Don’t Just Set Goals

Establish Positive Achievement Routines and LOVE the Training

In sports coaching the concept of goal setting has taken on the status of an immutable ‘truth’ – something so accepted as to be rarely, if ever, questioned. For many years I also not only personally practised goal ‘setting’, but also widely preached its virtues.

However, I’ve recently developed a new approach to high achievement which is both more effective and much easier to understand and implement for both players and coaches.

Problems with Goal ‘Setting’

You see, the problem with goal ‘setting’ is two-fold. Firstly, what happens when, (as often happens), you don’t get the goal you set? For example, I’m sure Leyton Hewitt had ‘set the goal’ of winning Wimbledon this year – yet he was defeated in the first round! Here is an individual who is an accomplished player and highly experienced in elite achievement – yet he didn’t get his goal!

Haven’t you had the same kind of disappointing experience? Haven’t you ‘set’ yourself goals – whether it was to increase your fitness level; or to change your diet and lose some weight; or to win a particular match; or get a particular job; or attain a certain result in your studies …. and you didn’t do it!

Tell me how did you feel afterwards? What was the end result of your goal setting? Loss of confidence in your abilities. Erosion of your self belief. Perhaps not wanting to try again – giving up?

Yet we’re told, “Don’t give up!” The answer is simply to try again – to set yet more goals.

Don’t worry – the problem isn’t you! The fault is with the process. Goal ‘setting’ is not the answer!

The second fatal flaw with goal setting is that it encourages an unhealthy and unrealistic emphasis on outcomes and results.

Too often an athlete’s happiness, self worth, and even identity are dependent on achieving the goal, the result … and when (as inevitably happens) an individual doesn’t get the goal, win the event, achieve the result – they feel cheated, disappointed, and can lose heart, and even fall prey to depression.

Further, goal ‘setting’ too often leads the individual to associate all the pleasure and joy with the final attainment – as if life were a result, rather than an on-going process! This often then consigns the actual ‘process’ of achieving the goal to the role of a ‘sacrifice’ – something to be suffered through in order to attain eventual happiness!

What this unhealthy obsession with the end result creates then is an emptiness, even in the athletes who get to the top, after the ‘magic moment’ of successful attainment is over, as they look around after years of ‘sacrifice’ and wonder, “Is this all there is? Is this what I gave up my life for?”

The Solution

If goal ‘setting’ isn’t the answer, what is? Is it possible to achieve at the highest level with a different kind of process? I believe so, and I believe this new process is both more effective and leads to long term joy and fulfilment – rather than infrequent, fleeting pleasures.

The ‘goal’ is to happily achieve; rather than achieve to be happy.

This new process – which I term the Sportsmind Routine Achievement approach – involves two radical changes in thinking.

Firstly, the understanding that achievement is a process, not an end result. In order to achieve any goal, there must be a process involved; and this process involves specific routines.

The key to successful and satisfying achievement then, lies in identifying the routine, which if followed, will inevitably lead you to the desired ‘goal’. This is done by simply asking the question : “What routine, or set of routines, – if adhered to consistently and conscientiously – would inevitably lead to the successful attainment of goal X”

The task then is to simply focus on doing, and enjoying, the routines – confident that your training will lead you where you want to be.

Secondly, associate the greatest pleasure with the training – not the end result. Love your training – otherwise you’re going to be spending most of your time not enjoying your life, and I see so many sportspeople who dislike training, and only do it because they feel they ‘have to’ in order to get the goals they want! This is exactly the same as the many people working in jobs they hate! Why spend your life doing something you hate? Either change your attitude to training, or go and do something that you do like!

The way to do this is to continually ask yourself about your training, “How can I enjoy this more? What can I do to make this even more fun and enjoyable for me?” Remind yourself regularly while you train, “I LOVE tennis (or golf, or whatever) … I LOVE training. I’m so lucky to be doing this – some people have to actually WORK for a living; I get to PLAY!”.

Achievement as a Personal Management Process

Having made these two important points, let me now say it IS important to have goals!

However, achieving significant goals in sport, particularly at an elite level, involves more than just the process of setting them.

Achieving big goals is a personal managementprocess involving establishing a goal, breaking it down into smaller sub-goals, determining a viable action plan, implementing and enjoying this plan, evaluating progress, adjusting the plan, celebrating achievement, and finally choosing a new goal.

Goals are important to success, because without a clearly defined and desired outcome, motivation flags and there can be a loss of direction. If you don’t have a specific destination in mind, you might be a good player, but you’ll end up going nowhere in particular – and this is what happens to many talented athletes, simply because they don’t have long term goals.

You do want to have a desired outcome and not be afraid of setting it, and going for it – however you also want to temper this outcome focus by establishing strong achievement routines, and associating great enjoyment to your day-to-day training.

For instance, consider a journey. At the beginning of the journey you think of your destination – where you want to end up. Then you get in the car and pay attention to the traffic around you; stop at lights and intersections; change gears; accelerate; turn corners; refuel when necessary; and deal with any delays and flat tyres along the way.

Now just imagine if you didn’t have that destination in mind at the start – what would happen? You’d just hop in the car and start driving, and you might drive extremely well, but you’d end up going nowhere in particular.

What is different about the Sportsmind Routine Achievement approach is that we remember to enjoy the journey, and focus on what you need to do each step of the way. Remember that choosing a direction is important, but placing too much emphasis on it leads to problems.

For instance, on your journey you’ll have an accident if you think too much about the hot date you’re doing to visit, but if you don’t want that hot date in the first place, you’ll probably never get the car out of the garage!

Likewise, if you think about winning during the match, chances are your attention and concentration on the moment by moment play will suffer as you imagine the future, or regret past mistakes, instead of being in the present – and you won’t perform to your potential.

Enjoy your training; love the doing of your sport – it is after all the most important part!

About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed “Sportsmind – An Athlete’s Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training” and “Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings”; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.

He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.

Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph’s College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.

For more information, contact :
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
email :
website :



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