Some thoughts about goal setting – Part 1

Sports Psychology, July 01, 2019

For most of us, winter is the off-season, a time to look back at the past race season and think about some summer goals. Long time club member, Tony O knows a thing or three about goal setting. Not only has he completed over 10 NZ Ironmans he also has a day job lecturing in the sport psychology area. In this three part series he outlines some different approaches to setting better goals.

Most people who have finished a triathlon or endurance race can already set goals. Part of getting better at these events is being able to set better goals. If you look at the management literature or basic sports psychology books they will write about SMART or SMARTER goals.

Specific (Eyes on a prize) -  is about knowing exactly what you are aiming for. Specific doesn't necessarily mean a particular number or detailed outcome; specific can also mean where, when, what and how. 
We might go from “I'm going to be faster this year” to “I’m going to beat my PB at the Mission Bay triathlon in April”.

Measurable (How do I know I am winning) - is not just about the stopwatch but really understanding what you have achieved or more importantly when you have achieved it. The characteristics of a good goal are that the person who has to complete them knows when they have achieved them without the help of others.
One example could be” I’m going to reduce my 400 m swimming time by three seconds” but an alternative might be “I will know that I am faster/smarter on the bike when I can stay with the bunch for the whole session”. On another day we might use how many 100’s can I do on 1:40.

Acceptable (My day, my race, my session) - is all about what you can do, the emphasis is on you therefore it has to be you that sets the goal. Set your own goals with the help of others, recognising your strengths and weaknesses. Try and avoid setting goals around times or places in order to impress others. In these situations we tend to overestimate our abilities. As far as is possible, try and set goals where the outcome is within your control; that is to say, avoid goals were you try to beat Stephen or chase specific times at Taupo. 
The key line here is “I want to” rather than “I ought to” or “based on last year I want to be able to do this”.  

Realistic (Ambition vs. Ability) - is like achievable in the sense that it is tied to your ability. This shouldn't keep you from setting the most outrageous goals and seeing how close you get to them. Modern high-performance literature talks about 'aspirational goals’ which are not necessarily set within the grasp of person or organisation.  Aspirational goals are just targets to aim for, the trick is to break those big goals down into smaller more reasonable parts.
“I'm going to race at the world age-group championships and my first step will be to make sure I turn up on time for all my swimming sessions”. Tied to your ability? One 60 plus runner I know sets the goal of running 10km the same speed or slightly faster than last year. I believe he is sitting at around 43mins at the moment.

Time phased - is also about having a target to aim for – “when am I going to get this done?” This might be tied to the events calendar. More importantly time phased goals tell you when to start when to stop and went to review.
“My base period this year will be to 12 weeks long I will start going strength training straight after…”  
“If I haven’t managed a 5hr ride by the end of January I need to re-structure my training week”

Exciting (Whatever turns you on) - exciting goals should be just that; what appeals to you, what has meaning to you and what is rewarding for you. For some, completing a race is enough. Me I always look for some new epic feat during Ironman training – Mosgeil to Middlemarch and back next year?

Reviewed (How am I doing?)- This doesn't have to mean that you have somebody looking over your shoulder checking whether you have achieved your goals. The most important part is that you are able to change goals according to your circumstances. One of the biggest failings of goal setting is when you have a large goal program and you miss or fail to achieve a small goal. Some people see this as failure when in fact all that is needed is for goals to be reset. The two things you try and avoid is either giving up or trying to make up ground you have already missed.


In Part 2 we review a different method for setting goals using Process, Peformance and Outcome goals.