Tips for Helping Young Athletes Set Better Goals

By Coach Jeremy Hoy, MS, CSCS, SCCC, PES, TPI1, RPR1


Every new athlete at my former fitness and performance training company, Finish First Sports Performance, was required to complete an introductory questionnaire, which included an exercise where he/she must list a few athletic and life goals.  The point of this activity was to get each athlete or client thinking about setting goals and beginning the accountability process.  I gave each person as much time as they needed to think about the goals they would write down, and offered questions that helped them think about what their goals really were.  


In order to set better goals, they would first need to clearly identify their ‘why’, they would need to find the root of their motivation and their commitment level.  I informed them that as they progressed, the workouts would get harder, and if their “why” was not strong enough, or they were not committed to their “why,” they would most likely throw in the towel before they ever achieved their goal(s).  I explained that I was not looking for athletes or clients that would throw in the towel, and neither was their coach, their peers, families, or any of their teammates.


As a successful and experienced strength and conditioning coach, I have studied goal setting and its relationship within the realm of sports psychology and performance.  I am fascinated with the potential power that the goal setting process holds and teaches.  Setting goals provides purpose, direction, and a way to measure progress for each athlete.  Goals provide benchmarks of progress that can help boost confidence, ensure a higher sense of achievement and self-worth, and further motivate the athlete towards future goals.  

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Unfortunately, many coaches don’t fully understand or don’t maximize benefits from the goal setting process; how to correctly set better goals, how to get athlete commitment, or how to motivate each athlete towards goal attainment.  


Additionally, as a parent, I also think that it is important that we help our children with the goal setting process as it will help them in other aspects of life.  I am a firm believer in setting personal goals and I have learned through trial and error how to better write goals and be accountable in my own journey.


To help set better goals, I would like to share some insight into the goal setting process, beginning with some of the benefits of goal setting.  I am going to use excerpts from the book “Sport Psychology for Coaches” by Damon Burton and Thomas D. Raedeke (Human Kinetics 2008) to help illustrate this process.  This book is a great read and a valuable resource for any coach, mentor or athletically involved parent.  


Benefits of Goal Setting (Page 53, Figure 4.1):

  1. Goals enhance focus and concentration.
  2. Goals boost self-confidence.
  3. Goals help prevent or manage stress.
  4. Goals help create a positive mental attitude.
  5. Goals increase intrinsic motivation to excel.
  6. Goals improve the quality of practices by making training more challenging.
  7. Goals enhance playing skill, techniques, and strategies.
  8. Goals improve overall performance.


Guidelines for Setting Effective Goals (Page 56, Figure 4.3):

  1. Emphasize process and performance goals as a higher priority than outcome goals.
  2. Set specific, measurable goals rather than general or “do-your-best” goals.
  3. Set moderately difficult goals that are challenging but realistic.
  4. Set positively—not negatively—focused goals.
  5. Set both long-term and short-term goals, with short-term goals serving as the building blocks for reaching long-term objectives.
  6. Set both individual and team goals, with individual goals becoming the role-specific steps used to attain team goals.
  7. Set both practice and competitive goals, with practice goals focusing on developing skills and competitive goals geared towards performing optimally.


Once you have an athlete or client creating and setting effective goals, it is important to get him or her to fully commit to achieving those goals.  Figure 4.8 on page 61 of the same book offers the following advice:


Ways to Increase Commitment to Achieving Goals:

  1. Make sure athletes set their own goals, not someone else’s.
  2. Allow your players to participate in setting their own goals.
  3. Encourage performers to write down their goals.
  4. Have players tell their goals to others or post their goals.
  5. Teach athlete to imagine attaining their goals.
  6. Provide players with incentives or rewards for achieving their goals.
  7. Ensure that performers receive social support from coaches, teammates, and parents.
  8. Help athletes earn a position on an elite team.
  9. Provide players with opportunities to win a major competition or championship.
  10. Help your athletes shape their goals.
  11. Ensure that players make their goals competitive, primarily with themselves.



Read over the lists above carefully and begin setting some realistic goals for yourself.  Determine what you’re going to do to help motivate yourself and commit yourself to achieving your new goals.  Is your “why” strong enough to get you through the potential obstacles, or will you throw in the towel.  You decide.  Begin now by setting better goals.


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