Examining the impact of emotional intelligence and goal setting on basketball performance

Authors: Gobinder Singh Gill*(1)

Corresponding Author*: Gobinder Singh Gill

(1) Lecturer, Department of Sport, Travel & Uniformed Services, Birmingham Metropolitan College, UK (Email: psychologicaledge@outlook.com) Gobinder is a Lecturer in Sport Psychology and Research Methods. He is also a Teaching and Learning Coach who utilises emotional intelligence to improve performance levels in education and sport.

The purpose of this investigation was to examine the impact of emotional intelligence and goal setting in basketball. Having acknowledged the importance of emotional regulation in performance a suitable intervention to facilitate this process was tested. Using quantitative analysis to measure performance, participants completed a goal setting and emotional intelligence questionnaire during three periods of the regular season. Results revealed that participants who displayed high emotional intelligence levels set frequent goals. Participants also found that barriers to goals were overcome through specific action planning and related to individual requirements. Data for emotional intelligence demonstrated that participants also became self-aware of their own performance levels. In sum, this investigation advocates the use of goal setting to enhance emotional intelligence levels for performance outcomes in basketball. Future research should engage the use of emotional intelligence with packaged mental skills (e.g. imagery, self-talk and relaxation) to enhance performance levels. Further, using regression analysis would be useful in examining relationships more closely with the inclusion of more qualitative methodology.

KEYWORDS: Emotional Intelligence, Goal Setting, Strategy, Self-awareness, Intervention

Performance levels in basketball can be dictated by fine margins to impact the emotional experience of performers. A continuum from positive to negative can influence the emotional output experienced by these performers. To manage this emotional output, practitioners (e.g. sport psychologists and coaches) employ an array of available strategies and techniques (Birrer, Rothlin & Morgan, 2012; Murphy, 2005; Orlick, 2002). The use of goal setting is one common and popular strategy that can be implemented as it facilitates direction and focus to raise performance levels (Locke & Latham, 2013) in basketball. Early research of Locke and Latham (1990) demonstrated that 91% of studies supported the hypothesis of specific goals leading to better performance than setting no goals. Later research from Locke and Latham (2006) also demonstrated the efficacy of goal setting through high internal and external validity. Additionally, meta-analysis results have demonstrated moderate to strong effects for goal setting (Kleingeld, Mierlo & Arends, 2011; Kyllo & Landers, 1995; Yperen, Blaga & Postmes, 2014) leading to performance improvements (Carron & Hausenblas, 2005; Locke & Latham, 1990; Shaw, Gorely & Corban, 2005; Sullivan & Strode, 2010; Tod & McGuigan, 2001; Vidic & Burton, 2010; Weinberg & Gould, 2007; Weinberg, Burton, Yukelson., & Weigand, 1993).

In consideration of the evidence outlined it is plausible to suggest that a relationship between goal setting performance and emotive behaviour exists. For example, if a performer is succeeding with set goals they will experience a positive emotive experience. Conversely, if the performer is not succeeding with set goals they are likely to suffer from negative emotive states. Regardless of the outcome, performers still have to manage and regulate their emotions to enable direction of attention and concentration on specified tasks. It is contented that the construct of emotional intelligence aligns closely with the management and regulation of emotion. Emotional intelligence is defined as,

“a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s own thinking and actions” (Salovey and Mayer, 1990).

A popular model of emotional intelligence is proposed through the work of Goleman (2004) and therefore it will be prudent to unpack the outline of this model. The core aspect of the Goleman (2004) measure aligns to self-awareness, which alludes to “the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others” (Goleman, 2004, p. 88). Self-awareness is important because awareness of own emotions regulates thought processes. Thought processes within basketball performance are important because the nature of quick changeovers should engineer and facilitate faster thought processes. Self-awareness and goal setting are aligned closely because performers who set goals need to manage goals through appreciating impact (strengths and limitations) on performance levels. A second aspect of the Goleman (2004) model associates to the management and regulation of emotion, which is defined as, “the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods; the tendency to suspend judgment to think before acting” (Goleman, 2004, p. 88). Basketball offers opportunities for performers to assess their ability to regulate emotions. Theoretically, high levels of emotional intelligence enhance the ability to self-regulate emotions than low emotional intelligence (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). The use of goal setting should provide performers with opportunities to direct their own attention and levels of concentration in managing and regulating emotions. The third aspect of the Goleman (2004) model is motivation and aligns closely with goal setting as it emanates to inner and external desires to achieve. To facilitate motivation levels Locke and Latham (2013) propose the utility of process and performance goals (Locke & Latham, 2013). The fourth aspect of the Goleman (2004) model aligns to empathy, which relates to the ability to understand other people. In consideration that increased empathy leads to effective working relationships it would be integral for basketball performance as it is a team sport. Performers should be encouraged and trained in understanding and appreciating teammates emotive states. A final area of the Goleman (2004) model relates to relationship management and relates to developing skills and strategies in managing others. Relationship management within basketball is important as it associates to future success and fulfillment of set objectives and performance plans. In sum, the use of goal setting and development of emotional intelligence can support performers in managing emotions. Goal setting is a process that pertains to ownership between performers, the team and coaches to be successful.

