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Mental Skills - Article 3


Goal setting helps direct an athlete's attention to appropriate behaviors necessary for athletic success, it helps increase an athlete's persistence in the face of adversity and difficulty, and, it increases effort and output in both practice and competition.

There are three types of goals: Performance goals, Outcome goals and Do Your Best goals. The preferred type of goals to set are performance goals that specify both the observable behavior and the time frame for when these changes will occur. I generally recommend that for every outcome goal that a coach or athlete sets, it should be accompanied by at least four process goals. For example, if you set a goal to become a starter on next year's team (an outcome goal) you should set four process goals that will increase the likelihood of you achieving that goal. These performance goals would be behavior or activities over which you have complete control and your participation and ultimate success is virtually guaranteed.


An example of four process goals to accompany the outcome goal of starting might be:

  1. I will complete my strength training program three days per week all year long
  2. I will stay after practice on Wednesdays and Fridays to take 50 extra shots with my right foot and 50 extra shots with my left foot
  3. I will watch game film at least two hours every week and write down three key tactical points for each video session
  4. I will complete five, five-minute imagery sessions each week all season long

What should be clear from these examples is that:

  1. Athletes can completely control whether or not they engage in these activities (whether or not the coach ultimately selects them to be a starter)
  2. Engaging in these activities will lead to improvements in each of the specified areas of performance and these improvements will increase the likelihood of achieving the outcome of becoming a starter
  3. Each of these goals provides a specific standard of proficiency and a specified time for achievement

In order for goal setting to work for you and your team, the following guidelines should be followed:

  1. Goals should be difficult but realistic to achieve (Unrealistic goals create anxiety and disbelief)
  2. Goals should be specific, observable and measurable
  3. Set proximal (short term) as well as distal (long term) goals
  4. Set performance or techniques goals rather than outcome or do your best goals
  5. Write your goals down ("ink what you think")!
  6. Discuss your goals with at least one other person
  7. Set the goals yourself rather than simply adopt someone else's goals for you
  8. Provide and get goal support through interactions with coaches, teammates and other important people in your life
  9. Evaluate your goal effectiveness and adjust the goal difficulty in the future so those goals are optimally challenging for your current abilities and your future potential
  10. Set goals in each of the four pillars of sport: technical, tactical, psychological and physiological
© Dr. Colleen Hacker
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