Sport Psychology 101: The Art of Successful Athletic Goal Setting
Athletes are known for setting goals for future sport success, and the good news is goal setting can be a very powerful tool for athletes if used properly (Advanced Human Performance Systems). Unfortunately, when goals are too vague, uncontrollable, or impossible to measure, they can hinder an athlete’s progress, and actually become counter-productive.
Take for example when an athlete sets a goal to be the best player he can become — would you say this is a good goal, or merely a statement defining a future wish? A goal should include a clear-cut road map to specifically defined behaviors, not simply a sentence that reads more like a hope. A better, more effective goal an athlete might state is to life x amount of weight by a specific time, or to complete x amount of running before the start of training camp. In both of these examples, the goals are defined, specific, measurable, and controllable — all essential pieces to effective goal setting, and by reaching these goals the athlete will put himself in the best possible position to become the best athlete that he can be.
Most athletes I know do a great job stating what they would like to see happen in their future, but stop short of employing a strategic goal setting plan to help them reach future success. It’s like saying you would like to eat a gourmet meal tonight for dinner, yet stop short of defining the food you would like to eat, or identifying how you will find/make your food. Unfortunately, simply closing your eyes and hoping The Iron Chef appears in your kitchen is probably not going to produce your delicious dinner.
Interestingly, goals can be looked at like recipes you might find in a kitchen. In essence, a properly written goal should include specific ingredients that can be measured, and you should be able to actually make the dish (meaning you may need a stove, refrigerator, etc.). There should be little left to chance, too (like how you wouldn’t just throw some hot peppers into your cake mix). Sport goals, like food recipes, should be carefully identified and followed for you to have the best chance of becoming a great athlete (or a skilled chef).
Quick Tips for Goal Setting Success
- Begin setting goals by brainstorming what you want to happen in the future (like being a great player). Even though your goals will likely be vague at this point, you can begin with this exercise and then work to make your goals more specific next.
- Quantify your goals by making them measurable. How can you measure your progress toward becoming a “great player?” Does this include improving your strength, speed, or even knowledge of the plays you will be asked to perform in games? If you can count something, you probably have developed your goals into something measurable.
- Make your goals controllable. This means your goals should be pursuits that you can actually follow and don’t include luck or the help from others. We call these process goals.
- Make your goals challenging. When goals are challenging we increase our motivation and improve our resiliency — two great factors when it comes to successful goal setting.
For more information on goal setting and how to get started (as well as many great tips), please visit Advanced Human Performance Systems and check out Mind of Steel for Athletic Success!
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Dr. Chris Stankovich is a Professional Athletic Counselor and Sport Performance Scientist and studies the psychosocial variables impacting human performance and success. He is the author of 5 books and has had his work featured in numerous national media outlets, including USA Today and ABC World News. Dr. Stankovich is known as "The Sports Doc" for his regular television feature on Ohio News Network and NBC 4 Columbus (OH). For more information on peak performance products, speaking engagements, training seminars, and free education downloads, please visit http://www.drstankovich.com.