Goal Setting and Sports Performance

Many people feel as if they're adrift in the world. They work hard, but they don't seem to get anywhere worthwhile.

A key reason that they feel this way is that they haven't spent enough time thinking about what they want from life, and haven't set themselves formal goals. Goal setting is a powerful process for thinking about your ideal future, and for motivating yourself to turn your vision of this future into reality.

The process of setting goals helps you choose where you want to go in life. By knowing precisely what you want to achieve, you know where you have to concentrate your efforts. You'll also quickly spot the distractions that can, so easily, lead you astray.

Goal setting is something that we're all aware of, but yet so few have actually written goals. Setting goals creates a path for athletes to follow. It is an effective motivational technique that boosts skill learning as well as competitive performance. Athletes tend to be more focused and committed to training when goals are clearly established, and they know exactly when they have achieved them.

There are three commonly accepted types of goals coaches or athletes can set:

1. Outcome goals are those that compare the performances of athletes with those of other athletes. For example, " I want to win the national championship" means that the athlete's outcome depends on the performances of others.

2. Performance goals are used to improve an athlete's individual performance. For example, increase a swimmer's turn from 0.99 sec 0.89 sec. The athlete has much better control here.

3. Process goals are used to improve the execution of a skill. For example, an athlete may strive to achieve full-body extension on the power clean.

There are some things to consider when setting goals. These qualities of consideration can be summarized with expressions such as SMART(Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) or CARS(Challenging, Achievable, Realistic, and Specific). However, below are the things that I consider the most important when setting goals:

  • Be precise – Set precise goals, putting in dates, times, and amounts so that you can measure achievement. If you do this, you'll know exactly when you have achieved the goal and can take complete satisfaction from having achieved it.

  • Set priorities – When you have several goals, give each a priority. This helps you to avoid feeling overwhelmed by having too many goals, and helps to direct your attention to the most important ones.

  • Write goals down – This crystallizes them and gives them more force.

  • Keep operational goals small – Keep the low-level goals that you're working towards small and achievable. If a goal is too large, then it can seem that you are not making progress towards it. Keeping goals small and incremental gives more opportunities for reward.

  • Set realistic goals – It's important to set goals that you can achieve. All sorts of people (for example, employers, parents, media, or society) can set unrealistic goals for you. They will often do this in ignorance of your own desires and ambitions. Always set your goals after yourself and your desires.

  • Set positive goals as opposed to negative goals – Goals can be stated either positively (e.g., increase the number of times I get selected for the starting team) or negatively (e.g., reduce the number of times I don't get selected for the starting team). Whenever possible, set goals in positive terms by focusing on behaviors that should be present rather than those that should be absent. This can help athletes focus on success rather than failure.

As a coach, it is important to be aware of the athlete's goals, and even writing them together could be useful. However, Be sure to have the athletes write down their goals and keep them accessible. Concentrating on them over time helps keep athletes on the right track. Create short-term objectives, even daily ones, to show them that they are improving.

I generally recommend that for every outcome goal that a coach or athlete sets, it should be accompanied by at least four process goals. For example, if you set a goal to become a starter on next year's team (an outcome goal), you should set four process goals that will increase the likelihood of you achieving that goal. Here is an example of four process goals as it relates to swimming, e.g., at least 3 dolphin kicks off every wall, decrease stroke count by one per 25m, lift 3 times a week, and watching technique videos for 10 mins daily. An example of an outcome goal that could go along with that could be, qualify for the national team. These process goals would be behavior or activities over which you have complete control, and your participation and ultimate success are virtually guaranteed.

Why Set Goals?

Top-level athletes, successful business people, and achievers in all fields all set goals. Setting goals gives you long-term vision and short-term motivation. It focuses your acquisition of knowledge, and helps you to organize your time and your resources so that you can make the most of your life.

By setting sharp, clearly defined goals, you can measure and take pride in the achievement of those goals, and you'll see forward progress in what might previously have seemed a long pointless grind. You will also raise your self-confidence as you recognize your own ability and competence in achieving the goals that you've set.

Starting to Set Personal Goals

  • First, you create your "big picture" of what you want to do with your life or career and identify the large-scale goals that you want to achieve.

  • Then, you break these down into the smaller and smaller targets that you must hit to reach your biggest goals.

  • Finally, once you have your plan, you start working on it to achieve these goals.

This is why we start the process of setting goals by looking at your lifetime goals. Then, we work down to the things that you can do in, say, the next five years, then next year, next month, next week, and today, to start moving towards them. A great tip is to write a small goal every day; it can be anything from "take 10 minutes to foam roll" to "run for 2 hours today". By having daily goals that you write down, it is easier to track the process, and in moments of doubt, you can always look back on them to see that you've put in the work.

Try these tips out, and you'll be on your way to reaching your goals, and we all know that nothing beats the feeling of reaching your goals.