Emotional intelligence and basketball: two of my favorite subjects.

Emotional intelligence (EI), put simply, is a person's ability to recognize and understand emotions (both his or her own and those of others), and use that information to guide decision making. Empathy and compassion are qualities typically associated with a high emotional intelligence quotient (EQ).

EI helps when you get angry as well. If you're not careful, losing your cool can destroy relationships or even your reputation. The key is to remain in control. Doing so often requires techniques such as taking a pause, deep breathing, or even leaving a situation before it escalates.

But can you also demonstrate emotional intelligence by blatantly showing your anger?


Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors (a.k.a., the best team in basketball), demonstrates how.

How He Did It

Saturday night featured a very important game between the Western Conference leaders: Kerr's Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. In the first quarter, Kerr doesn't like the referee's call and starts expressing his, um, disagreement.

But what's interesting about his tirade is what happens toward the end:



Did you catch it? Kerr cracks a big smile right at opposing coach (and former mentor) Gregg Popovich. He even seems to mouth the words, "You like that?" (Coach Pop is also known for using emotions...to his advantage.)

For most, "emotionally intelligent" would be the last phrase used to describe Kerr's behavior. But I'd argue otherwise.

First, you have to remember a few things: Professional sports involve a lot of testosterone. In many ways, we could compare the court or field to a battlefield, and the head coach to the battalion leader. It's vital that the players feel the coach supports them and is willing to fight for them when they are being treated unfairly (which was the case in this instance).

Here's my theory for what happened:

Kerr has an immediate emotional reaction to the ref's call. He could rein that reaction in and respond very calmly, or perhaps not at all. However, he recognizes that he will get a more desirable result by wearing his anger on his sleeve.

Sure, he earns a technical foul--but that was his intention. Along with it, he shows his players:

  • that he's got their back
  • how seriously they should be taking this game

In turn, Kerr fires up his team.

Some will argue that it's all just an act. I posit that Kerr is extremely adept at managing his emotions and using them to his advantage--and the advantage of his team.

Well, you might say, the Warriors lost that game...so Kerr failed in this instance. But let's not forget that this is only one game in the regular season. The Warriors are still the defending champions, and they happen to be leading the NBA, as they look to break the long-time record held by the Chicago Bulls for wins in a season. (By the way, that record-setting Bulls team happened to have an undersized yet feisty guard that was a great complement to Michael Jordan. His name was Steve Kerr.)

Of course, Kerr and the Warriors' success could be attributed to a number of reasons: a great system, wonderful chemistry...the remarkable skills of Steph Curry.

But don't ignore Kerr's EQ in all of this.

Having followed Kerr since his playing days, I saw him develop a reputation as a calm, collected, and clutch shooter who made shots when they counted most--for a number of different teams. Additionally, he's demonstrated qualities like humility and the ability to relate well to his staff--all signs of high emotional intelligence.

Putting It Into Practice

How might you practice demonstrating anger effectively?

To be clear, in most cases you shouldn't show your anger. Acting in the heat of the moment will often cause you to do something you regret. (That's why the pause is so helpful.)

However, certain behaviors require an immediate response--for example, if you witness toxic behaviors such as bullying, deliberate attempts at deception, or the like.

I'm not saying to start imitating Kerr's exact demeanor (remember, professional sports make up a unique environment), but showing your true anger in these instances lets everyone know this behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

The key is to strive to always remain in control. Also, never berate people; focus on actions. (My friend and mentor Jeff Haden explores this further in his piece: "Why Great Leaders Get Angry--And Show It.")

Anger is a powerful emotion. Like fire, it can be a useful tool, or it can be hideously destructive.

If you work on staying in control, you can harness your anger appropriately--and use it for good.