Goal Setting

Goal Setting

If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You’ll Probably Never Get There

What single exercise can you do in one week that will have the greatest impact on your next season? You can dramatically effect next season’s performance with one in-depth session of goal setting.

Why is goal setting so important? Having clear, effective goals helps you maintain focus, guides you in making choices, and provides feedback as to progress and performance. The goals you set have profound impact on the psychological aspects of confidence, self esteem and anxiety.

There are two basic types of goals. Outcome goals focus on winning or placing at a certain level; performance goals (sometimes called process goals) emphasize improving one’s own abilities. Your own effort and behavior determines if you achieve performance goals. Outcome goals depend not only on your actions, but on your competitor’s behavior— over which you have no control.

The difference in goals is significant. For example, an athlete with the outcome goal of winning a race could have a personal best by two minutes, yet feel like a failure if he or she came in second place. The same athlete could be ecstatic if the focus was on performance goals. This perception of success or failure impacts confidence, effort, and subsequent performance. Outcome goals are not necessarily bad or inappropriate; the problems arise when a person focuses solely on outcome goals and excludes performance goals.

Rebecca Smith, the USOC Sport Psychology Consultant to the USA Triathlon National Team and the residential triathlon team at the USOC facility in Colorado Springs, notes “Most triathletes are highly motivated and goal oriented; the key is learning to set effective goals.” Smith stresses performance goals as more beneficial in helping athletes change behavior. “In triathlon, you can’t really compare the outcome of one race to another; the elements (weather) and different courses make each race unique.” Smith also emphasizes that triathletes need to set “not just physical goals; but mental skills goals. For example, if I get passed on the run, I’ll stay focused and use positive self-talk.”

The off season is an ideal time to review your past year’s accomplishments and map out your plan for next season. Sport psychologist and USOC Consultant Dan Gould has written extensively on the topic of goal setting, and offers these guidelines:

Set specific goals. “Do your best” may sound like a goal, but its not very helpful in improving performance. A good goal is objective and measurable, so you can know when you have attained it. Remember to set mental skills goals (relaxation, imagery, self-talk, etc.) as well as physical goals.

Set challenging but realistic goals. If goals are too difficult you can be in a constant state of frustration; if they are too easy you can become bored, or never reach your full potential.

Set long-term and short term goals. Your long term goal may be your dream goal. Start there and then work backwards to determine the short term goals that will be necessary to achieve en route to the ultimate end.

Set goals for practice as well as competition. Practice is the foundation for reaching those short-term goals. By having specific goals for each practice, you avoid “junk mileage.”

Set performance goals. As noted above, the elements of achieving performance goals are under your control; outcome goals are not. Research shows that athletes skilled in setting performance goals tend to show greater improvement and less anxiety than those who focus on outcome goals.

Set strategies for each goal. This makes goals more than wishful thinking. What are you going to do to reach the goal? For example, if you want to knock two minutes off your current 10 K , your short term goal may be first running five one-mile repeats with 30 second recovery, while keeping your heart rate below 85% of maximum. Your strategy for building to that point is twelve weeks of base running, six weeks of hill training, and six weeks of interval workouts at which you run 440’s at a 1′ 31″ pace.

Write your goals down. Consensus is that written goals are more likely to be achieved. Keep them handy where you can review them regularly.

Provide regular evaluation of goals. If you are not meeting your goals, reconsider your strategies and the practicality of your goals. Injuries, unexpected family or work demands generally require adjusting goals and strategies. If you are achieving your goals easily, you may want to notch them up a little.

When you’re setting goals for next season, don’t forget to balance family, friends, and relationships into the picture. One thoughtful afternoon dedicated to goal setting can be your most important exercise of the year. Like my granddaddy used to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably never get there.”


© Copyright 1997, Dr. Charlie Brown.  All rights reserved.

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