Don’t get me wrong. Goal setting is a very useful skill. Used well it helps focus your energy, think more clearly and build confidence. But goal setting is neither a silver bullet for performance, nor is it essential.
Indeed, the evidence on the efficacy on goal setting in sport remains patchy. My simple view is that this is because goal setting is not always the right thing to do.
Learn from the comeback kings and queens
Recently there have been a number of swimming comebacks, and a common theme links many of them. Given the opportunity to take time out of the sport to reflect, swimmers like Brendan Hansen, Janet Evans and Anthony Erving have decided to come back and stated the importance of simply enjoying what they do.
This doesn’t imply that they don’t want to swim fast. It doesn’t even suggest that they don’t want to win or make an Olympic team. But it isn’t that big a deal, if they’ve worked hard, prepared well and swum fast to not come away with the gold. The goal, if you like, is in the background rather than the foreground.
Over the years I’ve seen more examples of people getting stressed out because they’ve become hung up on achievement than anything else. They lose perspective. The result is everything. It’s all consuming. They lose sight of the fact that it’s just swimming, and that swimming fast can be in itself immensely enjoyable and satisfying. Time out of the sport to reflect, to try other things, to grow up a little provides that perspective again.
Train with purpose and race for fun!
Like I said at the offset, I’m not against goal setting or having gosld. I just think, and indeed the evidence suggests, sometimes we need to pull on other levers – most importantly FUN! I particularly believe this to be true of racing. If you train with purpose (with goals), and can let go and simply enjoy racing hard and fast (put the goals to one side), I believe that you can unleash something truly powerful.