One of the things I love best about being a gymnastics coach is how our sport teaches so much beyond skills to children. One of my favorite by-products is having kids learn goal setting. When we talk about goals with our new optional level team kids we explain that goals are like sign posts: we set them and then head that direction. Even if we don’t attain them they got us moving the right way and at anytime we can course correct and choose a new path. Kids usually grasp the concept but the actual effective construction of goals is difficult for children. That is where they need our help. Here are my typical instructions:
During your season there will be times of frustration and defeat that will test you but need not stop you. In fact those times provide us with valuable opportunities to learn and advance. Working through and past those hard times is in fact the only thing that can actually move us forward. Persist. Hazy goals produce hazy results. Clearly define your goals: make each one a S*M*A*R*T goal.
Specific: be clear in what you want to have happen. Example: To Stick a backhandspring on beam.
Measurable: write a goal that can be measured. Rather than something un-measurable like “to do it better”, give it a number or clear definition of success or failure. Example: To Stick a backhandspring on beam 4 of 5 times.
Attainable: be realistic in your goal. Do not use qualifications that require a third person to complete. i.e. Relying on a judge to provide a specific score is more of a goal for the judge to fulfill, not you.
Realistic: Be sure to give yourself real qualities in the goal. Setting a big skill goal for tomorrow morning may be overly ambitious or it just may be unreal. The idea is to achieve goals that have meaning.
Timeline: give yourself a deadline. All goals must be achieved by a specific date. Example: To Stick 4 of 5 backhandsprings on beam by December 1st. Is a good goal.
There is also a good exercise that parents can do for kids, to help them understand their goals. We call it the 100 Point system and we got it from the Positive Coaching Alliance. First, have them come up with categories of goals. For gymnasts, the 4 events are natural categories, but I would add fun (“My goal is to come away from each meet feeling like I had the most fun I possibly could.”), experiences (I want to visit a new place every time I go to a meet this year), team work (My goals are to high 5 or hug every team-mate after every routine), etc. Allowing kids to come up with their own categories is good and gets them thinking about honing the category into specific goals.
Next have the kids write at least one goal for each category. Then they assign their points to goals. On a separate paper, the parent/coach can assign points to the child’s goals too. Then compare. It is interesting to see what they value high and low. Be aware that the comparison is only to facilitate discussion, their values should be theirs and not yours. Questions about winning, losing, friendship, priorities, can help a child facilitate and reinforce their point allocation or get them to evaluate what is truly important. Consider deeper discussions on character topics like winning or losing, you can ask, “How does it feel when you win?” and “How does it feel when you don’t?”.
Collecting points for goals: after each meet, or a period of time if out of season, the child can tally points for the goals they achieved. They can compare which meets/months, etc. were more successful and which were less successful. Then they can plan on how to win more points for the next meet/period. This can fulfill an athletes’s desire to be measured, get points, have valued performances, etc. and more importantly, it’s fun.
However, as a responsible parent, you should facilitate thoughts on the character goals and leave the performance goals to the athlete and their coach. Affect what you really want to affect; the long-term victories should be your focus. Do not forget to ask “What was the most fun part?” or “Did you meet new kids today? Who are they? Where are they from? Etc.” Doing that reminds your children that there is more to sports than just winning, losing and scores. It also helps them value mere participation and may get them to stay with a sport and continue trying their hardest even if their scores are less than desired. As long as our kids see some progress toward any goals they will have some feeling of success and view the whole experience as worthwhile and enjoyable.