Goal Setting For Athletic Performance

01 February 2018

Goal Setting For Athletic Performance

Having a goal or set of goals is a really useful tool for improving performance in any sphere of life. It allows you to focus on the specific changes and things you need to do to get where you want to be and minimises the distractions that can be a cause of not achieving your aim.

I want to highlight a few helpful issues with goal setting to make sure you get the best from the process and help you as much as possible.

1.  Have a goal that is individual to you

Make your goal or goals really personal not one that is shared by friends and family or fellow competitors. With regard to performance in sport a common goal is to win a race or a series of races. This goal is not just yours, nearly every other competitor wants the same goal and your friends and family also have the same goal for you.

This kind of goal can be victim to luck or circumstance, you could arrive at the start for an event in peak condition and any number of things could go wrong, a more talented competitor could be on the start line, someone could fall and trip you, illness, an unlucky bounce of a ball etc.

Make your goal have a meaning to you. A marathon runner would perhaps not set a goal of being able to run 100 meters or bench press 100kg but being able to complete 5 km repeats in a certain time may be more specific and meaningful for them. These are just examples – your goals will be personal to you.

Be sure you have a goal and not a dream.

We need to create meaningful goals that we have full control over. A better set of goals for a runner aiming to win a specific race is

-  Plan my training program to address my specific strengths and weaknesses

A runner may know that they struggle to match changes of pace in their races and so create training sessions that improve this ability. They may wish to get faster over 5k and so create sessions that facilitate this. These are controllable, specific goals that have a meaning for the overall goal of performing well.

-  Complete my planned training sessions as well as I possibly can.

It is absolutely within my control to work hard on my training, to complete as many of the sessions as possible to the best of my ability. By focusing on this I ensure that I arrive at the race in the best shape possible and give myself the best opportunity to do well.

 -  Give everything I have on the day with the aim of winning

I can’t control the winning, the nature of the race, the conditions on the day or the decisions of other individuals but I can make sure I do my best and try as hard as I can.

This is very different from ‘My goal is to be the winner’.


2.  Light your fire

A good goal should make you feel a bit excited to get going and achieve it. Take time to imagine what life would be like if you achieved your goal.

For athletic performance it may be an increased confidence in your event or it may open up a new class of competition. Think about what achieving your goal would mean for you.

As you get going on achieving your goal find a phrase that reflects the benefits you will gain from achieving your goal and repeat it to yourself. This will keep in mind the reason you started the process and when you have times when the motivation is harder to find, as we all do, you have a ready reminder to reassure yourself, fire you up,  and get you back on track.


3.  Big goals are achieved in small steps

By far the biggest chunk of your effort should go into completing each individual step along the way to your goal. Focus on each step and the end result will take care of itself. Don't be tempted to get ahead of yourself.

 In a performance setting this will be your training sessions. Plan the work, then work the plan.

These small steps will quickly add up to greater gains and if your ultimate goal is big and seems far away, it is much easier to concentrate on a small chunk.

A marathon may seem a long way to run but 1 step is much easier to contemplate.

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones” Chinese Proverb


4.  Achieving anything worthwhile is hard

Take a moment when setting your goals to imagine what could get in the way of you taking the necessary steps to achieving them.

Such things may be work commitments, spending time with your family, a pre-existing illness that may disrupt your plans.

Try to work out how you will deal with those situations and how you will get back to your plan as soon as you can. A bad day here or there is normal and will not have any effect on the overall progress. An illness or more extended time away from working towards your goal may need a tweak in your approach to get back on track. Prepare for as many eventualities as you can imagine so that the more common ones don’t derail your achievement. Having a good plan for adversity takes away a lot of the worry as you can just follow the plan to get back to it.


5.  Don’t be afraid to fail

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently” Henry Ford

You don’t often get information on setting goals, improving performance and outcomes that mentions failure. Think positively and don’t even think of failing right? Well not quite.

Nothing removes motivation quite like not achieving a dream you have set your hopes on. Even if you find more motivation after a failure it is possible to be so focused on the goal that your attention is not on what you need to do to achieve it. There is a large body of research showing that fixing on an important outcome takes energy away from actually doing what is necessary to achieve it, making failure more likely. We can actually sabotage our own outcomes.

Nobody has ever succeeded at everything they have tried to achieve. Be aware that you will fail at some things and try to see it as a chance to learn.

-Was the goal the right one for you?

-Is there a step in between where you are and the goal you missed?

-Do you need to learn a new skill to help achieve this goal? 

-Did you want it too badly and focus more on the result and not the work required?

There are many lessons to learn from failure that will make your next try more likely to succeed.

Prepare to be ok with not achieving your goal, Not happy about it, but ok with it. And prepare for how you will then try again to do better next time. If you haven’t had any failures you haven’t asked enough of yourself. The perfect goal is achievable but will demand your full commitment to get there.

You are more than welcome to share this article via your chosen social media platform or email and if there is anything we can do to help you achieve your goals, just get in touch.