Every single athlete will experience adversity and have their mental strength tested throughout their careers. It could come in the form of a bad coach or bad teammate, playing for a team that ust can’t figure things out, or struggling to find a way to make a difference on a team when you’re overwhelmed. Whatever your challenge may be, you can overcome your adversity with emotional intelligence. All you have to do is change your mindset and take action towards achieving your goals.

Sounds like a piece of cake, right? Well. It’s not.

And, the ability to overcome mental adversity is what separates great athletes from good ones, and ultimately puts them above the crowd. Where other athletes see their adversity as a towering wall and decide to quit, successful athletes understand that walls are just challenges, and the only way that you overcome them is by taking action.

There are too many athletes in the world that believe that being mentally tough is something that you’re born with. It’s easy to give in and believe that’s the case. The truth is that just like anything else in life, mental toughness is teachable. It’s completely under your control. You just have to decide if you want to build it.

To understand mental toughness, you have to get down to understand where it lays its roots. If you want to master the art of being mentally tough, you have to understand that mental toughness comes from having a high level of emotional intelligence.

Described as the underlying factor of high-performing athletes, emotional intelligence is what separates great athletes from average ones. Decades of research reveal that more than 90% of top performers in the world have an extremely high level hello Emotional intelligence.

So, what exactly is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is one of the intangible traits that goes untapped and many athletes. It’s the ability to stay on an even keel and focus on performing rather than what’s going on around you or within you. It affects how we behave, how we work with our teammates, and how we process decisions at a high rate of speed so that we can be successful in competition.

The are thing to understand about emotional intelligence is that its intangible. It’s very hard I Understand how much you have of it and what actions you need to take to develop it and improve it. There are some good books out there such as Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence 2.0 to help you better understand emotional intelligence and develop it.

Yale’s research of top performers in their respective fields reveals that having a high EQ (emotional intelligence) comes from not doing things just as much as doing things. If you want to develop it, you need to understand these 11 important traits that athletes with a high level of emotional intelligence try to avoid at all costs. They avoid these traits because they cause complacency and push athletes into a downward mental spiral, making it hard to recover from.

1They stay far away from their “comfort zone”

If you want to be one of the top athletes, you better get comfortable being uncomfortable. Top athletes have a high-level of emotional intelligence because they constantly push themselves beyond their limits, causing them to understand what they need to work on so that they continue to grow. This is hard to master because it causes you to do to really uncomfortable things: push yourself Beyond your limits every single day and take a hard look in the mirror to Understand you’re not perfect and need to improve.

The first step in building your EQ is realizing that your flaws are just problems in your game that  need to be solved. Once you understand the problem, you try to solve it without taking it personally. That’s all it is. It’s easier to have tunnel vision and ignore your problems, but I understand in doing so that you’ll never be in athlete with a high EQ.

2They don’t let fear hold them back

There are two types of fear that serve as an Achilles’ heel for many athletes: The fear of failure AND the fear of success. The fear of failure is simple to understand – It causes you to freeze up and stay in your comfort zone because you’re afraid of letting everyone down from falling short.

The fear of success is a little bit more complicated – it happens discretely in what we call ‘wantletes’. Wantletes are the athletes that want to be at the top, but never achieve success because they’re afraid of what it feels like to be successful. The fear causes you to stay in a comfort zone of ‘averageitis’ – a disease that makes you feel comfortable being the best of the worst, and the worst of the best.

Being uncomfortable and traveling into uncharted waters as an athlete is the foundation for success. Having fear is a natural, human feeling that all of us experience in life. However, overcoming your fear is as simple as taking a first step. Are you afraid of working on the flaws in your game because you think that you’ll look stupid? You need to chuck that fear right into the garbage, because that’s what’s holding you back. Instead, have a high level of emotional intelligence, and understand that in solving the problem you have to take the first step. Yes, it’s going to suck at first, but as you practice and put in the time you will start to see results. Take the first step and build on your emotional intelligence.

3They don’t seek attention

Athletes that are always looking for attention are annoying. These athletes come in many forms – unnecessary celebrations, narcissistic views on their ability to play the game, and trying endlessly to please their coaches, or being liked by everybody.  These behaviors show a lack of maturity and don’t come from players with high EQs.

Related: 9 vital steps on how to get recruited and noticed by college coaches

That’s because athletes with a high level of emotional intelligence don’t care about attention. They show up to everything prepared and ready to go. They know what the task is at hand and they mentally prepare themselves to do the work that needs to be done because they want to win. They don’t do it to please their coaches, teammates, or parents because they play for a higher purpose – the burning desire within themselves to be successful.

4They don’t treat others like dirt

Athletes who treat others like dirt and bring people around them down usually act this way because they are unhappy themselves. They’re insecure and don’t have the emotional intelligence to go outside of their comfort zone and treat people with respect and dignity, especially when they don’t feel like it.

Emotionally intelligent athletes have a high level of respect for their peers and value creating deep relationships with everyone around them. They treat everyone on the team – from the coach all the way down to the Waterboy – with respect and decency no matter how angry or upset they are.

5They don’t associate with negative people or negative teammates

According to several studies, who you surround yourself with determines how you view the world and your thoughts on what you are capable of achieving in life. When you surround yourself with negative people you’re putting yourself a giant leap behind the rest of your competition. Negative people we’ll do everything in their power to try to find something wrong with the situation instead of focusing on what they need to do to make themselves a better athlete.

