Goal Setting – The Starting Point

Post by Kudzai Muzorewa(@KudzaiMuzo), Innovate High Performance Centre Personal Trainer, BA. Chemistry, A.C.E. Certified Personal Trainer, World Rugby Level 1 Strength & Conditioning Coach

Before you grab a dumbbell or put your running shoes on, the first thing any athlete needs is a plan for success. For many young athletes, the dreams and aspirations of becoming famous are ever-present and the internal drive to do “whatever it takes” is at the forefront of their minds. While this youthful exuberance can lead to a lifetime of success, if it is left unguided and ill-disciplined, it will more than likely lead to injury, failure, frustration and feelings of low self-esteem. To avoid the latter, athletes need to set

SMART goals.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound. Let’s look at these parameters one at a time. A specific goal means that it is not vague. It is definite. An example of a specific goal would be; “I want to be able to do 60 push ups without stopping”. Conversely, an example of a vague goal would be, “I want to be better than my opposition.” The second example is vague in that it is hard to define whether the goal of simply “being better” has ever been achieved.

The ‘M’ in SMART stands for measurable. This means that there is a way for the athlete’s progress towards that goal to be quantified. Using the above ‘60 unbroken pushups’ example, if at the time when I set the goal, I could only do 30 and now, weeks later, I can do 50 before I need a rest, my progress is clear and undeniable. Making your goals measurable in this way is great for self assessment and continued motivation. It is also a good tool to be used when regularly re-evaluating your goals.

Achievable and Realistic in the SMART goal system go hand in hand in my opinion. Achievable means that the goal is one that can be reached and realistic means that it is possible for the athlete to carry out this goal. Here is an example of an achievable and realistic goal; an under-14 student playing for the B side of his school’s rugby team has a goal of playing for the A side by the next rugby season. An example of an unrealistic and unachievable goal would be the same U14 B side rugby player wanting to play for the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup to be played in a few months. Setting achievable and realistic goals is about learning to build towards a greater dream brick by brick instead of trying to build Rome in one day.

Finally, we have the Time Bound parameter of our goal setting. Without a time frame for our goals we can either stay in our current condition or we will burn ourselves out trying to do too much too soon. Without a time limit, one could reach the goal of 60 unbroken pushups in 60 years or one could try to reach that goal by tomorrow. As you can imagine, neither of these timeframes do the athlete any good. To put it all together, an example of a SMART goal would be as follows; “I will be able to do 20 unbroken pushups in two months time”. As we’ve already discussed, it is a specific and measurable goal. Considering the athlete’s current conditioning level, and the amount of time given to carry out the goal, it is safe to say that this goal is also achievable and realistic.

Once a motivated athlete has a SMART goal, the very next thing they will need is guidance. So many young athletes walk into our gym full of ambition and keen as mustard to ‘make the team’ that they download any and every gym program that they can find online. While most of the programs are sound, they may not be suitable for the young athlete and can often times put the athlete at a greater risk of injury. To illustrate this, a professional or club rugby lifting program could be posted online and may involve barbell snatches, ‘power cleans’ and dead lifts. The caption that gained the reader’s attention would be ‘Off-Season Strength Program’. As this is exactly what the reader was looking for, it is “perfect”. However, more often than not, the young athlete may not have proper technique or even adequate core strength to safely and effectively execute these lifts. With proper help, the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed athlete will be much safer, better able to stay ‘on-track’ with his or her goals as well as gain a better understanding of how to ‘self-manage’.

In conclusion, it should be understood that as you start your journey to fitness, it’s not about focusing on how many sit ups, push ups or squats you need to do to be the next Kirsty Coventry. Rather, like any great and worthwhile journey, the best place to start is with a SMART plan and a guide. The rest will fall into place.