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Does goal setting actually work?

Goal Setting has been around in the literature since the 1960s, when Locke (1968) developed his goal setting theory that if you set specific and challenging goals that those individuals were more likely to perform better than those individuals who set generic and simple goals.


Since then, goal setting has grown and developed and used in a variety of environments. It is a very useful tool in sport and exercise science to help support individuals to develop confidence, find new directions and generally provide a focus on what is still to come.


Goals can be split into three main types:-

  • Process goals Based around strategy and or technique

  • Performance goals Based around achieving a specific standard

  • Outcome goals Refers to the desired end result

Based on Locke’s theory there are five key principles to goal setting:-

  • Clarity Be clear and concise in what you want to achieve

  • Challenge Is it going to raise the steaks? Is it going to push your comfort zones?

  • Commitment Do you fully understand and agree to the goals that are being set? Are you able to remain motivated throughout the process?

  • Feedback Received from self and from others

  • Task complexity Setting goals within your limits. Remember not to overload as you will put up your own barriers when trying to breakdown those set up by others

The most famous way to help guide you to set the best goals for you is to ensure that you are SMART.

  • Specific Defined and clear

  • Measurable A way of finding out if the goal has been achieved or how far away it is to being achieved

  • Achievable Within your reach, yet outside of your comfort zone

  • Realistic Do you have the support, resources and time to achieve the goal

  • Time/Tedium Do you have the time scale to achieve the goals? Will the goals be motivating for you?

Although all goal setting theories can be applied in all settings it is important to consider other factors that might have an influence on how effective goal setting can be. For example personal differences, changing of environments, different contexts, and characteristics of how goals are pursued and amended.


When I work with clients, one of the first things that I do is to undertake a performance profile to show where the client might want to focus their support, and maybe highlight areas that they have not yet thought of on their own. Therefore, creating opportunities for the client to set goals based around areas that require the most priority, in order to have the most impact on performance. Some of the clients I have worked with, have used goal setting on their own, some have collaborated with team mates or coaches to enhance the benefits.


Whichever way you choose to use this tool, it is up to you. Everything has to be unique and specific to your situation in order to reap the benefits mental skill support has to offer.

Ultimately, goal setting can be extremely effective but the one thing that can stop it being a tool that is beneficial to performance is you! Like most things in life, you get what you put into it.


If you would like support in helping you to enhance your performance, try something new, develop motivation to try something new or anything else I am here to help you. Get in touch, and we can start your journey together to achieve your dreams.




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