Goals are an essential ingredient to sports, but in this case I don’t mean the kind you score – I’m referring to the kind you set. As many people take the time to make resolutions and commitments at the start of a new year, seems like a fitting opportunity to reflect on how coaches can help establish a foundation for a lifetime of individual goal setting in players beginning at a young age.
There are an abundance of techniques and theories surrounding goal setting, but that doesn’t mean you need to employ a sports psychologist for your team in order to give it a go. If this is a new frontier for you but you’d like to try, it’s okay to keep it simple – it is good for coaches to do as they coach…and practice things/take risks too!
For very young players, most of the goals should/will be short-term, for an immediate game or practice. It is likely that you will need to help guide them. If the goal seems unattainable (“I’m gonna score 15 times”) or too broad (“I want to do better”), ask open ended questions to help them become a bit more specific. Or, if you’ve got someone especially shy who doesn’t want to say anything out loud or a player who says they just can’t think of anything they’d like to do today, start out by setting one for the player (“I’d like to see you try one step over this game” or “In this first half I want you to take one shot”). Celebrate their successes with exuberance!
As players get a bit older, longer-term goals, in the way of improving something over the course of the entire season, can be mixed in. Often, players may be already acutely aware of a physical limitation (not very fast) or the aspects of the game that have proven to be repeatedly challenging (successfully taking players on one vs. one) for them. It’s okay for them to recognize the parts of their game that need work and to make a plan (set goals!) to mitigate those deficiencies. Practice is a great time to focus on this type of goal, perfect chance to take some risks and try something new. There is no benefit for players to operate from a mindset of being afraid of making a mistake or thinking too much about what they aren’t any good at. For games, bring a strengths-based focus to the goals. Ask the player what they know they do well and how they can bring more of that strength to match day.
So, coaches, as you start this calendar year anew: what are your gooooooals!?
Jemma Merrick is a life-long soccer fan, long-time soccer player and coach, and current soccer mom. After high school, Jemma played both Division I and Division III collegiate soccer, at the University of Virginia and Macalester College, respectively.