(Editor’s note: Report by Danny Desin, M.S., www.desinsportpsych.com. To listen to the latest audio version of Danny Desin's discussion about the mental side of sports, please click here. )
As human beings, especially athletes and those involved in sport, we are always driven toward the next accomplishment. Eyes are often on the future, sometimes in excitement and sometimes in worry. As simple as society has made goal-setting seem over the years, it’s really an effective and necessary process that we often execute the wrong way. Now that you’ve processed this change and developed your purpose statement, it’s now time to reframe your goals.
Basics of Goal-Setting
As many times as you’ve heard about goal-setting and how important it is, most of the athletes I’ve worked with in the past set goals the wrong way. There are three basic layers of athletic goals: outcome, performance, and process.
Outcome goals have quite a wide range included. It may be a game that you want to win, a certain place you’d like you or your team to finish by the end of the year, a personal accolade you’d like to accomplish or an aspirational goal like playing a college sport. These are all good things to have and they are the most likely for athletes to set, but the problem with having outcome goals by themselves is that they are not fully in your control.
Performance goals are focused on standards, and they often have to do with stats. Maybe you want to run a mile in a certain time or shoot a certain percentage from the free throw line.
The last layer, and most important, is process goals. These are the simple actions that the athlete needs to take in order to perform well. How do I run a faster mile? By doing X, Y, Z. How do I improve my free throw percentage? By doing X, Y, Z.
Seems simple enough, right? We take action in “the process” in order to reach standards of performance in order to make our desired outcomes more likely to occur. The problem is that athletes often fixate on that outcome without the turn-by-turn directions to get there. We wander aimlessly hoping to find what we’re looking for.
Learning to Reframe
I compare the current situation (coronavirus' cancellation and postponement of sports) to injury rehabilitation, often because there seem to be a lot of similarities. When an athlete sustains a major injury, their goal-setting procedure changes completely. The outcome goal usually becomes, “I want to get back and I want to perform at least at the same level as before.” So they set performance and process goals all related to their rehab, because they know that is the mechanism that will allow the best chance of return.
Maybe you are sitting at home with limited equipment and not much drive to do anything. Set some goals based on what you do have or what is in your control. Maybe it’s to read a certain amount of books, make a certain amount of shots in the driveway, or devote 30 minutes a day to studying your game. Your goals shouldn’t be created by someone else. You know what resources you have available and what you can accomplish, so you have to set the standards for yourself. What athletes are missing at this time is a feeling of accomplishment, and that’s exactly what goals provide. Maybe that feeling isn’t quite what it would be during the season, but at least it takes us out of the “what if” focus and into the present moment.
Hold Yourself Accountable
If you need someone to keep reminding you to take action, this exercise probably isn’t for you. The best athletes understand that this is their own pursuit of excellence. Even though they can ask for help from time to time, they have to hold themselves accountable. One essential piece of goal-setting is writing them down and surrounding yourself with them on a regular basis. It would be a good idea to write your goals in the same place that you put your purpose statement.
Athletes can take this simple task and make it their own. A “win-the-day” mentality will help us all be ready to compete.
About Danny Desin: Danny Desin has been around the Billings sports community all of his life — as a spectator, player, and coach. Desin received a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from MSU Billings and played college basketball for both Montana State University and MSU-Billings. Has has graduate level education at both Boise State University and California Southern University, where he finished a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a specialization in Sport Psychology. He is a member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC).