I am not a fan of setting goals or New Year’s Resolutions for that matter. Here’s why.
They don’t work.
Well, mine never worked. I think it is in part because I was a lofty goal setter. I thought I could do anything, anytime, anywhere, anyhow. Sounds like a superhero? That's accurate. About ten years ago my interpretation of my ability was equal to that of superhuman capabilities. Since I've married, had a child (one could argue that takes some superhuman strength) and had some real life experiences that have shifted my perspective.
Every year millions of people identify these extraordinary goals to accomplish in the coming year. During the development, these goals are met with excitement, possibility, and hope. When it is time to put in the work towards said goals, however, they crumble.
You know kind of like the cookie that you tried to veganize but didn’t realize you couldn’t just substitute coconut flour for all-purpose flour at equal measurements.
Of course, that made zero sense because you don’t eat cookies right? You are an athlete.
The point is resolutions like goals (and vegan cookies) often crumble because they lack substance. Hence why I disagree with setting goals, in the standard practice anyhow.
For a goal to withstand the trials of life, it must have a few identifiers. Some people follow the rule of creating S.M.A.R. T goals. That is one way of doing it. Ensuring your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and have the element of time.
In 1981, George T. Doran, a consultant and former director of corporate planning for Washington Water Power Company, published a paper called, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” In the document, he introduces S.M.A.R.T. goals as a tool to create criteria to help improve the chances of succeeding in accomplishing a goal.
Over the course of this article, we are going to apply the S.M.A.R.T strategy to goal-setting for sports.
Step 1: Specific
Set a Specific Goal
Specificity is key.
I have held many jobs in my lifetime, most of which I can say I am proud of.
Hostess at Sticky Fingers Rib House- Also proud
A few months ago, I joined the sales team at a local gym as a membership advisor. The purpose of my position was to sell people gym memberships. Sounds easy enough right? It was.
Each year fitness facilities chart their heaviest money making period during the last week in December through the first week in January. Why? Resolutions.
Exercise is often at the top of the list.
Gym owners love this rush of sign-ups for two reasons (1) the money, duh (2) these “members” will typically become passive income within the month.
Passive members. Meaning they likely will not utilize the membership they are paying for. Meaning the gym is making FREE money. These members are paying for services that they won’t receive all because of a silly New Year's Resolution.
During my stint as a membership advisor, I noticed a trend. Most new members attribute their decision to join the gym to wanting to look or feel better. This is useful information but it isn't a good goal.
It isn’t enough to say you want to look better or feel better. It isn't enough to say you want to run faster or lift heavier. To be effective at accomplishing your goal you must be specific.
Let's say you are a basketball player. When asked what your goals are for the season you respond, "I want to be faster." Broad goal. You could make that goal more specific by assigning a particular part of the game you want to be faster at, perhaps getting down court after your team scores a basket. Now you have identified something specific you hope to accomplish. The next step is determining if you have created a measurable goal.
Step 2: Measurable
Identify Your Goals' Measurability
In the NCAA, student-athletes have to hit specific markers to maintain their eligibility to compete. One of the most significant markers being progress towards degree also known as PTD. Each semester PTD is calculated by the academic advisor to ensure student-athletes are efficiently making strides towards graduation. Should an athlete fail a class or drop below a certain number of credits, their PTD changes and sometimes their eligibility.
As a coach, this process was met with agony but also peace of mind. The initial worry of whether your athletes are indeed taking their academics seriously was either confined or denied with one single calculation. PTD was the measuring stick for the athlete’s goal of graduation.
What is your measuring stick? What metrics will you use to measure your goal?
Answering questions like these will reveal if you competently executed step one and created a goal specific enough to be measured. Broad goals like, “I want to be faster” do not leave room for measurable improvement. Technically, you could get faster in a day. If you worked out with me, I am sure I could make you “faster” in a specific area within a couple of days. Will that transfer last? Well, I cannot be accountable for that. That is precisely the point I am trying to make.
The big question is, how will you measure your progress towards your goal?
Step 3: Achievable
Is your goal actually achievable?
Sometimes this step gets confused with the word actionable. I don’t think this is an oversight. This step, however, requires some action.
Setting objectives is the most practical way to accomplishing this step. Let’s revisit our basketball example.
You want to be faster.Specifically, you want to be faster at securing offensive rebounds. This goal is one that is physically possible.To make this goal achievable, you have to identify ways you can work on this skill. Do you currently possess the skill set needed to accomplish this goal? If not, how can you attain them?
