As we all know being an athlete is not an easy nor stress free profession. There is a lot of pressure in the athlete’s shoulders; from their coaches, from their fans, from their sponsors and of course their family. We all know that a good coach will set up a great training plan for his athlete to achieve excellence, but which is the best strategy for an athlete? What should be the core of our training plan?
Every time we receive a new athlete there are a couple of things we must take into consideration before start developing a training plan. Every individual is unique, so the approach must be unique, we must understand his strengths and weaknesses, his age, gender, his personal objectives, etc. But there is one thing in every training program that no matter who we are coaching, or his objectives always must be the base of the program, goal setting. Short-term goals, long-term goals every type of goal must be the base and the first step towards the creation of our master plan. When you start just doing whatever you can without having a detailed plan you will not get the results that you should.
Positive reinforcements and motivation have always been a great way to achieve good results in every training. As current sport psychology practice appears to recognize the value of positive emotions, enhancing psychological well-being by measuring changes in positive and negative affect is a key function in evaluating sport psychology practice (Anderson, Miles, Mahoney, & Robinson, 2002) and has implications for talent development (Côté, 1999) and continued involvement in sport (McCarthy, Jones, Harwood, Davenport, 2010).
Goal setting is a technique that definitively assist the athlete to feel and experience that feeling of mastering a movement or event. Every time that your athlete can move one step forward meaning scratched out one goal and move to another one he will feel confident, he will feel like he can master anything if he commits to it. Positive affective experiences like enjoyment and satisfaction are hypothesized to be associated with these feelings of mastery, which in turn would increase intrinsic motivation as demonstrated by a desire to exert effort, seek challenges, and exhibit perseverance regardless of unsuccessful outcomes (McCarthy, Jones, Harwood, Davenport, 2010).
Now we have established that goal setting is an amazing tool to achieve a great level in the athlete life, but can I just set up any goal and have great results? Or do I have to sit back and think what the best way is to set goals, so my athlete doesn’t get frustrated because I tried to run before learning to crawl. There are plenty of studies that demonstrate that goals somewhat difficult and detailed improve the possibility of a positive outcome instead of setting easy and vague goals. A good starting point can be found in Sullivan and Strode’s (2010) “SMAART” principle.
This acronym states that a successful goal should be specific, measurable, aggressive yet achievable, relevant, and timely Polson, 2013). In a nutshell, if you establish details and specifics it will be much easier to measure and compare that if there is no guidance to follow. If you are not able to measure the goal, there is no way you will have a successful and effective process. Unattainable goals should be avoided because they can result in continued failure and lead to decreased motivation and performance, or even the athlete giving up (Polson, 2013).
The athlete must provide feedback; he must be part of the planning stage. Vidic and Burton (2010) explain that coaches may need to be involved initially to implement the goal, so they can support the athlete and provide direction, but as athletes begin setting and accomplishing goals they learn the goal setting process and become more independent (Polson, 2013).
The Association for Applied Sport Psychology establishes simple guidance or principle to follow when setting goals. I am going to mention and discuss some of them:
- Make goal specific, observable and in measurable terms: we have already talked about the importance of choosing a specific and measurable goal and the consequences of choosing a poor one.
- Clearly identify the time constraints: now this is something we haven’t talked about. You can have specific goals (measurable) but it is very important to set time frames within that goal. You can set up a goal of losing 2% of fat in the body but by what date? 1 month? 1 year? The outcome of the goal could vary tremendously if you do not set up a real and achievable due date.
- Use moderately difficult goals.
- Write goals down and regularly monitor progress: Some individuals as a technique have their goals written right next to their bed or at the fridge. The important thing is to always be aware of what you are working towards to.
- Make sure goals are internalized by the athlete.
- Seek support of goals: it is very important to get everybody in the athletes’ surroundings on board with the goals.
Effort should be made in educating these individuals about the types of goals that you are setting for yourself and the importance of their support in encouraging progress towards the goals (Monsma, 2007). Training an athlete is not a simple task, it involves a lot of important aspects. As everything in life, you must have a core value or principle and you start from there. In this case goals are those core values or principles. How you do them or how you achieve them it will vary depending on the athlete, but the essence of the process should be a common one.