Goal Setting

Where are you going? How are you getting there?

Goals. You may have them. You may talk about them. You may even be motivated to go after them from time to time…BUT are you using them in a way that drives your success? Goal setting give athletes direction, help maintain motivation, and allow them to accomplish dreams they may have never expected. People often set goals, but the problem is that they may not set goals that provide them with direction and motivation. In addition, athletes may set subjective goals which are general statements such as have fun, play hard, and maximum effort. Although may lead an athlete to have a positive mindset, these subjective goals are not as effective as objective goals. Objective goals are effective as they focus on a specific standard of proficiency of a specific task (Lodato, 2021). In addition to subjective and objective goals, sport and exercise psychology literature also focuses on outcome, performance, and process goals (Burton & Raedeke, 2008).

Outcome goals focus on a competitive result of an event such as winning a competition, medaling in a track meet, or scoring more points than one’s opponent (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). These goals are impacted by the athlete’s efforts, yet the outcome is not in their control and it depends on the opponent as well. An athlete might play the best game of their career; however, they still might not accomplish their outcome goal because the opponent performed better. 

Performance goals focus on achieving performance objectives or standards without the consideration of competitors (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). It is usually based on self-comparison as opposed to comparison to opponents. These types of goals are more flexible and in one’s control. An example of this would be a person running a mile in 6 minutes and 10 seconds or a basketball player shooting an 80% free throw percentage. 

Process goals focus on an individual’s actions that they engage in during performance in order to perform well (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Process goals enable a player to focus on the actions they need to employ to perform in a way that will enable them to attain the performance goals. One example is a basketball player setting a goal to square up and follow through on each shot they take.

Not only is it important to be focused on setting all three types of these goals, but it is also beneficial to make it an art and follow specific principles when setting goals. One acronym that helps athletes set goals strategically is SMARTS. It is beneficial for goals to be:

  • Specific – goal should indicate exactly what is to be achieved
  • Measurable – goal should be quantifiable
  • Action oriented – goal should indicate something that needs to be completed or specific steps to take to attain the goal
  • Realistic – goal should be achievable given specific constraints
  • Timely – goal should be achievable in a reasonable time-frame
  • Self-determined – goal should be set by the participant

In addition to setting goals that follow the SMARTS guideline, it is also important that athletes pay attention to the season they are in (pre-season, in-season, or post-season). Setting goals in pre-season will vary from the in- or post-season goals. However, in each time frame, it is important that athletes evaluate where they currently are and where they would like to go. By doing this, they will be able to develop appropriate action steps that are needed to start the path to attaining their goals. 

Goal setting is not a difficult technique, but that does not mean it is a problem free strategy. According to Weinberg & Gould (2015), some common problems in goals setting are: setting too many goals, becoming overzealous and losing track of the goals has shown to be problematic. Failing to set specific goals can also cause problems as they are too vague and then difficult to track. Failing to adjust goals may create challenges if a goal was set too high or too low. When initially setting goals, discussing the possibility of adjusting them may improve this problem as it shows it is simply a normal part of the process. Focusing on outcome or performance goals rather than process goals can be problematic because in the end an athlete is not ultimately in control of the outcome (Weinberg & Gould, 2015).

If you’d like to learn more about goal-setting and other mental skills, contact Brooke today!


Burton, D., & Raedeke, T. D. (2008). Sport psychology for coaches. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Lodato, V. (2021). Week 3 goal setting [PowerPoint slides]. University of Western States, Psychological Preparation & Mental Skills Training. WebCampus: http://webcampus.uws.edu

Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2015). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (6th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Don’t let your worst enemy live between your own two ears.”

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