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Sports Science: Dreams Become Reality - Step-by-Step Goal-Setting

Posted by BridgeAthletic on Jun 14, 2016 7:30:00 AM

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Sports Psychology

This month’s edition of Sports Psychology builds on last month’s Goal Setting article defining the types of goals that athletes can set for themselves and what influence these have on their performance. It is the second article in a three-part series focused on providing the educational knowledge, training tools, and actionable steps that help performers create goals that will lead them toward personal excellence.


Although the topic of goal-setting has been well documented and discussed as being one of the essential skills all successful athletes need to use, very few have mastered it. Most have dream goals based on a very long-term outcome that they want to realize right now. In fact, the majority of athletes experience frustration and failure with goal-setting because they only see the last step on a journey as the first step without judging how high that step actually is. Learning different types of goals necessary to become successful and how to use them in unison helps you discover that micro-successes build the confidence necessary to overcome obstacles on your pursuit toward ultimate success.

While setting appropriate goals, the majority of your focus and effort should be toward the process of mental and physical improvements that ultimately lead to the outcome you seek. A rule that every team and athlete should have is that the process, more so than the outcome, leads to the results that you want.

Outcome-based goals include a comparison or other outside influence in order to be accomplished. There is an aspect of these goals that are outside of the team or person’s control in order for them to be realized. These are also the most common goals athletes turn to first because of their importance to overall success. Examples include winning a championship, becoming the best player in the league or world, making a selection team, or becoming a starter on your team. These are all wonderful goals and should be encouraged by coaches, parents, and others in an athlete’s support network. However, the downfall occurs when these are the only goals created. The external motivation to accomplish these goals is high but when these are the only focus, the pressure can rise above the athlete’s capacity because of the uncontrollable factors associated with them.

Performance-based goals are a subset of a team or athlete’s outcome goals but are mainly focused on their own personal improvement from the past to the present. These goals need to be focused on aspects of training and competing that are within control. Examples include becoming faster than previous times, becoming measurably stronger in the gym, learning team plays and systems more comprehensibly, improving ones mental resilience to uncontrollable aspects of their sport, or making an effort to connect more with teammates. These are intrinsically motivating goals because of their connection to one’s desire to improve themselves. They can be broken down into more actionable steps focused on the process.

Process-based goals are much more specific and detailed goals than performance-based goals. When thinking about process, it is important to break down a skill or situation into step by step fundamental details that you can execute. Over time, execution of the process helps athletes turn fundamental skills into automatic behavior in their sport. A focus on the process can also help you learn from a mistake by retracing the action you took to discover what part of the process was missed so that it can then be added. Examples of process-oriented goals are very sport specific and can be created with a coach or mentor who truly understands the details of the sport. These goals can also be both mental and physical skill improvement goals. Mental skill process goals would focus on a detailed progression of tools used in the moment of need. For example, before every pitch I will take a circle breath, use my focal or vocal release cue, affirm my ability, visualize the right pitch I am about to throw, and execute it. You can reflect and know when you haven’t completed a process-oriented goal. You may even want to make a scorecard based on your own process. Your results would be based on different criteria than the games scorecard; however, you may just find similar results if you have successfully executed your process.

Learning types of goals helps you discover that process-based performance is much more important than the end result. Each type of goal has a time component attached that creates a path toward your ultimate dream outcome. While this has been a brief introduction to some important types of goals, I would encourage you to reflect on the path you are on right now in your athletic journey to evaluate whether or not you and your team are clear with your moment-to-moment objectives and that those objectives are markers leading you toward your ultimate dream outcome. The next article in this three-part series will focus in on the best practices of how to hold yourself and team accountable for your goals.



About the author: Brian Alexander is a mental skills coach who combines eight years of experience as an Olympic level water polo athlete, a master's degree in sport psychology, and business leadership training and coaching from The Ken Blanchard Companies to partner with athletes and performers of all ages and levels. "My passion is to empower others to succeed in life, athletics, performance, and daily activities. My personal mission statement is to be a genuine and honest leader who collaborates with and learns from others in order to find a mutual personal level of excellence physically, mentally, and spiritually."

Contact info for Brian Alexander:

Twitter: @BA_POS_MIND
Facebook: Athlete Mental Skills Coach

Topics: Performance Trends, Competition