Goal-Setting in Sports

Specific, Measurable, Controllable and Realistic Goals

Goal setting is a powerful tool used in all sports. The process of setting goals, working towards these goals and achieving them, helps create meaningful direction in one’s sporting career. Setting goals creates focus by showing you where and how to concentrate your energy as well as how to identify distractions that lead you off this path.

Many athletes attend their training sessions with no clear idea of what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve this, other than vague ideas about “doing better”. Goal-setting has been shown to improve the performance of athletes of all ages, of all skill levels and across a variety of sports. Goal setting, which is often used to treat a range of psychological disorders, such as depression, anxiety and stress, can have the secondary benefit for athletes of helping to manage these psychological states that can interfere in physical performance.

Goal setting is a simple and effective way to establish purpose or direction for daily training in any sport. There are four key components to setting meaningful goals.

1. Firstly, a goal must be SPECIFIC. You may ask “Why can’t my goal be to be fitter? To be stronger? To be faster?”. This is because these goals are very vague. How do you know when you are fit enough? Strong enough? Fast enough? Vague goals are not well defined and it is therefore very hard to determine when that goal has been achieved.

2.Secondly, a goal must be MEASURABLE. Goals are there to motivate and encourage. If you don’t know when that goal has been achieved, or how close you are to attaining a given goal, the goal becomes meaningless. A goal must be both specific and measurable for it to be meaningful.

3. Thirdly, a goal must be CONTROLLABLE. So, in deciding what goal to pursue, concentrating on variables over which you have control is important. Goals such as “I want to be the strongest” are vague and out of your control as you don’t have control over how strong other people are. For these reasons, it is best to set performance-related goals rather than outcome goals (e.g., to increase my time for 100 meter sprint by X seconds).

4. Fourthly, goals must be REALISTIC. Setting an unrealistic goal means that the likelihood of achieving it is low. Consistently failing goals is disheartening and can cause the athlete to quit a long time before the goal is achieved. To prevent this from happening, goals should be realistic and achievable. Setting short term goals related to longer term goals is important. These “stepping stones” help maintain motivation as focusing on only the longer term can feel daunting at first. Reaching each smaller goal allows a sense of achievement, and is a good way to gauge your progress.

Importantly, once you reach a goal (whether this is a smaller, short term goal or a long term goal), ensuring you recognise this achievement by congratulating or rewarding yourself in some way is vital. Taking pride in your achievements is as important as the energy and focus that goes into reaching them.

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