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Dreaming, or Goal Setting?

“Dreaming after all, is a form of planning” – Gloria Steinem

I’ve heard of many athletes talk about the big dreams they have, and want to accomplish; often they are at the pinnacle of sport itself. Dreams like the Tour de France, Olympic Games and World Records come up. Now let me first say; this is not at all bad, in my opinion; if someone can dream like that, it’s a privilege; because so many people just cannot dream big and reach for the stars. But here’s where the problem comes in, when you ask them how they are going to achieve them, the numbers required to achieve them, the plan of action, and the measurable goals along the way; they often stare in shock back at you; almost with the attitude of how dare you doubt me and my dreams.

The definition of goal setting is to identify something you’d like to achieve, this can be anything from a certain number, a title, a technique, etc. and then set out an action plan that includes time frames and any factors contributing to the success or failure of the goal, and then to start work on achieving it. Only when we do that, can we say we have a goal.

Do you see the difference in between dreaming and goal setting, a dream without specific goals and action plan; in is all intents and purposes a wish. It’s harsh to say that in a way, but realistically, it’s the truth. If I say I want to go to the Olympics, and all I do is state it, I am wishing. But if I say the same thing, but I also say I have a 4 year plan with intermediate goals along the way, a training plan covering all factors, the qualifying criteria with important targets I need to reach, a nutrition and supplementation plan, sponsors who support me, the knowledge of the equipment I’ll need, and there are many more to mention; then I can say I have a goal. I might not have a snowballs chance in hell, but I have a goal with a plan, and am one step ahead of anyone else with a wish and a magic wand.

Do you see that goal setting is the foundation of performance, and if someone does achieve anything without a goal, it’s probably because of luck and chance.

Kristina Vogel by Rob Carr

Now that we can see how important goal setting is, let’s have a look at the different types of goals:

Goals should always be bound in a specific time frame, there are 3 types:

  • Short term goals are the realistic and often achievable goals; they can be daily tasks or routines, like showing up for training, sleeping 8 hours a night, etc.
  • Intermediate goals are measurable goals along the way to your long term goals, they are there to keep you on track to your long term goals, and should be a challenge to achieve.
  • Long term goals are your biggest dreams, and the culmination of all your intermediate goals. These goals can be somewhat unachievable at first, but the closer you get, the more realistic it becomes.

We also get specific achievement goals in these time frames, and there are also 3 types:

  • Process goals are specific to a technique or process within a sport; it could be a pedal stroke, standing start technique or the form in a squat. The point of process goals are to perfect the way you do certain actions in sport.
  • Performance goals are goals that are specific to an individual standard, i.e. the numbers. It can be the power you put out, the weights you lift or your time over a distance. These goals are there to measure your performance and to be able to compare it to your past performances to analyse your improvement. These are the most important, and they reflect your performance the most accurately (controllable factors), and external factors (uncontrollable) are taken out of the equation.
  • Outcome goals refer to the outcome of your performance, i.e. the result; it can be favourable or unfavourable regardless of the performance due to the nature of sport. These goals should simply be there to provide guidance and motivation. They are the traditional point of sport, but in terms of high performance athletes, they are only there for the for-mentioned reasons.

Which goal is best?

As mentioned, short and intermediate goals coupled with process and performance goals are the most important as they measure your performance and progress the most accurately, and can be analysed and compared according to controllable factors.

Long term and outcome goals, are simply there as “the dream”, and serve as motivation and guidance. They provide the framework for your intermediate and performance goals.

How to set them?

There are many ways to set goals, but a nice technique that includes all the factors one should take into account is the SMART technique, which is:

– Specific – goals are specific to numbers or a technique.

– Measurable – they should be able to be analysed and compared.

– Accountable – the athlete must be accountable for their actions.

– Responsible – the athlete must take responsibility for their actions.

– Time specific – the goals must be set in a time frame.

How high should goals be set?

This has always been a hot topic of discussion, should goals be set realistically, or should they be set unrealistically or even unachievable?

Personally, I like the technique of Viktor Frankl, who says that if you set a goal above a person’s potential, they will land on their potential, but if you set a goal at a person’s potential, they will fall short.

He explains this using the example of how an aeroplane flies, always above the bearing it’s aiming at, as the wind will push it back. Or when you put on the golf course, you put against the gradient to reach the hole.

I think long term goals should be set as high as possible, what happens when an athlete achieves them? They will have reached the pinnacle of their own mind and loose motivation and drive. Long term goals should always be stretched to the furthest the mind can conceive, sometimes almost scaring the athlete. Realism, albeit good not to be stupid, it’s the killer of dreams. By dreaming big, you can achieve more than you ever thought you could.

“The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are usually the ones who do” – Steve Jobs

What is the end result of goal setting? In my opinion, goals not there to be achieved, if you do, that’s great! If you don’t, it’s not the end of the world, and not even the point of it. It’s about the person you become, things you learn and experience, the memories you make, the legacy you leave, and the life you live, while on the journey striving for your goals. That’s what makes sport so beautiful, it has the power to steer the course of a person’s life from mediocrity to greatness, can make s diamond out of a piece of coal and can reveal the true character of the human being.

“A goal is not always meant to be achieved, it often serves simply as something to aim at” – Bruce Lee

Matthew de Freitas

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