Why You Should Write Down Effort Goals in Preparation for Competition:

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” – Colin Powell

The number one psychological element that is detrimental to the consistency of peak performance and an athlete’s overall success is the element of fear. Fear, put simply, is a loss of control in the mind. It is the brain-scrambling to find a solution to the circumstance, and in turn, activates negative emotions that cloud an athlete’s ability to think clearly or be fully immersed in the task at hand.

Since fear is an issue of ‘control’, It is essential for an athlete to understand what they have control over and what they don’t in their sport, to add awareness to where they direct their thoughts, focus, and energy.

One factor that an athlete will always have control over in performance and career, is their level of effort.

NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis put it best when he said “Wins and losses come a dime and dozen. But effort? Nobody can judge effort. Effort is between you and you. Effort ain’t got nothing to do with anybody else”.  

And he is 100% correct. Only you can decide how much effort you put into anything. The beauty about this factor is that effort, plays a huge role in the end result of what an athlete sets out to achieve.

In any sporting event, an individual athlete or team will set out to achieve a common goal. These goals can be broken down into 3 objectives. Outcome goals, Performance Goals, and Effort Goals.

Outcome Goals focus on the endpoint of an event. For example, it could be about winning a match or specific event, winning a gold medal at the Olympics, or even making a certain team or squad. A heavy focus on outcome goals can have a negative effect on an athlete. An athlete could perform to the utmost of their ability and still fail to achieve an outcome goal. This is because an outcome goal depends on more than just an individual’s efforts. It can depend on an opponent’s ability, a teammate’s ability, a coach’s strategy, the weather, luck, health and injury, and a whole bunch of external factors. The lack of control of this achievement makes these goals less useful without other goals to support them.

Performance Goals are still a product of the end game but usually rate to an athlete’s individual performance. These are generally based on numbers – whether it be a statistic, a time, or even a strength-based weight. For example, it could be achieving a personal standard of 10 rebounds, running a race in a certain time, or lifting a certain weight. These goals are often more flexible than outcome goals and more within an athlete’s control. Although these goals are less affected by the performance of others they can still be influenced by external factors.

“A goal without a plan is just a dream.” – Brian Tracy

Effort Goals specify the process underpinning the overall performance. These goals are based on attention to the smaller details. They are often focused on technique, exerted energy, or even personal strategy. Whether it’s keeping your back straight on a lift, diving on a loose ball, or playing your opponent a certain way. Effort Goals keep an athlete in the present moment – focused on the task at hand. Effort goals influence performance goals, which in turn, influence the outcome or result.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced the world to the flow state. Otherwise known as being ‘in a zone’. A state where the mind and body are in perfect sync with one another creating peak performance. With all that can go wrong for an athlete in a singular performance, it is vital for an athlete to be fully focused on the task at hand – And effort goals provide mental cues to be able to do that.

Apart from influencing performance and outcome goals, here are 5 reasons why you should set effort goals in preparation for competition:

  1. Increases Attention to Detail.

At elite and professional levels, where the margin for error is smaller and the cost of losing is greater, it is a matter of doing all the little things right that can determine winning from losing. Coaches at this level base technique and strategy around attention to detail so putting effort goals in place allows an athlete to put the spotlight on doing the little thing right which ultimately influences the bigger picture.

2. Improves Focus.

An ability to stay in the moment for longer is what separates the greatest athletes in the world from everyone else. Confidence, resilience, adversity, and errors are influenced by focus. Being focused is to be present. Not thinking about what just happened or what could happen but directing thoughts toward What’s Important Now. Setting Effort Goals allows an athlete to become more present, sets a mental cue, and gives them more clarity around how they can impact the play ‘right now’.

3. Raises Confidence.

Peak Performance is derived from being fully immersed in the task at hand. Setting effort goals gives the athlete mental cues to keep them in the moment. Good things start to happen when an athlete is performing from muscle memory and instinct instead of thought. When an athlete sees the impact they are having by doing the little things well, they tend to feel good about themselves. And when they feel good about themselves, they tend to do more of the things that allow them to feel good about themselves – In turn, this raises the belief in their ability, increasing their confidence in performance.

4. Builds Resilience.

Very rarely does performance go exactly the way an athlete imagines. With momentum swings, distraction, challenges, errors, and adversity thrown into the mix it is easy to fall victim to those negative thoughts and stories that come to mind. For many athletes, this can affect the rest of their performance. Setting effort goals gives athletes a mental cue to take them away from the negative state of mind and focus on how they can impact performance in that moment. Setting effort goals helps in creating mentally balanced athletes.

5. Boosts Consistency.

Many athletes ride the highs and lows of competition affecting their consistency in performance. Coaches love consistently performing athletes because they know what they are going to get every time they are put into competition. This builds trust between athlete and coach and with trust, comes bigger roles, more responsibility, and opens up doors of opportunity for further development in their sport. An athlete who is mentally balanced isn’t affected by the waves of highs and lows in competition and therefore produces more consistent performances. Setting effort goals allows an athlete the mental cues to keep them focused in the moment, no matter the challenge, distraction, momentum swing, or adversity thrown at them.

“Consistency is better than perfection. We can all be consistent – perfection is impossible.”  Michael Hyatt

How to Set Effort Goals:

When preparing athletes for competition, I have them write down 1-3 effort goals. The reason why we keep it to no more than 3 is that I don’t want them thinking too much throughout competition, rather they play off instinct. Besides anything over 5 mental cues can throw an athlete into overwhelm which tends to activate negative emotions.

To help athletes set these goals, I like them to think about how they can impact competition when they aren’t in the direct spotlight. This is where many athletes tend to relax and lose focus. And for athletes that have worked themselves into a flow state, they can snap out of it pretty quickly away from the play.

With consistent practice comes consistent results. The more you write these down in preparation for competition, the more they stick. An athlete will become more conscious of these mental cues in the heat of the battle which directly impacts performance and outcome goals.

At the end of performance, rate and review the effort goals you set for yourself. This can be as simple as giving yourself a score out of 10. You won’t always win in sport and you won’t always have the performance of a lifetime, but focusing on effort-based factors can leave an athlete still feeling good about themselves even when results don’t go their way.

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” – John Wooden

Try it for yourself and let me know how you go.

– 𝐶𝑜𝑎𝑐ℎ 𝐶𝑎𝑙.

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