I just received an e-mail from USSA the topic of which was "Time to Update Goals." A timely reminder for an important element of athletic success. Oh, the picture... This symbolizes that I'm home for a week with time to reflect on things such as goals.
Lou Holtz says, "You must have dreams and goals if you are ever going to achieve anything in this world." And Michael Jordan, a man of significant athletic achievement, says, "I'm a firm believer in goal setting. Step by step. I can't see any other way of accomplishing anything." The US Ski and Snowboard Association invests considerable time and energy in educating coaches through clinics and literature about the goals process and how to integrate it into everything we do. I'm a strong advocate, having used the process while a military leader as well.
There are two cartegories of goals, Outcome and Performance. When the layman considers the subject, Outcome goals come to mind, for example: I want to be a big league ball player; or, I want to win an Olympic Gold medal. Outcome goals serve a purpose and give general direction, but the meat and potatoes of the process is in the Performance goals. These are the baby steps, the many small skills, that contribute to success and have to be mastered to achieve the lofty outcome goals.
I've used goals on our ski team since it's beginning. We start the process with the J6s, although the goals may be as simple as, finish in the top ten at half of my races; or, be able to ski every slope on Schweitzer in powder. However, by the time an athlete is Scott's age, the goals may be 2-3 typed pages long. A funny story. Although Scott and I had played catch daily in the summers, and he went to a 3 day baseball camp here in town every June, he'd never played organized baseball. At age 11 I told him he had to give me one season, just so he wouldn't embarrasse himself at the company picnic as an adult. He had a great coach and the first day he came home exclaiming that he loved baseball. He sat at the kitchen table and said, "I need to set some goals." His outcome goals were to bat 4th, play shortstop and make all stars. He then broke down the performance goals that would lead him there. We practiced hard every day that summer and he achieved all of his goals. He applied the skills he'd learned as a ski racer to achieve in another completely different sport. I can not overstate the importance of goals.
I couldn't do my job as a coach without goal setting. How could I coach with no idea what my athlete was trying to accomplish? Goals give me a chance to understand my athlete, see the world through his or her eyes. They also give me a chance to render a reality check and ensure goals are practical. Perhaps at age 11 the Outcome goal should be to nail down a starting position on the home team and be selected for all stars. Let's save the big leagues for later. Goals should be clear, measurable, challenging and attainable. Goals that are off-the-charts difficult are counter productive and discourage, rather than focus and encourage, the athlete.
Once a good set of Outcome goals is agreed upon, we get to the heart of the issue. For each Outcome goal we identify the key ingrediants and break them into definable parts. We jointly assess where the athlete stands on these and what improvement is needed. Then we write each of these as a separate Performance goal. I like to categorize goals as Technical/Tactical, Mental, Physical and Equipment. The Technical/Tactical category is further divided into Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom and Slalom.
I like to formally review goals three times per season, as follows: After Christmas break, which is the end of the intensive fall training and initial competition period. Early March, which is between the heart of the season and what I call the "Championship grind" of 15-20 races. And at the end of the season so we don't forget what has been acheived and what's left on the plate for next year.
We treat the goals as a living document. During the reviews we type comments in italics after each goal, noting progress or achievement. If the younger athletes achieve a goal there's normally a new one which can be added in it's place. I try to be careful not to start out with so many goals that they become oppressive.
Goals form a contract between the athlete, coach and parents. They are the roadmap to success. They are also a buffer when one falls short. Scott will not achieve half of his outcome goals this season -- its been a hard year for a variety of reasons. But he can look at his goals sheet and see the many places he has succeeded. WIth that knowledge he can start forming next year's plan.