The Importance of Effective Goal-Setting

‘A goal without a plan is just a wish’ Antoine de Saint-Exuperys

Goal-Setting is one of the most useful skills that are taught in mental training. Goals provide performers with a purpose, direction, and a standard for measuring their progress. Success, growth, and peak performance is determined by how well an athlete or performer has learned how to set goals effectively.

Goal-Setting allows us to plan out what we want to achieve and how we are going to do it. It is a pretty simple idea, however, many athletes have trouble achieving the outcomes they want. Why? Well because goal-setting is a proactive skill that take a little time to do and many athletes have not been taught how to set effective goals and maintain them. Some of the many benefits of goal-setting are:

Enhance focus & concentration

Boost self-confidence

Prevent & manage stress

Create positive mental attitude

Increase intrinsic motivation

Improve quality of practice

Improve overall performance

Although every athlete is different and will have their own dreams to fulfil, there are some basic goal-setting terms and principles that need to be established.

1) Goal-Setting Defined: the practice of establishing desirable objectives for one’s actions

2) There are 3 Main Types of Goals: OPP

  • Outcome – focus on social comparison & competitive results (e.g., winning a game, tournament, and championship)
  • Performance – focus on improving & attaining personal performance standards, which will increase the probability achieving outcome goals (e.g., # of first serves in per match, reducing unforced errors per match)
  • Process – focus on specific behaviours that one must do to achieve performance goals (e.g., train 3+ times per week, run 5kms on non-training days, get 8 hours of sleep a night, drink 2L of water per day)

It is important to mention here that athletes should maintain their attention on Performance & Process Goals as these goals are usually within the athletes own control. While outcome goals are usually dependent on external factors, which are not in the athlete’s control (e.g., opponents play, weather conditions, and official’s calls). In addition, it is important to accept that outcome goals are never guaranteed, and by focusing our attention to more controllable things (i.e., performance and process goals), we put ourselves in a better position to reach the outcome destination.

The Goal-Setting Framework – Setting SMART Goals

Every goal that we set (especially the Performance and Process Goals) should follow the SMART principle:

  • S – Specific – What exactly will you accomplish?
  • M – Measurable – How will you know when you have reached this goal?
  • A – Adjustable – If you achieve this goal faster/slower than you had originally planned, can you make it harder/easier as necessary?
  • R – Realistic – Is achieving this goal realistic with effort and commitment?, Do you have the resources to achieve this goal?, If not, how will you get them?
  • T – Time Based – When will this goal be achieved?, How many times a week and for how long will you complete your exercises?


Hypothetical Example with SMART & OPP

Add 50-55lbs to my Squat in the next 3 weeks by getting proper sleep, nutrition, and adding 5-10lbs to my Squat on each leg day


  • Specific – Yes, 50-55lbs to Squat by adding weight on each leg day
  • Measurable – Yes, with the amount of weight
  • Adjustable – Yes, with the time frame given and range of weight
  • Realistic – Yes, I have access to a Gym near my house or at school
  • Time-Based – Yes, 3 weeks, and will increase weight each leg day, while getting proper sleep, nutrition, rest, and recovery


  • Outcome (desired outcome) – get stronger by adding more weight to Squat
  • Performance (attaining performance standard) – adding 5-10lbs on each leg day
  • Process (specific daily behaviours to achieve performance) – nutrition, sleep, not missing a workout, and making sure attitude is in the right place.

Long Term & Short Term Goals:

You can set both Short Term (e.g., 1 month, 2-6 months) or Long Term (e.g., 1 year or more). Just be sure that both Short and Long Term Goals work together. Perhaps a Long Term goal will have to broke up in to a series of Short Term Goals. Whatever the time-line is be sure to use the SMART Process and outline your Performance & Process Goals

Goal-Setting Mistakes:
Athletes sometimes do things that sabotage their goal setting plans. The good news is that these mistakes are avoidable. Here are some common goal-setting mistakes:

  1. Setting too many goals at once
  2.  Underestimating the time it takes to set goals, and not reviewing goals on a regular basis
  3.  Not following up to evaluate goals – By not following up and evaluating goals, the effort to set goals is a waste of time and effort.

Learning to set effective process and performance goals, as opposed to mainly outcome goals, allows performers to have more control in their goal setting effort and participation. Goal setting requires effort, discipline, and commitment. However, it can build confidence and concentration in performers of all levels if done systematically, following effective goal setting strategies.