Head coach Tony Fagelman talks goal settings

Head coach Tony Fagelman talks goal settings

Date: Wednesday 20th May 2020 at Whittlesford

This is the 2nd part of the article on self-talk and goal-setting. In this part we look at Goal Setting. Most of you will be used to this element, we use it all the time in training, whether you're a recreational bouncer or a competitive one, we use goals around skill acquisition to set the relevant targets you're aiming for. At the simplest level, these could be achieving the next skill in your current proficiency award, or completing that award and gaining the badge/certificate. For competitors, the goals may have been set for the competition, complete 2 routines, achieve this score, qualify for the next round. For our squad gymnasts, the goals set are more complex and adhere to the commonly used SMART or SMARTER methodologies and include goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely, if we add the ER, they extend to include Evaluated and Reflect (sometimes Reward, but that doesn't fit with the mindfulness approach). These are aimed at extending simply achievement goals into goals that have more meaning, both physically and psychologically.

As with the previous mindfulness activities, it is extremely important to follow-up goals that have been set, evaluate them and then res-set them accordingly.

What do we mean by a 'Goal', well in this case it has been defined as 'attaining a specific standard of proficiency on a task, usually within a specified time limit'. (Locke et al 1981) From a practical perspective this might be; acquiring a new skill (a back somersault piked), it might be attaining level 9 proficiency award, it might be attaining the qualifying score at a Regional qualifying competition, or achieving a medal winning score at a national competition. The time element here might be, achieving them within a term or competitive season, or more long term, within a number of years (if a national or international medal was a suitable goal).

We can also differentiate between subjective goals, these might be, having fun, getting fit, trying as best as you can. To general objective goals, such as being able to compete at a competition or winning a competition, and specific objective goals, such as achieving above a defined and agreed judges mark or completing a new skill in a competitive routine. These can be further extended by including outcome goals, which represent standards of performance on the results of a competition, ie achieving qualification or taking a podium position and performance goals which focus on improvements relative to your previous performances, so they might be; last season I achieved an average score of 22 per routine this season I want to extend that to an average score of 23, or I successfully performed a difficulty tariff of 6.0 and this season I want to increase that to 6.5. Finally, we can include process goals, these are specific to very specific actions, so they might be ensuring every somersault executed is done with a lineout, or every routine completed will hold for 3 seconds before I present. What is important about the above differing types of goals is how you and your coach use these to assist your performance. Working with your coach you need to ascertain the goals for each of the above, adding in time frames, so short, medium and long-term goals that fit with the above goal types. When you have this, not only do you have a clear path to achieve, you will have an improved state of mind on reaching those goals.

Four reasons are given for using goal setting to enhance and improve performance

  1. Goals direct your attention and action to important aspects of the task. For example, setting a skill achievement goal will focus your attention on the different elements needed to acquire the skill, such as arm position on take-off from last contact, body shape in flight and landing position.
  2. Goals will help you mobilise effort, for example, by setting you a set of practice drills as goals, you will put in greater effort to attempt to achieve the outcome, or using timed bouncing, you will be aiming to equal or improve on your timings each time you attempt the activity
  3. Goals not only increase immediate effort, but help to prolong the effort you're putting in and increase your persistence. For example, using the timed bouncing activity, you may have 4 types, 10 bounce, 30 bounce, routine A and routine B. Each one needs to improve in time as you undertake it across the season, set a goal using a baseline time and seek to achieve it by the end of the season or term.
  4. Employment of new learning strategies through the setting of goals, for example, you may be struggling with the goal of learning a new skill, by changing the methodology you may find it easier to learn the skill and achieve your goal.

It is important to note that the goals you set are linked to your levels of anxiety, motivation and confidence. When you (and your coach) set goals that focus solely on outcome or winning goals, you are potentially setting up unrealistic expectations, these in turn lower your confidence, increase your anxiety and lead to decreased effort when it looks like you may not achieve the goal set. Remember, Performance goals (outcome) are in your control and are flexible, set goals that are realistic and attainable (but are a stretch) which will result in optimum levels of confidence, reduced anxiety, increased motivation leading to enhanced performances. Baring this in mind, it is more important to set process goals and specific objective goals than it is to set performance goals. We will look at this aspect now.

Setting specific goals in measurable and behavioural terms:

Explicit, specific and numerical goals are more effective in bring about positive behaviour change than simple 'do your best' goals or no goals at all. In this case and for our sport, these could include; acquire this proficiency award within 2 months, or achieve a score of 23 for Routine A in the next competition. Achievement of these types of goals will demonstrate your improvement

Set moderately difficult but realistic goals:

Research has shown that the more difficult the goal, the better the performance. However, this is only true if the goal is within your ability to achieve. Unrealistic goals only lead to failure and frustration and should be avoided at all costs. The goals set should be difficult enough to challenge you, but realistic enough to achieve.

