Goal Setting for Young Athletes

Good goal setting skills are importantly for young athletes to learn. In this article

Good goal setting skills provide young athletes with motivation to keep training, and stronger focus for games.

From a young age, anywhere between 9 and 13, if an athlete can learn how to use goals and goal setting to their advantage, there are many benefits they can expect.

So what I’m going to do in this article is break down the different types of goals young athletes can set, the benefits of each kind, and then take you through a strategy young athletes can begin setting goals for themselves.

Different Types of Goals for Young Athletes

There are two main types of goals in sports: outcome goals and process goals. Outcome goals are focused more on results (think stats, making a certain team, or winning a tournament).

Process goals are focused on the steps it takes to get the outcome (think training every day, and sticking to routines).

For the most part, I encourage young athletes to focus more on process goals, since they are more in their control. However, outcome goals definitely have a place and can be helpful, if used correctly.

So, let’s take a little deeper look at each type of goal, and the ways it can benefit a young athlete’s game.

Outcome-Oriented Goals

Now, first and foremost, a young athlete does not want to be setting outcome-oriented goals for games. This is where they focus on scoring a certain amount of points, not wanting to strike out, or winning the match.

The reason being, those types of goals typically lead to sports performance anxiety and fear of failure. Because the young athlete is too worried about what’s going to happen.

However, on a more long-term scale, outcome-oriented goals can be very beneficial.

With outcome goals for young athletes, think about long-term goals that will happen at the end of this season, or even a year or two from now.

I’m working with a young swimmer right now who has the long-term goal of swimming in the Olympics. That’s a fantastic goal for her, because it pushes her to train hard everyday.

That’s really where we see the benefit of setting outcome-based goals on a long-term scale…they motivate the young athlete to train and work hard.

By setting a target for what they’re trying to achieve in their sport, it can provide them with the focus and determination they need on a daily basis to work hard.

Process Goals

Process goals come into play when you ask the young athlete, How do you reach your long-term goal?

The process includes all the steps required that lead to them reaching their outcome-based goal.

I like to compare process goals to the pieces of a puzzle. Think of a completed puzzle like the outcome that’s trying to be reached. In order to get that completed puzzle, you have to focus on putting every single piece in its correct spot.

In the same way, for the young athlete to get the outcome they want in their sport, they must focus on all the small pieces that will take them there.

With process goals, these can be broken down into weekly goals and also daily goals. The daily goals will be goals set for practices and games. We’ll talk more about this later on when I introduce the strategy for setting goals.

Now the reason process goals are so important is because of the focus they provide the young athlete.

Outcome-oriented goals, if set on a long-term scale, provide motivation to train and compete. But on a small, daily scale, the athlete’s focus needs to be completely centered on what they’re doing.

That’s what process goals help them do. They give them clear targets to focus on each day, no matter if it’s a training day or a competition day.

By keeping their attention in the present, the young athlete reduces many mental blocks that keep them from actually reaching the long-term goal they’ve set.

Goal Setting Technique for Young Athletes

Outcome-oriented goals and process goals both have their place. What the young athlete must do is make sure they are using each specific goal the correct way, to ensure it doesn’t result in more harm than good.

So, what I’m going to do is break down a goal setting strategy your young athlete can use to make the most of both long-term (outcome-oriented) and process goals.

Setting Outcome Goals

We know that when it comes to setting outcome-oriented goals, these are going to be on a larger scale. Meaning, they aren’t going to be achieved this week, next week, or likely even next month.

They are to be achieved at the end of the season or even a year or more from now.

With the example I gave earlier about the young swimmer, her long-term goal is set for years in the future.

So, first things first, let’s think long-term.

Here are a few questions you can have your young athlete ask themselves to help set their long-term goal/goals:

  • What do you want to achieve in your sport?
  • What would you like to have achieved by the end of next season?
  • If nothing holds you back, how far do you want to make it in your sport?
  • Imagine a year or two from now, what have you accomplished as an athlete?

Once they’ve answered those questions, have them narrow it down to one or two long-term goals. Since this is going to serve as motivation for training and working hard, you want them to get very specific about what they want to achieve.

