A Successful Coach or Trainer Needs Emotional Intelligence

The ability to perceive others’ emotions and utilize that information in your coaching and training methods may be more important than you think.

Entry-level personal trainers initially rely on a training certificate and a high school diploma to successfully land a job.

Entry-level personal trainers initially rely on a training certificate and a high school diploma to successfully land a job.

However, coaching as a career path requires something more- Emotional Intelligence (EI). According to Melinda Abbott of Columbia University,1 49% or more of successful coaching is derived from a coach’s ability to monopolize emotional intelligence. Moreover, the ability to connect on a social level has been proven to drive motivation and teaching efficacy.

The bottom line is a coach should focus a substantial portion of their time on sports psychology.

The Benefits of Conscious Coaching

A well-known coach, Brett Bartholomew, brings up in his book, Conscious Coaching 2 the importance of understanding the types of people you coach. As of late, there is a growing body of evidence surrounding understanding personality types for career success within the workplace and academic performance training.2

However, within the realm of sports, this too is becoming important. As Mark Rippetoe points out in his book Practical Programming for Strength Training,3 a strength coach will spend more time with an athlete during their career individually than any other coach. Therefore, knowing your athlete or client is of utmost importance.3

Focus less on counting reps and focus more on the client’s needs and know when to refer out.

Coaches are not licensed to be psychiatrists or medical doctors (unless one holds that title); nevertheless, understanding how EI applies to a client’s lifespan warrants some explanation.

EI is a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, discriminate among them, and use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions, according to Salovey & Mayer, 1990.

In the context of coaching, this requires first an understanding of how a person approaches being instructed, how one manages failure, success, plateaus, and their interaction with nutrition and overall personal wellness.3,4,5,6

Emotional Intelligence in Coaching Builds Trust

One of my sessions consisted of six minutes of a client discussing their issues for the day before mobility work and isometric drills. EI allows that client to feel comfortable and builds trust.

Without trust, a client is not likely to follow instructions, and the client does come first.

You can have a Ph.D. in biophysics, but the client could care less; their foci are:

  1. Achieving their intended results
  2. Feeling appreciated

Those six minutes to my client made the remainder of her day far more enjoyable, and she will look forward to her next session.

As a coach, having a graduate degree makes reading bloodwork easier and discussions with a client’s physician more illuminating. The client learns that you care beyond the aspect of the job; this creates buy-in.2

This client is more likely to refer others to you and participate in higher engagement training.

Another client learned quickly that their well being is most important in and out of the competition. During a time such as COVID-19, clients are far more reluctant to engage with their coach, let alone purchase high-fidelity coaching programs.

As clients resurface, it is far more important to cater to mental health needs with the same vigor as a premium program or nutritional plan.

In particular, athletes who face suspension of events or entire seasons may feel displaced without a coach guiding them.

Contrary to popular belief, athletes often suffer more mental illness than average gym patrons.

Furthermore, they are less likely to seek to consult for mental health issues.

As a coach, it requires that red-flags in normal function be caught sooner rather than later and ensure that your gym or office is a safe space. It is through a proper institution of emotional intelligence practice that client outcomes improve.7

You might also like Emotional Intelligence As A Success Marker For Fitness Training.


1. Abbott, Melinda. “Characteristics of a Successful Personal Trainer.” Doctoral theses, Columbia University/Academic Commons, 2018.

2. Bartholomew, B., Conscious Coaching: The art & science of building buy-in. Bartholomew Strength, LLC. 2017, p. 286.

3. Rippetoe, M., Kilgore, L., & Bradford, S. E. Practical programming for strength training, Aasgaard Company. 2006. Vol. 222.

4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Fitness Trainers and Instructors, (visited January 13, 2021).

5. Richard C. Thelwell, Andrew M. Lane, Neil J.V. Weston & Iain A. Greenlees, “Examining relationships between emotional intelligence and coaching efficacy.” International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 2008.6:2. 224-235.

6. John D. Mayer, Peter Salovey, “The intelligence of emotional intelligence.” Intelligence, Vol 17, Issue 4,1993, 433-442.

7. Scott B. Martin, (2005) “High School and College Athletes’ Attitudes Toward Sport Psychology Consulting,” Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 17:2, 127-139.