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How to Set Goals for Track & Field

When you judge your success in athletic endeavors, you look to achievement. For some, achievement means winning. For others it is living a healthy life. For other still, achievement is a specific mark in an event. In order to for achievement to translate into success, you need a set of standards. That’s where goals come in.

A goal is a standard of achievement you set out before undertaking your endeavor of choice. A good goal will help you achieve more by directing your efforts and providing motivation.

Setting goals is a skill. As you practice setting goals and attempting to achieve them, you’ll refine your goal-setting processes. This guide will jump-start your ability to set effective and functional goals.

Create Achievable Goals

There are many types of good, useful goals, but they all share a similar trait: A good goal must be achievable.

Very few athletes set goals that are too easy to achieve. Instead, many set goals that they have little to no hope of achieving. Or, they set so many goals that none will likely be accomplished. If you set a goal you can’t hope to achieve, it will do little more than frustrate you.

Use the experience of your coach or a knowledgeable friend to help you set an appropriate goal. If you do get too ambitious — and most highly motivated athletes will at some point — try to learn from the experience.

General Goals

General goals are not event-specific. They include goals like:

  • Making friends
  • Living a healthy life
  • Building self-confidence
  • Becoming more competitive
  • Finding out what you are capable of

While such goals are not event-specific — or even necessarily sport-specific — they still have an important effect on your event. A general goal is likely to be very important to you, as they tend to be far-reaching and supported by other aspects of your life. If competing well in your event contributes to your general goals, it will reinforce success in your event.

Further, because they are more general, these goals are more likely to be shared with those around you. Goal sharing serves to reinforce the objective by:

  • Motivating you to work harder
  • Making it feel better to achieve your goal
  • Allowing you to prepare for your goal with others

General goals might seem simple, but their value can’t be overstated.

Specific Goals

Specific goals are most commonly discussed. They tend to be smaller in scope, and because of this, more readily achievable. Setting a ****PR**** in the 400-meter dash — an example of a specific goal — is achievable in one day; living a healthy lifestyle is ongoing.

There are two types of specific goals: Outcome goals and performance goals. These are explained in detail below.

Write Your Goals Down

It’s a well-proven fact that written goals are more likely to be accomplished than unwritten ones. Once you’ve decided on a goal, write it down. Including the following information can be beneficial: How your success will be measured (often this is explicit in the goal), when you want to achieve your goal, and with whom you will share your goal.

Outcome Goals

An outcome goal is tied to a result — a specific mark or competitive placing. Examples of outcome goals include:

  • Qualifying for an event
  • Winning an event
  • Setting a PR in an event

Outcome goals are those which can most commonly be overly-ambitious. Be careful to gauge your outcome goals appropriately.

Performance Goals

Performance goals — sometimes called process goals — are based on the method of achievement used. Examples of performance goals include:

  • Employing a particular tactic or strategy successfully
  • Maintaining proper form throughout the duration of your event
  • Staying positive
  • Staying low when coming out of the starting blocks

Performance goals can be thought of stepping stones to an outcome goal, since they often break an outcome goal down into simpler, more easily achievable goals.

Performance goals are often very effective, but athletes sometimes run into trouble with piling on too many at once. An easily achievable performance goal can become daunting when compounded with many other performance goals, all to be achieved in a single race. Keep it simple by choosing one or two performance goals that will be most effective. Once the skills associated with these goals become second nature, you’ll be able to proceed to new goals.

Team Goals

Achieving a team goal — such as winning a conference meet — requires the work of more than one athlete. Team goals and athlete goals are mutually beneficial. A well-set team goal reinforces individual goals, just as a good individual goal helps strengthen the team goal.

Accountability

A degree of accountability can be a good thing in goal-setting, especially if additional motivation to prepare is what you need. It’s easy to make yourself accountable for your goals — just share them with your coach, teammates, or friends. Writing your goals down also helps make you more accountable.

Timeline

The most effective goals have an inherent time frame. “I want to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials” is a better goal than “I want to qualify for the Olympic Trials”.

These timeframes range in scope from goals for a segment of a single practice all the way to those that span an entire career. Goals with a variety of timeframes are beneficial. Short-term goals, however, should always be the foundation of any long-term goal. These should serve as stepping stones, guiding your daily, weekly, and seasonal preparation toward each long-term goal.

Linking Goals Together

Linking one goal with another serves to reinforce every link in the chain, and increase the effectiveness of each goal in it. Goals can be linked in the following ways:

  • From your long-term goals, all the way down to your goals for each day’s training
  • From your outcome goals to the performance goals that will help you get there
  • From your team goals to the individual goals that will make them possible

Every goal has a purpose, and linking goals together makes that purpose more explicit. It will also help guide your preparation and performance.

Don’t Stress

If your goals are making you feel stressed out, it is time to reevaluate. The purpose of a goal is to motivate you, expand your sense of accomplishment when you compete well, and generally help you compete at a higher level. If you’re too worried that you won’t achieve your goal to perform your best, your goals are failing you.

In such cases, athletes have typically encountered one of two errors:

  • Focusing too heavily on outcome goals, especially overly ambitious ones
  • Focusing on too many goals at the same time

Just remember: Goals are a tool to help you improve. Using goals should be a positive experience, and it will be as long as you don’t let them stress you out.

No matter your skill level, as a track & field athlete an effective goal can take you farther, higher, and faster — and leave you feel good about it.
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