Setting goals can be a frustrating process for athletes. Establishing sound goals may be difficult, and chasing said goals can become oppressive and even suck joy out of the training experience. At the same time, setting goals – or more specifically working through the process of setting goals – can really help athletes succeed (Gilbert 2017, Williams & Krane 2015). So, what gives? How can we improve our use of goals/goal setting so that it fosters growth rather than frustration?
By viewing goals as a tool to direct and adjusting our sporting experience and as vehicles of self-determination.
Start Your Engines!
When it comes to goals, this Wade Gilbert PhD quote really hits home: “Setting goals helps focus direction, but they [goals] are never set in stone.”
The process of setting goals is for learning, developing and directing our systems of action. Goals are about the why and what of how we will go about doing things (Rollnick, Fader, Breckon & Moyers 2020).
When starting the goal-setting process, start with a North Star. In maritime tradition, The North Star is a navigation beacon to keep seagoers on the right path. Look at your season ahead and consider, “What’s my North Star?” It may be very simple: “This will be the year of intentional pursuit and joyful process,” is one example of a North Star.
Whatever you come up with, it should consistently pull you back on track when things become difficult.Your North Star orients you toward your goals and represents the values and vision toward the upcoming year.
With the North Star established, consider a possible goal. Why is it important to you? What triggered this goal in your mind? What about this challenge excites you? What doubts/anxieties does this generate for you? Does this goal align well with your North Star? If not, how could you change the goal to align better? These questions help you understand what will push you towards and pull you away from your goals.
Finally, what obstacles and what momentum-builders/aids lie along the path towards meeting your goal? Say your North Star involves enjoying training and time with family this year, and you can only train nine hours a week. How does this impact a potential goal of qualifying for Kona? The obstacles – only training nine hours a week – will make this goal very difficult to attain. Adjust your time frame to meet that KQ goal and consider shorter-term goals that fit your life better now while still helping you progress towards your larger goal in the future.
Use these concepts to evaluate your goals, understand how they’ll fit into your life, and develop a plan that’ll allow you to achieve them. Above all, let your North Star guide you day after day, week after week and month after month.
Goals: They’re Adjustable
The process of working towards goals is dynamic. If you cannot follow the plan you’ve built to reach your goals, or if you’re unmotivated to follow it, find a way to adjust the process. Maybe the goal/plan was too aggressive, maybe they weren’t aligned with your North Star. Either way, adjust!
Come up with three or four possible changes. Choose the one you feel best about and try it. Repeat as needed. You’ll be constantly assessing and adjusting your process. The result?
Those short-term, process-oriented goals which set the stage for ultimate success morph to where you are, nudging you in the direction you want to go.
When we adjust like this, we foster a sense of self-determination, which is vital to sustaining motivation over the long haul. With a dynamic approach towards our goals, we incorporate an adaptable mindset and learn to deal with failures as productively as possible.
This year, view goals as targets you work towards through a dynamic and ever-adapting system on the way towards YOUR North Star. Doing so will help you grow more over the year and will lead to a season you are engaged in and proud of!
References & Acknowledgements
Thank you to Tyler McMaster for endless discussions regarding the value of a North Star when considering how we can all grow over the long haul.
Gilbert W. (2017). Coaching Better Every Season: A Year-Round System For Athlete Development and Program Success. Human Kinetics. Champaign, IL.
Rollnick S., Fader J., Breckon J, & Moyers TB. (2020). Coaching Athletes To Be Their Best: Motivational Interviewing in Sports. Guilford Press. NY NY.
Williams J. M., Krane V. (2015). Applied Sport Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance, 7th Ed. McGraw Hill, NY. NY.