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Mental Skills - Article 2

Goal Setting

Goal setting is one of the foundational building blocks of a successful psychological skills training program. In fact, coaches and athletes can utilize the goal setting principles that I'll discuss in the next two months of eteamz articles, with each of the four pillars of sport we have previously discussed: namely, the technical, tactical, psychological and physiological areas. To understand goal setting better, and more specifically, how you can utilize its powerful effects to your competitive advantage, it's important to define what goals are.


Goals are a specific standard of proficiency achieved in a specific area of performance within a specified time. For example, an athlete could set a goal to improve their free throw shooting ability by taking 30 extra shots every day immediately after practice. All of the criteria listed in that definition must be met (along with several other important standards) in order for behavior to be considered a goal. The two key questions to determine if goal setting is successfully being implemented are: Can I measure it? Can I see it? Goals are more than wishes, hopes and dreams. Dreaming is important in sport and in life, but dreams lack an essential ingredient inherent in effective goal setting, and that is the observable, measurable behaviors required for achieving the end result. For example, I might wish that I was an Olympic performer and I might dream about making an Olympic team, but when I goal set, much more is required of me in order to reach my goal standard.

Types of goals

There are three types of goals. Each will be defined and a sport-related example will be provided for clarification.

1. Performance Goals: Performance goals are goals in which participants focus on process-oriented standards relative to ones own best performance capabilities. They emphasize the PROCESS by which a given outcome is achieved. Another key component of process goals is that the participant has much more control on the achievement potential and successful outcome of these types of goals.

Examples of process goals are increasing the number of tennis serves taken in order to improve ones' first service percentage, committing to a consistent pattern of three strength training sessions per week in order to increase the amount of weight lifted for a one-rep max, and engaging in first person imagery training two days per week for the next month of practice.

2. Outcome Goals: Outcome goals are goals in which participants focus on the end result, the outcome, or a PRODUCT-type measurement as the standard of comparison. These are the most often recited and typically utilized types of goals among coaches and athletes. While participants "think" they have control over outcome goals, the facts indicate that athletes and coaches have only partial control (at best), or little to no control over the ultimate successful achievement of outcome goals.

Examples of outcome goals are: to become a starting member of the team this season, to win the league championship, or to achieve the school scoring record before graduating.

3. Do Your Best Goals: Do your best goals are obvious from the title itself. The focus is not on specific standards of proficiency, process or outcome other than asking the participants to "give it their best shot", try hard and "do your best".

Examples of this third type of goal would be saying, "I'll try my best to play well in today's game," "We'll try our best to play good defense," or "I'll try to be a better coach this season." What is clear in these examples, is that do your best goals lack the specificity and detail that are so apparent in the first two types.

While it may be easier and more convenient to set outcome goals in sport, experts recommend and the sport psychology literature clearly indicates, that the most favorable results in performance occur when athletes and coaches set performance goals. In fact, process goals will allow you to achieve greater success, if they are correctly and consistently utilized, than either outcome or do your best goals.

© Dr. Colleen Hacker

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