PSYCHOLOGY & COACHING
It is approaching the time of year when many athletes are contemplating their goals and aspirations for the season ahead. This task should not be undervalued as it can have a profound impact upon the success, both actual and perceived, of the athlete. This short article will first introduce three different types of goals. It will then explain how to create goals with reference to the S.M.A.R.T framework. Finally, the article will conclude by explaining how to amalgamate this information together into an effective goal-setting strategy.
Dr Alex Jane Smethurst
There are three main types of goals which athletes can establish:
Outcome Goals - This type of goal is result-oriented. Examples could include winning or podiuming in a particular race, qualifying for the world championships, or achieving a desired time. Outcome goals often hold a lot of meaning to athletes. As such, failing to achieve these goals can lead to high levels of anxiety and frustration. Unfortunately, there are a lot of factors outside of the athletes control (e.g., the performance of other competitors, weather conditions, mechanical problems) which can lead to the goal not being met.
Performance Goals - This type of goal focuses on attaining a specific standard. For example, achieving an average power of 200 watts for a 100 mile time trial. This type of goal is less reliant upon external factors and allows athletes to maintain a sense of control irrespective of what is happening around them.
Process Goals - This type of goal is concerned with executing and tracking actionable behaviours over a sustained period. Examples could relate to weekly mileage, composition of sessions (e.g., swimming, cycling, running, strength training), and hours of sleep etc. Of the three types of goals, these are the most controllable.
The acronym SMART can be a useful framework when creating goals. It stands for:
Specific - First, an athlete should consider what they want to accomplish and the actions required to get there. From there clear and quantifiable goals can be established. Examples could be to complete a marathon or increase functional threshold power by 20 watts.
Measurable - Progress should be able to be tracked and completion of the goal easily established. Wearable devices (e.g., Garmin) can help in the tracking of process goals related to recovery, training volume etc.
Attainable - Goals can be challenging however they also should be achievable. Setting an unattainable goal can cause frustration and potentially damage an athlete’s self-efficacy. Previous results, training data and physiological testing can all prove helpful in establishing realistic goals.
Relevant - A goal should hold personal meaning and significance for the athlete. It should align with their values and long-term objectives. This helps maintain the athlete's motivation and commitment when faced with adversity.
Time-Based - A realistic time frame should be established for the goal/s to be achieved. For many athletes, this will be pre-determined based on event calendars/schedules.
Outcome goals hold the most meaning to athletes. However, this type of goal also poses the greatest risk to the athlete’s motivation and self efficacy. This does not mean that athletes should not have this type of goal. Instead, this goal should be worked backwards from to create performance and process goals. An athlete needs to consider what will be required of them both on a daily basis (i.e., process goals) and on the race day itself (i.e., performance goals) to give them the best possible chance of achieving the outcome goal. Below is an example:
Outcome goal: To win Ironman Kalmar
Performance goal: Hold an average power of 210 watts on the bike (based on a comprehensive analysis of previous times, aerodynamics etc)
Process goal: Complete three bike sessions per week, consume 90g carbs per hour on long rides
Ultimately, it is the creation and successful completion of SMART process goals that allows athletes to achieve what is truly meaningful for them in the sport - consistency is the key to success!
The below systematic review collates research on goal setting theory. It discusses the complexity of the topic in light of the inconsistent research findings. The paper also emphasises the importance of tailoring goals to an athlete’s individual needs. As such, the above recommendations should be considered a good starting point upon which athletes can build dependent upon their own requirements.
Jeong, Y. H., Healy, L. C., & McEwan, D. (2023). The application of goal setting theory to goal setting interventions in sport: A systematic review. International review of sport and exercise psychology, 16(1), 474-499.
If you need help or advice on with goal-setting or season planning, get in touch with us. We are here to support you on your journey to success.