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I gave two separate talks this week on goal setting. The first was to a team who is in the middle of a season, facing a losing record. The second was on a podcast, geared towards both current and former athletes.

Effective goal setting is equally crucial to all three of these groups; athletes, athletes in a losing season, and former athletes. Even so, goal setting effectively is not something we are consistently taught how to do in school, by our coaches, or even by our parents.

I was looking for some material in the environment where many of us first become acquainted with goal setting, when I came across a graphic that said “7 ways to be a good student”. The list was as follows:

1. Make sure you study!
2. Pay attention in class
3. Finish assignments on time
4. Listen to your teacher
5. Ask for help
6. RESPECT your classmates
7. Always try your best

Then, I simply Googled, “good student” and the first thing I saw was a circled “A” on a sheet of paper.

On one hand, we tell young kids that being a good student is all about showing up and being respectful, trying hard. But when it comes to validating their efforts, we draw a hardline that may have nothing to do with their efforts and assign them a letter grade that tells them if they were good enough. We teach young people that none of the effort matters if they don’t get the ‘good’ result.

I see this all the time with athletes–whose efforts almost always take them to a place of wondering if it’s all worth it or if they’re good enough. This usually happens around the time that the athlete hits their first major roadblock–it may be in highschool or as they begin college–but nonetheless, they reach a point where their competency and skill are pushed to new limits.

They finally lose the satisfaction of achievement and when they are no longer met with the praise of their external goals. Their focus shifts from the process to the one thing they no longer have; achievement of that goal.  And when we lose sight of the process, the goal getting journey becomes a pretty scary place.

The process, showing up for class, asking questions, studying, trying hard, is what should lead us to ‘success’ but if we choose to value the external achievement of the “A” as success, we lose the journey altogether.

Effective goal setting is all about being able to focus on the process, not the achievement itself.

Use the outcome to guide your process, but effective daily goal setting should be detailed, based on daily controllable behaviors, and should be measured for progress frequently.


Lauren Williams | High Performance Coach

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