are often also good at kinaesthetic awareness (how their body is moving)

What EI rates – “self”

…. give yourself a score rate 1-10

  • Emotional resilience – maintaining positive
  • Personal power – the degree that you believe you are in charge of and take responsibility for the things in your life rather than seeing yourself as a victim of circumstance
  • Goal directedness – important as a coach.  The degree to which your behaviour is related to your own long term goals.
  • Flexibility – how good are you at being blocked off and coming up with new ways to overcome, flexible thinking
  • Personal openness and connectedness – how readily people see you as approachable and how effective people see you are in terms of making relationships.
  • Invitation to trust – how trustworthy are you. Do you act congruently with your aims and goals.  If you say you will do something do you do it regularly?

What EI rates – “others”

There is a ‘sweet spot’ with just enough and not too much or too little of all of these.

  • Trust – you can be too trusting (mistrustful, carefully trusting, over trusting) do you trust athletes to do things on their own.
  • Balanced outlook (pessimistic, realistically optimistic, over optimistic) when preparing a crew… what would your athletes say about you
  • Emotional expression and control (under controlled, free and in charge, over controlled) is emotion something that happens to you (are you Dr Spock and over controlled)
  • Conflict handling (passive, assertive, aggressive) What is your style?
  • Interdependence (dependent, interdependent, independent) What is the balance of working with others, do you let others work with you?

Specific psychology needs for coaching

  1. Pre race pep talk – how are you typically and how do you need to be to give the best send-off? How are the athletes and how do you need them to be?
  2. Post race debrief after a defeat – how are you typically and how do you need to be?  What is the challenge in an emotional sense for you?
  3. Post race debrief after a surprise victory – to build on this.  Typical reaction versus ideal.

Questions from the audience

How do you stop people talking themselves down?  Come up with two different sets of recipes – how do you become the world’s worst rower and what would you say to yourself in order to become worse each session (rhythm, timing, bladework) Then what would be the world’s most receptive, improving rower.  If I incentivised you enough are you confident you can do all these things to become the worst….?  [they are confident that they can choose behaviours to make a bad outcome].  Then talk about the positive and whether there is any difference between the two.  Commit to doing the change.  Remind them on the water “you are choosing to be rather ineffective right now.  Do you want to carry on making this choice, because I’ll support you fully….”

Working with cricketers – he gets a list of all the negative things they talk to themselves.  Permission to coach them using the same negative phrases while they are facing a batting machine….. this makes them realise that if someone else talks to them in the same way they talk to themselves it isn’t a positive experience.

Notes taken at Chris Shambrook’s speech at the British Rowing Conference 2014 by Rebecca Caroe


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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Mike De Petris

    Is the title really containing “ENOTIONAL” or should it be EMOTIONAL instead?

    1. Rebecca Caroe

      Corrected. Thanks

      1. Mike De Petris

        Keep on with good job Rebecca =)

  2. Milena

    How does the last sentence end? I think there is something missing 🙂

    1. Rebecca Caroe

      Ooh, Milena – you are right. Sharp eyes.
      The Sentence should end “they talk to themselves it isn’t a positive experience.”

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