Setting goals in sports might be one of the most valued tasks an athlete can do (sport psychology science backs this up!), but the irony is that many athletes either don’t set goals, or do set goals but develop them in such a way that they don’t excite, motive, or sustain ongoing focus and attention. Goals, when written effectively, mobilize targets, refine focus, strengthen mental toughness, and energize individuals to reach their full potential. Unfortunately, many athletes are unaware of the benefits of goal setting, or not quite sure how to get started.
Get started with effective goals
The basics of goal setting include writing out specific, measurable, controllable goals. For example, setting a goal to run 10 miles a week is specific (run), measurable (10 miles in a week), and controllable (it is entirely up to you to go out and run). Athletes who set goals like this are more likely to see the goal met when compared to athletes who do not set any goals, or athletes who set this same type of goal very poorly.
Changing gears, it is important to illustrate what a poorly stated goal looks like. Rather than declaring that you will run 10 miles a week, a less invested athlete might simply say “I’m going to get in better shape.” As you can see this goal is not specific (what is “better shape?”), not measurable in any way, and may or may not be controllable as we don’t quite yet know what the plan is to improve conditioning.
The secret of successful goal setting
In my experience there are many potential pitfalls when setting goals, including challenges around being specific and defining goals so that they can be measured. The real problem, however, might have more to do with the sense and level of control associated with the goals being set. Process goals are related to outcome goals (or performance goals), and provide the exact steps needed to achieve the outcome goal. This is a vital step in the goal setting process and one that should not be discounted or overlooked!
An example of using process goals
Using a real life example, lets say a HS student athlete wishes to become a starter on the basketball team (an outcome goal). Notice, the “goal,” as currently stated, doesn’t really provide for how the player will become a starter. The desire to eventually be a starter also assumes that the player has 100% control of this decision, when in fact he doesn’t if the decision to start is dependent on the coach, not the player. Still, there are several ways to dramatically improve upon this goal, keep focus sharp, and actually increase the odds for one day becoming a starter. One way to counter this issue is to develop a goal ladder such as the one provided below:
OUTCOME GOAL: To be a starter on basketball team
Process goals (smaller goals 100% under the control of the player and that will lead to better chances of eventually becoming a starter):
- Get x hours of rest each day
- Keep body weight at x
- Shoot x amount of FT’s daily
- Shoot x amount of mid-range and long-range shots each day
- Practice dribbling cone drill x amount of minutes each day
- Practice passing drills x amount of minutes each day
- Make daily journal entries about progress, track your progress, and continually study trends that most effect your goals.
As you can see the process goals above are specific, measurable, and completely under the control of the student athlete. By completing each step (rung on a ladder), the player’s talents will improve, as will the likelihood that his coach will notice and eventually select him to play more — and possibly one day start.
While it might seem like setting goals is nothing more than quickly scribbling out a few ideas on a napkin, there really is an entire theory of effective goal setting that athletes should learn if the goal is to maximize human performance. Developing process goals is a big part of the equation, and will help athletes with focus, motivation, and resiliency. Developing personal goals only takes a small amount of time, but the return on this investment can end up being the difference between success and failure, winning and losing, and developing from a good athlete to a great athlete.