Most of the time, professional athletes, collegiate athletes, scholastic athletes, recreational athletes (and sometimes youth athletes) and their coaches enter a season with one goal: to win a championship.  Winning championships at higher levels of sport often relate to larger contracts for players and coaches, more exposure in the media, and (for college athletes) the potential to be drafted higher.  However, these issues are related strictly to professional sports and are not part of the youth sports experience.  Yes, kids do like winning; however, setting the right types of goals can make your athletes more successful, less stressed, and have more fun

It is important to set goals for your team, but you must set the right type of goals.  There are two types of goals: product goals and process goals.  A product goal is typically a result.  Running for 60 yards in a football game, averaging 10 points and five assists per game in basketball, or running a mile in under seven minutes in track or cross country are all examples of product goals.  There is nothing wrong with setting product goals at higher levels of sport and even for older children (age 13 and older) in youth sports.  Even with setting product goals, the key question remains: how will you get to that goal?  This is where process goals are incorporated into goal setting

Process goals explain ways to reach product goals.  These goals are very important because they help your athletes pave the path to reach their product goals.  Younger athletes should focus only on process goals because these goals establish and foster routines and habits.  Process goals are crucial to the success of athletes, because they provide the guide to reach the product goal.

Let’s go through an example of a young track athlete, Steve, who is setting his goals for the season.  The coach should sit down with Steve to guide him in this endeavor. Steve is a 13 year old who wants to run the mile in under seven minutes (his product goal). To reach this, he needs to set process goals. His first track meet is in five weeks after pre-season training. During these five weeks, Steve and his coach decide Steve will run two miles two days per week, complete a sprinting interval workout one day per week, stretch for 15 minutes four days per week, and visualize the race and him crossing the finish line with the clock under 7:00 once per week.  These goals will set training and practice habits for Steve.  He can also create a chart to keep himself accountable with meeting his process goals.

Younger athletes should follow the lead of their coach.  Coaches should set process goals, usually for the whole team.  By creating good, quality practice plans that incorporate good drills, athletes can meet process goals also without the stress of performance standards in competition.

Goals should be attainable, specific, and relevant. If you hold practices four days per week, that process goal may not be attainable for youth athletes in a recreational sport due to other sports or activities, homework, school functions, and family events. By reducing this to one or two sessions per week, this goal is attainable and will prevent athlete burnout and encourage kids to look forward to every practice.

Motivation to reach goals can be increased by tracking the progress. For example, Steve can create a chart for each week and mark off his training sessions as he completes them each week.  He likely will not want to have a blank space on his chart.  Younger athletes can be rewarded by being a “captain” for a game or by picking the last drill of practice for consistent attendance at practice.

Every athlete and coach has goals for the season. While we all want to win, sometimes focusing on winning provides unnecessary stress and pressure. Product goals (result-oriented) are one type of goals athletes set, and are typically better for other athletes. Process goals encourage setting habits and activities and are appropriate and necessary for all athletes. Reduce stress, encourage participation, and increase fun with process goals for your athletes this season.

Featured Image: President’s Day Lacrosse Tournament – Bulldogs U11 by Jim Larrison   CC BY 2.0