Jeff Mitchell – Community Sport Advisor – Sport Auckland
The following is a pre-reading for a workshop I deliver on goal setting.
Goal setting is an effective tool to use in various areas of your life. You will often find that successful people are goal-driven. This is true whether they are in sport, business, music, the arts or any number of other areas. For this article we will focus on how goal setting applies to athletic performance. We will look at what goal setting is, how it helps athletes, the types of goals that you can set and how to do it effectively.
What is goal setting?
Goals are aims or objectives that you would like to achieve. They are things that you can’t do currently – and would like to be able to do – or a state that you would like to be. So you might want to be able to do 25 push-ups without stopping, or you might want to weigh 80 kg’s. By setting a goal you are committing to improving yourself so that you reach a new level of skill or performance.
Goal setting is the process of identifying the goals you want to achieve and what you will do in order to achieve them. Goals are much more effective if they are written down, so an important part of goal setting is to come up with a statement of what you want to achieve. This requires you to identify your current level, the level you want or need to achieve, and the actions that are required to achieve this standard. By setting effective goals and then following through on them you will increase your ability in the area you are working on, improving your performance in general.
What are the benefits of goal setting?
Goal setting is one of the best methods for increasing the ability of your athletes. By setting goals to work on specific areas of their sport – and then following through on those goals – your athletes’ performance will improve. As they become more skilled they will be more effective in competition. Addressing their weaknesses and improving their strengths will make them more competitive, and is one of the most effective methods for improving your players’ athletic performance.
Goal setting is also one of the best methods for increasing motivation. By setting a target you become much more motivated to achieve it. This is because without the goal you do not really have anything to work towards. Let’s use the example of trying to get stronger at doing push ups.
You can see this motivating effect for yourself. After a good warm up, do a set of push ups to failure (or sit ups, or squats, or any other exercise). What did you notice with the last few reps, when you were getting tired? You probably stopped several reps before your body was ready to give up.
Rest for a couple of days and then try it again. This time, set yourself a goal that is 5 more than you achieved on the previous attempt. So if you did 20, set a goal of 25 this time. As you get close to 20 you will no doubt start feeling tired, but this time focus on reaching 25. Chances are you will be able to get through them, as you are motivated to reach the target.
Having clear goals also gives players a focus to what they are doing. There is a huge range of components that go into a successful athletic performance. Often athletes will do a bit of this and a bit of that, however, they don’t really do enough to make improvements in any one area. Setting a goal allows athletes to prioritise what they spend their time on, and helps them to focus on improving the areas that are important for achieving their goal. Setting goals helps players to focus on improving areas of weakness (which many players avoid) and also helps them to focus their energy and attention on areas that are productive.
A final area that goal setting can help with is improving confidence. If a player can see that they are making improvements, through the actions that they take and the goals that they achieve, then they will become more confident. By seeing the improvements that they are making, due to the efforts that they are putting in, players will understand that they are capable of raising their level of performance. This will encourage them to push themselves further, leading to a cycle of on-going improvement. Just setting goals does not guarantee all of these benefits, however. To actually provide these benefits the goals that a player sets need to be effective.
Setting effective goals
It is important that the goals that players set are written down. Writing them down creates a level of commitment and makes it easier to keep the goals in focus. If they are just in a player’s head, it is easy for the goals to be forgotten or pushed to the side. For goal setting to work the goal statements that the player comes up with need to be written effectively. The goal should be a clear statement of what the player wants to achieve, it should be motivating, and it should be something that they are capable of working on.
Once a player has written a statement for what they want to achieve it is a good idea to run the goal through SMART. A goal statement will generally be effective if it meets each of the requirements of SMART. Being SMART about goal setting reminds you that your goals should be:
The goal should be stated in terms that make it very clear what is to be achieved. What exactly is the target that the player wants to reach? If it is ambiguous then it is very difficult to determine how you will get there.
It is important that the goal can be measured in some way. If you cannot measure the goal, how will you know if it is achieved? Making the goal measurable provides you with your specific target and also allows you to identify how close you are to achieving it. Setting goals that involve numbers makes it easier to measure your progress. Some examples of how to measure goals include:
Numbers (tally) Percentages Ratios
Time Distance Weight
The goal should state what it is that the player will do, as in what actions they will take to lead them towards their overall goals. Action-oriented goals are more motivating as there is a clear indication of what a player will do. Use verbs when you are writing your goals to create an action-orientation.
Goals are about improvement. When setting a goal the player should choose something that they are not currently able to achieve, as the idea is to reach a new level of performance. Setting goals that are too hard sets you up for failure, reducing motivation and leading to apathy. Players should identify their limitations and then set goals that are challenging but with some dedicated effort can be achieved.