It’s going to be easy for them to list off five or six things they’d like to accomplish, but what we’re after is one or two that are the most meaningful and important.

If they only set one outcome-based goal, that doesn’t mean it’ll be the only thing they accomplish. Of course they’re going to have many achievements along the way.

But the main idea behind setting a long-term, outcome-oriented goal, is to provide the young athlete with motivation. So when things get tough or they feel like quitting, they can remind themselves of their long-term goal and keep pushing.

Setting Process Goals

Once a young athlete has set a long-term goal based on the outcome, it’s time for them to turn their attention onto the process that will get them there.

Just like with the completed puzzle, it’s all the small pieces put together that give them the outcome they want.

These process goals are going to be on a weekly, but more importantly, a daily basis.

By focusing more on the process, they will also experience a reduction in many mental blocks that hold them back and take the fun out of the game. Such as, anxiety, fear of failure, and perfectionism.

Now, to get your young athlete to begin focusing more on the process, you want to first get them to understand what’s actually within their control.

Because that’s another thing, you don’t want them setting process goals that are out of their control.

For example, if you have a young softball player, she may have set the long-term goal of hitting .350 this season. So, she may then think a good process goal is to get a hit for today’s game.

Yeah, that’s a nice goal and something she’ll naturally want, but it’s not fully within her control, so we need her to get even simpler than that.

A great exercise to begin with is to have your young athlete list out everything that’s within their control in terms of their sport.

Here’s what an example list may look like for a basketball player:

  • My attitude
  • My preparation
  • Moving without the ball
  • Driving to the basket
  • Taking open shots
  • Playing hard defense
  • My focus
  • My mindset during the game
  • Responding well to mistakes

You see how each of those examples are part of the process of their game, but they’re also completely within the athlete’s control?

So, have your young athlete list out everything that’s in their control and part of the process.

The next step, once they identify what’s within their control, is to set process goals for the week and then daily process goals.

Think of weekly process goals like targets. These will be heavily focused on training. For example, they may set a process goal to practice three times this week, or to perform visualization every night.

The aim of process goals is to give the young athlete specific targets to work towards each week.

The second form of process goals are daily goals. These will be the goals they set for practices and games.

Now, with practice process goals, the young athlete wants to set these in terms of what they’re working on that day. This may include, fielding 50 ground balls, working on my three point shot, or focusing on kicking harder when swimming.

Practice process goals are focused on what the young athlete wants to improve.

Process goals for games, however, involve an objective the young athlete will focus on that gives them the best chance to succeed that game.

For instance, a swimmer may set the goal of swimming efficiently and strong. A baseball player may set the goal of letting the ball travel.

You see how both of those examples involve pieces of the process that will give them a good chance of playing well? That’s what we’re after with process goals for games.

Final Thoughts

By setting long-term goals, the young athlete gives themselves an outcome they’re working towards that serves as motivation. But after setting an outcome-oriented goal, they want to turn their attention onto the process.

Since it’s the process that will lead to the outcome they want.

Setting process goals on a weekly and daily basis helps the young athlete keep their focus off the outcome, reducing many mental blocks, and as a result, they will give more attention to what they’re doing.

Increasing their chances of reaching the outcome goal they’ve set for themselves.

Now, if you’re interested in further goal setting training, along with developing additional mental skills in your young athlete, then you need The Mentally Tough Kid.

In this course, I’ve taken the six key fundamentals that make up a strong mental game and turned them into six modules. Within each module are videos that dive into different tools and techniques your young athlete can use to strengthen their mental game.

From building confidence, to learning how to enjoy themselves more, this is the mental training course your young athlete needs to take their mindset and skills to the next level.

Click here to learn more about the The Mentally Tough Kid.

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Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

Mental Training Courses

Learn more about our two main mental training courses for athletes: Mental Training Advantage and The Mentally Tough Kid.

The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

In Mental Training Advantage, you will learn tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage expectations & pressure, increase motivation, and build mental toughness. It’s time to take control of your mindset and unlock your full athletic potential!

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