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Goal Setting: A Path to Success

By Seth Kaplan

One of the best motivating factors for athletes, as they strive for excellence in sport, is to set performance goals. Setting meaningful goals promotes effort and enhances energy by giving you “something to shoot for.” Thus, an internal challenge is established to see if you have what it takes to reach for greatness. Lou Holtz, former Notre Dame head football coach, was a firm believer in setting team goals. He found that pre-season goal setting created an atmosphere of excitement and possibility, and mobilized his team to reach for exceptional performance throughout the long season. If motivation was a bit low in week 8, he would remind his guys what they are playing for, and whether or not they had the fortitude to “aim high and hit the mark.”

When setting individual or team goals it is often helpful to use the S.M.A.R.T. acronym: Specific, Measurable, Action-based, Realistic, and Time oriented. For example, a goal for a talented collegiate tennis player might be to “Achieve the number 1 ranking on my team by the middle of your Junior season.” That would be an example of quality goal setting because it satisfies the five requirements of S.M.A.R.T. goals. Goals that are too vague, immeasurable, stagnant, unrealistic, and have no time limits are often difficult to formulate and execute.

Once you define your goal it is helpful to ask yourself these key questions:

  1. Where am I now in relation to where I want to be?
  2. What strengths do I have?
  3. Where are there areas for improvement?
  4. What obstacles could potentially get in my way?
  5. Do I have a contingency plan to deal with potential setbacks?

As you pursue short-term and long-term goals (on an individual and/or team basis) it is important to commit yourself completely to the process. Sport psychology research in goal setting clearly shows that perseverance and resiliency are key mental skills associated with goal attainment. Monitoring your progress on paper, on a daily basis, in a systematic way, is also an integral element. This enables you to know what is working, what is not working, and what strategies need to be employed if setbacks occur. Adjusting your plan and re-formulating goals is often a necessary part of the goal-setting process.

In summary, setting goals can motivate you and your team to strive for athletic excellence, and can enhance personal development and team growth. So, set goals and challenge yourself to compete at the highest levels.