How to Set Goals in Sports

Written by VersusThu Aug 18 2022
How to Set Goals in Sports

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If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. For many, it's often a pipe dream to excel into the higher ranks—and that dream often dissipates without the effort, drive, and goals required to continue on competitively. In sports, commitment is absolutely key.Much like working to be better than someone else, goals help you take steps in improving your game.When you set your own goals, no one else is to blame when you don’t hit them.If it matters, measure it.Without a goal, you are essentially working without a target.Having high expectations for yourself is normal.Without goals, it may be difficult to stay motivated.

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Many of us have bold ideas of what we want to achieve, in sports, business, or even in life, but this quote – from Alice in Wonderland of all places – captures the importance of both setting goals and plans for getting there. Think about it for a moment. No one sets out to be mediocre in anything, but mediocrity is exactly what we get if we don’t set goals with tangible steps on how to get there. That’s why it’s important to stop assuming that reps in practice will help you achieve your hopes and dreams – because they won’t. Yes, those reps are critical to success, but they’re only part of the process for how you can become great at anything. It all starts with having a goal. 

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For many, it's often a pipe dream to excel into the higher ranks—and that dream often dissipates without the effort, drive, and goals required to continue on competitively. Too often do potential athletes lose sight of what they’re after and grow dormant, which is why setting goals is so important. To pair with the necessary ambition, we’ve set out to create a guideline to keep your goals and aspirations on track to help you become the athlete you want to be.

Why Setting Goals Is Important

In sports, commitment is absolutely key. Setting goals for yourself helps you maintain that commitment, and your skill level will likely improve along the way. Sure, the ultimate goal for any athlete is to be great, compete with the best, and win championships, but how you get there is even more important. Here are a few reasons that goal setting helps you achieve your goals:

1. Pushing you forward 

Much like working to be better than someone else, goals help you take steps in improving your game. One week you might strive to improve your hook shot; the next, you might try it from a few feet back. Goals give you a way to progress on your own. Forward is the key word here. Your goals, whether they are long or short term, should always take a step up from where you left off. 

 2. Accountability

When you set your own goals, no one else is to blame when you don’t hit them. It can be a hard truth to swallow, but it ultimately makes you a better athlete—and teammate. By shifting responsibility from others to yourself, you can better understand that your failures – your shortcomings and inconsistencies – are yours and yours alone to tackle. No coach, no teammate, and no parent is putting in the reps. It’s just you. And as you face down that reality, and continue to tackle your weaknesses, improvement and eventually success, will undoubtedly follow. Accountability starts with recording your performance and taking steps to improve. The clarity will allow you to see mistakes and fix them, while keeping you accountable and on the clear path to success. 

3. Measure progress

If it matters, measure it. Without goals, it’s tough to measure how you’re coming along. The measure of success varies by sport, but you need to determine the specific stat that you want to improve upon. Is it the speed of your fastball? Is it your 40 time? Is it your squat max? Or is it your passing completion percentage? Whatever you want to measure most, it’s incredibly important to look beyond just winning or losing. Start on a personal level and establish a standard you can achieve and continue to raise the bar. The better position you’re in to measure your progress, the better trainers can help you as the results start to trickle in. 

4. Inform future actions

Without a goal, you are essentially working without a target. Determine how you can improve in different aspects and make a plan on how to reach them. Change the goal accordingly and think about what you can do going forward to better achieve your goals and take things further.

Imagine finding out that your sleep habits are completely inadequate to compete at a high level. And if your goal is to improve your batting average, there’s no way you can stay up late watching Twitch streams and be able to achieve your goal. So what do you do? You go to bed earlier so you can achieve what you’ve decided you want versus what you feel like you want in the moment. Goals help you decide what is important and what is not. 

5. Prioritize actions

Having high expectations for yourself is normal. However, it's critical to realize you can only work on a few goals at a time. In measuring your progress, you should focus on the areas that stick out to you, whether that’s improving in ways you’re struggling or sticking to aspects you’re performing well in. Much of it is up to you, but a solid trainer can help here.

6. Morale

Without goals, it may be difficult to stay motivated. The emotional high of win or the low of a loss only lasts so long. However, as you keep an eye on your progress and acknowledge the goals you have achieved, you can keep morale up and your eye on the long-term achievements. Even with some disappointments along the way, that destination in mind will help you keep going.

Different Types of Goals

First, take a look at how goals can be distinguished. There are three main categories: 

  • Outcome goals - Work based on intentions relative to the performance of others—like beating an opponent. 
  • Performance goals - Levels of personal achievement based on numeric criteria, like lifting a certain amount of weight or getting to a level of repeat sets before adjusting the goal and doing it all over again.
  • Process goals - Unlike performance or outcome goals, process goals are completely flexible. Rather than beating a standard, you’re committing to, say, practicing every day—perhaps hitting a baseball 15 times in a row or sinking 10 straight jump shots.

