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10 Things High EQ Players Don’t Do: An Athlete’s Guide To Emotional Intelligence

Basketball is Psychology 50


We have all heard people talk about high IQ players. Those are the players who know which pass to make and when to make it. They understand situational basketball and they make the right plays. High IQ players know the game well and they play better because of it. What doesn’t get talked about as much, but is arguably more important, is a high EQ player.

EQ is emotional intelligence. As Harvard theorist Howard Gardner describes it, “Your EQ is the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them.” Basketball is an emotional game. It’s full of highs and lows and some people aren’t able to play well through the highs and lows. If you want to become a more valuable player, become a more emotionally mature player.

10 Things High EQ Players Don’t Do:

1. Waste energy on the refs

If you go into any locker room after a game, both teams will say the refs were making bad calls in favor of the other team. After every game, just about everyone thinks the refs were unfair. It’s frustrating when you don’t get the foul called when you know you got fouled. It’s frustrating when the ref calls a foul on you when you know it wasn’t a foul. But if you spend time arguing with the refs, whining about the refs, and thinking about how unfair they are, you are wasting time and energy. The game keeps going. After the ref makes a bad call, there’s another play. High EQ players are focused on the next play. Low EQ players aren’t thinking about the play at all, they get stuck on the refs and fall behind.

2. Stop communicating

Communication is a huge part of the game. When you constantly communicate, you show that you are a great teammate, a great defender, and a mature player. It’s easy to find an excuse not to communicate: feeling too tired, things aren’t going your way, or it’s more comfortable for you to stay quiet. No matter what the excuses, a lack of communication almost always comes down to selfishness. When you put the team first, you look for ways to help, and one of the most important ways you can help is to never shut down and always communicate. Low EQ players assume they don’t need to communicate. To high EQ players, there is no such thing as over-communication.

3. Have negative body language

The way you carry yourself is important. Body language is louder than your voice because you don’t have to be close by to hear it, you can see it from the stands, the sidelines, the film, or the court. You can’t hide your body language, it’s a billboard. What is your billboard saying? Your body language reveals how mentally tough you are, how mature you are, and how well you manage your emotions. When you are mentally tough, you possess the ability to exude poise and confidence even when things aren’t going your way. By demonstrating confident body language you are saying with your body I got this, I’ll do better on the next play. Emotional maturity is broadcasted by your body language when things are going wrong.

If you decide to hang your head, roll your shoulders, and drag your arms, you’re ruining the next play before it ever starts. Bad body language brings you and your teammates down. However, if you decide to puff out your chest, hold your head high, and immediately move on to the next play, you’ve already given yourself a huge advantage on the next play. Great body language is contagious. It’s fun to play on a team where everyone exemplifies great body language because the energy is so visible.

4. Tear others down

Emotionally intelligent players don’t tear their teammates down, they build them up. This doesn’t mean that they don’t tell others the truth and hold them accountable to high standards. It means they do so in an encouraging way. There’s a big difference between saying, “You sucked” and, “I know you’re better than that, you’re capable of more and I need you to show it.” High EQ players are constantly encouraging and bringing out the best in their teammates.

5. Get inward

When it gets tough, low EQ players get inward. Whether it’s because their shot is off, the team is losing, they’re injured, or they made a mistake, they get inward. They start thinking only of themselves. It’s impossible to be a great teammate when you’re only thinking about yourself. Even when it gets tough, high EQ players don’t get inward. Emotionally mature players don’t get inward when it gets tough. It’s easy to high-five, huddle, and cheer when you’re winning. High EQ players do those things when they’re losing too. Low EQ players stop talking and only think about themselves. Don’t get inward. Be a unifier.

6. Reject feedback

High EQ players see feedback, accountability, and coaching as a gift. We would all like to believe we are perfect, but in the wise words of Pat Summit, “How can you improve if you’re never wrong?” When a low EQ player gets feedback, they get defensive. When a high EQ player gets feedback, they have perspective and they are grateful for it. Emotionally mature players realize (even if it’s hard to accept) that feedback is the path to getting better.

