Tips on Goal Setting

The Value of Goal Setting

Systematic goal setting provides the athlete with many benefits. An awareness of the numerous benefits of goal setting is likely to increase the chances that the athlete will set goals consistently. Goal setting accomplishes the following:

  • Provides direction. Well-developed goals remind athletes where they want to go and how they are going to get there.
  • Enhances motivation. Two-a-day practices can be physically and mentally draining; reminding themselves of their goals reinforces for athletes why they are there and what they are trying to accomplish in each training session. This promotes motivation and training intensity.
  • Builds confidence. Reaching short-term goals can build athletes’ confidence not only in their abilities, but also in the path they have chosen to reach their long-term goal.
  • Provides feedback. Short-term goals that are evaluated regularly provide athletes with feedback on how they are doing in progressing toward their long-term goals and help in determining if goals need to be modified.

Process versus Outcome Goals

Because athletes tend to focus exclusively on physical factors and performance outcome when setting goals, coaches should make a conscious effort to help swimmers set goals that address the variety of factors that relate to athletic performance (physical, technical, psychological, nutrition, lifestyle, etc.) These goals should focus on the process of performance as opposed to solely on performance outcome. One of a coach’s objectives should be to provide a positive environment in which the athletes are training, competing and working towards their goals; emphasize to athletes the importance of enjoying the process of swimming and placing the process above winning.


Principles of Goal Setting

For goal setting to be effective, athletes need to be aware of and adhere to the following principles:

  • Set short-term and long-term goals. Most athletes have long-term or dream goals but often fail to establish short-term goals that serve as stepping stones to long-term goals. Long-term goals alone provide no feedback or specific direction.
  • Set outcome and process goals. Most athletes set outcome goals (e.g., win the race, qualify for the state meet), but process goals that focus on what the athletes need to do to perform well (e.g., maintain consistent stroke rate, streamline out of turns) are equally crucial. Unlike outcome goals, process goals are in the swimmer’s control and allow the swimmer to experience success regardless of the overall outcome.
  • Be specific when setting goals. Because broad goals do not offer much guidance, focus on making goals as specific as possible (e.g., “put in a minimum of 8,000 meters in two-a-day practices six days a week” versus “train everyday”).
  • Goals are most beneficial when they are realistic and challenging. Coaches can play a big role in helping athletes identify realistic and challenging goals. Goals that are too easy or too difficult will not provide many benefits to the athlete.
  • Goals, especially training goals, must be evaluated regularly. Evaluating goals provides feedback and confidence because progress can be noted. Weekly goals should be evaluated weekly, while seasonal goals should be evaluated at the conclusion of the season.

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