SMART & SMARTER Goals and their importance to your training

Athletes can often start a competition season, or when returning from an injury be unsure of what they want to achieve. Locke (1968) in his paper ‘Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives’ looked at the relationship between conscious goals and achievement, finding more goals lead to more achievement and motivation to attain. His work has evolved over the years, including ‘Motivation through conscious goal setting’, Locke (1998) and is still used as the founding basis for goal setting, with consequential benefits of motivation and enhanced skills.

In this Beagle Bite I will take a closer look at how to set constructive and meaningful goals which can give an aim to your sport and a roadmap to your destination.

Goals can be used as tools to help deal with competition nerves and reducing some disappointments. While a main goal might remain out of reach, some physical, technical or lifestyle skills could still be achieved providing positive reinforcement you are still achieving.

A common acronym used within sports psychology is for a goal to be SMART or SMARTER. 

S – Specific to what you want to accomplish. The more specific and focused the goal the greater the emotional response and want in your training to improve towards it.

M – Measurable. ‘Do your best’ goals are not effective as they do not offer a defined aim. Setting an objective benchmark to strive for, an example being a time, distance or activity…. E.g. Have breakfast 120mins before every Sunday training session’.

A – Accepted. While it is important to discuss and set goals in collaboration with your coaches, the athlete needs to accept ownership of the goal and feel it is achievable.

R – Realistic. Setting goals that are too easy, fails to boost motivation as not much effort will be required. In contrast, setting them too hard will not provide an incentive to work harder as they feel out of reach and unobtainable. They need to be both realistic and challenging, also realistic in terms of being able to achieve them by working really hard.

T – Time-limited/ Time-framed. Giving a date for a deadline will provide motivation to put in the time and energy to attain the goal by the target date. This might be linked to attaining a qualifying standard by a set date, or as part of a phased journey to a larger goal.  

E – Exciting. To drive motivation, you need to feel enthusiastic and inspired by the goal. This can help you overcome setbacks, disappointments, fatigue, pain – and dare I say it sometimes the tedium of repetition in training. 

R – Recorded. Write it down, let family, friends and your coaches know what your goals are. It makes you accountable and committed towards it. The physical act of writing goals appears to imprint them more deeply in your psyche. Family might even offer you an incentive or reward to achieve your goal.

Adapted from Taylor J (2017)

Note, there are other models using slightly different terms such as Aggressive, Achievable, Evaluated and Revisited or Revised.

Goals should always be positive in nature, rather than negative. For example, ‘reduce the number of times I foul the Javelin release line in a competition’. Instead, focus on the positive to drive motivation; E.g., ‘in all competitions June to August consistently release the Javelin before the line’. 

So, returning to a loose goal of ‘get a PB’ and refining it now to a SMARTER goal:

One of the junior sprinters (current 200m PB of 29 sec), might record:

“Achieve a 200m PB of 28.4sec, or faster, by July 2023.”

This would be termed a performance-based goal. Which normally looks at position, time, distance or a ranking position.

It is beneficial to have more than one goal. In addition to performance-based goals, you can consider training or preparation goals which might set physical, technical or mental preparation aims. Lifestyle goals can include for example; sleep pattern, eating habits and study or work habits. A simple goal of: ‘plan out my weekly homework times and days each Monday; consider upcoming training and competitions during term time for 2022/23’, might enable an athlete to better focus in a training session or a heavy competition weekend, as opposed to having school pressures as a distraction.   

Goals can be short-term (STG), which are normally aimed within the current season period, or macrocycle or mesocycle of training (see Beagle Bites on training with periodisation), or long-term goals (LTG). Elite athletes frequently set goals with deadlines between 4 to 8 years often with a major championship as part of the goal. These long-term goals will help guide lots of short-term and possibly some mid-term goals, steer macro, meso and micro cycles of their training but – focus the mind on the steps needed to attain the end goal.

Bringing it back to a club level, if you are unsure of suitable performance goals for your age and event, then a good starting point would be the new England Athletics PB Awards scheme.

This award framework is primarily aimed at club to county level athletes. It is graded from level 1 to level 9 and provides a benchmark to aim for. Working beyond level 9 will generally indicate a national to international level athlete who will be motivated more by setting their own performance-based goals. These might include championship placings or titles, county, regional or national selections and championship or national records including age group records.  

Goal setting goes way beyond sport and can be applied in education and work, and provides a great life skill for motivation and improvement.

As always, we would encourage you to discuss goal setting with your Beagles Coach, so they can help you focus and attain what you want from your athletics. We see each athlete as an individual and we will work collaboratively towards their realistic goals.

Sources and references:

  1. Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives, Locke E A (1968), Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, Volume 3, Issue 2, May 1968, Pages 157-189
  2. Motivation through conscious goal setting, Locke E A (1996), Applied and Preventive Psychology Volume 5, Issue 2, Spring 1996, Pages 117-124
  3. New directions in Goal-Setting Theory, Lock E A; Latham G P (2006). Association for Psychological Science. Vol 15, No5, p265-268.
  4. Principle of Effective Goal Setting, Monsma E V, Association for Applied Sports psychology.
  5. Make your sports goal setting S.M.A.R.T.E.R, Taylor J (2017), Psychology Today.