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Chapter Four: Goal Setting

As athletes, we know it’s important for us to have goals. But why? Goals provide us with direction, give us motivation, and push us to accomplish new feats. They guide our actions. They give the mundane moments in training meaning, and add to the thrill of success, knowing that we accomplished our goals along the way. Accomplishing our goals makes us feel more alive. It makes us feel accomplished and fulfilled (Orlick, 2016). Research shows that goal setting really works! Athletes who are high in goal setting ability show less anxiety, more confidence, and improved performance (Weinberg & Gould, 2019).

Objective Goals

Our goals should be objective, meaning that they are specific and measurable rather than subjective, vague, and immeasurable. An objective goal sounds like “I want to increase my bench press by five pounds within two months.” A subjective goal sounds like “I want to have a good time.” It is not bad to say “I want to do well.” Of course you do! However, it is more effective to have goals which we can objectively measure.

Short-term and Long-term Goals

We should have both short-term and long-term goals. Long-term goals are the ones which give us direction. They’re the destination on the map. The short-term goals give us waypoints along the map that lead us to the destination. We want our short-term and long-term goals to work well together. For instance, a weightlifter whose goal is to snatch 300 lbs, would not spend 30 minutes running every day. Nor would a basketball player whose goal is to improve their free-throw shooting spend their time in the gym practicing lay-ins. Choose short-term, daily goals, that will add up to accomplishment of the long-term goal.

Goals may also change whether an individual is in pre-season, in-season, or post-season. It is important that athletes review their goals at these different stages in competition. Long-term goals can be set after the season has ended. It is a natural time for reflection in an athletes season, and we can base our long-term goals off of our previous performance. Pre-season is a good time to set shorter term goals, perhaps goals for the season. In season, athletes should regularly review their goals and adjust or refine as needed.

Outcome, Performance, and Process Goals

We should also have outcome goals, which focus on the result of a competition (did you win or lose?). But more importantly, we need to set performance and process goals. Performance goals are focused on achieving objectives based on the history of our own performance. They help us track our own performance and base new objectives off of that performance. For instance, a basketball player might want to increase their free-throw percentage from 70% to 75%. Process goals are the actions we need to take in order to perform well. Process goals often include technique or strategy. The sequence can be summed up here: These are the steps in the process I am going to take in order to achieve my performance goals, which will lead me to the desired outcome.

Further, we have more control over process and performance goals than we do over outcome goals. We ourselves have very little control over the outcome, whether we win or lose. There are too many variables for athletes to be able to actually control the outcome. We can not control our opponent’s performance. However, we do have direct control over our process goals. We control the steps we take each day to improve performance over time, which hopefully leads to completion of our outcome goal: to win!

Routines were discussed in chapter two of this curriculum. When we have routines, we are more likely to have a daily process that we engage in. This encourages the creation of process goals. When we take the steps each day to work toward better performance, we feel more confident, competent, and prepared to perform. Athletes should include mental goals in their process goal setting. Just as we develop physically through practice, we do the same when we practice mental skills. An athlete’s mental process goal might be to practice mindfulness for 10 minutes each day. Another might be to use a self-talk journal. When we incorporate mental skills into our routines and process goals we increase structure and consistency, therefore increasing confidence in our abilities.

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