Plotting the Course for Your Success
“If you don’t first set a goal, how will you know what to work toward? Setting that goal, whether it is to learn a new skill or win a gold medal at the Olympic games, allows you to create a step-by-step plan to achieve that goal and accomplish your dream.”
Shannon Miller, 7 time Olympic Medalist and 9 time World Medalist.
Do I Need to Do Goal Setting?
How much success do you want? Many athletes achieve some success without using formal goal setting, but virtually every great athlete who consistently wins, uses some form of goal setting. The USOC Sport Psychology program believes that using goal setting is as necessary as having a coach.
How does goal setting help? Like a good coach, a good goal setting gives an athlete an edge in three areas:
1. Direction- Goals tell you where you need to go and how to get there.
2. Feedback- Goals tell you when you are making progress.
3. Support- Goals keep you going when you might otherwise give up.
What happens if I don’t use goal setting? A lot of athletes say, “hey, why should I do goal setting when things are going well?” If things are going well, you may not notice the absence of goal setting right away. It’s when things start going poorly, however, that the athlete who does good goal setting can correct things and avoid a slump. Remember, good goal setting gives you direction, feedback, and support, three important tools when you are trying to avoid a slump.
The other thing to remember is that good goal setting can help you to greater and greater success. As the earlier quote from the Olympic Medalist makes clear, goal setting was critical to his winning a medal. Some athletes are satisfied with a lower level of success, but if you would like to be internationally successful in sport, we believe you do have to use goal setting as a basic training and competing skill.
What is effective goal setting?
Effective goal setting changes behavior. In sports, athlete behavior is the key. A motivational speech is useless unless athletes behave differently because of it. Training a new move for weeks and months is useless unless the athlete uses the move in competition (the athlete’s competition behavior changes). Shaving your head for competition, listening to a tape, watching video of your opponents, are all just wasted time unless they change you behavior in productive ways. The same is true for goal setting. If you think setting goals means sitting down once a year and writing down that you want to be the national champion, don’t waste your time, unless writing that statement down will change your behavior!
Athletes who use goal setting effectively find a number of behavior changes including:
1. Training is more productive, with more done in less time.
2. Competition behavior is more focused, resulting in less nervousness at competitions.
3. They don’t get stuck working on one thing in practice; instead, goal setting helps them to move onto other stuff they need to work on.
Effective goal setting becomes a habit. Like other behaviors that take some effort, goal setting needs to become a habit or it fades away (usually when things seem to be going well). When goal setting becomes an automatic part of your day, it will be most helpful to you.
Effective goal setting pays more attention to the little goals than the big goals.
Question: How many athletes have said to themselves, “I want to win”?
Answer: Every single athlete who has ever lived.
Setting the big goals (winning, Olympic Medal, National Champion, All-American), is the easy part that every athlete does. Setting the smaller goals that get you to the bigger goals is the hard part. Effective goal setting begins when you get past the big goals and start building the yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals that get you to the big goals. This takes work, and needs to become a habit, but it will change your behavior! Read on to learn how to use this valuable skill.
How am I Doing? Rating Your Own Goal Setting Skills
0 = Never 1 = Sometimes 2 = Almost Always
_____ 1. I set specific goals for practice
_____ 2. I set specific competition goals other than winning.
_____ 3. I do regular goal setting.
_____ 4. I review my goals after practices and competitions.
_____ 5. I re-set my goals if I get sick or injured or change my schedule.
_____ 6. I’m hard on myself if I don’t meet my competition goals, even if the competition results were good (like if I win by being lucky).
_____ 7. I give myself credit for meeting competition goals, even if the result was less than I had hoped for.
_____ 8. It is hard for me to come up with competition goals when I am winning
_____ 9. I write down my goals.
_____ 10. Doing goal setting changes the way I train and compete.
_____ Total (Add up your answers)
If your total score added up to:
19 – 20: You make goal setting an essential part of your training, or you are fibbing.
13 – 18: You are an effective goal setter, who already has benefited from this approach.
6 – 12 : Goal setting helps you somewhat, but you could benefit even more. Exercises in this article could be helpful to you.
0 -5: You either dislike goal setting, or are new to the concept. We hope you learn to benefit from it. Read ahead for way to incorporate goal setting into your routine.
Exercises To Develop Your Goal Setting Skills
Goal Setting Exercise 1
Moving Beyond Outcome Goals to Process Goal Setting
As we mentioned, all athletes already know how to set outcome goals – but setting only outcome goals, like winning will not change behavior because outcomes are not totally within your control. Process goals help keep your focus on things you can impact and have control over.
1. Start With an Outcome
Choose an upcoming competition, and pick a challenging but not impossible outcome goal (win, place, get a certain score or time, etc.). Write that goal down in detail here:
2. Moving From Outcome to Process
How do you maximize your chances of achieving that goal? Write down three behaviors you can do at competition to increase the odds of you achieving the outcome you wrote down in step one.
For example, an athlete might write: 1) I will be relaxed in the starting gate; 2) I will hold my pace, and race my own race, even if the pack goes out fast; and 3) I will maintain good technique in the second half of the race.
1. I will
2. I will
3. I will