The way in which you set goal strongly affects their effectiveness.
Before you start to set goals, you should have set the background of goal setting by:
understanding your commitment to the sport
understanding the level you want to reach within the sport
knowing the skills that will have to be acquired and the levels of performance that will be needed
know where this will fit into your overall life goals
These were discussed in the previous section.
The following broad guidelines apply to setting effective goals:
- Positive Statement: express your goals positively: 'To execute this technique perfectly' is a much better goal than 'don't make this stupid mistake'
- Be Precise: if you set a precise goal, putting in dates, times and amounts so that achievement can be measured, then you know the exact goal to be achieved, and can take complete satisfaction from having completely achieved it.
- Set Priorities: where you have several goals, give each a priority. This helps you to avoid feeling overwhelmed by too many goals, and helps to direct your attention to the most important ones.
- Write goals down to avoid confusion and give them more force.
- Keep Operational Goals Small: Keep the goals you are working towards immediately (i.e. in this session) small and achievable. If a goal is too large, then it can seem that you are not making progress towards it. Keeping goals small and incremental gives more opportunities for reward. Today's goals should be derived from larger goals.
A number of general principles should be noted about goal setting:
- Set Performance, not Outcome Goals
This is very important. You should take care to set goals over which you have as much control as possible - there is nothing as dispiriting as failing to achieve a personal goal for reasons beyond your control such as poor judging, bad weather, injury, excellence in other athletes, or just plain bad luck. Goals based on outcomes are extremely vulnerable to things beyond your control.
If you base your goals on personal performance targets or skills to be acquired, then you can keep control over the achievement of your goals and draw satisfaction from them. For example, you might achieve a personal best time, but still be disqualified as a result of a poor judging decision. If you set an outcome goal of being in the top three, then this will be a defeat. If you set a performance goal of achieving a particular time, then you will have achieved the goal and can draw satisfaction and self-confidence from its achievement.
Another flaw is where outcome goals are based on the rewards of winning, whether these are financial or are based on the recognition of being a winner. In early stages these will be highly motivating factors, however as they are achieved, the benefit of winning another prize or championship at the same level reduces. You will become progressively less motivated.
One difficulty you will face is that people who are ignorant of sports psychology, such as many poor coaches, parents, media, fans, etc. base their assessment of success on winning. This completely ignores the effect of raw luck on high quality performance. As with many things, stick with what you know is right rather than what uninformed people think.
- Set Specific Goals
Set specific measurable goals.
If you achieve all conditions of a measurable goal, then you can be confident and comfortable in its achievement. If you consistently fail to meet a measurable goal, then you can adjust it or analyse the reason for failure and take appropriate action to improve skills.
- Set Realistic Goals
Goals may be set unrealistically high for the following reasons:
Other people: Other people (fans, parents, media) can set unrealistic goals for you, based on what they want. Often this will be done in ignorance of your goals and training programs.
Insufficient information: If you do not have a clear, realistic understanding of your sport and of the techniques and performance to be mastered, it is difficult to set effective and realistic goals.
Always expecting your best performance: Many people base their goals on their best performance, however long ago that was. This ignores the inevitable backsliding that can occur for good reasons, and ignores the factors that led to that best performance. It is better to set goals that raise your average performance and make it more consistent.
Lack of respect for self: If you do not respect your right to rest, relaxation and pleasure in life then you risk burnout.
- Setting Goals Too Low
Alternatively goals can be set too low because of:
Fear of failure: If you are frightened of failure you will not take the risks needed for optimum performance. As you apply goal setting and see the achievement of goals, your self- confidence should increase, helping you to take bigger risks. Know that failure is a positive thing: it shows you areas where you can improve your skills and performance.
Taking it too easy: It is easy to take the reasons for not setting goals unrealistically high as an excuse to set them too low. If you're not prepared to stretch yourself and work hard, then you are extremely unlikely to achieve anything of any real worth.
- Setting Goals at the Right Level
Setting goals at the correct level is a skill that is acquired by practice.
You should set goals so that they are slightly out of your immediate grasp, but not so far that there is no hope of achieving them: no-one will put serious effort into achieving a goal that they believe is unrealistic. However, remember that the belief that a goal is unrealistic may be incorrect. Such a belief can be changed by effective use of imagery.
Personal factors such as tiredness, injury, stage in the season, etc. should be taken into account when goals are set.
Now try setting some goals, and then measure them against the points above. Adjust them to meet the recommendations and then review them. You should now be able to see the importance of setting goals effectively.