A goal will just drift on and on if it does not have a specific deadline. Set target dates for achieving your goals which are challenging but realistic.
By applying each of the components of SMART players should be able to come up with goal statements that are effective, increasing the likelihood that they will be achieved and that they will lead to improvements. Have your players work through this list each time that they write a goal; if their goals do not meet any of these steps then have them rewrite their goal so that it does.
What types of goals can players set?
Players often start with a general statement such as “I want to be better at shooting” or “I want to get fitter”. These subjective goals are a starting point for clarifying what a player wants to address, however, they do not state specifically what the player is trying to achieve. What is “better shooting”? How much fitter do you want to be? A subjective goal states what a player would like to be better at, however, it does not provide a clear target for how much better they wish to be.
For goal setting to be effective then we need to set objective goals. Objective goals are specific and measurable statements of what we want to achieve. By being clear on what it is we are aiming for, we are able to identify what we need to do to actually get there. Below are some examples of how we could take the subjective goals above and turn them into objective goals:
Here the two subjective goals have been broken down into some clear, measurable outcome goals. These outcome goals would provide the player with a clear direction for where they are trying to get to. They are things that they can do, and they are able to measure them to decide if they have been achieved. To be effective, goals that start out as subjective need to be developed so that they are objective.
With objective goals there are three further types that we can set: outcome, performance and process. Each type has a different focus and a different purpose; to be effective players should look to use each type of goal.
Outcome goals are based on getting a result and are the easiest and most common goals that people set. Outcome goals generally rely on a result against an opponent, making them competitive in nature. Examples of outcome goals could include to win a match, to win a competition, to finish in the top three, or to score a specific number of points. These goals are generally measured at the end of a match or series of matches.
Outcome goals could also relate to a final state, such as to weigh a certain amount, to be able to do a certain number of exercises, to complete a race in a specific time, or to have developed a certain level of skill. These outcome goals will be more personal as they are not dependent upon how the athlete performs against an opponent.
Many people just set outcome goals, however, it is important that players focus on more than just the result. To raise their performance and develop their skills it is important that they also set performance and process goals.
Performance goals are a measure of how well a player is doing. They are often related to how the player performs in competition, but are not just about winning and losing. To identify a performance goal the player would look at the areas of their sporting performance and then decide how well they want to do in them. This will be their goal for the game. Some performance areas and goals for a range of sports could include:
- How much possession they have ——————->To have 65% possession during the game.
- How many shots they have —————————> To have at least 8 shots per half.
- How accurate they are ———————————> To hit the target 85% of the time.
- How fast they are over certain stages ————–> To average 12 km per hour for the race.
Setting performance goals gives the players targets to try to achieve within their competition that will hopefully lead to a successful outcome. Performance goals are good for tracking progress and for motivating players to perform better. In order to increase their performance they will need to develop areas of their game such as their skills, game understanding, physical fitness or decision making. This is where process goals come in.
By setting process goals, the player is more likely to reach the improved level of performance that they are after. Process goals focus on what the player will do to improve in the areas that they want to perform better in. These goals will often revolve around what they do in training and what they do in their own time to prepare. To set process goals the player should look at what goes into performing well in their target area and setting goals that focus on improving these aspects. Below are some examples of process goals a player could set to improve their shooting performance.
Here the player has identified actions that they could take to improve their shooting ability and set some goals related to how often they will perform these actions. Process goals help players to improve by having them focus on the activities that will lead to an improvement. Setting them as goals rather than just actions will increase their motivation and level of commitment. They are still action-oriented, and they are all within the capability of the player to complete.
An easy way to remember the difference between each type of goal is to relate them to your sport. Imagine an outcome goal being the scoreboard, the performance goal being your match statistics, and the process goal being your training session.
Implementing goal setting
There are three steps to implementing a goal setting process:
- Write your goals
- Work towards and monitor your goals
- Evaluate your goals.
The first step is to write out the goals that you want to achieve, the deadline for achieving them, and the actions that you will take to achieve them. For your outcome and performance goals these actions should be your process goals. Once you start working on your goals, you need to keep track of how you are progressing. Monitor your goals to make sure that you are achieving the smaller steps that will lead to achieving your goal. You should be measuring your performance goals every time you compete, looking to see if you are gradually improving towards the performance level you have set. Once you reach your deadline you need to evaluate the goals – did you achieve them, and why or why not? Use this information to help you to write a new set of goals.
To make improvements you need to have a clear target of what you want to achieve. By breaking this target down into some objective goals, you will have something to motivate you and that you can focus on. Setting process and performance goals that lead to the achievement of your outcome goals will help you to take the necessary steps for getting to where you want to be. Making these goals SMART will ensure that you have some effective goals and increase the likelihood that you make a lasting change.