Athletes today fight a very uphill battle when it comes to expectations from themselves and others. While most athletes begin playing sports because of pure enjoyment, expectations often grow alongside young athletes. For athletes at any age to improve physically and mentally in their sport, goal setting is a practiced skill that can too often be underused.
In order to develop helpful goals for athletes it is important to understand that there is two primary drives for people in just about any situation. The first being internal drive, and the second being external drive. Internal drive is that feeling of wanting to accomplish something for yourself or perfecting a skill you have worked on for some time. It is the feeling of accomplishment an athlete gets when they know they worked hard and did their best. External drive comes from outside motivators. This is when at athlete feels successful because they outperform their opponent or score the most goals. External drive is not necessarily a bad thing; it just should not be the only motivator for an athlete. The best way to develop helpful goals is to account for an athletes personal motivators and set goals that account for both their internal and external drives.
When goal setting it is equally as important to set mental goals as it is to set physical goals. If a basketball player can shoot 20 for 20 free throws at the gym, but believes he will miss as soon as he is in a game setting, what happens? More often that not, that great free-throw shooter will miss. At Premier Sport Psychology we are strong believers that the mind is like a muscle, and it only works at full capacity when it is trained properly. There are many different sport psychology techniques that can increase your mental training such as mental imagery, visualization, focus exercises, and mindfulness training. By educating yourself more on these topics you are taking the first step into reaching your goals.
Now, speaking of goals, how do we set them? When setting goals it is important to set SMART goals. Meaning that goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relative, and time-bound. It is also important that when setting goals, you track your physical and mental training. Athletes can set up a weekly and monthly schedule to hold themselves accountable and celebrate milestones along the way to their major outcome goal. For example, a runner may want to shorten their mile time by one minute before their season begins. It is important to figure out the proper training, both physically and mentally, that will need to take place in the allotted time to reach that goal. It is not enough to simply want to be better, faster, or stronger; you must actually follow through on the process.
In review, here is a basic overview:
1) Identify personal motivators. Figure out what your internal and externals drives are and how you can target them to reach your goals. Success and achievement are different for everyone; make sure you understand what success means to you.
2) Learn and implement proper mental techniques to help you work towards your goals. If you would like more information on this, consider looking into the Premier Mental Training System on our website or contacting one of our sport psychologists.
3) Develop SMART goals and stick to them!
4) Set up a weekly and monthly calendar to keep you on track. Seeing your goals on paper will be helpful for you to process where you began, where you are going and the steps it will take to get there.
5) Seek input. Remember that being an athlete is often a very dynamic role. There are often coaches, parents and/or peers that are alongside you at some point during your athletic career. It is important to share your goals and get constructive feedback and support from others to help get you to where you want to be!
6) Accept non-linear progress. Setting goals and working towards them is not a linear process. You will have ups and downs, and it is not realistic to reach perfection all (or any) of the time! Be patient and proud of yourself with any progress you make, even if it is slow and gradual.