The Emotional Intelligence of Football Coaches

The social media world of Emotional Intelligence is currently buzzing with news that the coach of the Philidelphia Eagles, Chip Kelly, was dismissed for lacking emotional intelligence.

I know very little about Gridiron Football but if you want a classic example of how a coach with high emotional intelligence can improve the performance of a team look no further than the current coach of the Australian National Rugby Team, Michael Cheika.

Michael Cheika has an impressive track record in turning around poorly performing teams into champions.  Under his guidance Leinster won the Heinekin Cup in 2009 and the NSW Waratahs won the 2014 Super Rugby Championship after trying for 19 years.  As a fellow Waratah fan said it was like owing a stock for 19 years and finally getting a dividend.

However it was the performance of the Australian Rugby team in 2015 that clearly demonstrated Cheika’s skills.  He was appointed as head coach in October 2014.  The National team was in total disarray.  It had split into warring camps based on state loyalties.  Press conferences had become hostile with Coach McKenzie was even forced to deny being in an extramarital affair with Di Patston, a business manager whose appointment had been pushed through by McKenzie.  Suddenly McKenzie left just 6 days before the team left Australia for their 2014 Spring Tour.  A measure of the disarray was that on the Spring Tour Australia lost 3 of the 4 international matches they played.  At this time I was booking matches for the Rugby World Cup to be held in England in September 2016.  I was convinced that Australia would not progress past the pool rounds.  I could have not been more wrong.

In an unbelievable turnaround not only did Cheika manage to win the 2015 Rugby Championship for the first time (the contest for the best nation in the Southern hemisphere) he led Australia to the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final.  Subsequently, Cheika was named 2015 World Rugby Coach of the Year, a title that normally is won by a New Zealander.

Cheika’s motivational skills are legendary.  The son of Lebanese migrants, the former Randwick No 8 grew up in a working class home and went on to build a multi-million dollar fashion business.  He speaks fluent Arabic, French and Italian and, while he still possesses a renowned ‘fear factor,’ Cheika clearly has the ability to reach players from all walks of life.  He is famous for his off-the-wall motivational methods ranging from using golf clubs to cartoons of poker faces.

However it was in the run-up to the England-Australia World Cup match that Cheika out did himself.  Clive Woodward, England’s most successful rugby coach had claimed that Australia lacked intelligence and were not the brightest team.  Cheika admitted that his school marks were never the best, but hoped that his team would have the ’emotional intelligence’ to beat England on Saturday night.  It certainly worked because in front of 75,000 English fans baying for blood at Twickenham Australia turned in a brilliant display of running rugby winning 33-13.  I was there and by full time the stadium was empty with only 5,000 Australian fans jumping for joy.



Christina Gallagher

23 Nov,2017
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