Why Is It Important To Set Realistic Goals? 

No one can ever fault you for striving to become your best. However, aiming to be a world tennis champion next week isn’t the way to start. While the goal works to keep you motivated and aim for the best, an unrealistic goal can have a negative impact on your morale. This is why it’s important to set realistic goals—among other key reasons: 

Build self-confidence

While sports are always fun, it can be tough sometimes if you’re not confident in your skills. By setting an unrealistic goal, it’s likely you’ll feel inadequate or “not good enough”—whether that’s to play professionally or simply in not hitting your goals. Smaller, realistic goals that match your skill level will help boost your confidence and maintain steady progress in your drive to become a better athlete.

Stay motivated

Setting realistic goals also helps give you the drive to push forward and keeps uncertainty out of your mind. Without goals, it’s hard to stay motivated; and without motivation, it’s hard to reach your goals and improve your skills.

Achieve life-changing benefits

So many things in sports can apply to your daily life, but those benefits of course also apply to your game. These smaller goals make way for progression, and that can have a direct effect on your life. Maybe your sights are set on becoming professional. That could be life changing. Regardless, setting and achieving your goals can set a standard for your personal life—feeling good on and off the field.

Steps In Goal Setting

Mapping things out always has its benefits. When you can sit down, identify what it is you want, how you can attain it, and when you’ll devote the time, you’re making both a mental and physical note—a commitment. And that’s the first step.

Here are a few ways to get started on setting goals:

1. Decide your ultimate goal

Your emotion and imagination play an integral role in deciding the ultimate goal. Take time to consider why you like the sport and why you enjoy it. With the image clear, it's easy to get motivated and dive in.  

2. Write down your goal

In focusing on the type of athlete you want to grow into, make the goal tangible by writing it down. Subconsciously, your brain will start to work on it, striving to find solutions. Plus, you’ll have something to look at everyday—a reminder to keep pushing and keep practicing. 

3. Set a deadline

Even with a goal in place, with no deadline, it’s always difficult to get started. Deadlines give you a sense of urgency and can help you stay motivated – especially when paired with measurements of your progress along the way. And remember: procrastination gets to all of us, but a deadline can help work against it. And on the positive side, successfully reaching milestones can be a huge boost in confidence. 

4. List all activities

It always helps to know what you’re getting into, so start by making a list of everything you will need to accomplish your goals. What kind of things will you do to progress? Study the game one day? Get out and take some shots another? Cardio? Strength training? Of course, we’ll make sure you don’t miss anything. Seeing this all on paper may seem daunting, but we’ll go one step at a time. 

5. Prioritize goals

What do you truly want to accomplish? It’s critical to prioritize, both in your mind and in your actions, and to be able to fully comprehend the most important things for you to achieve. Create an approach for each goal you want to achieve. Then, rank each item depending on where you want to improve. Remember, the more specific you are, and the more clear you are, the more likely you are to accomplish your goals. 

6. Take action

Planning is great, but it isn’t nearly as important as doing. So once you have your plan in place, start plugging away at your goal, and know that it’s ok if you need to start slow. It’s like the saying goes: Rome wasn’t built in a day. And you know what? Your favorite pro player had to start the same way you’re starting today. So whatever works for you, just get out there and start having fun. You may even find more activities to include or where you should prioritize your work.

7. Get the right equipment

Not everyone can go out and get the best equipment, but you do need to use the right equipment. Sure, you can make do in certain areas, but you want to be safe, and get the proper experience. Fortunately, you’re already starting out with the right training; and we can always help you find the rest. If you have access to a trainer or strength coach at high school, they’re typically full of ideas to make workouts at home more effective. 

8. Commit

Put your trust in the process and stick to the journey. Make the necessary adjustments when starting. We have the plan to help you go along, but it’s up to you to stay on it and…

9. Stay disciplined

Do something every day to push toward your goal. Read the material. Watch it on TV. Go outside and take a couple swings. Even when you’re not actively training, there’s always something you can do to maintain focus and keep pushing on.

10. Enjoy the process

Whatever your goals may be, try to enjoy the process. Celebrate the victories regardless of how small. Remember to also not where you started from to where you are. Most importantly, have fun. It doesn’t matter where you’re starting in your training. All athletes need that friendly reminder. Improving yourself – whether in sports or in life – isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. So don’t be afraid to look around every once in a while to make sure you’re enjoying the ride. 

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