7 Ways Coaches Train Athletes To Manage Emotions

August 8th, 2016 by LaRae Quy

Athletic success is not dictated by body shape and movement alone. Elite performers learn how to manage emotions so they can keep moving forward when faced with tough competition.

Coaching sports

Entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders face tough competition as well. Emotional competency is one of the core principles of mental toughness. Successful people learn how to manage emotions if they want to be confident, resilient, and persistent.

Coaches know how to build people up. This can have a permanent impact on the mind-set of their athletes that reaches far beyond the playing field. Here are 7 ways coaches train athletes to manage emotions—that can apply to everyone:


Coaches will tell you to never look down at the ground. Instead, keep your sights on where you want to go. Keeping a vision of where you want to end up is critical when you come up against a roadblock or obstacle.

I was a slow long distance runner. But in the FBI Academy I needed to up my game and run 2 miles in 10 minutes to qualify—and ultimately, graduate. My coach told me to keep my eye on the back of a runner who was faster than me and focus on keeping up.

TIP: Whether you play on the field or in the boardroom, you need persistence. It will allow you to live the vision you have for yourself everyday. Manage emotions so you remain positive. Determination will help you plan how to accelerate the timeframe and reach your goal.


Self aware - dog

Coaches encourage personal best, not competitiveness. Whether you are on the playing field or in a boardroom, focus on your performance and development.

While at the FBI Academy it was hard not to compare myself with agents who were buff and premium athletes. I had to focus on my own strengths/weaknesses and improve in increments. This would eventually lead to my success.

TIP: Comparing yourself to others will only create frustration and resentment. Instead of looking at how the rest of the team is doing, focus on your own performance. Ask how you can make your contribution even stronger.


Michael Phelps’s coach writes that he once cracked the swimmer’s goggles before a routine race to see how he would cope. Fast forward to the 2008 Olympics when water began to seep into Phelps’s goggles at the start of the 200-meter butterfly. By midpoint in the race Phelps could hardly see, but unflustered, he broke his own world record.

FBI agents train throughout their entire career so we were regularly exposed to performance pressure where we were required to manage emotions. Our firearms and defensive tactics coaches placed us in situations where we were intentionally stressed. We would know how the pressure felt when we actually encountered it.

TIP: You should never be surprised by your emotional reaction to a stressful situation. If you are, you will not be able to land on your feet when confronted with the unknown.


Missing the deadlines. Thoughtful young woman in suit looking at the stack of paperwork and holding head on chin while sitting at her working place

It’s not surprising that many athletes burnout once they’ve finished competing. Progress is the byproduct of grit, not glamour.

However, a coach who has your best interests at heart will keep tabs on you. They stop you from overtraining. If you push yourself too hard, you can fall into a physiological and mental abyss.

TIP: Pursue a hobby to give yourself an emotional and physical break. Spend more time with friends and family, or take a vacation. Create a bucket list of things you want to do in the next year, next 5 years, and the next 10 years.


There is no one set of attributes that makes a great leader. Instead, what seems to matter most is the kind of relationship both leaders and coaches develop with others.

Despite the time-honored tradition of coaching like a drill sergeant, the disciplinarian approach is gradually shifting toward a more psychologically balanced approach.

TIP: The coaches that motivated me the most were the ones that uncovered what motivated me to become an FBI agent. They referred to those motives when giving me a pep talk or used related external cues when I felt emotionally exhausted or defeated so I could better manage emotions.


Whether you are in the locker room, board room, or class room, the key to building relationships with others is by focusing on the positives.

Many coaches use the sandwich approach in which constructive criticism is bookended with praise. This increases motivation, the development of specific skills, and lessens anxiety.

TIP: Start by saying something positive to your team. People need to feel as though you are on their side if they are to accept what you are trying to tell them.


Studies have confirmed that coaches who deliver information in an interactive and relationship-based manner have the most success.

Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks was voted in 2014 as the most popular coach in the National Football League. Carroll is known for being supportive of other players’ opinions, encourages loud music in the locker room, and focuses on wins and not losses when reviewing past games with his players.

TIP: When your team feels that you listen to them and their input, you are giving them confidence in themselves. It is this confidence that will lead them to greater autonomy as they move forward in business and life.

How do you manage emotions?

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 


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4 Responses to “7 Ways Coaches Train Athletes To Manage Emotions”

  1. Terri Deuel says:

    La Rae,

    The points you make are terrific. In addition to the 7 ways you note, presence (being present) came to mind.

    I am an avid yoga practitioner, and I found myself out of sync with the class recently. While the entire class was in the pose the yoga teacher queued, I was in an entirely different place. Why? I had lost my ability to be present. My mind was not in the yoga class and thus I lost my way.

    Being present is another way coaches train athletes to manage their emotions. Presence required focus and awareness. It requires being in the moment, and it underlies each of the 7 ways you detailed.

    As I begin my day, your 7 ways will be with me. You have made me think about how I want to be today.

    Will share.


  2. Excellent article LaRae!

    I love #2- Don’t compare yourself to others. Sometimes we get in the habit of thinking we aren’t as talented or capable as someone else we work with. I have learned to follow my own growth curve and play to my particular strengths, not someone else’s. That way, I can see my own evolution.

  3. This is one of my favorite subjects: how to bring coaching from the endurance field into board rooms.

    I love the way you emphasize emotional strength and weave your personal experience which makes this so much more authentic.

    I was really inspired by your maxim: Progress is the byproduct of grit and not glamor. Your examples are living version of the grit.

    The point of focussing on wins and believing in oneself is so important. I am reminded of Lanny Bassham, the legendary Olympics gold champion who drives this point too.

    Thank you for such insightful posts.

  4. Alli Polin says:

    Watching the Olympics this week, I see many of your points above in action. In fact, I saw a few races where looking for the competition actually caused a lag in performance instead of simply propelling them to go harder. I’ve also found it interesting for some of the semi’s a few of the athletes went all out to win their heat and you could see that they pushed too far in their next race. There is a time to push to the max and another when it’s good enough to win and keep reserves to go fo the gold.

    As always, grateful you have me thinking and reflecting!


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