Setting Goals

Effective Goals

Athletes without clear goals or with the wrong goals become distracted or discouraged. However, athletes who learn to set the right goals and learn strategies to achieve them are successful in swimming and in life. Good goal setting is the single most effective performance enhancing strategy in the mental toolkit.

Effective Goals:

  • Give Direction Goals are like a road map that take you where you want to go. That is why it is important that you state positive goals, rather than negative ones. For example, "I will practice timing when to turnover in my backstroke turns" is better than "I won't get DQ'd in my backstroke turn" because the first gives you a direction to go to achieve your goal. Goals should also include physical goals and psychological skill development goals to be sure that you have what you need physically and mentally every step of the way.
  • Provide Feedback Effective goals are measurable. They are like mile-markers on your journey. They give you a sense of how far you have come, which builds confidence. They also help you see that your intensity and persistence directly affect the rate you progress.
  • Motivate you to focus, exert more effort, and persist despite obstacles. The road to your big dream can seem overwhelming. Goals help you break the journey down into manageable steps. Give your goals the "Get Out of Bed" Test. Do your goals motivate you to get up and get going in the morning?
  • Are Flexible Every long journey will have a few obstacles. Effective goals are flexible enough to handle a detour or two on your journey. Every successful swimmer has had to deal with injuries, disappointments and distractions. The right goals will help keep you moving in the right direction.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Once you've decided to set goals it is time to figure out how to get started. TRY THIS: Create a swimming "Wish List". This is a brainstorming session, so don't be critical of any ideas - just keep writing. Include physical goals like speed and strength, and psychological ones like confidence and happiness. Include long term and short term hopes, dreams and ambitions. Now, analyze each item, using the SMART Goals criteria below, to help you organize your wishes into effective goals.

Once you have your goals, Write them down, Share them with other people, Post them where you can see them. Studies show taking these steps will increase your odds of success.

  • Specific

    Effective goals are specific. If some of the things on your wish list are not specific enough to be goals, start asking questions. Example:

    • What is keeping me from getting my wish? If the wish is "Faster butterfly" and you evaluate the main obstacle "my second fly kick is weak" then rephrase as a positive - "I will strengthen my second kick until it is as strong as my first kick" and continue evaluating it.
    • What do I want to accomplish? What will change if I accomplish my goal? Sometimes really examining what you want can help turn a wish into a goal, or help you discard a wish entirely. Keep in mind that goals will not motivate you if you don't OWN them. "I need a State cut because my coach wants everybody in the group to have one," or "I need to make it into the Junior Training Group when Liz does because otherwise it will mess up my car pool" are not motivational goals. Goals should inspire and motivate you.
  • Measurable

    Goals should be measurable. Otherwise they are not good milestones toward your dreams. Measurements may be objective - like time drops and practice attendance. Other goals, especially mental goals, will require more subjective measurements. Let's say Bill suspects negative self-talk before races is hurting his performance. He could make a goal to raise his awareness of his self-talk patterns by completing a Self-Talk log after each meet session for the next three meets. This short-term goal would be the first step toward a longer-term goal of optimizing his positive self-talk, which is, in itself, a step toward positive mental attitude, a very powerful performance enhancer. See NAAC Mental Toolkit for more information.

    If a value is too abstract to measure set goals based on behaviors that demonstrate the value - like improving sportsmanship in 8 & Under swimmers by setting a goal of having every young swimmer shake hands with their neighboring competitors before they leave the pool.

    Goals should also be measured individually, even though it is important to have team or group goals. Otherwise, there is a phenomenon called "social loafing", where athletes who work together on a goal exert less personal effort than when they do the task alone, leaving teammates to pick up the slack. If you are part of a team or group, work to set a common goal and then break it down into measurable parts for each member and set up a system of accountability.

  • Achievable

    Too many athletes set goals that are too easy. They do not have to work harder to succeed and they do not feel confident and proud when they achieve them. Other athletes set goals (or have coaches or parents set goals for them) that are too hard, giving them a built-in excuse not to try in the face of almost certain failure. Goals that are too hard demotivate athletes and lead to stress. Unfortunately, there is no formula for setting an optimally challenging goals. Each athlete's confidence, optimism, tolerance for failure, etc. will be different. That is why it is critical that each athlete must set his or her own goals. Some studies suggest that goals be no more than 5% -15% above the athlete's recent (a few weeks) average performance capability, giving about a 90% chance of attainment. For the risk-averse this may work well. However, some athletes are only motivated by big challenges and tolerate setbacks along the way. For them, setting goals, at least short-term ones, with only a 50% chance of success, may be the answer. For high-risk goals to be successful athletes must enjoy the challenge - the process of achieving the goal - and take pride in their effort. They must be able to view failure as external (a problem with the goal, not with themselves.) Champions can set big goals, give it their all to achieve them, and not let setbacks shake their confidence in eventual success.

  • Relevant

    Relevant? Realistic? Reevaluate? If you read more about goal setting you will see that different people use the R in SMART Goal Setting for different things, and they are all important. You will most often see the R stand for Relevant There are an infinite number of worthy physical and mental goals you could make. Be sure that the short-term goals you prioritize are stepping stones on the way to your dream.

    "Realistic" and "Reevaluate" are often used. Goal setting is a continuous process, not a single event. Goals that are effective today may not be tomorrow if something changes. For example, Diane sets a long-term goal of making a Short Course State Cut in her 200 breast. She sets daily and short-term goals to get that cut. Then, in December, she breaks her leg and will be out of the water for 6-8 weeks. All of a sudden, her goal is no longer realistic. She needs to either reduce her expectations or change her timeline (go for a Long Course State Cut in the summer instead.)

    • Reevaluate Regularly Set aside time after practice to analyze your practice goals. Did you achieve them? Were they effective goals? Every night look at your daily goals. Examine your short and long term goals every 3-4 weeks at most. Schedule time and keep the appointment with yourself. Reinforce your commitment to your goals or risk losing your passion to achieve them.
    • Reevaluate Responsively Reevaluate your goals when obstacles arise like illness, injury, or distractions at home or school. Highly successful people expect some obstacles in the path to every worthwhile goal. They show flexibility, optimism, and persistence in the face of challenges.
  • Timely

    Big dreams take time to achieve. The problem is, nobody can sustain maximum effort and focus 24 hours a day for weeks or months on end. Instead, you need to set goals of different lengths to break your journey into manageable steps.

    • Practice and Meet Session Goals A meet session or practice, or even a single practice set or race is a short enough period of time to set goals that call for intense effort and/or maximum concentration. Coach Wayne Goldsmith calls these "moment goals" and they are very powerful. Decide right now, in this moment, to do a thing. Say it to yourself, and use the word THIS. "My goals is to explode into and out of THIS breaststroke turn. . . "My goal is to finish powerfully on the wall at the end of THIS 100 meter repeat."
    • Daily Goals Repeating an action in a thoughtful and deliberate way day after day is a great way to create excellent physical and mental habits. Achieving effective daily goals for things like properly hydrating, getting enough sleep, improving your posture, mastering self-talk, etc. will help you achieve longer term goals in swimming and in life.
    • Short-term Goals Goals that last 4-6 weeks are long enough that you can see measurable results when you evaluate your success, but are short enough that you can maintain your focus and enthusiasm.
    • Long-Term Goals Goals that last a season or more have to be made up of a series of shorter goals, but it is the long-term goals that are often the ones swimmers are the most passionate about. They are the ones that inspire all the hard work and dedication. Just be clear about what the benefits of attaining the goal will be, be personally committed to the goal, and be sure to thoroughly reevaluate your goal regularly.