The importance of setting goals

At a recent sport and fitness networking event, I met Alex Phillips, a sports performance coach. Alex was speaking at the event, telling the story of how she skippered in the 2000 Global Challenge round the world yacht race, becoming the first female skipper to win a stage in the event. She used the story of skippering a crew of complete strangers – most of whom had never sailed before – to talk about team work and goal setting.

I thought her talk was fascinating and wasted no time in introducing myself, telling her that – whilst I’m usually in the water rather than on top of it – she and I have a little bit in common when it comes to being very wet and very cold at sea.

I asked Alex to write a guest blog for you and she kindly agreed. Over to Alex on the topic of setting goals in sport:

Whether you compete at an elite level, or take part in sport for the fun or social aspect, there are many reasons why it is important to set ourselves goals:

– They give us purpose and direction
– They get us out of the door on those cold rainy evenings when we might have been tempted by a comfy sofa and the telly
– They give us the opportunity to celebrate success
– They keep us improving!

No matter what sport you do, or at what level you compete (against others or yourself), time spent on setting and reviewing goals is always productive, never wasted.

So how do we go about setting effective goals?

Setting effective goals requires time and thought. Often we do not give enough consideration to our goals. Indeed some people just keep them in their heads! At a basic level, the very act of writing a goal down is the first step from turning it from a dream into reality. There are many reasons why sometimes we do not achieve the goals we set – not least that we have not given enough consideration to whether the goal is right for us, and the people around us.

Types of goals

In the sporting world, there are three main types of goals which we can set:

Outcome goals: These are goals which focus on results alone – for example to win the next race, to qualify for the world championship, to be selected to play for our country. While these goals are great to have as they help to create a powerful vision for the future, the challenge is that outcome goals are usually outside our control. No matter how hard we train, there may well be another individual who will run faster or a team who will play better when it matters. The superior performance of another individual or team is usually the reason why we don’t achieve the outcome goals we set. As the most effective goals to set are those which are totally down to us, we also need:

Performance goals: These, as the name implies, are goals based on our own personal, or team performance. As such, they are usually completely within our control. An example of a performance goal for a golfer would be “to play off a handicap of 6”, or, for a runner, “to complete my next half-marathon in a time of 1 hour 42 minutes”. So long as these performance goals are set correctly, and training is carried out an appropriate level, then these goals will usually be achieved. These may, or may not lead to the achievement of the outcome goal!

Process goals: These are the day-to-day goals which we need to follow in order to achieve our performance goals, and are largely concerned with the technical aspects of performance. A process goal for a squash player could be “to watch the ball all the way on to the racquet”. For a golfer, a performance goal could be “to sink a putt from 5m 18 times out of 20”. These goals are incredibly useful for a number of reasons, as they help us work towards honing our skills and getting these right when it matters, and are usually set in conjunction with a technical skills coach.

If you would like any help setting goals for 2011 which are right for you, and keeping motivated throughout the year, then please get in touch.

Alex Phillips, director of Inside Edge, is a well-known motivational speaker and sports performance coach. As the skipper of the yacht Quadstone in the 2000 BT Global Challenge, known as “The World’s Toughest Yacht Race”, she developed a group of amateurs into a high-performing team and led them to victory against the odds. She has transferred the knowledge gained through working with amateur teams throughout her 17 years at sea into the sports performance coaching world and she now helps individuals and teams achieve their sporting goals.  

Thank you, Alex! Goal setting – and how to keep motivated when working towards them – is something I’m really interested in and I love thinking about how the things we learn through our sport can be transferred to other areas of life like business. Thanks for the guest post.

I’m the sort of person who always likes to have a goal, whether it’s one big goal which defines my season or year, or a series of goals (usually races/events) throughout the season. Barring that, I’ll set myself performance or process goals. I guess I’m just the type of person who works best under some sort of structure and system of accountability, even if it’s only to myself!

My goals at the moment could be broken down as:

Process goals: following my diet and nutrition daily, and sticking to my training plan..oh and trying to get enough sleep (I fail on this one!) Process goals are particularly important to me with this year’s challenge.

Performance goals: I don’t have these as such for this year’s “outcome goal”, but I know that if my lifts in the gym are getting heavier, or at least staying the same, I’m getting stronger, and I know if I stick to my process goals my physique will change in the required way.

Outcome goals: to step on stage in my bodybuilding comps in the best condition possible for me at that time!

Do you always have some sort of goal in sport? Why – or why not? What do goals mean to you?

The importance of setting goals is a post from The Fit Writer blog.


4 Responses to The importance of setting goals

  1. Juliet says:

    I really really enjoyed this post Nic! Thank you so much for sharing it! I really do believe that it is so easy to get that “lost” feeling without any goals. Part of me kind of wonders how I existed before getting all into fitness and whathaveyou, I had no goals! Obvi my short term goal is hitting the stage even more fiercely in 2.5 wks but my long term goal is to do it consistently year after year. We’ll see.

    I think performance based goals will be a great way to push myself through my off season without a contest looming over my head to drive me. Here’s a question:

    Have you started considering YOUR post contest goals?


    • thefitwriter says:

      I’m glad it came at a good time for you 🙂 I don’t have an answer to your (very good) question just now…too focused on my comps…but I will have. Maybe that’s an idea for a post actually…. 😉


  2. This is a great and timely post. It’s all too easy to get caught up in just making ‘short term’ and ‘long term’ goals without considering outcome, process and performance goals.


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