Setting Goals for Sports

Accelerates the Learning Process

Setting goals creates a path for athletes to follow. It is an effective motivational technique that boosts skill learning as well as competitive performance. Athletes tend to be more focused and committed to training when goals are clearly established and they know exactly when they have achieved them.

There are three commonly accepted types of goals coaches can set:

1. Outcome goals are those that compare the performances of athletes with those of other athletes. For example, " I want to win the state championship" means that the athlete's outcome depends on the performances of others.

2. Performance goals are used to improve an athlete's individual performance. For example, increase a baseball player's batting average from .325 to .335. The athlete has much better control here.

3. Process goals are used to improve the execution of a skill. For example, an athlete may strive to achieve full body extension on the power clean.

Tips for Setting Goals and Tracking Progress

Goals should be:

1. Realistic, yet challenging. While these may be more difficult, they lead to better results because they make the athlete work harder to reach them.

2. Specific about what you expect the athlete to accomplish. These are much more clear than "do-your-best".

3. Meaningful. If athletes understand the relevance they are more likely to be motivated to achieve them.

4. Targeted at the skills that an athlete needs to develop, as well as the conditions under which the athlete is to perform these skills. For example, hit 70% of free throws in overtime play in basketball.

An easy way to remember the basic qualities that goals should have is by using CARS: Challenging, Achievable, Realistic, and Specific.

Invite athletes to participate in the goal setting process and provide input about their progress. This leads to better results than assigning goals without their involvement. Also, according to Deci's Self-Determination Theory, athletes feel more competent when they have a say in decisions about their training.

A final point: Be sure to have athletes write down their goals and and keep them accessible. Concentrating on them over time helps keep athletes on track. Create short-term objectives--even daily ones--to show them that they are improving.

For more detail, check out this article from the Association for Applied Sport Psychology: Principles of Effective Goal Setting

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