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Effective Leaders: Masters of Emotion

Updated: Feb 18, 2019

Basketball is Psychology IX

“It not only affects your own team, it affects the other team, it affects the officials.”--John Calipari



A leader’s most important job is to lead them self. By mastering one’s own emotions, a leader can more effectively master the emotions of others. Great leaders understand they set the tone, not just with play calls, or scoring points, but emotionally for their team. Regardless of your position as head coach, point guard, or team manager, you are a leader because you have the ability to influence others. Basketball is an emotional game. Emotions are contagious, and people are watching and following. Your emotions influence the actions of others.

The Leader’s Emotions are the Team’s Emotions

Basketball can stir up lots of emotions in us. From excitement and inspiration, to anger and fear. It’s important to understand when you are on a team, your emotions are our emotions.

Everyone is watching. The other team, your team, the crowd, and the referees are all being informed of your psychological state by your emotions. However, not many people give a second thought to how stressed, careless, or angry they look. Just like your body language, your emotions are always sending a message.

Pat Summitt was the best at mastering her emotions to bring out the best in her players. 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.


The greatest basketball players of all time were masters of emotion. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant looked like cold-blooded killers on the court most of the time, but if they needed their team to loosen up, they knew how to project that. They knew when to leave their emotions out of it and let instincts take over, and they knew when their team could benefit from showing passionate emotion.

Kobe understood just how influential his emotions were as the leader:

“If I panic, everyone else panics.” --Kobe Bryant

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.

If the leader is careless, everyone else gets careless.

Leaders must control their own emotions, because the leader’s emotions are highly contagious.


You Are Not a Victim of Your Emotions

“Many athletes believe that they are the way they are emotionally, have little control of their emotions, and there is nothing they can do to gain control of them. If their emotions hurt them, well, they just have to accept the situation because they can't do anything about it. I call these athletes emotional victims, where their emotions control them, they possess unhealthy and unproductive emotional habits, and their emotions hinder their ability to perform well and achieve their goals.” (Jim Taylor, Ph.D.)

Ditch the victim mentality. Leaders can also set the tone with emotions that are out of control, but this hurts the team. Your emotions are your responsibility; a direct result of your habits of thought. Your decisions control your emotions. If your emotions are hurting you and your team instead of helping, you need to put into practice replacing that emotion with a better one. Coach Calipari replaced his tight, nervous, stressed emotions, with cool confidence by smiling and laughing. Figure out what emotions the situation warrants and master your emotions.

Emotions Dictate the Energy

Great leaders know the difference between a game that’s too emotional and not emotional enough. Because they have chosen to be masters and not victims, they control the game. Emotions are a powerful tool, and knowing how to anticipate, assess, and regulate the emotions will give you greater control of the game.

Basketball is an emotional game, and those who can effectively utilize the power of emotion will lead their teams to success. Not only will you perform better, you’ll also be happier. The most effective leaders have instilled a sense of enthusiasm, confidence, and optimism within the culture of the team-- that drives success.

Action Steps

1. Self Awareness: examine what emotions you are displaying and how that is affecting everyone around you. Once you are aware of those emotions, you can determine if they are helping or hurting you.

2. Read the Energy: based on the energy you will be able to decide what emotion you should be displaying. It’s important for everyone to decide what kind of energy they want. For example: in a high-stakes game in a sold out arena, the energy is likely already supercharged, you probably need to project a calm confidence.

3. Talk to Yourself: there is one person you listen to more than anyone else- you! Don't just listen to yourself, make sure what you are saying is helping and talk to yourself. What allowed Pat Summitt to calm herself down was her self-talk. Poise comes from reassuring yourself that you are in control.


Written by: Julie Fournier

Founder & CEO of Basketball is Psychology




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