How to Set Sports Goals You'll Actually Achieve

Most people know that athletes need goals to get the most out of their talent. But not all goals are created equal. Here are ways athletes can create realistic and simple goals to help maximize their ability and improve their game performance.

Types of Goals

The focus of this discussion will be on anticipating and safeguarding against the most common errors in goal setting. Goals are different from "wishes, hopes and dreams" by their specific, behavioral and observable nature, and they must include a specified time period for their completion.

In an earlier article I described three basic types of goals, namely: product goals (where the focus is on the outcome; like "becoming a starting player"), process goals (where the focus is on one's own performance and on factors directly under the athletes control; like "running four 60-yard wind sprints after practice three days per week"), and "do your best" goals (which sound altruistic and positive but invariably lack specificity and detail; like "I'm just going to try my best when I lift weights this week").

Once athletes (and coaches, for that matter) begin to set observable, measurable goals and specify the date for completion, it is not uncommon to experience increased motivation and excitement as goals are successfully accomplished.

Why Athletes Don't Reach Their Goals

This exuberance leads to two of the most common goal-setting problems:

  • Setting too many goals too quickly
  • Setting unrealistic goals based on one's current level of performance

While there is no magic formula for how many goals to set in a particular time frame, I generally encourage athletes to focus on a maximum of three to four goals per week: a "goal set."

The challenge is to keep the goals meaningful, relevant and motivating. Goals should not control your athletic life or become burdensome to the training regimen. Rather, they should serve as guideposts and standards of excellence that are individually significant. They should be difficult but realistic and only you can determine what that may be.

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