You wake up one morning in January and you are determined this is the year you will work harder, be better prepared and commit more to your sport. You start working out, maybe even eating better. You start to organize times to practice and train and you are highly motivated, as you begin a new year, full of hope and limitless possibilities.
You wake up earlier or stay up later, carving out more time to train. One day, something throws a wrench in your schedule and you do not accomplish what you wanted to do. Sure enough, another day like this occurs and your frustration builds because your plan for the day and the reality of your day do not mesh.
Days and weeks go by, inconsistency increases along with external responsibilities and the internal struggle rages in your mind, knowing that you wanted to work so hard and accomplish so much, yet by April 1st, there is a realization that you just did not get it done.
Life has a funny way of interfering with our best intentions and plans for improvement. Over time, the multiple demands that student-athletes face create obstacles for goal attainment, especially when goals are set with the best intentions but are established incorrectly.
A New Year’s resolution is simply another term for a goal, housed under the context of a different word, a “resolution.” If goals or resolutions are set up incorrectly, individuals and teams are unknowingly setting themselves up for failure, while thinking they are working diligently and with the best intentions.
Despite the attention placed on setting New Year’s Resolutions, most people are never taught how to establish goals in a realistic fashion. The “carrot” is extended to you in the form of what the outcome and end result will be, without discussing the commitment, hard work and the struggles endured to accomplish what we want.
One of the most important jobs of a Sport Psychology Professional is to teach athletes, coaches and parents the correct ways to establish, maintain and adjust personal goals on both the small and large scale.
The first common mistake athletes make is not spending enough time thinking about what they truly want from participating in their sport. Instead, many athletes blurt out goals without much thought about personal ownership and the short and long-term aspects of what they are trying to accomplish.
To establish effective goals, an athlete must first ask themselves some pretty difficult, honest and direct questions. Why do I participate in my sport? What do I want from my sport? Where do I want to be in 2, 3 or 5 years?
If we cannot address these fundamental and basic questions, how can we truly set purposeful, specific and meaningful goals.
Before setting goals or making resolutions, it is first important to take inventory of yourself and be objective about where you currently are in your development, compared to where you want to be. Identify your current strengths and weaknesses in the technical, physical and mental aspects of your sport and your position.
It is much easier to set realistic goals if you first have an objective understanding of your own ability compared to the ability level you would like to achieve. It is natural to compare your ability to the ability of others, yet the challenge becomes comparing your current ability to your past and future ability.
Goal setting, done correctly, is all about controllability. Set goals that are challenging, not too easy or too difficult. Be specific about the smaller steps that add up to the end result and focus on improving each step within the process. Developing a sense of accomplishment, on a daily basis, is an important motivator to continue working on areas of your game that you consider weak or in need of improvement.
Most importantly, commitment to learning is critical throughout this process. Improvement does not occur without mistakes, frustration and set-backs. You have the choice to decide if you will judge these situations as good or bad or if you will view them as learning experiences to grow from.
Athletes who learn how to blend short-term experience with a long-term perspective will stay more emotionally level and will understand that mistakes are opportunities to learn more about themselves, their performance and their reactions in critical moments.
The reality of goal setting is that it is an everyday process. It is an unfair and unrealistic expectation to wake up one day and radically change everything you have been doing. What makes January 1st any different from any other day?
The real question to ask yourself is: When is your January?