Negative thinking is one of the major dysfunctions of unsuccessful teams and they’re hard to escape because you feel like you have to listen to your teammates.  However, there’s a fine line between hearing out a frustrated teammate and getting sucked into their negative, emotionally charged downward spiral.

Athletes with emotional intelligence avoid being drawn into this negative spiral by distancing themselves from parents, teammates, and even coaches when possible. They recognize that being negative is a habit, and when those habits come out in people around them, they simply tune them out.

6They aren’t victims & don’t self-loathe

Do the worst things you can do mentally are being a victim and Feeling sorry for yourself. You’ll never be successful if you exhibit these two behaviors because they take you away from being in a growth mindset. They make you feel like you’re a victim of circumstance and put you in a state of mind that makes you believe that everything in the world is happening to you instead of for you.

Related: 7 Common Traits of Successful College Recruits

Athletes with emotional intelligence never feel sorry for themselves or labeled themselves as a victim. They may get down on themselves from time to time because they are critical of themselves, but they don’t wallow in a pool of hopelessness making everyone feel sorry for them. They understand adversity is commonplace and that pain is always temporary. As an alate, you have to push through your pain. Your struggles aren’t unique. Everyone goes through the pain of adversity. Not everyone decides to overcome it.

7They don’t have entitlement issues

Athletes with a high level of emotional intelligence understand that t they get what they work for, they don’t get what they deserve. That’s because they are not entitled for believe that they deserve success. Just because you put it in the work and push yourself every single day doesn’t mean that you’re going to be successful. It definitely puts you much closer to success than your competition, but it doesn’t guarantee it.

Athletes that lack emotional intelligence are usually entitled as well. In today’s world of instant gratification, these athletes believe that the world owes them success because they are putting in the work. In reality, you need to understand hey your coaches, teammates, and the game owes you nothing. Emotionally intelligent athletes know that their success is going to be a direct result of what they do and not what others do for them.

8They don’t think that they know everything

Have you ever been around an athlete that says that your coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Every athlete has. However, you’ll never hear that come out of the mouth of an athlete with high EQ because they’re open-minded to constructive criticism. Successful athletes understand that they don’t know everything and maintain a growth mindset every time they hit the field.

Related: The 20 Percent Rule: Cubs GM Theo Epstein On How To Have Success

Being a humble athlete and having a heightened emotional intelligence go hand-in-hand with each other. Being humble means being open-minded to criticism and changes from your coaches so that you can continue to make progress. Take what you’re being told, absorb it, and apply it. And, most of all don’t take criticism personally. If your coaches didn’t care, they wouldn’t criticize you’re play. They just keep letting you make the same mistake over and over.

9They don’t let anybody bring them down

Successful athletes don’t focus on what others are achieving or doing because of one simple reason: they can’t control what others are doing and achieving. They understand that they can only control three things in life and what they do on a daily basis. So, athletes with superb emotional intelligence focus on improving instead of the opinions and accomplishments of others.

For many athletes, it can be difficult to turn off what others think about you. What you need to do is flip the switch and understand that other people’s opinions about you are exactly that – OPINIONS. Athletes with high EQs look at opinions like a fart in the wind. Although people may throw them your way, their opinion always blows away.  You need to understand that what keeps you grounded in a world with increasing winds each day is a rock solid foundation of confidence and self-worth.  The wind is going to blow every day regardless, its up to you to decide if you’re going to let it blow around you or take you away.

10They don’t let others make them jealous

Athletes with emotional intelligence understand that there are going to be a lot of people around them experiencing success as they continue on their path.  However, what they realize is that every player has a different path in life and that the success that other athletes experience shouldn’t; take away from their enjoyment.

What you need to realize as an athlete is that there is an endless amount of success out there in the world every day.  Don’t get FOMO on success and understand that you can celebrate another teammate’s or rival’s success without feeling like the door of opportunity has closed on you. Success does not have a limited supply – when one door closes, another one opens.

11They don’t live in the past or worry about the future

Simply put, successful athletes with a high level of emotional intelligence live in the present.  You need to understand that you can’t control what happened to you yesterday or what is going to happen to you tomorrow. You can only control what you’re doing right now.  It sounds cliche, but its the truth.

If you blame the team you played on last year as a reason why you’re not where you want to be, that’s your problem. If you had a terrible year last year, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to have a terrible year this year.  You can’t let your past failures or fears about your future follow you around like a cloud above your head.

Emotionally intelligent athletes understand that failure is a part of the game and that everyone experiences it. Anything worthwhile in life takes a ton of struggle to achieve.  You can’t worry about how you’re going to get there or how your past is going to hinder you from getting there.  The only thing that you can focus on is how you’re going to work to get there and let the chips fall where they may.

Although that sounds like a “hail mary” strategy, you need to draw from the words of legendary golfer Gary Player on success & luck:

“The harder I work, the luckier I get.” 


Apply these 11 principles of “doing nothing” to your repertoire and start becoming the athlete that you have always wanted to be mentally.  Remember, sometimes its great to do nothing at all – so don’t do these 11 things. Also, check out our post on building resiliency and the power of perseverance: Want To Be Successful? You Better Learn How To Have Grit


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Contributes to the “new culture” of sports and helps motivate you to achieve your potential.