Setting smart goals for increased performance

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 10:36

Setting goals is one of the single most beneficial aspects of sport as it provides the foundation for how coaches and athletes go about practice, training and competition plans. It has been proven over and over again that goal setting is one of the most effective techniques for enhancing motivation and performance.

A goal is what an athlete wishes to accomplish and can fall into three categories:

  1. Outcome - goals refer to winning or losing, for example, "My goal is to place in the top five in my age category." These goals rely not just on the performance of the athlete, but depend partly on the performance of the opponent.
  2. Performance - goals relate to an individual athlete's performance where the performance of other athletes or competitor's has no effect on the goal's attainment. For example, "I will improve my best time by 5 seconds by November 15."
  3. Process - goals are usually concerned with how an athlete performs a certain skill and tend to be used during practice or training. For example, "I'm going to run a minimum of 3 times per week."  These goals can range from regulating sleeping patterns to improving technique - an athlete should list at least three.

Tips for making effective goals:

  • Set long and short-term goals
  • Goals should be designed to be challenging but not unreachable - performance is enhanced when goals are moderately difficult
  • Motivation and commitment is higher if the goals are attractive to the athlete
  • Goals should focus on positive statements, for example, "I'm going to improve my defense" rather than "I'm going to stop messing up my defense"
  • Set specific, measurable goals and write them down
  • Use a combination of outcome, performance and process goals

Many coaches and athletes set goals but unfortunately, these programs end up poorly executed and or  are not designed in a way that would maximize its effectiveness. If an athlete has their eye on one lofty goal, the results can be crushing. If an athlete sets several goals along the way to a big goal, it can be a great boost for motivation and a surer path to success. Planning goal-setting programs is not easy, but if done correctly and consistently, the rewards will be well worth it.

References from the SIRC Collection: 

1. McCann E. Why Goal-Setting Works. Soccer Journal. July 2007;52(4):49-50.
2. McCarthy P, Jones M, Harwood C, Davenport L. Using Goal Setting to Enhance Positive Affect Among Junior Multievent Athletes. Journal Of Clinical Sport Psychology. March 2010;4(1):53-68.
3. Senécal J, Loughead T, Bloom G. A Season-Long Team-Building Intervention: Examining the Effect of Team Goal Setting on Cohesion. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology. April 2008;30(2):186-199.
4. Sousa C, Smith R, Cruz J. An Individualized Behavioral Goal-Setting Program for Coaches. Journal Of Clinical Sport Psychology. September 2008;2(3):258-277.
5. Stoeber J, Uphill M, Hotham S. Predicting Race Performance in Triathlon: The Role of Perfectionism, Achievement Goals, and Personal Goal Setting. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology. April 2009;31(2):211-245.
6. Weinberg R. Making Goals Effective: A Primer for Coaches. Journal Of Sport Psychology In Action. May 2010;1(2):57-65.