How Mini-Goals Can Help Young Athletes

Too often, young athletes focus too much on the score, their statistics, or the win during a game or practice. This is a big distraction, and can undermine kids' performance and confidence.

Ideally, they should be focused on the here-and-now. That's what allows them to do their best and feel the most confident.

Breaking It Down

If kids focus on mini-goals or smaller performance goals, they're more likely to stay grounded in the present. They're less likely to get distracted, anxious, or worried.

They're concentrating on what they need to do to get their job done. Their minds won't be tugged in other directions—the score, the win, or a homework assignment, for example.

Power of Focus

Keep in mind that when we use the term "mini-goals," we're talking about the small objectives we want kids to focus on. We don't want kids thinking they MUST achieve these goals; mostly we want to focus on them to keep them grounded in the present.

If they feel they MUST achieve the goals, they'll likely criticize themselves if they don't. That's not the aim here. Being perfect is not an appropriate objective. Instead, kids might focus, for example, on making quality passes 8 out of 10 times or having a quality at-bat.

Process Over Results

Young athletes should establish two kinds of mini-goals. The first helps kids focus on their performance—something they can measure, like shots blocked, passes made, kicks into goal, or free-throws percent.

The second kind of mini-goal should be about improving kids' mental game. For example, young athletes might commit to ignoring distractions, saying positive things to themselves, or visualizing themselves completing successful plays.

What Parents Can Do

Parents should make sure kids understand what mini-goals are. They should talk to them about the difference between focusing on the process (what's happening here-and-now) and outcomes like the score or win.

Encourage sports kids to experiment with the strategy of using mini-goals. They might find that certain mini-goals are better than others for keeping them grounded in the present.

The ultimate objective is for them to achieve a "zone focus" during which they're playing or performing their best and aren't distracted by the people or events around them.

With our mini-goals strategy, your kids, too, can work toward achieving a zone focus—and all the exhilaration and success that accompanies it.


Award-winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, "Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes."

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