Measurable, effective goal setting

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Just about everyone sets some kind of future goals, but did you know most people set goals that are ineffective, too vague or impossible to measure the results?

For youngsters involved in sports, the difference between proper goal setting versus improper goal setting can make all the difference in the world when it comes to self-confidence, focus, emotional control and, ultimately, sport performance.

This column will examine the art of goal setting, including research findings, tips and strategies and potential pitfalls.

People who routinely set specific, measurable and controllable goals will almost always outperform others who set "do-your-best" type goals or those who set no goals at all.

There are strong correlations with goal attainment and self-confidence; in other words, the more goals your child can reach, the more likely he or she will become more confident in his or her abilities.

Confidence is vitally important in athletics. More confidence enhances performance. Less confidence decreases performance.

The following suggestions will help you and your child set goals that specify target behaviors to improve as well as provide the means to measure progress along the way:

  • I like to encourage kids to brainstorm all the things they want to improve in sports, knowing ahead of time that many of their ideas will be too vague, uncontrollable or even unrealistic. I look at each listed goal individually and find ways to make them more tangible and easier to pursue.
  • The first thing I do is break goals into what is controllable (improving skills) versus uncontrollable (being selected for an all-star team). Kids can practice and improve their skills, but the process of making the all-star team is dependent on other subjective opinions. The good news is that by improving athletic skills, the odds of being selected to an all-star team do increase.
  • I also spend time working to turn vague goals (to be the best player I can be) into specific goals (to make 90 percent of my free throws). Help your child realize the very specific things they can do to improve their athletic skills.
  • Measuring the progress of goals is another important step. It's virtually impossible for a young athlete who wants to "get stronger" to actually know how much strength he has improved without having anything to measure. On the other hand, developing specific markers will allow your child to actually see positive progress (setting a goal to improve his bench press by 20 pounds in two months).
  • Goals should be flexible and open to tweaking along the way. Goals should not be too terribly difficult or too easy, either.

Be sure your child writes down all of his or her goals. Assuming he or she will remember all his or her goals is a grave mistake.

Young children can begin with a few basic goals and continue to refine the goal-setting process as they advance through youth sports

Even better, once goal setting is mastered, it can be a powerful skill to use in the classroom and in all other facets of life.

Dr. Chris Stankovich is an expert in sport psychology and has co-written two books, The Parent Playbook and Positive Transitions for Student Athletes. If you have a sports question,, visit or call 614-561-4482.