Harness the power of emotional intelligence

Jon Cotterill-Bolsover has performed a variety of different roles in both the men’s and women’s game.

He has been a goalkeeper coach, club chairman, head of performance and development and strength and conditioning coach.

Jon has now set up his own firm – World at Her Feet – which works with female players in off-field areas such as performance analysis and sports science.

But his specialist area is sports psychology. SCW spoke to Jon about emotional intelligence and its importance in coaching, how to handle a difficult player and the best response when a dressing-room bust-up happens…

Jon Cotterill-Bolsover had several roles at Chesterfield Women FC in England

SCW: How do you think you get the best out of players?

JC-B: “I consider myself a people person. I’ve always prided myself in the way that I’ve worked with players, which is very positive, very direct.

“I work with data because it gives me and the players a good indication of where they are. But data is data. It’s just numbers – it can’t account for everything.

“I like to take a mix of those fact-based sciences, such as performance analysis, match coding, GPS, things like that, and combine that with a very good management approach.

“I feel it’s been a recipe for success for me. I’ve got the information to back things up while at the same time knowing how to work with people.”

SCW: Can you learn how to be a people person, if you don’t already have that empathetic touch?

JC-B: “Everybody possesses varying degrees of emotional intelligence. Some people have a higher EQ [emotional quotient] than others. Does that make you a better people person? I don’t know, to be honest.

“Can you learn to be a people person? The scientific evidence would argue probably not – you tend to have built your executive functions, as we would call it, by the time you’re 11 or 12 years old.

“It’s not so much learning to be a people person, it’s learning to adapt to your environment. You may not ever be a people person, but you can learn to adapt to your environment.


“I am a people person and always prided myself in the way I work with players…”


“If I break my right arm, I can’t learn to be left handed, but I can adapt to the situation and learn to write with my left hand.

“You can’t learn to be a people person, but you can learn to work with the environments in which you’re presented.”

SCW: Graham Potter, the Brighton and Hove Albion manager, said: “You need to have emotional intelligence to be a top manager” and cited self-awareness, empathy, responsibility, motivation and building relationships as ingredients to being a good coach. I imagine you’d subscribe to that?

JC-B: “Absolutely. The modern manager now is an emotionally intelligent person and there are studies now that suggest players with a higher emotional intelligence are more likely to be successful in the game.

“Emotional intelligence is adapting to your environment, it is being able to communicate effectively in different areas. It is key to managers and players alike.

“A good example of that is the England team and the way that Gareth Southgate has changed the philosophy. It has brought success and it has brought buy-in.

“I still hear quotes such as ‘the players need a good shouting at at half-time because it helps them perform better’.

“But I think we’re in a time of transition where people understand that shouting at somebody makes them fearful that they have to perform.

“Actually working with somebody on an emotional and psychological level enables me to get the best out of them. Not because I’m telling them to, but because they’re empowered to want to do it. I think that’s the key difference.”

England men’s national team head coach Gareth Southgate is singled out by Jon for his emotional intelligence and the culture set up around the camp

SCW: What about those talented players who don’t have the right attitude and test coaches’ patience – how far can empathy stretch? Is there room for the short, sharp shock treatment to get players focused, or do you need to take a really subtle line?

JC-B: “In a former life, I worked as a training consultant and used to run conflict management courses. We would discuss the type of individual who is best for dealing with conflicts.

“You can have somebody who is very passive, who lets people walk all over them and does things to please people. But then we get the opposite side of that, somebody who is very aggressive – ‘you will do as I say’.

“But then you tend to create passive- aggressive people, who will do as you say, until they reach a limit and then they’ll fight back.

“The best place to be is right in the centre of that – being an assertive person who says ‘this is the way I want things done and this is the way it’s going to be – however, I am not too aggressive to listen to what you’ve got to say’.

“You’re not at arm’s length, it’s not all or nothing. You will listen to what they’ve got to say and have an honest conversation.


“It’s very rare to be put in a room of 20 people and get on with all of them…”


“Being that assertive person and setting those assertive boundaries very early on, I would say is essential.”

SCW: It’s often said you don’t have to like who you work with. Do players have to get on with each other? And if if not, how do you resolve conflicts in a dressing room?

JC-B: “It is a very difficult one. Personally, I’m very up front – if there’s a problem, I see it immediately.

“You don’t have to get on. It’s very rare to be put in a room with 20 people and get on with all of them. People get together with families and don’t get on with all 20 members of the family.

“It’s something that we have all through our lives – when we go to school, we get put in a class of 30 people, and you have to learn to manage the personalities.

“But from a coach’s point of view – and maybe a captain’s point of view as well – it’s important that it’s understood you don’t have to get on with everybody, but you have a job to do.

“The New Zealand rugby team’s way of dealing with that was that everybody had a responsibility. Whether it was giving out technical or tactical information, emptying the bins or putting some ice in the water bottles – that was your job.

“Everybody, regardless of their relationships with each other, had a good understanding that they were cogs in the same machine. and that you don’t necessarily have to get on with everybody, but you are part of the collective.

“When it comes to dealing with those conflicts, for me, it is about dealing with it immediately. Once those things are allowed to fester, that’s when things turn bad.”


“Nothing makes you a better coach than not just self reflection, but self exploration – to know what type of person I am…”


Share this
Follow us