How to Increase Motivation and Performance through Goal Setting
Motivation includes striving for particular goals. Indeed, transforming potential into performance involves setting and attaining goals. In a previous article, it was emphasized that parents should teach goal-setting techniques to their young athletes, and consideration was given to the ABCs of goal setting. Specifically, goals should be Achievable and Believable, and athletes must be Committed to working on them. The importance of setting process versus product (outcome) goals was also stressed.
Sport psychologists have learned a lot about the principles of effective goal-setting, which is the focus of the present article. By making use of the guidelines presented below, you can help your son or daughter increase motivation, performance, and the amount of fun they have in playing hockey.
1. Set specific goals in terms that can be measured. Specific goals are more effective in improving performance than are general “go your best” goals or no goals at all. An effective goal clearly indicates what a person needs to do to accomplish it. This means that parents or the athlete must be able to measure the performance that relates to the specific goal. For example, it should be possible to measure how much an athlete has improved on a specific skill or task (e.g., percent of successfully completed passes) or the frequency of desirable behaviors (e.g., the number of times the athlete praised teammates).
2. Set difficult but realistic goals. Difficult or challenging goals produce better performance than moderate or easy goals. The higher the goal, the higher the performance, as long as the goal does not exceed what the athlete is capable of doing. Goals should not be so be so difficult that the athlete will fail to take them seriously or will experience failure and frustration in meeting them. It is therefore important to set goals in relation to an individual athlete’s ability.
3. Set short-term as well as long-range goals. Breaking down any long-term goals into smaller more attainable goals helps to promote achievement and success. Short-term goals are important because the allow athletes to see immediate improvements in performance and thereby enhance motivation. Without short-term goals, athletes can lose sight of their long-term objectives, and the sub-goals needed to attain them.
4. Express goals in positive rather than negative terms. It is best to set goals positively (e.g., number of passes made or shots-on-goal) rather than negatively (e.g., number of mistakes reduced). Positive goal-setting helps athletes focus on success instead of failure. Moreover, positive goals usually have clues on how to attain them. To turn a negative goal into a positive one, ask yourself a question: “What needs to be done instead?”
5. Set goals for both practices and games. It is just as important, if not more so, to set goals for practice sessions as it is for games. Practices are the times athletes develop end hone their skills. When practice becomes meaningful as a result of being tied in with specific goals, athletes become more involved in what is going on. Moreover, setting specific practice goals and tracking progress toward them help reduce the drudgery of practice.
Since a primary objective of playing games is to win, it might seem worthless to set additional goals for competition itself. However, such goals can be very useful in that they provide a means by which winning will be achieved. For example, a player can set the goal of making a number of passes to teammates or shots-on-goal. By focusing on the attainment of specific performance/process goals, athletes can create a “game within the game” in which they can be successful in some important ways, even if the final score is not in their favor. This technique helps prevent players from being discouraged if the team does not win and helps promote steady improvement in skills.
6. Identify specific goal achievement strategies. One of the main reasons why goals are not accomplished is that athletes fail to map-out and commit themselves to goal achievement strategies. For example, if your son or daughter wants to improve their speed by 5%, a productive achievement strategy could include skating additional 10 sprints after practice each day.
7. Record goals, achievement strategies, and target dates for attaining goals. Once (a) specific goals have been set, (b) achievement strategies have been decided upon, and (c) target dates for goal attainment have been established, these should be written down so they can be referred to frequently. Some parents actually establish a formal contract with the young athletes to keep them focused on the activity and committed to it.
8. Set up a performance feedback or goal evaluation system. Research indicates that performance feedback is absolutely necessary if goals are to enhance performance. Therefore athletes must receive feedback about how their present performance is related to both short- and long-range goals. Without such feedback, youngsters cannot track their progress toward goals and may be unable to see improvement that is actually occurring
Finally, it is important to note that goals should not be “set in stone.” Rather, they should be made to be revised, and they should be used as a guide. When parents help athletes to set realistic goals, their children inevitably experience more success and feel more competent. By becoming more competent, they gain in self-confidence and become less fearful of failure. Perhaps most important, they discover that commitment to goals helps lead to success.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., University of Washington, for this story. Dr. Smoll is a professor of psychology at the University of Washington and co-director of the Youth Enrichment in Sports program (www.y-e-sports.com). See a preview of his Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports here.
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