Goal Setting

A goal without a timeline is just a dream

What is goal setting?

Goal setting is a standard of performance or statistic you aim to achieve over time. It is a technique often used to enhance motivation, increase confidence and provide a visual tool for performers to monitor their progress. When you wake up in the morning and say to yourself ‘today I want to do this, this and this.’ You are goal setting. When you are in the gym and say to yourself ‘I am going to get 8 reps.’ You are goal setting. When you sit with yourself and write a 5 year plan, you are goal setting. Goal setting research is rife in sport and performance psychology and has offered multiple ways to effectively goal set. Two prominent methods of goal setting are outlined.

S.M.A.R.T Goals

SMART is an acronym used to set goals more productively. Think of each word of the acronym as a question to ask yourself when setting your goals. For example, ‘is my goal specific?’ Is my goal realistic?’ By asking these questions, you transform your goal from a general aim to a detailed objective.


Know exactly what it is you want to achieve, add numbers where you can and ask yourself ‘Who? What? Why? When?


How will you monitor your progress and know when you’ve reached your goal?


Ensure your goal is possible with the resources and accessibility you have


Ensure your goal is practical and not far-fetched. Consider obstacles you may come across and plan for them


Set a reasonable date you want to achieve your goal by

Normal Goal

I want to swim faster in my race than I did last time.


I want to surpass my race time in January by 1.5 seconds. This will show improvement and that I’m on the right track for the olympics

I can measure this by timing myself in practice and in the competition and compare it against my previous race

My goal is possible with the correct training nutrition and mental preparation.

My goal is realistic as is it is not too ambitious given my resources. If i get injured I may have to reconsider my goal and factor in rehabilitation time.

I want to achieve this goal in January, at my next race.

Process & Outcome Goals

Process and outcome goals are objectives that target the action (process) of a skill or performance and the result (outcome) of a skill or performance. It is common for people to think about the outcome of achieving their goal as opposed to the how they intend to achieve their goal.

Researchers suggest goal setting should reflect learning development and should focus on a shift from the process to the outcome. This means that performers should focus on skill execution or action and then the result.

For example, a football player should concentrate on the technique and skill behind adequately curling a football on target and over the defensive wall. This focus on the process enables the athlete to adapt their skill to changing environments over time and eventually be able to perform the skill without thought.

Once the athlete has become proficient in this skill, it is then appropriate to shift their goal toward the outcome of this skill. For example, successfully scoring the free kick in the top right hand corner, 5 times in a row. By paying attention to the outcome instead of mastering the task or process necessary to attain the goal, you may hinder your performance (see attentional focus).

Goal setting is not confined to performance. You can set goals around physical rehabilitation if you sustain injury, lifestyle management goals and organisation.

Skill Matching

Practicing goal setting can help to enhance the following skills:

  • Motivation
  • Confidence

References, Resources and Reading

Hulleman, C. S., Schrager, S. M., Bodmann, S. M., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2010). A meta-analytic review of achievement goal measures: Different labels for the same constructs or different constructs with similar labels?. Psychological bulletin136(3), 422.

Lochbaum, M., & Gottardy, J. (2015). A meta-analytic review of the approach-avoidance achievement goals and performance relationships in the sport psychology literature. Journal of Sport and Health Science4(2), 164-173.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1985). The application of goal setting to sports. Journal of sport psychology7(3), 205-222.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting & task performance. Prentice-Hall, Inc.

 Wikman, J. M., Stelter, R., Melzer, M., Hauge, M. L., & Elbe, A. M. (2014). Effects of goal setting on fear of failure in young elite athletes. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology12(3), 185-205.

Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (1997). Developmental phases in self-regulation: Shifting from process goals to outcome goals. Journal of educational psychology89(1), 29.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview. Theory into practice41(2), 64-70.