Setting outcome goals for athletes – good or bad?

Athletes should set a variety of goals to help increase their confidence levels and help them improve their performances, however, if not positioned correctly, a focus on outcome-centered goals only can be detrimental to an athletes performance. For example, a baseball player is determined to finish with a batting average over .300 for the season, or a basketball player desires to score >20 points per game or a soccer player wants to play at least 80 minutes in every match. And, these broad goals are the singular focus for the athlete.

Although high-level outcome focused goals are great to establish as “north star achievements”, it’s proven in sports psychology circles that focusing on outcome-based objectives can actually lead to anxiousness during competitive events as the athlete tends to lose focus on performance tasks.

For this reason, it’s recommended to establish your “north star goals” before a competitive season, and then (most importantly) document the process and performance goals which need to be achieved on a day-to-day basis. For example, in order for that baseball player to hit a season batting average of .300, they may establish a daily goal of 30 minutes in the batting cage, or the basketball player may set a daily goal to make 90 out of 100 free-throws to hit their season goal of scoring 20 points per game. The soccer player desiring 80 minutes per match could set a training session goal of completing 10 successful passes in scrimmage settings.

What are the different types of goal categories for athletes and how should an athlete build such goals?

  1. Outcome Goals: These types of goals are focused on an end result, such as winning a competition or achieving a personal best. Or, they are complete season performance goals for an athlete. While outcome goals are important, athletes should also set other types of goals to maintain motivation and confidence, as outcomes can sometimes be influenced by factors beyond their control.
  2. Performance Goals: These goals are focused on improving specific aspects of performance, such as increasing speed, accuracy, or endurance. By setting performance goals, athletes can track their progress and see tangible improvements, which can boost confidence.
  3. Process Goals: These goals are focused on the steps needed to achieve a desired outcome or performance level. Process goals can help athletes stay focused on the task at hand and can provide a sense of accomplishment as they work towards their larger goals.
  4. Short-Term Goals: These goals are achievable in the near future, such as within a week or a month. Setting and achieving short-term goals can provide a sense of momentum and progress, which can increase confidence.
  5. Long-Term Goals: These goals are larger, more overarching goals that may take several months or years to achieve. Long-term goals can help athletes stay motivated and focused over the long term, even when facing setbacks or challenges.
  6. Skill-Based Goals: These goals focus on developing specific skills or techniques, such as improving a golf swing or mastering a new gymnastics routine. By setting skill-based goals, athletes can see tangible improvements in their abilities, which can increase confidence.

 Overall, setting a combination of outcome, performance, process, short-term, long-term, and skill-based goals will help athletes increase their confidence & performance levels by providing a clear roadmap for improvement and success. However, complete focus on outcome-based or complete season goals can be detrimental to an athlete’s day-to-day performance.