To safeguard the health of everyone involved, many races and events across the country are either currently postponed or have been canceled.
So where does that leave you as a racer? All dressed up and nowhere to race? In this article, Dr. Andrew Lewis offers insights into why it is important for athletes to reset goals and he outlines how to do that.
Few would argue that goal setting is essential both in and out of sports. Goals give you direction, motivation, something to aim for and to measure yourself against. Yet, what happens when the sport goals that you set in the pre-season suddenly change due to unforeseen and unpredictable circumstances? You will need to re-adjust your goals when confronted by changing and unpredictable circumstances such as what the Covid-19 pandemic provided. Much like a sailing ship on the ocean that is suddenly hit by a wind from a different direction, the sailor has to adjust the sails in order to move forward and ultimately reach the destination.
So, what then are sports goals, how are they set, and how can we reset them?
The goal-setting process helps you understand where you are headed for in your sport: in short, it is a plan. It motivates you and gives you a purpose. Without goals, athletes can end up unsure of what to do and where they are going. When the race is on the line, riders who have goals can look to their plan to know what to do, while those without may hesitate. Also, riders who do not set goals often lack motivation and fail to build confidence. One of the keys to building confidence is the step-by-step setting of realistic goals. On the flip side, choosing goals that are too ambitious can have the opposite intended effect; and can also hurt one’s confidence.
Goals need to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and invariably linked to a Time frame. We refer to these as SMART goals. Given this, they should also be Evaluated and Reflected upon on a continual basis – making them ‘SMARTER’ goals. Furthermore, in setting solid goals we break them up into immediate, short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. These goals all feed into each other and the one complements the next. Somewhere in our goal-setting process, we might have to tweak or adjust these immediate, short-term and medium-term goals in order to reach our long-term goals. Therefore, these SMART goals need constant reflection, evaluation and even sometimes change so that they become SMARTER goals. So, in essence, we may have to travel on a different road or even take a bit more time in order to reach our end-goal destination. It may cause a host of emotions in us – frustration, anger, excitement, apprehension – but it is a part of being an athlete which we need to recognize and ultimately embrace.
So how can we go about tweaking or even changing our goals?
Simply recognizing that goals can change, is the first step. Goals are not set in stone but are fluid in nature. Learn to embrace this process. You should constantly evaluate and assess your sports goals, and, if need be change and adapt them according to fluctuating circumstances and situations.
A handwritten diary or journal tracking your goals and smaller daily achievements through your phone is a handy process of literally seeing your goals and, if need be, tweaking or even changing them due to life’s changing and unpredictable conditions.
Use your mobile phone to set daily reminders or countdown apps for when you want to achieve certain goals and adapting the time-frame if need be.
Motivational notes and posters set around your home or work desk as friendly reminders can help you keep our eye on your long-term goal. These notes can be adapted and changed on a regular basis.
Telling friends and family what you’re working towards so they can offer support if need be, is a way to reflect on your goals and even get input from people who know you and have your best interests at heart. An ‘objective’ person close to us often gives us honest feedback on our goals and if they would require a bit of realistic adapting and changing.
Visualization activities can help you ‘see’ your goals and create different scenarios in your mind’s eye in reaching them. I previously wrote a piece on visualization which can help you navigate this process (see 24 April 2020 article on this website).
Regular meetings with your coach and Sport Psychologist can help you evaluate and review your current goals and adjust them if need be.
In parting, our sport, like life, does not always follow a straight line to the destination. The Covid-19 crisis has allowed us to realize that our goals may or may not have altered, and even if they did, that is okay. This calls for a flexible mindset and approach so as to navigate changes that get thrown at us. Enjoy the journey and embrace the changing winds so as to safely arrive at your destination!
About Dr Andrew Lewis
Andrew Lewis is a Health Professions Council of South Africa (SA) and Health and Care Professions Council (UK) registered Educational Psychologist with rooms in Stellenbosch and Somerset West. With a post-graduate qualification in Sport Psychology, he works with individual athletes and teams who compete at all levels―national and international; and those who compete for pleasure. Andrew also collaborates with institutions and schools and publishes Sport Psychology and Educational Psychology-related articles in peer-reviewed academic journals, newspapers and popular magazines. He also presents Sport Psychology workshops to other health professionals and athletes; as well as scientific papers at international and national conferences. Andrew also has an extensive sporting background and understands the demands and pressures of competitive sport―himself competing in the Ironman triathlon. Andrew is currently a senior lecturer at the University of the Western Cape and was also a senior lecturer at Stellenbosch University and the University of South Africa for 19 years where he trained Educational Psychologists and teachers; lectured students and conducted research. He also taught at two primary schools for 5 years.