For Coaches
Goal setting: Helping athletes dial in

Goal setting: Helping athletes dial in


By Ker’Shyra Myrick

Many athletes are competitive by nature; and whether they are just getting started in their sport, or participating at elite levels, they want to win.

Being physically prepared to compete in a sport is only part of the battle for athletes. The other part is the often overlooked aspect of mental preparation, which is the subject of Mark Taylor’s book Sports Psychology 101 - Introductory Sports Psychology Strategies and Techniques for all Athletes.

Setting goals can help an athlete prepare for any game and is an integral part in their performance. 

And an important part of coaching kids, too.

“There are three different types of goals: Outcome Goals, Performance Goals and Process Goals,” says Taylor, a mental training expert who has worked with a variety of athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. “Outcome Goals focus on the outcome of an event – the sole objective of the Outcome Goal is to win. Performance Goals focus on a numerical value that is controlled either by an individual or a team, with the assumption that if the performance is achieved then more times than not the outcome will be achieved.  A Performance Goal can be achieved successfully even though an Outcome Goal is not achieved. A Process Goal is an individual goal whereby an individual focuses on their athletic process, with the assumption that by doing the process correctly the performance will be achieved and therefore the outcome will be achieved.”


“When working with a team a coach should set Performance Goals for the team to achieve,” Taylor says. “In football this may be that the offensive line allows the quarterback three full seconds of protection in order to throw the ball. In baseball, this may be that when a ball is hit to shortstop a double play can be completed in two seconds. In doing this the different skill levels become integrated into the goal itself. For example, if the shortstop and first baseman are highly skilled and the second baseman is lower skilled than a goal of 3 seconds may be more appropriate. Since the Performance Goal encompasses every team member’s skill the coach will not have to differentiate skill levels in order to reach the goal.” 


What’s one of the biggest mistakes a coach can make when it comes to goals?

“Not setting any,” says Taylor. “A coach should meet with all athletes and assist them in setting multiple goals – short-term, long-term, process and performance.” 


“The role of a competition goal is to win the competition,” Taylor says. “It is a pure outcome goal. A team or an athlete (in an individual sport) can perform very poorly and still win a competition. However, the law of averages tells us that this will not occur on a regular basis. As such, if teams or an athlete (in an individual sport) focuses on performance goals then over time the strong performance will more than likely produce the desired outcome/competition goal of winning.”


“The role of a short-term goal is to allow an athlete to keep focused on the long-term goal,” Taylor says. “Long–term goals are often large goals which cannot be accomplished within one season. It is easy to lose focus and get discouraged when such goals are lofty and in the distance, especially for young athletes. Short-term goals keep the athlete engaged and feel a sense of fulfillment. Short-term goals also are used to validate that their skill level required to reach their long-term goals is increasing at the required pace.” 


“The coach should work with each athlete individually,” Taylor says. “For the athlete who is continually achieving their goals the coach should work with the child to establish more aggressive short-term goals which are in line with the long-term goals. For the athlete who has fallen short of their goals the coach should work with them to establish less aggressive short-term goals which are in line with the long-term goals. These goal setting discussions should be done one-on-one and not in a team environment.”

Goals Performance Practice

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