7. Lower their effort or commitment

To an emotionally mature player, it doesn’t matter if they’re down by 50, up by 50, or tied in overtime. It doesn’t matter if they are in practice or in a game. It doesn’t matter if they are playing in front of millions of fans or the stands are empty. They work just as hard, no matter what.

Emotionally mature players live by their commitments, not their feelings. There are going to be days where you don’t feel like showing up, listening, or working hard. But to high EQ players, it doesn’t matter how they feel, what matters is that they committed to doing something so they are going to stick to that commitment.

8. Blame

Emotionally mature players take responsibility. Twenty years ago, UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma called his shy freshman point guard into his office. They had a quick meeting, and his message to Sue was clear; it’s your fault. He told her, “Anything bad that happens, it’s your fault.” “What? What does that mean?” Sue Bird responded. Geno continued, “It doesn’t matter, I don’t care if you turn it over or she turns it over, it’s always going to be your fault.” After that meeting, Sue understood she had to take responsibility for everything.

Sue Bird is one of the greatest point guards and leaders the game of basketball has ever seen. She’s won multiple NCAA Championships, FIBA World Cups, Olympic Gold Medals, and WNBA Championships. Perhaps that meeting is why.

Responsibility is your ability to respond. Blame is the opposite of responsibility. When you take responsibility, you have the power. When you blame, you give away your power. Blaming is easy, but tough players take responsibility. When we blame, we are saying ‘I played no role in this problem’. By thinking we aren’t part of the problem, we also exclude ourselves from being part of the solution. Owning the part you played in what’s happening does not mean you are a doormat and people can blame you for everything; it means you are mature, it means you want to improve, even if that means looking bad.

9. Panic or cause drama

Drama is costly. Drama never helps the situation, it causes confusion and loss of focus. Drama focuses on the individual, and it can never be about the team and the mission when there is drama. Drama takes time and energy, and it takes that time and energy away from the goal. High EQ players underreact. They de-escalate drama. Some of the most respected players and coaches in the sport, get calm when everyone else panics. Kobe Bryant, Pat Summitt, Tim Duncan, and Brad Stevens are well known for controlling their emotions, and even underreacting when everyone else is overreacting.

No one would ever say Pat Summitt lacked intensity, but she knew how to control it. During live play she was as fiery as they come, but during a timeout when interacting with her team, she flipped a switch and seemed calm, confident, and collected. So much so that Vanderbilt researchers hooked her up to heart monitors to prove it. During the game, Coach Summitt had the highest heart rate and blood pressure of all the coaches tested, until timeouts where she recorded the lowest heart rate and blood pressure. Leaders use emotional intelligence to know how and when to show the right emotions and they control their emotions, rather than letting their emotions control them.

Kobe Bryant understood how influential his emotions were. He said, “If I panic, everyone else panics.” This is applicable to every emotion a leader expresses. If the leader calms down, everyone else calms down. If the leader gets frustrated, everyone else gets frustrated. If the leader is confident, everyone else is confident.

Gregg Popovich once described a story of a rookie Tim Duncan summer league game moment. Tim got his shot blocked and the ball went into the stands. He showed no emotion. The next play he runs down the court and sends someone else’s shot into the stands. He had the same reaction to both plays: none.

Brad Stevens is notorious for his ability to stay poised in high pressure situations.

When you panic and get dramatic, your decision making ability becomes foggy because you’re stuck on the last play. Staying poised allows you to focus on making the right decision on the next play. This doesn't mean you play emotionless. It means you know how to use your emotions effectively. You can get angry, but use it to fire people up, not berate them.

10. Exclude teammates

Emotionally intelligent players are connectors. They bring the team together and they make everyone feel included. When the team is huddled up, they make sure they aren’t blocking anyone out of the circle. They make room for teammates who got left out of the huddle. When the team is having a meeting, they make sure every team member is there. They make every teammate feel seen, valued, and important, regardless of what their role on the team was.

Action steps:

Focus on what you can control. Communicate. Be a unifier. Take full responsibility. Exude poise and confidence. See feedback as a gift. Live by your commitments. Don’t get inward when it gets tough. Make everyone on the team feel like the most important player on the team.


Written by Julie Fournier

Founder & CEO Basketball is Psychology


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