Setting Goals

While there are many benefits available from youth sports, such as fun and fitness, youth sports have their greatest long-term rewards – for coaches, parents and athletes alike – by serving as a framework for teaching youth life lessons.

What lessons can be more important for an aspiring athlete than the lessons of how to set, pursue and achieve goals…and how to react when you fall short?

Because those lessons are so important, and because goal-setting is so naturally built into competition, Positive Coaches set goals for themselves, their teams and each player. Furthermore, Positive Coaches set the right goals, pursue them in the right way and help youth athletes do the same.

Everyone wants to win, and that is certainly an important goal for many coaches, but it should not be the only goal. Positive Coaches embrace the idea that they have two goals: winning on the field and winning off-the-field by learning life lessons from sports.

Setting Goals

At the beginning of the season, Positive Coaches gather their team to discuss and set goals.  Consider an exercise where each player, individually, writes down on an index card what their goals are for the team for the season.  The write everyone’s responses on the board and get to a concise list that everyone agrees will be the team goals for the season.  Then take time to work with your athletes one-on-one to set goals for each player for the season.  Do they want to master a new skill and need your help with that?  Do they want to work on being a better teammate?  Make sure as the Coach you know what your athletes want to accomplish.

As the leader and coach of the team, add your own and talk about why you have the goals you do for the team. A key goal for Positive Coaches is Effort.  You want your athletes to give 100% effort, 100% of the time.  It’s one of the three pillars of a Mastery Approach for your team.  (More on this in our Mastery Approach article).  

Goal Setting 100 Point Exercise Youth sports An example of an effort goal you can set for your team or for individual players is to win a majority of “50-50 balls” (or pucks or pins etc.). Or, to remove “winning” from the equation entirely, set the goal as “maximum effort” on such plays, and make sure you or your assistant coaches pay close enough attention to assess your players’ level of effort. If you can tie an effort goal (“try”) to an outcome goal (“win”), then players gain extra encouragement as they achieve the effort goals and at least move toward achieving the desired outcome goals, as well.

Remember: Goals should be those that athletes can accomplish and are within their control.  Winning is not a goal for a team’s season since reaching that goal is outside of your collective control and is dependent upon the quality of opponents, officiating, weather, etc.  Positive Coaches stick to goals where the outcome is within the team’s control.

Pursuing Goals

One way to manage the pursuit of goals is to keep in mind the equation S=E/T (Success Equals Effort Over Time). It is important to establish that with youth athletes who are just learning a skill or attempting a major improvement so that they will maintain the level of effort required – even in the face of poor early results – until they achieve some success.

“Over time” is a key concept. Just as players require repetition to learn how to execute, Positive Coaches must consistently repeat positive reinforcement. That way, the player fully believes the coach values effort more than results and the player feels free to adopt the same values.

Along the way, one key is to reward unsuccessful effort. That strikes many as counterintuitive. But it is essential to keeping players persistent. What else would keep players pushing toward improvement despite the physical, mental and emotional challenges of repeated failed efforts?

A Positive Coach who sees players trying hard, yet failing to make the play, can reinforce their effort by noticing out loud how hard they were trying: “Danny, it still didn’t end up the way we wanted, but I saw how intent you were on technique. Your feet were planted just right. I know the results will come over time.”

Another way to reinforce effort is through a targeted, symbolic reward . After a practice or game you can honor players for making the desired efforts. For example, you might give the “dirty shirt award” to the player showing the most hustle.

It’s important that this award has no great value beyond symbolizing the player’s effort. That keeps the player focused on the value of the effort itself, as opposed to the award’s monetary value. Even if the player never achieves the desired result you pursued together, he or she will have the lasting life lesson of the value of effort and a tangible reminder of the coach who imparted that life lesson.

Achieving Goals...or Not

It is one of the greatest feelings in the world to work hard and achieve a goal. It can be a horrible feeling to work hard and fall short. However, if the effort was everything it should have been and could have been, there should be no regrets.

A great way to help your athletes experience and process this range of emotions is to establish intermediate goals en route to a major long-term goal. That way there are bound to be successes (to be celebrated so the athlete is inspired to work hard enough to earn the chance to celebrate achieving the next intermediate goal) and failures (to be learned from so the athlete can continue the quest).

Both situations translate to the rest of the athlete’s life – in school, career and personal relationships -- where he or she undoubtedly will continue to experience both victory and defeat. Sports as experienced with a Positive Coach will teach youth how to handle both victory and defeat graciously, and perhaps most importantly will teach the lasting life lesson that regardless of results, hard work is its own reward.


Next


In an effort to benefit millions of youth athletes, parents and coaches, this article is among a series created exclusively for partners in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive program powered by Positive Coaching Alliance.

©2014 Liberty Mutual Insurance and Positive Coaching Alliance. All rights reserved. This material may not be distributed without express written permission. Any reproduction in whole or part by and individuals or organizations will be held liable for copyright infringement to the full extent of the law.


  • Adam Krikorian | It Starts With Parents and Coaches

    Adam Krikorian, Head Coach, Women’s National Water Polo Team talks about how winning and losing with class is about how we treat our opponent and it starts with the coaches and parents. "If you are not setting the right example, how do you expect youth athletes or kids to follow in a positive manner. "

  • Karch Kiraly | Olympic Coaching Technique

    Karch Kiraly, legendary volleyball player and coach for USA Volleyball shares his coaching technique he uses in Olympic training. "It starts with making as few assumptions about what people know and what they don't."

  • John Smith l Posting Your Sport on Social Media

    John Smith, USA Wrestling Olympic Gold Medalist and Coach shares why he does not allow his wrestlers post anything on social media about their sport. "You'll say things on social media that you would never say face to face."

  • Heather Petri | Be Confident

    In this episode, Tina Syer, Chief Impact Officer of Positive Alliance steps in for Jim and talks with Heather Petri, four-time USA Water Polo Olympian. Heather shares how she transitioned from swimming to water polo and why she did not specialize in just one sport growing up. She also talks about her coaches, including Don Heidary, and how they contributed to her success. Lastly, Heather reflects on her Olympic experience and how she achieved four medals, including a 2012 gold.

  • Dan Regan | More Than Physical Skills

    In this episode, Tina Syer, Chief Impact Officer of Positive Coaching Alliance, steps in for Jim and talks with Dan Regan, 2011 U.S. Men’s Sitting Volleyball Athlete of the Year. Dan shares his story on how he started playing seated volleyball, retracing his path to Athlete of the Year after just two years on the national team. He also opens up about what the sport means to him and how a good coach deals with challenging situations.

  • Cody Bickley | Understand Your Weakness

    In this episode, Tina Syer, Chief Impact Officer of Positive Alliance, steps in for Jim and talks with Cody Bickley, recent Manager of Coaches Education for USA Wresting. Cody shares how it was to grow up with a father who was a wrestling coach and the relationship they shared. He also talks about how to get started in wrestling, along with what to look for in a good coach. Lastly, he discusses the Coaches Education program at USA Wrestling and some of their core principles. He also shares his advice for new and veteran wrestling coaches.

Did you know that you could save hundreds of dollars a year on auto and home insurance with Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Learn more

How would $2,500 help your youth sports team? The Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive® Pledge Fall Season is NOW open for your chance to earn $2,500. Get started by registering your team today.

Learn more