Developing Goals

A common denominator for successful athletes is goal setting. Proper Goal setting guides an athletes journey through the phase of life they are in toward the future they desire. Goals act as orientation points leading athletes to accomplishments and satisfaction. An individual can set goals that are quickly attainable or create goals that take time to ultimately achieve. In his book on psychology for coaches, Jeffrey Huber states that it is important for coaches to help athletes develop “two things: to be goal directed and set their own goals..” He goes on to tell coaches that “If you want your players to become elite athletes, they ultimately need to become responsible for setting their own goals and regulating progress toward achieving these goals” (Huber 2013). For athletes to succeed they need to understand their role in this process.

An athletes success requires them to understand their role as well as the role of a coaches, trainers, and other support staff or persons in the sphere of influence. Elite athletes do not just do what a coach tells them to do as a robot would. They participate fully in the process of training and adopt an ownership of their role in the process. For an athlete to have clearly defined goals he/she can then go about developing drills, practice/training schedules, and mental training designed to increase the athletes chances of attaining what they set out to do.

There are three basic types of goals that an athlete can develop: Outcome Goals, Process Goals, and Performance Goals (Kingston & Hardy, 1997). Outcome Goals focus on the of a competition, tournament, or season. These goals are focused on winning, how an athlete places in the field of competition, or ranking he/she achieves. In our culture today Outcome goals are the most common goals set by athletes, coaches, and fans alike. They also are the most misused. Outcomes goals can be very helpful but they also turn into a huge weight that keeps an athlete from succeeding. Outcome goals can quickly lead to dichotomous thinking (all or nothing) and a hyper focus on a very small part of an athlete success. What is important for an athlete to do when setting these types of goals is to have a healthy look on what it means to them when they achieve these goals and what it would mean to them if they failed to achieve the desired outcome. Outcomes goals can be very helpful when used appropriately and in conjunction with other types as the ones below.

Performance Goals specify an end product of performance that will be achieved by the athlete related independently of other performers and the team (Cox 1997). Performance goals focus on a players output. In sports such as tennis, a player may look at how many forced or unforced errors were hit, number of aces, & number of winners hit. Performance goals are designed to evaluate what a player has produced during the competition (unlike outcomes goals that evaluate the end result of the competition). An athlete who attains his/her performance goals will typically see an increased success in their outcome goals. More importantly an increased confidence and belief in their abilities will also typically occur. It is this reason why Performance Goals may be better for athletes and coaches to focus on more frequently than their outcome counterparts.

In Process Goals the focus is on a “specific set of behaviors exhibited through out a performance” (Cox 1997). These goals focus on specific mechanics, physical technique, mental thoughts, or focus. If these are done properly and Process goals are achieved, then it is likely that performance goals and outcomes goals will be achieved as well.

While all of these goals are mutually exclusive, an athlete will find the most success when using all three goal types. Having a three pronged approach definitely gives an athlete the best orientation and motivation to succeed. Having goals in each one of these areas gives an athlete well rounded approach and will lead to more success then just having goals set in one of the areas.

Below are some guidelines for creating goals:

Goals should be set for the short term and the long term.
Goals should be set for each strength/conditioning session, practices, competitions, and season
Goals should be specific and attainable with some Quantitative and Qualitative outcomes
Goals are relevant to a players specific need: physically, mentally, emotionally.
Goals should be understood by the Athlete as well as those supporting the Athlete
Goals should be meaningful
Goals should be written down
Tasks used to achieve goals should be written down for the athletes to help them know how they are going to go about achieving their defined goals.
An Athletes goal worksheet should have a combination of Process, Performance, and Outcome goals
Goals are highly important for athletes to succeed. Knowing the three kinds of goals that aid in success are quite helpful when an athlete starts to make a plan. A combination of goals in all three areas will be most significant for an athlete to focus on. A three pronged approach to goal setting, along with the recommendations listed above for goals themselves will be a good starting point for athletes to begin goals development.


Cox, R.H. (2007) Sports Psychology: Concepts and Applications. New York, NY; McGraw-Hill

Huber, J.J., (2013) Applying Educational Psychology in Coaching Athletes. Human Kinestics Campaign, IL

Kingston, K.M. & Hardy, L. (1997) Effects of Different Types of Goals on Processes that Support Performance. The Sports Psychologist 11, 277-293