A Bucket Full of Emotions: How Emotional Intelligence Benefits Children On (and Off) the Field

Bucket full of sports balls and FeelLinks dolls


My husband is an assistant coach for our son’s baseball team; so naturally, he is the one that threw out the idea for this blog post. Whether your child is into team sports, individual sports, other activities/hobbies, or a hybrid of these, they all come with a whole lot of health benefits, as well as a host of emotions to navigate.

Growing up, I was a ballet dancer, hitting the studio five days a week. At a time in my life when my confidence was quite low (I will save that topic for another blog post), dance gave me some amazing mental and emotional health benefits. Once I entered the studio, my mood and concentration improved, it was a space where I was able to feel a great boost in self-confidence because I was doing what I loved, around people that shared mutual respect and admiration for each other. Ok, enough about me, let’s get on with how this relates to your child and their emotions.

Sports brings on some very powerful emotions from participants and spectators, alike. This also means that sports demand a high level of emotional intelligence; especially when it comes to emotional regulation skills!  For this post, I will focus on the participants, our little (and big) athletes.

Some of the countless feelings that accompany playing team sports include: joy, disappointment, happiness, sadness, anger, anxiety, pride, embarrassment and excitement – the list goes on (and on). My own son will not eat breakfast the morning of a game because his excitement and anxiety are so high beforehand. By the way, this type of anxiety can be quite positive - it helps us focus our energy, and enhances motivation and performance during play. When our children’s ever-changing feelings bubble up before, during and after activities, it is important that we validate how they feel and help ‘coach’ them through their feelings.

“So often the most powerful emotions you see are from the most competitive and passionate kids. Their imaginations can be so big and when they don’t perform how they envisioned themselves performing, it can feel so devastating to them. It is so important to have compassion for these young athletes and let them know that there is nothing wrong with how they feel. The area of improvement is so often how they acted when they felt this way. The conversation can then turn to how they can get better and identify different ways to improve. Take all of that passion and energy and turn it into productive ways to use that tough feeling.” –Coach Mickey Ahrens, founder of Tough Minds: Mental Performance Training

Whether our children are feeling scared standing in the batter’s box because they had previously been hit by a ball, feeling elated because they are on the pitching mound for the very first time, feeling sad and disappointed because they had worked so hard to get to the championship game and have just lost, feeling proud because they won their very first game, or a mix of many emotions at one time, we need to show up for our children, whether it’s smiles or tears. We must tune in, listen, validate, help them label their feelings, and manage their response.

Will your child tell the opposing, winning team “good game” or will they scowl at them on the way off the field? Will they stay in the batter’s box and swing at the fast pitch or jump out every time? Will they let their pride get the best of them and taunt the losing team or show great pride and also let the other team know how well they played? Which athlete will you raise?  *Obviously I am living the baseball and softball mom life right now!

Emotional intelligence is important for our children in all settings. In sports, it will help our children think more clearly, strengthen their desire to achieve athletic goals, improve teamwork, boost empathy, foster leadership, strengthen relationships with teammates and coaches, and more!

Parents, stay focused on these important life skills with your children and you will be doing what is best for them (and you). 

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P.S. Look for a future post on the importance of adult emotional intelligence and spectating children’s sports!

P.P.S. Find out more about Coach Mickey Ahrens and Tough Minds at ToughMinds.com or on Facebook/Instagram @ToughMindsCoach


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