What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: Setting Goals Reboot

Another article on goal setting? Really? How hard can it be? If 2014 was everything you planned it to be, congratulations and no need to read any further. However, if things got away from you or you feel some things were left undone, read on for our top tips on making the most of your goal setting.

By Kristen Dieffenbach, Ph.D., CC AASP

Chances are you started off 2014 full of promise and with lots of well-crafted goals. And no matter how big or small they were, if you are like most athletes, once set, those goals got taken for granted, getting lost in the immediacy of bike maintenance, intense training efforts and general everyday life balance challenges. And as a result, those goals that were set to guide and inform your training, become a source of stress and rigid self-expectations. Not exactly the formula for success, let alone an enjoyable season.

The value of goals is neither groundbreaking nor earth shattering news. No matter what area of performance you consider, goals have been found to be an important part of achievement. An abundance of research has been conducted around the use of goals, with a clear conclusion. They work. However, there is one essential element that is often over looked and becomes the downfall to the best laid plans. The power of goals is not in having them. It is in actually using them effectively.

Amstel Gold Race 2011We all need goals and advice, even Philippe Gilbert in his best ever season

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antione de Saint-Exupery
With this in mind, as you think back and evaluate your season, it is important to take time to examine the entire goal setting process, from start to finish and all the steps in between. Most people are pretty good at the first step – the actual setting of the goals. Athletes and coaches routinely set and prioritize them in the off or early pre-season to provide a foundation for the training plan. Chances are you have those written down. Ideally, they are both specific and measurable and include those that focus on outcome (winning) as well as performance (personal achievement) and process (‘how to’) goals. And in turn, those goals were used to write your training plan. And some sort of season evaluation, where the season goals are dusted off and reviewed, is a common ‘end step’.

But what about all the steps in between the beginning and end of the season? While writing out goals at the start of the season is good beginning to an effective goal setting process, and the year in review can be constructive, these are only just the small steps in the big process. Rarely are these enough to provide the momentum and structure needed to last across an entire season.

Effective Goal Use
Thanks to training plan design experts like Joe Friel and Eddie B., cyclists know how to set goals and use them to write a training plan. And a training plan is an important part of goal support and achievement. However despite a well-founded start and clear training plan, many seasons still end with ‘what ifs’ and ‘wtf’ frustration as goal went from being the driving force to a backseat driver. Really harnessing the power of goals, requires having a clear goal plan for the season that is designed to support the goal setting process specifically.

Here are a few tips and ideas for putting goals to work effectively across a whole season to consider as you begin to plan for 2015.

Become the master not the servant
As noted, goals are a powerful. So powerful that athletes sometimes forget that the goals were written to support and guide training, not rigidly dictate it. Re-evaluating and even revising them based on new information or shifting focus is neither dis-loyal or mutiny. Goals are supposed to be evaluated, questioned and re-set to help ensure they are providing the right amount of both motivation and challenge. Don’t be afraid to question why a goal is the right one or if it is still important or to shift a goal a little to the left or right in order to keep it lined up with where you are and what you are trying to accomplish. This goes for both big and small goals, short and long term.

Don’t wait for a problem
Goal evaluation and revision is commonly done only when something goes awry, and usually only when it is something big. A poor finish or missed mark, is of course a good time to go back and re-evaluate to see if adjustments need to be made. But goal evaluation should also be done even when things go well or better than expected. Maybe the initial goals were set too low? Or perhaps progress has occurred faster than anticipated. A single good or bad outcome alone doesn’t necessarily mean any adjustments need to be made but the process of checking in and re-evaluating will help keep you in touch with the key foundation points of your season.

Schedule routine maintenances
Goals set. Done. This approach is about as effective as planting a garden, walking away and expecting a full and bountiful harvest in the fall without ever tending to the plants. Quality goal setting requires routine maintenance – pruning, watering, weeding and fertilizing – to ensure that smaller supportive goals are being adequately set and that big goals are adjusted as needed. Consider your goals a ‘living’ and breathing document. You wouldn’t write out the whole season of workouts and then just follow them because it is what was written down. You routinely re-adjust training efforts based on progress. The same is true with goal setting. Have a clear plan for when you will sit down to review and evaluate not only the plan, but the original goals themselves? It can be weekly, every two weeks or monthly, but it should be a set schedule. Regularly scheduled maintenance is key for any effective machine.

Enlist help
Goals are very personal. It can be difficult to share them with others for fear of falling short or from a feeling of not being worthy of the goals one has set. They don’t all need to be public, posted on the front of the refrigerator goals. But ideally, you should enlist at least one person with whom to share your goals and to check in with across the goal setting process. This person can help both support and challenge you throughout the process by helping you celebrate the successes, big and small, reminding you to re-evaluate and re-asses, proving a sounding board, and challenging you when you set your sights too low or challenges too steep.

Kristen Dieffenbach, Ph.D., CC AASP

About Kristen
Kristen is an associate professor of Athletic Coaching Education at West Virginia University and an Association of Applied Sport Psychology certified consultant. In addition to providing peak performance education and support for coaches, athletes and teams through her company Mountains, Marathons and More, Kristen is a professional coach with Peaks Coaching Group, specializing in working with developmental and Espior cyclists. She is the co-author of Bike Racing for Juniors and has written over 20 chapters on sport psychology topics for peak performance. She can be reached at kristen.dieffenbach.mail.wvu.edu

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