Sport psychology: goal planning.jpg
July 19, 2017 By Ami Strutin Belinoff, M.A

Sport Psychology: Goal Planning


Sport psychology: goal planning.jpg

In sports, having an end of the season vision is the center point for which all success and failure hinges. There will be pitfalls throughout the year, but resiliency, determination, and persistence are the keys to long-term success in sports. How do athletes find a vision? Athletes need to explore what excites and drives them on a daily basis. Once this is established, athletes can use this to begin planning goals to achieve their vision, one step at a time. Athletes must also determine specific steps that will set them up to achieve their goals. Ultimately, goals drive motivation, commitment, focus, and enhance athletic performance.


Goals can be broken down into visions, realistic goals, and process goals:

Vision: What are the main goals you want to accomplish during the season? Whether it’s winning the end of the season tournament or being nominated MVP, it is important to establish a vision during pre-season to work towards during the year.

Realistic Goal: Realistic goals are measurable results that help athletes accomplish their ultimate vision. For an offensive player, a realistic goal might be scoring the most goals on a team in order to be nominated as MVP. Other players might have a goal to increase their speed to help their team win the end of the season tournament. Once these goals are reached, athletes can set more realistic goals to continue working towards.

Process Goals: Athletes should evaluate their current set of skills and understand the process for how to achieve their first realistic goal. For example, a player that wants to score more goals should determine how they can become a better scorer by working on drills that improve shooting technique and power.


5 steps athletes should take when forming process goals:

Create time and space: Before forming process goals, athletes should find a quiet place and spend an hour reflecting on their sport and athletic performance. Athletes can then identify which realistic goals they will focus on during the upcoming season.

Understand the current situation: Athletes need to understand their current situation and assess their abilities in order to determine a specific endpoint for their goals. Furthermore, athletes need to understand where they are and what progress they need to make to achieve their goals.

Strengths and weaknesses: Establishing strengths and weaknesses may also help athletes form process goals. Understanding physical and mental strengths and weaknesses help athletes dissect their game. Athletes should begin by rating themselves on a scale from 1 to 5 for each skill. For a player, this might include passing, shooting, or dribbling. Next, they should apply the same analysis to the basic mental tenets: focus, confidence, determination, positivity, communication, and nerves. Lastly, athletes should reflect upon their physicality such as strength, agility, and flexibility. When self-assessing, players must be honest with themselves in order to set realistic goals.

Process goals: Once athletes have rated themselves and analyzed the different aspects of their game, they can pick skills to work on for the upcoming season. Athletes should pick a specific goal for each area (physical, skill, mental) and each goal should be time bound, measurable, realistic, specific, and based off of an athlete’s current baseline. Creating specific goals and understanding the smaller steps needed to reach those goals will help athletes determine a successful plan for the season.

Monitor goals: Even though monitoring goal progress is very important, athletes often neglect this aspect of goal planning. Updating and monitoring goals keeps athletes focused on their progress, which drives motivation and confidence. Athletes should keep their goals handy and write down notes after every practice in order to check their daily progress and ensure their goals are challenging enough.


Here is a good example for setting and monitoring goals: 

Week 1: Target Mental Goal

Focus - Increase my focus and attention to 85% for the entire duration of a work out, practice, or game.

Week 4: Baseline

My current attention and focus fluctuates during practices and matches. For example, I lose focus when I’m winning or when my confidence is down. In a match, my focus is currently about 70%.

Objective 1

I will practice my breath work twice a day, working on diaphragm breathing with counting. If I become distracted in my count, I will start my count over. This should drive my awareness and focus to limit mental distractions.

Objective 2

I will use action words during play when I feel my focus and attention slipping away to get myself back on track. These can be, “Let’s go”, “Come on”, “Next Point”, or “FOCUS.”

Objective 3

I will make a conscious effort to realize when I start to lose focus due to external distractors like the score or the crowd. I will sharpen my focus by mentally resetting, breathing, and picking a visual stimulus to focus on.



Creating goals and acquiring strong mental skill training gives athletes a competitive edge and ensures they are continuing to improve. It is crucial that athletes create and monitor a detailed plan and process in order to accomplish their goals. Athletes should remember to share their goals with others and reward themselves when progress is made. Ultimately, goals drive motivation, commitment, focus, and enhance athletic performance. To learn more about sport psychology check out this article on the journey to achieving a successful outcome and this article on performing to achieve team success.

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About the Author:

Ami is a licensed mental health clinician and specializes in sport psychology. He focuses on the whole athlete, on and off the court. He uses a full range of techniques in cognitive-behavioral, goal-oriented, and mindfulness practices to craft the whole athlete.  

Exercises such as self-awareness coaching, visualization, motivational imagery, deep diaphragmatic breathing and positive self-talk are key elements to his approach. His proficiency in assessment, intuition and a deep respect for the body/mind connection drive his methods. His continued participation in beach volleyball, mountain biking, skiing, hiking, surfing, and yoga keeps him connected to sports and competition. 

Ami Strutin-Belinoff, M.A., LMFT
Mental Peak Performance Training
Phone: (310) 804-7553

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