Goal Setting

In two “Letter of Intent” posts (first and second) we urged 70’s Big readers to go out and compete. The fear of taking a risk is what holds most people back from taking the first step to compete, and that is usually the fear of “not being good enough”. One important aspect of committing to a competition is that the athlete has to focus their training into a specific event. They require a plan, and that plan must culminate into a specific event. Programming exercises, sets, reps, and conditioning may be a part of that plan, but in order to be effective, the athlete must accomplish something throughout their training as well as at the competition itself. The athlete must set, work towards, and achieve their goals.

Goals can’t just be set in a shoot-from-the-hip style — properly setting goals is important to its effectiveness. Instead of subjectively thinking “I want to lift well at the meet”,  the thought should be, “I want to at least complete four of five lifts and total 250 kg”. This makes the goal objective, tangible, and can help unlock an athlete‘s potential.

All goals are not created equal. Outcome goals are based on the result of a competitive event. Performance goals revolve around hitting objectives within competition — such as going four for six at the meet. Process goals are the actions within the athlete’s performance that they must execute properly in order to achieve the performance goals. In lifting this might be bouncing out of the bottom of the squat, or having a sharp dip/drive on a jerk. In football this might mean the defensive end must maintain outside containment on the quarterback in specific plays. Each athlete will have different kinds of goals based on a variety of factors, such as skill level, importance of the competition, physical/mental state, and experience level. 

While goals are important overall in life, specifically applying these principles to training for a competitive event is the focus here. Having goals can induce effective behavior change, maintain persistence in preparation of competition, mobilize the athlete’s efforts, and create an environment for the athlete to develop effective strategies. Most of all, it helps the athlete stay focused on the task at hand. However, these benefits are dependent on the goals being set properly.

A good rule of thumb is to create “SMART” goals. These are goals that meet the criteria of being Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Realistic and Timely. If the goal does not clearly state what it sets out to do, then it’s worthless. Do you want to “do well”, or do you want to break your personal record on the snatch? That specific goal needs to be measurable as well — if your PR is 120 kg, then 121 is the minimum if you are going to set a personal record. If your goal can’t be measured, then there is no sure fire way to know if you achieved it or not. Indicating a specific number means there is something that needs to get done. You have a task before you, and you will either succeed or fail. Making this goal realistic is important though. Has the lifter snatched more than 120kg in training? Or are they only successfully snatching 110kg? If the goal is unrealistic, then the lifter is only setting herself up for failure. Timely goals have a deadline. There shouldn’t be any leeway on accomplishing it because then there isn’t a sense of urgency to do so. If your goals meet each of these five criteria, then striving towards success will be easier.

Remember the different types of goals; outcome, performance, and process goals. Unless the athlete is an elite level competitor, performance goals will be the emphasis (trying to better a previous performance). In order to achieve performance goals, process goals will maintain priority — doing the little things correctly to execute the task at hand. For a new lifter, this might be listening to the judge’s commands and executing a single cue from their coach. If the process isn’t properly performed, then the lifter won’t be able to achieve their performance goals. This is where having a coach is a luxury in single competitor sports. The coach will dictate these details to the athlete so that the athlete it is not bothered by ancillary details and can remain focused.

If an athlete is new to goal setting, then a competition makes for a great opportunity to start. Set a performance based goal for the competition as well as a process goal for training (the SMART goal principles will help). Keep it simple in the beginning — an athlete shouldn’t be bogged down with superfluous amounts of goals early on. As the competition nears, an honest evaluation should take place to see if the goal(s) need any adjustment. Properly setting goals can help direct an athlete’s focus into successful training and competition efforts.

Gould and Weinberg (2007). Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology.Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

17 thoughts on “Goal Setting

  1. I had my first strong man comp on Saturday and finished 3rd place out of 5 heavy weights. Highlights were lifting a 102kg atlas stone, pulling 180kg ( best lift since back injury ) and doing a 230kg yoke walk for 18.90m

    Got a lot to work on, but already looking for my next comeptition

  2. Good advice, most people I run into have no clue as to what they actually want out of training or even how to achieve it. Clear, concise goals make everything easier for everyone. All the motivation in the world can’t make up for a lack of planning.

  3. Just FYI, Human Kinetics is in Champaign, not Champaing. Just sayin’ because I live there (and I have buddies who work for Human Kinetics and give me free training books all the time!).

    If I average 750 words in a post (a conservative estimate), that would be 3750 words a week. If I have one spelling error in a week, that is about .03% error. If I had done that every week (somewhere around 26 weeks) since my website has been up (which I haven’t), then that would be about 97, 500 words (again, a conservative estimate), and still maintain a .03% error rate. Even if I’ve had 100 errors in the 100,000 words I’ve typed, I think that’s pretty damn good. You know, Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times in 8,399 at bats. That means he struck out almost 16% of the time, and 24% of his batting outs were strikeouts.

    So get off my back, cuz.


  4. Nice read. And very true. We create goal lists leading up to competitions. For example, if the END goal is to medal at the Olympics, we work backwards to figure out what total we need, how that breaks down into snatch & cj numbers. Then we say, “Ok, my snatch is 94k now. It needs to be 105 by 2012. That’s 4.5k per year, blah, blah, blah…”

    I then have a concrete checklist to follow, and I know, if I hit my sub goals on time, then I am an the right track for the end goal. Baby steps.

  5. I’m almost blown away by your response Justin, it’s on par with some of the replies I give my wife when we have discussions and she attacks my limited use of the English language, heh.

    That said, I agree, having nothing to work for or a goal to work up to can really sap will and get people stuck in a rut.The mistake that most people will make is wanting too much too soon and setting unrealistic goals, which they may or may not achieve, thus becoming demotivated or giving up through sheer frustration.

    I’ve learned to set reasonable goals, challenging but attainable, it really spread through life for me, it improved my mindset, my sense of achievement and my confidence in almost everything I do.

    Setting reasonable goals is the reason I stopped a 5 day split with 2 days for my bi’s and 3 days for my chest (not serious), started a strength based program and stuck with it.

  6. Goal-
    Set the RAW Virginia Total record for M1 @ 165# at the Virginia States competition in September. I want to hit the following lifts:

    Squat: 425#
    Bench: 225#
    Dead: 450#

    1,050# would be the record, but I want 1,100#, or better.

  7. 2 fridays ago, right after i woke up i decided that at that football game i want a sack and 3 tackles. i know that i shouldn’t set “stat” goals and because its a team sport, but if that is really true(with out team, at least), then why half of the guys don’t care to show up?

    anyway, my goal was a sack and 3 tackles. outcome: 3.5 sacks, 1 interception, 1 force fumble, 5 tackles, 2 solo.

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