Athlete Goal Setting

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On the first page of our assessment form at VSP, underneath medical history, it asks the athlete to write their goals. Simple enough, they write what they want to accomplish from training here and it usually is the same answer from everyone. “I want to get stronger and faster.”

They aren’t wrong about writing it, but it is never enough for me and I’ll explain why below.

Training to be stronger, faster, and whatever other adjective you want to throw in there is usually the goal. But what and why? What will that goal do for you and why is it important? I ask this to every athlete and usually they don’t have an answer. So we start digging. I want to know the what and the why, this is what makes each athlete unique.

For example, if you have Tina who plays soccer (made up athlete) write down that she wants to get faster.

Me: “What will that do for you?”
Tina: “Make me faster on the field.”
Me: “Why is that important?”
Tina: “I would be able to beat other girls to the ball.”
Me: “So beating other girls to the ball is important to you?”
Tina: “Yes.”
Me: “So once you start beating other girls to the ball, that means you know you’re getting faster?”
Tina: “Yes!”

So right there we dissected her empty “I want to get faster” goal. It isn’t anything ground-breaking, but it is essential for truly motivating the athlete. Now, when training you can use that goal to encourage them during their workout. Also, it can be used as a benchmark for her progress.

The great part about each goal is that you can dive deeper and deeper into each one. For example, with Tina we could continue to extrapolate that goal. She may say “beating other girls to the ball will increase my chances at making the varsity team.” Now, you have even more material to use in order to drive the athlete.

Now that we discussed one example of how to break down a goal, let’s go over how to set them.

Generally speaking, an athlete should have multiple goals in different tiers. I use three different types of goals: process goals, short term goals, and long term goals. Each one helps construct the “house.”

Process Goals

Process goals are like stepping stones to your short term goals. Completing these lays the foundation for the others. Never overlook the process goals because they matter just as much as any of the others. Using Tina as our example, a process goal may be correcting inefficient sprinting mechanics, completing this goal will lead to Tina running faster. I recommend 3-4 process goals, this does not overload them, yet still gives them enough to work on. Now that the foundation is set, we can move on to the first floor.

Short Term Goals

Short term goals use the stepping stones to achieve the success. These goals can be anything in the near future. Again, using Tina, her beating others to the ball is a perfect example. Her sprinting mechanics have improved which has helped increase her speed leading to her beating others to the ball. I recommend 2-3 short term goals for an athlete, they should be more difficult than the process goals.

Long Term Goals

Long term goals are in the distant future. Just like the short term goals relied on the process goals, long term goals rely on the short term goals. Tina is now beating others to the ball which will hopefully lead her to make the varsity soccer team.

As you can see, each goal was contingent upon the preceding one. Although the goals are all completed, that doesn’t mean she stops. An athlete should strive to always get better, setting goals is a great way to hold one accountable. Continue to create them and don’t forget to ask yourself what will the goal do for me and why is it important?

A great exercise is to take a piece of paper, separate it into three sections titling each process, short term, and long term goals. Then, write a goal for each section and under each explain the what and why. This will help you understand each goal and make sure you are targeting each for the right reasons with a calculated plan.

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