Jan 7, 2021, 9:32:05 AM CST May 2, 2023, 11:12:19 AM CDT

Why is goal setting important for athletes?

Learn how performance goals can help motivate young athletes

Athlete setting goals Athlete setting goals

Athletes who excel on the court or on the field can make highlight-worthy plays look easy. But performing well at game time requires a lot of work behind the scenes.

From practice and conditioning to eating well, many factors can influence sports performance. Setting athletic goals can help motivate young athletes to put in the work required to find success in their sport.

"Athletes need to give some thought to what it is they're trying to accomplish," says Jacob Rivera, CSCS, USAW, a performance specialist with Children's Health℠ Andrews Institute Sports Performance powered by EXOS. "They need to establish a mission and vision that will influence everything else they do."

Athletes should focus on goals that are attainable yet still stretch their abilities. They should also focus on personally meaningful goals – ones that spark an emotional response within them, Rivera says. Perhaps it's to play Division 1 football or volleyball in college, to drop 2 seconds off their 200-meter dash time or to build strength. Whatever the goal may be, it should be something that the athlete feels truly passionate about.

Why is goal setting beneficial to young athletes?

Without identifiable goals, young athletes may feel tempted to quit when things get challenging. Lacking a goal that inspires their efforts, they can feel overwhelmed by the pressures of balancing practice and training with their schoolwork and other commitments.

But by approaching their athletic training with a clear goal in mind, young athletes are more likely to see the value of their hard work and sacrifices.

"If you have set a goal that is meaningful to you, it's easier to maintain the discipline and willpower to keep working hard to achieve it – even when you feel tired or stressed," Rivera explains.

Goal-setting strategies for young athletes

Once an athlete identifies their main performance goal, the next step is to break it down into smaller "micro-goals" to help keep progress on track.

If an athlete hopes to build lean muscle mass or improve their speed, for example, appropriate micro-goals could include:

  • Avoiding processed foods and eating more fruits and vegetables
  • Replacing sodas and sugary drinks with water
  • Adding 15-20 minutes of high intensity interval training
  • Utilize a speed program that includes sprints 2x/week minimum
  • Working with a Certified Strength and Conditioning coach to develop a weight-lifting plan
  • Getting adequate sleep, 8-10 hours daily (to allow their body to recover from workouts)
  • Allocating time for stress management (to avoid burnout)

For best results, athletes should work with their coaches or trainers to set appropriate micro-goals in four target areas: mindset, movement, nutrition and recovery.

Setting micro-goals helps athletes identify the specific, day-to-day behaviors they'll need to adopt to achieve their overall athletic goals.

Focus on behavior modification and daily evaluation

Setting a goal on paper without being ready or willing to modify behaviors, or put in hard work to achieve it, is a recipe for failure. "Goal setting is actually less important than modifying the behavior that leads to the goal," explains Rivera.

To stay on target, athletes should evaluate their progress toward their micro-goals daily, Rivera says.

By evaluating both positives and negatives along their goal paths each day, young athletes can feel empowered to focus on the present, rather than worrying about things that have already happened or that may happen down the road.

When focused on today, athletes can stay inspired to put in 100% on the practice field, push themselves just a little harder during sprints or stay after practice to shoot extra free throws.

"We have to understand that some days are not going to go as well as others, and that's okay," says Rivera. "But ultimately, if we're not looking at goal progress daily, it's easy to let things just slip away. To really move the needle toward success, you have to evaluate progress every day."

Goal setting is important for #athletes, but they should focus on goals that are attainable, while stretching their abilities. A specialist @Childrens shares what goals athletes should focus on to excel.

Learn more

The sports performance experts at Children's Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Performance can help young athletes perform their best while remaining healthy and safe. Learn more about our sports medicine and training programs.

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