Why is Proper Goal Setting for Young Athletes Important?

It’s the time of year where we look forward to finding new ways to better ourselves and continue to strive for excellence in our endeavors. As a coach, teaching your athletes how to properly set goals and build a blueprint to guide their efforts can be key in developing their play.

However, many athletes tend to set goals that don’t offer the proper guidance necessary to achieve the long-term effects they desire. Often, they focus on the finish line, and dedicate little time thinking about the steps they need to take to get there. Proper goal setting for athletes needs to be taught, and should act as a focal point in any well-structured program.

Therefore, we have broken down the three major goal types and explained how you can incorporate them into your athletes’ lives, bettering their chances of achieving success this year and in years to come.

1. Process Goals for Athletes

Consider process goals for athletes like breadcrumbs on the path towards success. These goals are where they should spend most of their time and effort when thinking about the success of the season. Process goals are essential to athletes because they allow individuals to focus on the key performance aspects that help them improve their game. These goals are controllable, meaning the athlete has a direct impact on whether or not they are achieved. They are also adaptable, so adjustments can be made to fit the needs of the individual.

Example of an Athlete’s Process Goal: A process goal for a Baseball player might be to focus on their load, stride, and swing mechanics every time they step into the batter’s box. Rather than walking up to the plate thinking “i’m about hitting a homerun”, they focus on the key controllable aspects of their swing that will put them in the best position to execute the motion properly, and potentially hit that homerun.

2. Performance Goals for Athletes

This is the beginning of where many athletes tend to lose their focus. Performance goals for athletes are necessary and somewhat controllable, but not nearly as much as process goals. Performance goals are those you have for the game, match, or race; something you hope to achieve that will act as a benchmark along your path to improvement.

Example of Athlete’s Performance Goal: A performance goal for a Baseball player might be to end their season with a batting avergae of 0.400. This could act as a marker for performance, and a test to see how their training has progressed as they work their way towards their ultimate outcome goal.

Though performance goals are necessary to have, during the actual game the athlete needs to still focus on the process goals that got them to the batters box in the first place: proper swing mechanics, keeping their eye on the ball, etc. Simply having the performance goal of achieving an outstanding batting average over the course of the season will not make it happen, but focusing on the controllable process goals of how to execute once at the plate just might.

3. Outcome Goals for Athletes

Here is where we find many coaches and athletes solely placing their focus during the season, and why goal setting for athletes is so important to teach. The desire to be State or National Champions, to set new records, or to achieve that scholarship is enticing, but almost completely out of one’s control. With so many others vying for those achievements, the chances of them happening are rare.  

Does that mean having outcome goals is unnecessary or dangerous for performance? Absolutely not!

Outcome goals act as the light at the end of the tunnel. The reason athletes are willing to wake up at 5 in the morning and train when everyone else is still asleep, or why some push themselves in training beyond what others are willing to do.

Example of an Athlete’s Outcome Goal: An outcome goal for a Baseball player might be to win a state championship, or a league title, or perhaps even win the Little League World Series.

Though achievable, outcome goals require hard work, dedication, proper focus, and a bit of luck. However grand the challenge may be though, athletes need that beacon to guide their training and focus their efforts, but just like with performance goals, simply having the outcome goal of winning the State Championship is not enough to make it happen.

So how should you teach goal setting to your young athletes, and structure these three goal types to make the most effective plan for their season? Let’s dive in.

How to Teach Proper Goal Setting to your Athletes

The biggest takeaway from this will be learning how to structure outcome goals versus process goals.

At the top of the pyramid is the athlete’s outcome goal; the one that guides their efforts and helps motivate their play. Typically, this is a singular thought or focus (i.e., “I’m going to win the Little League World Series”), as having too many might skew focus or cause them to pour energy into areas that does not ultimately help.

Below that sits the athlete’s performance goals, or the mile-markers along the path towards ultimately achieving their outcome goal. These goals are useful in helping the athlete feel like they are continuing to progress, as these provide helpful feedback for training; testing the athlete to see if they are on the right path, or if adjustments need to be made.

Finally, at the bottom of the pyramid sit the many process goals your athlete will have. This is where they should be placing their focus during practice or gametime, as these are the controllable cues that allow them to perform at their best; providing the best opportunity to take steps toward achieving their performance and outcome goals.

Using these three goal types and the pyramid analogy will help guide your athletes as you work to improve their game and help structure their goals for the season ahead. Just know that it’s alright for athletes to dream as big as they would like, and that having seemingly outlandish outcome goals is healthy and can be inspiring. However, to provide the best opportunity to make those dreams a reality, focusing on the many little steps to improve and slowly work towards that dream is essential.

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