Much research has been conducted which specifically focuses on athletes, with the aim of to determine their most personal effective goal-setting strategy. Larsen and Engell, (2013) state that goal setting is ‘one of the most common psychological strategies’ and it is known that the goal setting process enhances performance levels for all areas, not just athletes. The main aim of goal setting focuses on increasing individuals’ motivational levels to achieve success by directing attention and applying energy levels into achieving the overall goal (Locke & Latham, 1990).

To reach the overall outcome goal, it has been proposed that there are two key theories and methods which would need to be followed to ensure the most effective outcome. The two theories are; the goal setting theory, and the action plan theory. Goal setting theory explains the theory behind specifically setting the goals, why it is important and what you achieve by setting goals. The action plan theory describes setting a designated plan for the individual in order to meet all short term goals and ultimately the long term goal set out.

Elson and Ginis, (2004) propose that for beginner exercisers, it is valuable to use a motivational tool of assigned goals. Bruijn and Rhodes (2002) found that the use of action planning strengthens peoples intention and habit strength. It is important to remember that for goal setting to become an effective process, the goals have to be kept relevant and achievable. If when a goal is designed and assigned to the individual, it does not seem achievable, it is a possibly the mindset would be affected alongside confidence levels lowered.

Although, Seitjts and Latham, (2001) found that when goals are assigned which are very specific and difficult, the outcome does not necessarily lead to better performances. Alongside the results previously found in studies, Drach-Zahavy and Erez, (2002) argue that this fact would be dependent on how the individual saw the goal, whether it was considered as a challenge or as a threat. Previously, they had conducted a study themselves, whereby the results showed individuals who saw the goal as a threat scored significantly lower in performance levels, in comparison to individuals who took the goal as a challenge to succeed and achieve more. It is also vital to remember that every athlete is different, they are see situations in different ways, react to situations differently and all have individual goals that they would like to meet accordingly.

Deci and Ryan, (2002) suggest that individuals need to feel competent within their own environment. Wallace, (2015) defines competence as the ability to perform to a specified standard. This further expanding on the area Deci and Ryan, (2002) suggests, that individuals need to feel comfortable in their own environment to be able to perform at the standard of which is required.

How can this be applied in real-world situations?

This current research showing how the use of SMART goals is an effective way to use the goal setting technique within any environment. The acronym broken down stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time. This acronym aims to break down five key aspects to achieving goals, to ensure all areas are a focus to the individual making them effective.

Footballing example of SMART goal setting:

Specific – A defensive player to win over 90% of their challenges throughout a 90 minute match. An attacking player to make 10-15 runs or attempts on goal throughout a 90 minute match.

Measurable – How many goals/assists scored throughout the season. How many saves or challenges a GK or defender has made.

Achievable – Ensuring the goal which is set for the athlete is achievable, making small tasks which is achievable to gain confidence and start to make larger goals.

Realistic – This is key and very important to discuss with the athlete individually. Each athlete is different and has varied strengths and weaknesses in different areas, the athlete will need to decide upon which these are and agree that they are realistic targets set for themselves to achieve.

Time – Goals should be set for a time period of a season, but you can set smaller time frames within that specific to the athlete. Again the athletes may vary, so some may prefer every month, or others could possibly do it over a three month period.

Always remember, it is important that goal setting for athletes involves a communal process and they need to be involved with an opinion to make it interesting and effective for their improvement.


ReferencesShow all

Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (Eds.), (2002). Handbook of self-determination research. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

de Bruijn, G.-J. and Rhodes, R.E. (2011) ‘Does action planning moderate the intention-habit interaction in the exercise domain? A three-way interaction analysis investigation’, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 35(5), pp. 509–519. doi: 10.1007/s10865-011-9380-2.

Drach-Zahavy, A., & Erez, M. (2002). Challenge versus threat effects on the goal-performance relationship. Organizational Behavior and
Human Performance, 88, 667–682.

Elston, T.-L. and Ginis, K.A.M. (2004) ‘The effects of self-set versus assigned goals on Exercisers’ self-efficacy for an unfamiliar task’, Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 26(3), pp. 500–504. doi: 10.1123/jsep.26.3.500.

Larsen, C.H. and Engell, C. (2013) ‘The art of goal setting: A tale of doing sport psychology in professional football’, Sport Science Review, XXII(1-2). doi: 10.2478/ssr-2013-0004.

Locke, E. & Latham, G. (1990). A Theory Of Goal Setting & Task Performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Inc.

Seijts, G.H., & Latham, G.P. (2001). The effect of learning, outcome, and proximal goals on a moderately complex task. Journal of Organizational
Behavior, 22, 291–307.