Wake up call: At a soccer game with freezing rain, not that the weather is important to the story, but I wanted to point out that it never rains or freezes in the gym “OK Owen (my son) go out there and go for it, you can do it.” He runs out to join the team to start the game, then stops and turns back; “Dad! What is it?”
That’s a good question. For years as athletes we are told to “go for it” or “do it”, as coaches we tell our gymnasts the same. But “it” is never defined. Is “it” a certain score, an improvement, a certain performance, increased effort, better focus, or luck? Is it a trophy or medal, a victory or a goal? I prefer to say it is a goal, but what is the goal? Every athlete should have their own goal, their own direction and definition of “victory”. At Gymfinity we define victory as improvement and realized potential,we never define ait as beating another team or another individual. We strive to only beat our previous performances and thus raise our own bar to a new height.
Maybe we should be more definitive when we shout our affirmations and encouragements to athletes. “Go for it, Owen” should become “I would like to see you try to pass the ball to your team mates more tonight.” That is something we can review following the game. Did you pass more tonight? If yes, great. If no, let’s work on passing skills.
We often get tied up in conveniently using meaningless language with our kids/athletes. It’s easier. We assume that they know what we are talking about. Guess what. They often don’t. That’s our job as the adults to define the goals until they are old enough or mature enough to do it themselves.
What is an effective goal. Our goals should be S*M*A*R*T*E*R.
S: Specific and written. Writing the goal commits you to the goal itself. Once it’s on paper it’s hard to deny or reform it. Specificity is needed for direction. I tell the gymnasts “if we don’t know where we are going, how will we know when we get there?” If we have a cloudy goal it will be difficult to know if there is success. A poor example would be “I want to get better.” A better written goal would be: I will have cartwheels with good form on the high beam. (this is very generic, our team goals are much more in-depth). Note that we use “I will” because it affirms the goal as achievable not just a hope.
M: Measurable. Again the attainment of the goal cannot be valid if we don’t have specific criteria for measuring its success or failure. For example: I want to have cartwheels with good form on the high beam and stick 4 out of 5. Now we know if we hit the numbers we are right on track. If we don’t, we re-evaluate and redirect the goal. We don’t ever consider a goal failed.
A: achievable and R: Realistic go hand in hand. If you set a goal that cannot be attained then it is no use to you. You will lose motivation if you know that ultimately you will never be able to cross this goal off the list. Realism is essential too. Our example goal would be different if we added the words “in the Olympics” at the end. For some the Olympics are real, but for the millions of athletes in sports across the world only about .0001 percent will ever see the Olympic games. So let’s keep it real. Every athlete has to put their own goal at their own level.
T: Based on time, give your goals a deadline. Most people will not work toward an open ended goal. Goals are measures of success or direction, like sign posts on a development journey. Every once in a while we need to check our direction and redirect if we find ourselves off course. At our gym we often set goals by a set date. I’ll ask: “What do you want to have accomplished by January 1st?” Then the Athlete fills in their direction. In our example let’s add a deadline. I will stick 4 out of 5 cartwheels with good form on the high beam by January 1st.
E: Extending. The goal should be a part of a larger set of goals that are leading toward an ultimate goal. In the example the gymnast is progressing toward being a better or higher level gymnast. The goal is part of a subset of goals for balance beam which is a subset of goals for overall improvement.
R: Rewarding. The goal should lead them to be motivated by its ultimate attainment. Athletes in general are often self motivated and goals should facilitate that. Competitions are designed to show the athlete where they stand in comparison to another athlete, team or to a prior performance. The game is a goal itself. Victory is the reward at the game and it is fulfilling, but in reference to a set goal the reward in more intrinsic and less tangible. It’s the coaches job to point out the success.
As I mentioned; goals cannot be failed. A goal that is so far away from success is not wrong it’s really telling us that maybe we are not focusing on the right thing. It gives us a chance to set a new course, a new goal and a new direction.
When we set good goals we can better define how to “go for it” since now we’ll know what “it is.”