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 measure yourself against. Yet, what happens when the goals that you set in the pre-season suddenly change due to unforeseen and unpredictable circumstances? The answer is you’ll need to adjust your approach and reset your goals. The situation is akin to sailing: when a yacht is suddenly hit by a wind from a different direction, the skipper immediately adjusts the sails in order to keep moving and ultimately reach the desired destination.
What are sports goals, how are they set and how can you reset them?
The goal-setting process helps you understand where you are headed 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. Another way to look at is: you may have to travel on a different road to reach your end goal.
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 adapt the time frame if need be. Motivational notes and posters set around your home or work desk as friendly reminders can help you keep your 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. 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. Unforeseen interruptions may cause you to shift your goals and it is important to understand that is ok. Having a flexible mindset and approach will help you navigate through change so as to ultimately achieve your end goal.
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.