Why Most Sports Goals Fail

Goal setting is one of the biggest tools athletes can use to improve their game and reach their potential. Unfortunately most athletes either create goals that are too vague or aren't personalized enough to work.

Here's a simple look at the three types of sports-performance goals and tips for how young athletes can craft a goal-setting system that will help them succeed.

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What is Goal Setting?

It may sound complicated, but goals are a specific standard of proficiency achieved in a specific area of performance within a specified time. (For example, an athlete could set a goal to improve their free-throw shooting ability by taking 30 extra shots every day immediately after practice.)

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All of the criteria listed in that definition must be met (along with several other important standards) in order for behavior to be considered a goal.

The two key questions to determine if goal setting is successfully being implemented are:

  1. Can I measure it?
  2. Can I see it?
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Goals are more than wishes, hopes and dreams. Dreaming is important in sports and in life, but dreams lack an essential ingredient inherent in effective goal setting. And that is the observable, measurable behaviors required for achieving the end result.

For example, I might wish that I was an Olympic performer and I might dream about making an Olympic team, but when I set goals toward achieving it, much more is required of me in order to reach my goal standard.

Now let's move on to the three types of goals. Each will be defined and a sport-related example will be provided for clarification.

Sports Goal Type No.1: Performance Goals

Performance goals are goals in which participants focus on process-oriented standards relative to ones own best performance capabilities. They emphasize the PROCESS by which a given outcome is achieved.

Another key component of process goals is that the participant has much more control on the achievement potential and successful outcome of these types of goals.

Examples of process goals are:

  • Increasing the number of tennis serves taken in order to improve ones' first service percentage
  • Committing to a consistent pattern of three strength-training sessions per week in order to increase the amount of weight lifted for a one-rep max
  • Engaging in first-person imagery training two days per week for the next month of practice

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About the Author

Dr. Colleen Hacker, Sports Psychology Contributor

Colleen Hacker Ph.D., is a Professor of Movement Studies and Wellness Education at Pacific Lutheran University, as well as consultant for the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team.

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