The start of the year is when most people assess their current performance in whatever aspect of life it is that they wish to improve, and go about setting goals for the year ahead. Goal setting is an essential part of creating an environment in which an athlete can motivate themselves. It is done by all athletes at an informal level, but is often poorly managed and not followed through. Having clear goals will help create focus and prioritise training outcomes. It also helps increase persistence during tough periods of training and competition.
Goal setting needs to be performed as a process, not merely as an individual act. The success of goal setting is related directly to the thought process involved in setting the goal, and the constant monitoring and feedback related to the achievement of that goal. Goals should be set in terms of different time frames. You should have a combination of short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. Having only long-term goals (i.e. winning an Olympic gold medal) makes tracking progress and retaining motivation difficult. Where possible, the short-term and mid-term goals should be smaller things to work towards your larger, long-term goal.
There should be another, perhaps fantasy or dream goal, which all your other goals should work towards. A common trait of all successful people is that they have started with an incredibly large dream or goal, often one that others have perceived as unrealistic.
Types of Goals
Goals may be outcome-based, performance-based and process-based.
Outcome based goals are those which depend on the result of a contest, and not only depend on the performance of the athlete but also on the performance of the opposition. An example of this type of goal would be victory in a specific match or tournament.
Performance-based goals may not necessarily involve the outcome of an event, but more your personal performance. An example of a performance-based goal would be to add 5kg to your back squat by the end of the next training block. A performance-based goal may also be combat-related, but not necessarily dependant on the outcome of a match. If you had previously been beaten with low kicks, for example, your goal against a specific opponent may be to check 80% of their low kicks. Whilst in every match there is the main outcome goal of victory, if the performance goal of checking the low kicks has been achieved, even if the result of the match is not in your favour, you can look upon the match positively and know you are heading in the right direction in achieving your long-term goals. This is a good example of a mastery-related goal that will lead to stronger intrinsic motivation.
Process-based goals are perhaps the most easily achievable goals, and relate directly to the actions or processes involved in working towards other goals. A process-based goal may be to increase your overall training volume by 10% in the next training block, or throw 100 left hooks during sparring sessions over the next 3 weeks.
Because process goals and performance goals do not factor in the performance of the opposition, they are more controllable and have been shown to be more effective in improving performance1.
Goals must be directly related to aspects of desired improvement. If, through your testing battery, you identify that your power is severely lacking but your maximal strength is above average, and your overall goal is to hit harder, then the speed and power component needs to prioritised in your goal-setting process.
One other potentially useful tool in goal-setting is performing profiling. This is where the athlete and the coach both critique the athlete’s performance in different areas, then come together to compare their findings. This may help identify the areas that need to be targeted in the athlete’s development.
Goals need not just be physical, they can be mental and emotional too. If you are someone who gets very down when you lose a contest, or when training is not going well, you may want to set a process goal to only focus on positive aspects after your next contest loss.
One important point is not to set too many goals. Doing so is likely to set you up to become overwhelmed. As mentioned above, you need to prioritise your goals to the areas that you have identified as being the most crucial to your performance.
In the next post we will discuss the importance of SMART goals, as well as goal re-evaluation.
1. Locke, E. A. & Latham, G. P. New directions in goal-setting theory. Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 15, 265–268 (2006).
A complete guide to goal setting and other aspects of mental training may be found in “The Science of Striking: A Comprehensive Guide to Physical Preparation for the Stand-Up Combat Athlete”, available now on amazon in both paper and kindle formats.