Olivia Rose | Goals win matches
Some of the athletes I’ve worked with don’t like setting goals because of the additional pressure it puts on them. Others have a high ‘blaming everyone else syndrome’ and simply refuse to hold themselves accountable; and there are those who believe that they will be jinxed if they declare what they plan to achieve. However, the most successful athletes I have worked with are those who allowed me to go through the process of setting immediate, short-term and long-term goals with them on how they wanted to open and close their seasons.
Goals win matches. In football, the team that scores the most goals win – the end. Doncaster Rovers FC Academy Head of Psychology David Harrison says, “Goal setting is an extremely powerful technique for enhancing performance, so it is one of the most important strategies you can implement for success in any environment. Goal setting helps to focus attention, and it is critical to maintain and enhance motivation. Goal setting gives direction both in the short term and the long term”. In sport psychology, we usually refer to three main types of goals. These are process, performance and outcome goals.
Process goals are the ones that once achieved, should improve performance in sport. For example, ensuring you attend physical therapy sessions after match, so that you can recover completely before the next training and the upcoming game. I refer to process goals as the little things. I’m a big fan of the little things and getting them done correctly. Having goals such as being punctual for training, getting adequate rest, staying hydrated and being committed to your training, even when no one is there giving you instructions.
Performance goals are benchmarks, measurements or the tools used as improvement trackers; for example, gaining nine pounds by the end of your three months’ mass phase. Goals help you to gauge your performance, so that there is knowledge acquisition, especially against international standards of how near or far you are from achieving your desired outcome.
Outcome goals are those that give you a big-picture outlook. These are the results of combining your process and performance goals. Outcome goals are the end result. For example, did you achieve a medal at the end of the race? Are you the most improved player for your team? Did your team win the championship?
The Olympic year of 2020 has already began, and I encourage athletes and coaches to set moderately challenging targets for themselves that upon review of the year, you will be able to say, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” If goals were not achieved, what were the causes and what can be done to ensure they are realised in the following year?
Research suggests that goals are more effective, and the probability of them materialising increases significantly when they are written down. A 2015 study by psychologist Gail Matthews showed that when people wrote down their goals, they were 33 per cent more successful in achieving them than those who formulated outcomes in their heads. Thankfully, technology has provided several ways to write things down, and I am imploring athletes to write down their goals before starting their season and have it stored in a frequently visited place; for example, as a screensaver on a phone. For those who have already commenced, write down what you want to achieve for the remainder. As you look towards the year ahead, make a list of 10 mistakes made in the past year and what are five changes you can do to not repeat those errors and now triumphantly go over each hurdle at a time.
Goals work when you do. Writing down your goals is only the first step towards achieving. Goals need to be supported by a decision of commitment and deliberate focus, clear intention and a positive attitude. It is pointless to dedicate yourself to something you partially believe is possible. Surrounding yourself with persons who not only believe in your goals, but fuel your athletic ambitions, is last are critical. As you attempt to achieve your goals, there will be challenges along the way, which is where outcome goals play a huge role. They should provide you with reasons for enduring the course. American entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, “Goals are like magnets – they pull. The stronger they are, the more purposeful they are. The bigger they are, the more unique they are and the stronger they pull.”
NOT ALL ABOUT WINNING
Goals win matches – facts! However, contrary to popular belief in sports, it’s not all about winning on the field, pitch, court, track, in the pool etc. It’s more important to win at your goals. Many athletes initially, did not start by winning but had specific performance goals that they were gradually achieving. I have seen where athletes who came seventh in a race, achieved their personal best. As such, for the athletes I work with I’ve never ask, “Did you win your event?” I usually ask, “How did you do, and did you achieve your goal?” Their response allows goals to be assessed, evaluated and even adjusted.
Simply focusing on outcome goals (winning or losing) can decrease motivation, especially when you are consistently achieving only one of the above. The sustenance of motivation towards goal attainment varies based on several factors, personality, type of sport, coach, support provided, level of difficulty. Let’s explore how difficult it is for the best athlete to set goals to become better. When I work with teams that win, they can usually predict my charge to them before they go on the field, “Success maintenance is key, make the best, better!” The reason for this is that it is very easy for athletes to become complacent once they have achieved certain targets. Therefore, it is very critical for players to be surrounded by support staff that promotes improvement and development in all areas, not just in their sport.
In closing, the lifespan of an athlete’s career is relatively short, depending on the sport. A 20-year-old gymnast is considered old for their sport, while for the same age, is young for track and field. Considering the age differences, possibility of injury and so many other life events that can occur, goals in sports should be set bearing these possibilities in mind. Time is critical when setting goals in sports. This new decade may be the final lap for some athletes, and I wish those athletes a victorious close. The next 10 years may also be the birthing of new talents, and to those athletes who will have their debut in this decade, embrace the exposure, always be willing to learn, evolve, and invest wisely.
To the coaches and sports administrators who will now hang up their jerseys, the teams you have worked with over the decade salute you for your indelible contribution. To the incoming coaches and sports administrators, let it be your goal that while acknowledging those who have ran the race before you, to create a better platform for your athletes to flourish.
Olivia Rose is a practising applied sport psychologist for more than a decade and works at the Faculty of Sport at the The University of the West Indies, Mona. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.