Sports Training and Exercise:
Setting Goals in Sports

Setting goals is an integral part of any athlete's growth experience. Defined, goals are a specific standard of proficiency achieved in a specific area of performance within a specific time. Setting goals is a great way for an athlete to measure how much they have achieved and learned.

Basically, there are three types of goals:

Performance goals. Performance goals are directed toward achieving individual skills or behaviors. Instead of emphasizing the outcome, they emphasize the process by which a given outcome is achieved. Performance goals often make the most effective type of goals because they involve learning at the risk of making mistakes, they improve problem-solving, and they encourage the athlete to work harder. Performance goals are also more easily controlled by the athlete.

Examples of performance goals would include practicing with the tennis ball machine a certain number of days in order to improve your forehand volley, working out a set number of days per week in order to increase strength, or practicing imagery and visualization two times per week in order to up mental toughness.

Outcome goals. Outcome goals are directed toward the end result. These are the most commonly set type of goals by athletes and coaches. When all is said and done, you have little or no control over outcome goals. An outcome goal can be focused on achieving success, but can also be focused on avoiding failure. Athletes who make outcome goals sometimes want to do only well enough to succeed. They are often afraid to make errors, which hampers future learning and ultimately affects their ability to reach their greatest potential.

Examples of outcome goals are to win the championship, to play in the starting lineup, or to beat a specific opponent.

Do Your Best Goals. These goals are somewhat self-explanatory: the athlete tells herself that the goal is to try her hardest and do her best. The focus is not on the process or on the outcome. Instead, it is on "giving it your best shot."

Since this type of goal is not really measurable, it is arguable over whether it is really a type of goal at all. At the very most, it is an ineffective type of goal that lacks the specificity and detail of both process and outcome goals.

Examples of do your best goals would be "I'll try my hardest to be consistent," "I'll work hard at my defense," and "I'll give today's game my best shot."

While outcome goals are more common—maybe because they are easier to set and take less effort to follow through on—performance goals will most likely result in a more favorable outcome.

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