Happy New Year Everyone!
Hope you had a fantastic Christmas and new year, hope you are geared up for a successful year.
The dreaded first day back, the weight gain and setting ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ are the makings of a traditional start to January.
However, the majority of resolutions are probably not maintained, hence why the gyms are full in January but then half empty by March. If you are an athlete, setting and achieving goals are important… so we don’t want to take any chances.
Sport Psychologist Dr Peter Olusoga shares his knowledge on why many resolutions don’t work, and tips on how to set achievable goals.
If you are going to set goals…. Be SMART
Most… probably all athletes who’ve achieved anything approaching success will have set goals along the way. There are a couple of theories as to how and why goal setting works.
The Direct Mechanistic view¹, explains that goals direct your attention onto the task at hand, encourage persistence and motivation, and can even help you to develop new strategies for achieving what you’ve set out to achieve.
The Indirect Thought Process view² suggests that setting and achieving goals can help performance by improving confidence, motivation, and overall satisfaction with what you’re doing.
It’s likely a combination of both theories, but I’ve heard about 27 different acronyms that are supposed to help people set “good” goals.
Set SMART goals! SMARTER goals! SMARTS GOALS!
Whatever your acronym of choice, (if you’re into that sort of thing) there are a few things that you should keep in mind to make goal setting effective.
The gist of the acronyms described above is that goals should be:
So, that’s it. Goal setting is really easy, right? So how come so many people manage to screw it up? Here are 5 reasons why goal setting doesn’t work.
1. Setting too many goals.
One mistake that athletes will often make is to set goals in too many different areas. Remember, one of the ways that goals work is by focusing attention on the task at hand.
Well if we’re trying to focus attention on 18 different tasks at the same time, that’s a sure-fire way to come unstuck. There’s no real magic number here.
Perhaps having one goal is enough for you, or perhaps you could manage 4 or 5 different goals to work on at the same time, but it’s important to make sure it’s manageable for you and that you identify a few key areas that you want to work on.
2. Setting inflexible goals.
So you’ve set your SMART goals, you’ve made sure they’re specific and you’ve been keeping track of them, you have a target date in mind for achieving your PB and KAPOW! you get yourself injured.
This isn’t a problem if you can adjust your goals accordingly, but sometimes athletes will be so locked in on their goals, that not achieving it by the date set is seen as a failure and can knock motivation or confidence.
Sometimes athletes might be so focused on achieving their goals that they’ll continue to train, even though they should be resting and recovering from injury. The consequences of this are obvious.
It’s not just injuries or illness that can get in the way. Exams, schoolwork, family holidays, cancelled tournaments… the list goes on. So it’s important to make goals realistic in the first place, but also to be comfortable with adjusting them if needed.
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3. Focusing on failure NOT feedback.
Related to the point above, if for whatever reason you don’t achieve what you set out to, it’s important to think about why you didn’t achieve your goal, rather than just on the fact that you didn’t hit the mark.
Before I continue… check out the Michael Jordan advert below.
Failure can be extremely demotivating, but only if we view it as failure. If we see failure through the eyes of Michael Jordan, we can see it as motivation to achieve success, as feedback on our performance, then we can adjust goals accordingly, increase effort, try new strategies, or develop and adapt our existing strategies.
The path to achieving your goals isn’t a straight one. If you get straight to your goal without going off track just a little, your goal is too easy. If you really want to develop, you need to set really challenging goals that are going to test and push you.
4. Too much outcome focus.
Outcome goals are focused (surprisingly enough) on outcomes – winning a medal, or a competition, or even a specific game.
The problem with focusing too much on outcome goals is that the outcomes are often uncontrollable. You could fight out of your skin, record your best ever performance by doing everything right, and yet someone else might just be the better boxer, or the dreaded judges scorecard doesn’t go your way when it should have (most boxers will have experienced this!).
So if we focus on things that we can’t actually control (like winning), then we’re likely to get more nervous about performing. Instead, it’s important to focus on the processes. Process goals are focused more on what we’re doing as opposed to why we’re doing it.
Improving the Jab!
Technical: Make the jab a priority during pad work, on the bags and shadow boxing. Maybe increase the amount of rounds you do on the speed ball, focusing on the jab being quick and snappy. Measure this by getting one of your team to analyse your performance, see whether you improved the amount and percentage of jabs landed in sparring or in the bout.
Physical: Supplement the development of the jab with your strength and mobility training – particularly working on left shoulder and hip function. This can be assessed through landmine punch velocity or medicine ball punch throw, like we explained in our article Move Better Jab Harder.
5. Not enough outcome focus!
“Focus on the process, not the outcome. If you focus on the processes, the outcomes will take care of themselves.”
In some ways, this is sound advice. As we talked about above, focusing too much on outcomes can cause anxiety and can decrease motivation and confidence if things aren’t going to plan.
However, don’t we need a bit of outcome focus to stay motivated?
We need to keep reminding ourselves why we’re getting up at 6 in the morning to go on that training run, why we’re in the gym spending hours on sparring, pad work and pounding the bags, or why we’re spending so much time working on our footwork and shape!
Keep your outcome goals in mind and remind yourself what the processes are for! Don’t be afraid to think about what it is you’re trying to achieve…. It’s all about that winning feeling!
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So there we are. Set SMART goals, or SMARTER goals, or SMARTIES goals if you like, although I might have just made that last one up, I’m not sure. Make sure your goals are specific and measurable, get them written down where you can see them so they’re kept in mind, set a target date and track your progress. Focus on a manageable number of goals at once, make them challenging, but make sure you can adjust them when unforeseen circumstances like injury or illness crop up.
Don’t worry if you don’t hit your precise targets. Be like Michael Jordan, and view failure as feedback. Make sure to focus on the small things, the processes, but don’t be afraid to keep maybe just one eye on the prize to remind yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Happy goal-setting, have a fantastic year!
Read more of Pete’s work on his blog >> CLICK HERE
¹Locke, E.A., & Latham, G.P. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
²Burton, D. (1989). Winning isn’t everything: Examining the impact of performance goals on collegiate swimmers’ cognitions and performance. The Sport Psychologist, 3, 105–132.
Dr Pete Olusoga is a Senior Lecturer in Sport Psychology and a BPS Chartered and BASES Accredited Sport Psychologist, based at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. Originally from Gateshead, Dr Olusoga moved to South Yorkshire in 1998 to study Psychology at Sheffield University. He then completed his MSc in Sport and Exercise Science at Sheffield Hallam University, and finished his PhD in Sport & Performance Psychology in 2012. Pete has been involved in sports for many years as an athlete, a coach, and a psychologist. He has played basketball at a National League level for 15 years and is also an experienced coach. Since becoming a qualified sport psychologist, Pete has worked with athletes, coaches, and teams from several sports, including hockey, table tennis, as well as boxing and various martial arts.
“I have worked with several boxers over the last few years, at both amateur and professional levels. There’s a huge mental element to boxing, a sport that demands discipline, control, focus, confidence, and mental toughness of the highest level.”