Keys to Goal Setting

By Paul Dewland, BGGA Mental Performance Coach

A key habit of high-performing athletes (or any discipline) is that they have clearly defined goals, and a plan on how to achieve them.

The word “goal” can often take on many different meanings. It can refer to an outcome we achieve, for example win a certain tournament, achieve a specific handicap level or earn a scholarship. It can also define a level of performance we want to achieve (hit my driver a certain distance or average a certain proximity to my target with my wedges). It can also be a task or process we set out to do (stick to a practice plan, etc.).

Goal setting is a valuable skill any athlete can develop. Here are some simple, general guidelines for constructing goals that work best for you, incorporating the three types of goals mentioned:

First, establish a clear vision of your desired future outcomes.
This is where we employ outcome goals. These are long-term (approximately 4-5 years). This is your chance to dream big, so stating this vision can get you excited, but also scare you a bit because it takes you out of your comfort zone. That’s normal and actually desirable because healthy, positive change can take us out of our comfort zone just as much as facing adversity can. This almost goes without saying, but be sure that what you’re pursuing is meaningful and motivating to you.

Second, establish a shorter-term outcome goal.
This is still an outcome goal, but typically 1-2 years out. In stating this goal, be realistic but also be sure to stretch yourself a bit. Examples can be something like winning a certain high-level tournament, gaining a ranking level or achieving a certain scoring average in tournaments.

Next, keep asking “how”.
Once you have your short-term outcome goal clarified, keep asking the question “how” – in other words “how will I achieve this?”. Ask yourself this until you identify a specific, concrete action plan. This takes you from your goals being conceptual ideas to specific/concrete action plans.

For example, if your short-term outcome goal is to achieve a -2 handicap level, ask yourself “how will I achieve this?” The answer, upon examining your statistics, may include improving several different skills (i.e., performance goals). So, let’s say you narrow it down to three performance areas you would like to improve upon, and one of them is to “improve putting from 10-20 feet”. Once again, ask yourself “how”. This will challenge you to determine the specific parts in this area of your game. Say that you determine that your green reading and speed control are holding you back in this area – keep asking yourself “how?” and you will eventually end up with clearly identifiable process goals – examples in this case might be “research a proven method for green reading” or “learn a proven speed control method” or even “work with a putting coach”. Again, by asking “how” from this level, you will develop specific tasks, drills and activities that you can translate into weekly plans for you to follow.

With performance goals, it’s really helpful to set up measurable targets in each area to monitor your progress – but be sure that you only measure your progress periodically (e.g., bi-monthly or quarterly). This allows yourself the time necessary to develop the skills you are working toward and helps you to trust the process you have designed for yourself. Also, be sure the level of challenge you place on yourself stretches you, but is also realistic. Setting unrealistic goals can lead to a lack of motivation, but if you don’t challenge yourself enough, it can lead to boredom.

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