FortKnightley: Goal Setting for success

Felsted’s Director of Sport Blog ‘FortKnightley’ looks at sporting issues that are relevant today and will leave you all with something to think about. Follow on Twitter @dirfelstedsport 

FortKnightley:  Goal Setting for success 

Setting goals seems a straightforward process and when you study the literature behind the science of doing so, it all makes perfect sense. The reality is that many of us find it difficult or miss some vital rules when mapping out sporting plans.

Now goal setting is not only crucial for maintaining and improving performance within sport and the same guidelines and opportunities exist in all areas of your life. However, for the purposes of this article we will look at the impact a well planned goal setting programme can have on your sports performance. 

The beauty of sport is that those who have forged a career in the business have all achieved the success they have had in different ways and it should be recognised that any goal setting needs to motivate the performer in hand and can be done in many ways. It is generally recognised now that goal setting is one excellent strategy in managing stress in an increasingly stressful environment. The sportsperson today is under more scrutiny than their predecessors with immediate feedback, good or bad, on the fingertips of any armchair expert to the knowledgeable journalist fighting for column inches. If you can plan for what is coming then you are already exercising some control over what is around the corner. 

The SMART (ER) principle is well known and certainly allows the performer to ensure they are setting goals for themselves and that they have the opportunity to reach the goals they are setting in the time allocated. Setting a time-line is an important process as it allows you to categorize your short, mid and long term goals. It can be easy to get fixated on the long term goals without committing to the short term goals. The processes will hopefully get you to the outcome, but this is a common error in many young players. If you have an outcome goal of being in the 1st XI / VII / XV when you are older, but don’t do the extra sessions on offer or personal training others are doing along the way, the likelihood is you will fall short.  This can almost be more detrimental to the talented sportspersons who can reach this level through natural ability, but trip up at the next level of sport on leaving school. 

It is difficult because in setting goals you have to be prepared to fail and potentially re-set your goals or readjust your timeline and this will test your resilience and motivation. It is at this stage that many drop out the process of setting goals or even the sport they are striving to be successful in and so this brings me to the parts of the planning that often get overlooked when setting goals for success. 

S: Specific
M: Measurable
A: Achievable
R: Realistic/Relevant
T: Time Phased
E: Exciting/Evaluate
R: Recordable/Re-Do

We can follow the rules above, but if we only verbalise our plans and don’t commit them to paper we leave the door open for misinterpretation and potential excuses when process goals are missed along the journey. This will maintain self esteem for a short period of time, which is important, but will ultimately erode the chances of reaching your long term goals. This is a key balancing act and one that will tell you whether you have followed the SMART (ER) principle correctly. The other reason that tends to lead to goal setting being less effective and indeed hard to stick with or commit to will be that you forget to take others on your journey. Those who achieve their sporting goals from getting in the team, the 1st team, signing a contract at 18, winning trophies or reaching World No.1 will need others to help them achieve success. You can follow the principles highlighted, but if during primary socialisation your parents and formative coaches are not on board then any goals will fall on stony ground. There will be a time during secondary socialisation that you will need to bring others on your journey and when in adulthood as a professional, you will still need your coach, peers and employees to believe in what you want to achieve. It is very common to keep your goals to yourself as trust and respect will be needed and in the very competitive world of work this is not always easy to find. This is why many top athletes surround themselves with only the few they believe can help their goals be realised. The one constant is often that parent that when you were 5 were playing sport with you in the garden and when you were 15 were driving you to training sessions and funding your dreams. 

To those young athletes in schools today understanding that setting goals in principle is easy and in reality is hard work will put you in a strong position from the outset. You will feel like giving up at times and stop wanting to set new challenging goals, but if you have family, friends and honourable leaders as part of your journey anything is possible. 

Charlie Knightley
Director of Sport