Set short range and well as long range goals:

Most of you have probably set a range of goals, most likely though, you'll be concentrating on your long term goals, maybe winning that competition, or being selected for the Regional/English/British team. However, using short-term goals will allow you to see immediate improvements in your performance which in turn will enhance your motivation. Imagine a staircase, with your long term goal as the top step, each step in-between represents a short term goal and as you achieve each goal, it takes you one step closer to your long-term goal. It also demonstrates how your long-term goal is built up of successful achievement of short-term goals.

Set Process and Performance goals as well as Outcome goals:

As stated earlier, Outcome goals are those that represent your achievement, ie, winning a medal or completing the proficiency award. However, these are less effective motivation than Performance goals. If you focus only on Outcome goals there are several factors that can affect them, in many cases, winning a medal is not solely down to how well you perform at a competition. You may achieve your personal best score (a Performance goal), but on the day, three other gymnasts score better than you (also achieving their specific objective goals) and they take the podium places. A second factor is that you are unlikely to be flexible in your goal adjustment. For example, you've attended the first competition previously mentioned and you came 4th, (you did achieve your performance goal) but your goal was to medal at all three competitions this season and achieve qualification to the Regional team. You've fallen at the first hurdle, and your motivation has been impacted. If the goal has been to qualify for the Regional team, you know that you have set down a benchmark score and that you have two more competitions to achieve the qualification goal. Finally, if you use Process goals, achieve the line outs to improve scores, improve time of flight in competition, improve HD scores, then these are far more achievable and improve your motivation and confidence when they are achieved. Outcome goals are still necessary, they are those long-term efforts that are achieved step-by-step and when you do achieve them the increase in confidence etc is very high. It is multiple goal strategies that will help you to achieve your long-term Outcome goals.

Set goals for training and competition

It is important to have goals set for both, but often we fail to set goals for training. We must identify suitable training goals and when and how to achieve them, alongside the competition goals.

Set positive goals as opposed to negative goals

Goals can be stated positively or negatively, for example a positive goal would be to score 9.5 or higher on HD for the A routine. A negative example of the same outcome would be don't score less that 9.5 in HD for the Routine. It has the same outcome, but is worded differently. A positive wording assists the motivation and confidence when achieved and sets positive behaviours.

Identify target dates for attaining goals

This fits in with the T in the SMART goals discussed earlier. Target dates help to motivate you by keeping you aware of the date and providing an urgency towards the accomplishment in a realistic time. Again, don't set them to aggressively, this just makes them unrealistic. Talk with your coach and agree target dates that stretch you but are achievable.

Identify goal achievement strategies

Work out, possibly with your coach, the way you will achieve the goals you have set for yourselves. Think about the process steps you have to take to reach your goals and consider what you need to put in place to achieve each one of those process steps. For example, if you have set a goal of achieving a 9.5 HD score at the next competition, what do you have to practice to achieve that? Maybe its achieving 10 consistent routines in practice that score 9.2 or above, then extend that to achieve 9.3 and so on, until in training you consistently achieve 9.5 or above. Then hopefully, its just a case of transferring the practice to the competition floor.

Record goals once they have been identified

Ensure you use your training diaries and record the goals you have set. If you're using the Proficiency awards as your goals, then ensure these are kept up-to date. For those of you in the Squad, consider entering into a 'contract' with your coach on what your goals are going to be and when you will achieve them. That will help to focus the mind on what you're trying to achieve.

Provide for goal evaluation

Make sure you're working with your coach on how will you are doing on your goals, short, medium and long term. You need to be realistic and agree if goals need to be amended. Remember, there is no shame in amending the goals, you can always return to them next time and amend them again. There are plenty of times circumstances occur which affect your goals (take the current once for example). So you need to be prepared to evaluate them responsibly and be accepting of change

Ensure you have support for your goals

You cannot achieve your goals on your own. You need to ensure your network is in place to support you. The higher the goals you have set, the more you need that network to be there for you. You need to agree your goals with your coach and maybe with your parents and family as your goals may affect your siblings as well. You need their support to achieve, don't forget that and don't try to do without it.

All of the above will help you to achieve the goals you set. Goal setting is an extremely effective tool, that when combined with hard work, discipline and dedication can help you achieve the emotional growth and personal performance that you're seeking. Use it, work with your friends to identify goals, work with your coach to hone them and record them and then aim for them, achieve them and reach your potential

The next article is on Self-Confidence or Efficacy as its called in Sports Psychology. I hope you find that interesting as well

Practice, enjoy and I look forward to seeing you back at training soon