Given the consideration that goal setting and emotional intelligence have emotional properties, the present investigation assessed impact on basketball performance over the course of a season. It is considered that a season long approach enables a robust investigation of goal setting and emotional intelligence. Second, the investigation can assess the influence of emotion in basketball through the use of goal setting and emotional intelligence. As this investigation is in an ecological valid setting it allows for an exploration of human behaviour in natural environments.

Basketball players (N=16) participated for a local college in the United Kingdom. Participants were between 16-20 years old (M = 16.69 years, SD = .73 years) and competed in Basketball for (M = 4.64 years, SD = 1.34 years) participants’ practised goal setting for (M = 2.53 years, SD = 2.28 years).

Goal setting questionnaire
The goal-setting questionnaire (Weinberg et al. 1993, 2000) was compromises of six sections: (a) demographic and background information; (b) frequency of goal setting strategy use from 1 (never) to 7 (always); (c) effectiveness of goal setting strategies from 1 (very ineffective) to 7 (very effective); (d) effort expanded to achieve goals from 1 (no effort) to 7 (max effort); (e) barriers to achieving goals from 1 (not at all) to 7 (a great deal); (f) goal preference (ranking the importance of eight different competitive basketball goals).

Emotional intelligence questionnaire
The Practical EQ Emotional Intelligence self-report measure (2008) was utilised for the purpose of this study. The Practical EQ is a self-report measure (2008) that offers opportunities for assessing participants’ emotional intelligence and self-perceptions. The Emotional Intelligence Self-Assessment Questionnaire (2008) is based on the five-competency model proposed by Daniel Goleman (2004) that identifies 5 core domains of self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy, and relationship management. Each section has 5 questions with score ranges from 0 (Almost never) – 5 (Almost always). In total there are 25 questions of which 9 are reversed scores. Examples of questions included, “I can explain my actions,” (self-awareness), “I am prone to outbursts of anger,”(self-management), “I feel excited when I think of my goals,” (motivation), “I find it easy to read others peoples emotions,”(empathy) and “I encounter difficult people,” (relationship management). In consideration of utilizing the self-report measure of emotional intelligence it was identified that the questionnaire would allow opportunities for participants to report the effects of emotions on everyday life as self-perception allows for change and influences behavior (Petrides, Furnham & Frederickson, 2004; Petrides, Sangareau, Furnham & Frederickson, 2006).

Once participants were informed of the purpose of this investigation ethical clearance forms were completed. Participants who were under 18 were also provided with letters to gain parental consent. All participants were also informed of their voluntary participation and subsequent withdrawal if they wished. Goal setting and emotional intelligence measures were completed during three intervals of autumn, spring and summer. Completion of both measures was in a classroom setting and prior to training sessions.


Goal setting correlation data over testing period

Table 1 – Goal setting correlation data over testing period

Correlation data (see, table 1) illustrates that performers frequently set goals and found these to be effective (.861, p < .01). Performers were also eager to participate and put in effort (.715**) to both training and game situations. Further, results demonstrated that between frequency and effort (.559**) performers were consistently setting goals and regulated their effort towards this process. Results demonstrate that barriers and obstacles to performance were not so influential.

Emotional intelligence data demonstrating an increase of all scores for each domain over the testing period.

Chart 1 – Emotional intelligence data demonstrating an increase of all scores for each domain over the testing period.

