When the season ended last year, did you take a few days to sit back and reflect? Did you take a pen to paper and thoughtfully write down what you wanted to accomplish for next season? Or, like many riders, did you just reel off a list of races that you wanted to win? While there’s nothing wrong with compiling an endless list of things that you want to accomplish, learning to refine your goals is a skill that’ll set you apart from your peers.
In Sports Psychology, goal setting is a defined skill set. Goals are delineated into three separate categories: Outcome, Performance, and Process Goals. And within each of these categories, the goals must each be specific, observable, and measurable. Finally, your goals need to have a timeline applied to them. Let’s explore how understanding these categories will help you achieve your goals this season.
Outcome Goals are the “big picture” goals. These are the ones that make our eyes light up when you talk about them — the ones that dreams are built on. And while they’re often thought of as being the goals that are placed at the top of the achievement of the sport — national or world championships for example — they need to be more appropriately thought of as the pinnacle achievement for an individual athlete. An older athlete may never make it to the Olympics, but they may win their age group in a world championship. Remember, just as you can’t control your competition, these goals aren’t within your complete control, either. However, these goals are meant to keep an athlete inspired.
Performance Goals are more specific goals. These are the stepping-stones that, if met one-by-one, are the path to the Outcome Goal. For example, these can be a cyclist’s meeting time standards along the way, or increasing their strength-to-weight ratio. In other words, these are subjective, and because they may be set without direct competition, they’re well within your control.
Process Goals are a little more elusive. They involve form, strategy, or other markers that ultimately relate to meeting Performance Goals. Examples for cyclists include pedaling with a “rounder” stroke, or looking forward, rather than down, while racing. They may also include daily steps like adding stretching or yoga into your routine.
Each goal that you set should be specific, observable, and measurable. Saying that you want to be the best cyclist in the world has a nice ring to it, but it really doesn’t mean anything. When announcers title a road sprinter the “fastest man in the world,” I quietly chuckle knowing that track sprinters are entire miles per hour faster. In other words, cycling has so many disciplines and nuances that the more specific you are, the more that you’ll be able to focus on your goal. These three qualities aren’t exclusive to the “big picture” goals, however. In fact, even your smaller Performance Goals need to have these characteristics.
So, how do you know how high to set your sights? A goal needs to be difficult enough to challenge, but not so difficult that you don’t stand a chance of achieving it. If they’re too easy, you’ll lose interest as you meet them. And on the contrary, if they’re too hard, you’ll find yourself constantly missing the mark. In no time, your goal might become your enemy.
Keep in mind that Process Goals need to be continually incorporated into your daily routine and training, and that Performance and Outcome Goals must be given a timeline. There’s almost nothing harder for a coach to see than an athlete chasing the same goals year-after-year without recognizing that they need to be revisited and altered. There’s nothing wrong with shifting goals, however, especially as you get older.
While I don’t advocate tattooing your palmares on your arm, I do believe in extensive list making. When you write your goals down, they have a magical way of taking on a life of their own. They aren’t just thoughts and dreams any longer. In fact, they’re quite real and tangible. I recommend putting your list where you’ll see it every day. Personally, I have them as the home screen on my phone and on the bulletin board in my kitchen. You can also take it one step further — share your goals with friends, families, and co-workers. Hell, post them to social media — you may be surprised as to how many people share similar goals. More importantly, though, these like-minded goal setters will be there to support you through the ups and downs of your season.
I invite you to share your goals below in the Comments — I’d love to hear them.