Goal Setting

Sometimes, athletes set goals that are vague and outcome focused, such as to play well and win.  These types of goals are so obvious that they actually aren’t that helpful.  Goal setting can be extremely powerful, and these guidelines can help make the most of this strategy:

Set outcome goals and process goals

It is important to know your destination, so start your goal setting process by identifying the outcome you want to achieve.  From there, recognize that the more you think about your outcome goals in competition, the further you get from achieving them. Thinking about winning in the midst of a performance can take your focus away from the necessary steps it takes to win.  Therefore it’s important to set process goals, which are the specific steps you have to take to achieve your desired outcome- these goals focus on the skills to be performed.  For example, if a lacrosse player wants to achieve the outcome of scoring goals, their process goal could be to challenge the goal every time they have the ball.

Set goals that are concrete and controllable

Simple, concrete goals help to focus your mind.  They also help you stay positive.  If you’re playing basketball and you have the goal of not letting the player you’re marking score, you could easily slip into a negative mindset after their first lay-up.  However, if you break it down and focus on keeping your hands up and your feet moving on defense, this allows you to focus on concrete actions that are 100% in your control.  Make sure that your concrete, controllable goals are framed positively- don’t say don’t.  Notice that instead of setting the goal of not planting your feet, the above goal is to keep your feet moving on defense.

Set goals for practices and games

Practices are great opportunities to set goals that focus on developing your skills.  For example, a tennis player can set skill specific goals during drills, such as focusing on technical aspects of their forehand and backhand, following the ball, using proper footwork, and approaching the net. For matches, it’s important to set simple goals that focus in on what’s most important to help you avoid overthinking.   A tennis player can identify a few simple goals that help bring their entire skill set together, such as quick feet, see the seams of the ball, and stay positive.  

Set physical and mental goals

It’s important to set goals in every domain, from physical fitness goals, to technical and tactical goals, to mental goals. Working on your mental game involves selecting a set of mental strategies and making time to practice them.  For example, if your mental goal is to be more positive, make a specific plan for working on this, such as by writing down positive accomplishments 3x/week, rehearsing positive thoughts once/day, and visualizing yourself staying positive in difficult situations 3x/week. 

Write down your goals

Write down your goals and review them. Update them based on your progress and feedback from coaches.  Make note of which goals help focus your mind so that you can perform at your best. Revel in your small successes and build on that positive energy to accomplish more and more challenging goals.  With practice, you can use goal setting in the most effective way possible, and it will be an extremely valuable tool in helping you achieve optimal performance.