Emotional intelligence data scores over testing period

Table 2 – Emotional intelligence data scores over testing period

Data in table 2 demonstrates that increases of emotional intelligence occurred on all 5 domains. In particular, between the first and third interval scores of emotional intelligence performers demonstrated bigger increases in self-regulation, empathy and relationship management. Average scores also demonstrate that performers scored moderately high on all 5 emotional intelligence domains.

This present study investigated the impact of emotional intelligence and goal setting on basketball performance over a competitive season. This investigation demonstrates that emotional intelligence and goal setting in basketball benefited performers in training and competition. Carrying out research in an ecological valid setting enabled the researcher to assess impact on enhancing performance levels. Assessing impact of a competitive season facilitates research opportunities for a number of reasons. Firstly, research identifies a clear purpose of performance over a sustained period. Secondly, it demonstrates how emotions fluctuate and what interventions can be implemented to support performance levels. Thirdly, practitioners (e.g. coaches) can gain more information about performers emotions and ability to set goals. Therefore, the purpose of this discussion is to outline key messages derived from the data and to provide strategies for future research directions.

The results identify that emotional intelligence was enhanced for all performers over the course this investigation. This arguably demonstrates that performers engaged in the process to facilitate their performance levels. It also encourages further research on season long processes as it enabled opportunities to assess performer enhancement and provide feedback. Arguably, performers became intrinsically motivated as they engaged within the process by understanding the impact on performance levels. Further, there was evidence from the present investigation to indicate that performers with higher levels of emotional intelligence also set frequent goals. It could be suggested that performers who found goal setting to be effective as a result of higher levels of emotional intelligence (Salovey & Mayer, 1990) were inclined to be intrinsically motivated to achieve. In conclusion, performers who controlled their emotions and scored high in emotional intelligence levels managed their goals effectively to improve performance. Arguably, it could be suggested that performers were motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically to achieve success through continuous goal setting.

Goal effectiveness was aligned by the frequency of set goals. Performers set specific plans, worked on skills and improved performance by displaying a positive acceptance towards goal setting. If these goals were successful, which in turn enhanced motivation (Bandura, 1997) and aided direction (Locke & Latham, 1990) vague goals would have the opposite effect. It was evident that with continued effort goals became more effective for performers. Locke and Latham (2013) suggest that effort must be expended to reach goals. Performers displayed eagerness to target goals and results suggested effort was expended for very difficult and moderately difficult goals. In addition, participants set frequent goals and found these to be effective. Goal setting therefore became a natural skill that was important to performers. To overcome barriers and obstacles performers were expending extra effort during basketball training and competitive games. The setting of specific goals could be a valid reason as why barriers were overcome by participants.

The emotional intelligence data outlines that the impact of goal setting influenced the management and regulation of emotions during the basketball season. There was an increase of percentage difference between each interval test and averages for all domains scored high. The data outlined clearly presents opportunities for practitioners to outline further strategies to help performers with increasing emotional intelligence scores. Self-awareness and motivation identified with small increases between intervals. However, this is because self-awareness and motivation demonstrates that performers were continuously setting goals and therefore motivation levels were already high. Further, self-awareness aligns to receiving feedback and within basketball this is a constant in both training and game play. Improvements in self-regulation, empathy and relationship management demonstrated biggest influence within this investigation. This demonstrates that performers were keen on developing how they managed and regulated their emotions. This is important as performers were acknowledging the influence of emotion on their performance levels. Further, empathy levels also improved which demonstrates that performers took opportunities to support teammates both in training and game situations. Arguably, appreciating empathy levels may have dictated relationship management and improvements with group dynamics as performers appreciated the set agenda of goal setting and its influence on performance levels.

This investigation has clearly outlined the importance of goal setting and emotional intelligence in basketball performance. However, as with all research there are some limitations that need to be explained. The research focused on basketball performance, following a squad of (N=16) and there is an acknowledgement that a larger sample would have provided an exploration for deeper analysis. Caution to these results must be made, as it would be unwise to generalise them to other basketball teams and even wider sporting populations. However, these reported results provide a platform from which future research avenues can be explored. For example, assessing emotional intelligence with a package of psychological skills would measure the impact of emotional experiences and use of interventions as a package. One final recommendation would be to seek opportunities to develop research that is linked to qualitative mechanisms and regression analysis to provide a rich source of information and help us better understand the process of goal setting through an exploration of coaches and performer thoughts.

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