Goal Setting for Athletes

Goal setting is a process that helps you chose WHERE you want to go in life and HOW you are going to get there. By setting goals and measuring their achievement, you are able to improve awareness of what you have done and what you are capable of doing. Moreover, properly set goals are motivating and the process of achieving goals will build your self-confidence quickly.


The way in which you set goals will determine their effectiveness. Before you begin, make sure the goal you are working for is something you really want, not just something that sounds good, or is something that your coach, friend, or parents want for you. Also, make sure to evaluate WHY your goal is important to you at this time. Understanding the why behind goal setting will keep you committed and focused; especially when things get difficult, boring, etc. Take time to identify the following:

  • What skills, knowledge, or resources will be needed?
  • What is your level of commitment to your sport?
  • What level do you want to reach within your sport?
  • Will it fit into your overall life goals?


Setting Challenging but Realistic Goals: Some athletes set unrealistically high goals either to please others or due to insufficient information. Others may run the risk of setting goals too low because they are frightened of failure. If you are not prepared to stretch yourself and work hard, then you are extremely unlikely to achieve optimum performance or anything of real worth from your goal setting. As you apply goal setting and see the achievement of goals, your self-confidence should increase, helping you to take bigger risks.



Process Goals: this is a goal that is set in the process of performing an action and is accomplished through mastering the process itself. An example of a process goal might be to work on your start for the 40-yard dash.

Outcome Goals: this is the actual end result, the finish line that you are aiming to cross and meet. An example of an outcome goal might be to decrease your 40-yard time by .1 seconds.

Short-term Goals: these are goals that you can set within a short amount of time that help you to take steps towards the Outcome Goal. These may be Process Goals, or they may be Outcome Goals that are achieved on your way to a long term goal. Short-term Goals help to motivate you and gain the insight and experience needed to achieve Long-term Goals.

Long-term Goals: these are goals that take a significant amount of time to accomplish and may not be easier to conceptualize because of their magnitude. They are very important, however, because they allow you to dream big.


Goal Setting should utilize the acronym SMART” initially, and as you achieve things and progress they should also develop into SMARTER” goals.


Specific – they should be put into terms that are easy to understand and measure

Measurable – your goal should be measurable by time, distance, weight, etc.

Affirmative – your goal should be worded as something positive

Realistic – can your goal be achieved by you

Timed – give yourself only so much time to achieve it or it could take too long


Evaluated – after moving towards your goal, evaluate progress and SMART

Refine – is there anything about your goal that you need to change?


Short-term and Long-term Goals work together to create a Stairway to Success. A Stairway to Success helps to solidify and imagine the progression towards a goal. It is a simple structure that allows you to create steps (Short-term Goals) that will ultimately lead you to the top of your successful (Long-term Goal).


Identify Skills Needed to Achieve the Goal

  • Physical (strength, speed, stamina)
  • Technical (sport specific techniques)
  • Tactical (competitive strategies and game plans)
  • Psychological (confidence, focus, imagery)


Writing down your goals is an important first step towards achieving them. In goal setting, the act of writing your goals forces you visualize them and creates a commitment on your part. Putting it in writing breathes life into your goals, making it a force that cannot be easily stopped. Don’t forget to review your goals frequently! Goals shoved in a drawer are useless. Place them somewhere where you can see them on a daily basis.

Iceland, man climbing wall of ice cave, low angle view

Iceland, man climbing wall of ice cave, low angle view


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