The ABCs of Goal Setting
To be effective, goal setting must involve a collaborative effort between parents and their children. If parents set goals for their kids, they become the parent’s dreams, not the athletes’ objectives. In setting goals, parents and athletes should follow the ABCs of goal setting.
- A: Goals should be achievable. The best goals are challenging, yet within reasonable limits. If a goal is too difficult, athletes quickly lose interest and motivation. If a goal is too easy, athletes accomplish it with minimum effort.
- B: Goals should be believable. Athletes need to understand how each goal will help improve athletic performance. Goal setting helps teach athletes that continued improvement is the result of dedication and effort in practice.
- C: Athletes should be committed to goals, which means they will act on a daily basis. Why is this important? It isn’t what we do once in awhile that shapes our lives, it’s what we do consistently. Athletes must therefore “buy into” goals and work toward achieving them in a systematic way.
Focus on the Process
In addition to the ABCs, researchers have identified several key principles that enhance the effectiveness of goal-setting procedures. Most importantly, goals should focus upon the process of performance rather than the product.
- Outcome goals focus on the product of performance. Good examples of outcome goals are wanting to win a league championship or get the MVP award. Although outcome goals can provide a sense of direction and purpose, they do have built-in flaws. For example, if your goal is to go undefeated all season and you lose your first game, it’s all over.
- Process goals focus on the actual acts of performance and learning, and they define what the athlete needs to do to be successful. For example, instead of setting a goal to win, an athlete might strive to make a reasonable number of passes or shots-on-goal—something that is within the athletes’ “zone of control.” Process goals are also useful when teaching skills and drills. For example, when teaching a player how to take shots, the learning objective might be to hit the puck with the “sweet” part of the blade on at least 7 out of 10 attempts.
Inch by Inch, It’s a Cinch
Process goals should be set in small increments, following the concept, “Yard by yard, it’s awfully hard, but inch by inch, it’s a cinch.” Short-term goals are effective for two main reasons:
- They are more flexible and controllable. Thus, they can be more easily raised and lowered to keep them challenging but realistic.
- They provide more frequent evaluations of success. The object of each step is to give athletes a sense of accomplishment, which motivates them to eventually reach long-term objectives.
Although there are many advantages to implementing a goal-setting program, some problems can arise.
- One problem is setting too many goals too soon. This results in a system overload. To avoid this, an appropriate approach is to prioritize goals and focus attention on the one or two that are most important.
- Some goals are too general. If you can’t measure the goal in terms of specific numbers, it is too vague and general to be used effectively. And again, remember that process goals are preferable to product goals because athletes have greater control over them.
- Some athletes have negative attitudes about goal setting. In such cases, it is best not to force their participation in a goal-setting program. Quite frequently, they will see the benefits and enjoyment that other athletes are experiencing as a result of goal setting and will come on board later on.
Setting and meeting goals doesn’t automatically guarantee a winning season. But if parents work with their young athletes on goal setting, everyone can attain some degree of success.
See more on goal setting and the "zone of control" in a preview of my program, "Master Approach to Parenting in Sports."
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).
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