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“Only when someone is able to play without worrying about the results can he or she play without inhibition”
-Rob Bell, Mental Toughness Training for Golf
A lot has been written about the values of setting training and competing goals. Many years ago two researchers in industry, Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, wrote a book entitled Goal Setting (A Motivational Technique that Works). They wrote that setting good goals is a skill that can be acquired and strengthened. This is important because goals run the risk of being meaningless, conflicting, unrealistic, or not challenging enough. Two other really important points to remember are that setting goals that are too easy is not often helpful with improving and setting goals that are too hard can discourage the goal-setter. The skill of setting goals also means knowing to set goals that are personally challenging but realistic.
Three Important Points with Setting Goals: Challenging, Specific, and Controllable
Overall, research suggests in addition to be challenging, goals should also be specific. Goals that are more specific are associated with a better performance as compared with vague or unclear goals, such as “do your best”. Goals need to be specific and measurable to help enhance performance. Many athletes rely on the SMART template to set goals. This comes from a business or management perspective. SMART is a mnemonic guide for:
S = Specific
A = Attainable (but challenging!)
There is also the SMARTER mnemonic with
E = Exciting
But the SMART model needs a “C” both for challenging and controllable. Make sure the goals you set are “controllable” by you and not someone else. This sounds easy but think about it: A really popular goal in sports is to win. But setting a goal of “winning” can be a goal that is not controllable in some ways. The idea is to set a goal you personally can manage. When you do this, the winning can take care of itself. Below are good examples of practice goals for various sports:
I will pump my arms high on the final three timed 200 meters.
I will do three sets of 10 putting drills, changing my grip for each set from lose to moderate to tight.
I will keep my eye steady on the back of the golf ball for and keep my head down 2 seconds after contact.
I will use a mantra or word to help me refocus when my attention wanders.
I will increase my free weight sets by 10 pounds on the last two sets.
All these are in the “controllable” column and help you with your performance.
The key ingredients for setting goals are in the SMART mnemonic but in certain situations it might be more appropriate to have SMART C as the guide and include the ideas of challenge and controllable.