Accomplishing this could be a simple as working on your response time. How quickly after the ball hits the basket do you react? How can you work on that lag time? Is it something you can work on independently outside of the training environment? Do you need to solicit the help of your coach and run through some agility type drills?
Working through the answers to these questions will help you determine if your goal is indeed attainable.
Step 4: Realistic
Assess How Realistic Your Goal Is
In Doran's original paper this step is defined as relevant. However, in the context of setting sports goals, I feel that any goal will be relevant. I mean would you set a goal to eat more ice-cream? Probably not. So for the sake of keeping our acronym relevant, we will rename R- Realistic.
Realistic is different from achievable because something could physically achievable but not a realistic goal for you.
When I was in high school, I took a liking to the hurdles. False. I was a sprinter then I gained about 10 pounds the summer leading into my sophomore, and my coach decided we should switch events. He argued me that I would rather be a great hurdler than an average sprinter, I agreed and we made the switch.
So here I am the newly established hurdler and I decide I want to be the best. I think surely I can be the best. So I set this non-specific goal of being the best long and short hurdler in the state. I take it a step further, in hopes of actually becoming the best hurdler and set my intention on a step pattern. I decide that to be the best hurdler in the state I need to take 13 steps in between each hurdle.
Where this goal faulted was at this very stage, realistic. Obtaining a 13 step pattern in between each hurdle was not only unrealistic, but it was also utterly impossible. Especially for a 14-year-old female. In the 2016 Olympic 400 meter hurdle Final there were men that didn’t accomplish this step pattern. The truth is, my goal was pretty unrealistic even for an Olympic hurdler.
Making sure your goal is realistic requires some research. Find out if what you have identified as a goal is achievable physically.
Step 5: Time-Bound
Establish a proper timeline.
Often a goal starts with the end in mind.
For all my young female athletes reading, I am sure some of you have thought about your wedding day. What you will wear, who will be your maid of honor, the colors, flower arrangements, and maybe even the song for your first dance? If you haven’t, I’m sure you are there now in your mind. How old are you as you dance your first dance with your husband? 25? 30?
The fact that you have planned your big day is normal. Also quite normal is the fact that you have identified at what age you want this to happen.
Here is were I detour.
Assigning time to specific goals, like marriage, is for lack of a better word, foolish. Marriage is sacred and should be entered into with intention, tenderness, and respect. It shouldn’t be met with a sense of urgency because your, or your parents', biological clock is ticking.
When setting your athlete goals recognize that establishing a timeline by which you want to accomplish said goal could be helpful but could also be a detriment. Understanding that putting the cart before the horse may cause you to lose the horse. Translation, pay attention to what you can do with the present and leave the future to the future.
Just like with marriage, when the timing is right, it will be right.
Instead of scheduling a time to accomplish a goal, plan the objectives that you identified in Step 3: Achievable.
Setting smaller objectives will allow you to stay focused on your goal while not getting too attached to the end result. Allow patience to be your guide not urgency.
Bringing It All Home
Cooking is one of my favorite pastimes. I love everything about it. Meal Selection. Meal Preparation. Finding the right flavor profile. Balancing the food groups. Plating. Serving. The whole enchilada, pun intended.
I would venture to say that I am an excellent cook. With the same honestly, I can say I am an awful baker. I try, hard, but it just doesn’t seem to work out. In writing this post, I’ve had an ah-ha moment of sorts regarding my lackluster baking adventures and have come to the following realization; I am not a good baker because I do not like the restriction involved in baking.
Different from cooking, baking requires precision. Baking the perfect cake calls for room temperature butter, eggs, and milk. Mixing the wet ingredients separate from the dry ingredients. Sifting. Pre-heating the oven to ensure the cake cooks evenly. Precisely mixing, being ever so careful not to over-mix. Ahh yes and do not stray from the recipe. Oh and the last thing, make sure you cook it for 30–40 minutes.
That's a lot to get right, isn't it?
I often blow the whole recipe at step one, securing the right ingredients.
Like baking, setting proper goals is a bit complex. It requires careful attention to detail, thoughtful decision making, and patience. If you get too ahead of yourself, it could be a recipe for disaster. Pun intended.
While I am not a fan of goal setting, there is an efficient way to do so. The S.M.A.R.T way.
Step 1 - Set a specific goal
Step 2 - Identify your goal’s measurability
Step 3 - Ask yourself, is my goal attainable?
Step 4 - Assess how realistic your goal is
Step 5 - Establish a proper timeline
After that, the only thing left to do is get moving.
So go, go chase your goal.