Earlier this week I delivered a workshop to a group of talented young athletes. We covered topics such as goal setting, time management and decision making, in that order, which was planned, but was only as we were discussing each topic, that it really dawned on me, just how important goals are to every aspect, not only of sport, but of life outside and beyond sport. Knowing what you achieve is paramount in managing time, and it's a lot easier to make decisions, when we know what we want to achieve in the short, medium and long term.
Not all goals are made consciously. High performing athletes will set goals for each session that they do, without realising that they have even done so. Some days it will just be to get the session done; other days it'll be to perform a personal best on repetition. After years of training and competing, goals in the performance setting will just come naturally. Goals are not so easy in an unfamiliar environment, like when we are injured, or when we're planning for life after sport. Considerable thought is often required in these situations.
Coping with Injury
Setting goals can be a great way to overcome injury. You don't have to think about what you want to achieve after the injury - this often results in over-compliance to rehab programmes, and rushing back to training before you're ready - but think about the process goals that will help you get the most out of your time off. Depending on the individual, the sport, and the injury, these are some goals that you might set for yourself while injured:
1. To undertake all exercises prescribed by they physiotherapist each and every day of rehab - no more and no less
2. To take up a new hobby, which I will practice daily (when I would normally be training), to take the focus away from the injury and not being able to compete
3. To carry out a period of mental imagery each day in which I will focus on perfect technique
4. To have a massage once every two weeks
5. To use the downtime to catch up on dental appointments and other things that normally detract from training
6. To maintain a structured routine
Not all goals need to be performance goals, and outcome and process goals are especially important during times of injury, illness, transition, or poor form.
Managing your time
Over the years of working with high performance athletes, I have noticed that those who manage to fit the most into their lives, are the ones who know what they want to achieve in both sport and outside of sport. I've come across medical students who have managed to compete at an international level, and triathletes who can fit training for three sports around being a full-time student. There are enough hours in the week - we just need to be motivated enough to use them wisely.
When planning for the week, it's a good idea to write down a few goals for the week; plan our time; and then reflect on whether or not our allocation of time is reflective of what we want to achieve in that week. There is no special wand which will suddenly make us 'time-managed' but know what we want to achieve will make us more efficient with out time.
We all have important decisions to make from time to time - what subjects do we choose for A-levels/Leaving Cert? Which university do we attend? What will we do after university? Is it a good idea to become full-time athletes? Do we want children? Is it time to retire? For some of us, these decisions will be made, or the options at least narrowed down naturally, but for many, we have to actively make the effort to wade through the options and decide what we are going to do next. This takes energy and effort which we would probably prefer to conserve for training, but not making a decision, and leaving it to sit on the back of our minds, can use a lot more energy. Decisions are important!
Knowing what are goals are can greatly help when making decisions. If your sport is the most important thing in your world, then make sure that you choose a university where you have the facilities, coaching and environment to maintain your training. There are rarely any right or wrong choices, but if your goals can't be achieved by the decisions that you have made, you are unlikely to lead a satisfied life. Making decisions based on your goals also prevents you making them for the wrong reasons, or making them to keep others happy.
In summary, goals don't just help us to preform better - they help us decide what is important to us, to decide what we want to achieve in life, how to transition from one phase of life to the next, to deal with injury, to manage our time, and to make decisions. They are the key to managing our lifestyle, whether that be as a student-athlete, retiring sportstar, or active mother. Goal setting is the key to lifestyle management.