Young athletes with big dreams of sport success are often quick to set large goals.
However, these goals sometimes fall well outside the bounds of being SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. This could lead to more frustration than progress, or even end up harming others.
Help your athletes avoid goal abandonment by being on the lookout for these four common pitfalls with your youth athletes.
Examples: Go undefeated; never allow a goal against; win by a margin of X every game
While everyone wants to win, having just ‘win’ as a goal can be somewhat misguided. There are too many variables in sports that put the result directly out of a single athlete’s control: the other players on the field or court, the coach’s strategy or tactics, and even the weather. When these things conspire against an athlete’s singularly-focused goal of ‘just win,’ it can lead to feelings of failure, even for an athlete who played a great game.
Instead, athletes should focus on smaller, measurable goals that the athlete has control over and that allow them to contribute to winning. A goal of ‘make 60% of my shots on the year’ is good, but deconstructing that to ‘Take 50 shots from all around the floor after every practice’ may be more productive for young athletes.
Examples: Make varsity so I will be popular in school; make my family proud; win league MVP
Like outcome-based goals, extrinsic goals are ones unrelated to controllable behaviors. Often, they are aimed at achieving some vague and immeasurable goal such as peer acceptance, popularity, or winning a subjective award.
These goals aren’t SMART, and research has shown extrinsic goals lead to negative actions and make athletes more “likely to ignore their needs and to engage in activities which work against their health and well-being” (Shmuck, Kasser, & Ryan 1999). If an athlete tries to set goals of this nature, try reorienting them toward the measurable steps that helped others achieve those awards and extrinsic goals.