This is an excerpt from Developing Swimmers.
Culture and Goal Setting
Elite athletes are goal-setting machines, and the habit of continual goal setting is a primary reason they climb the ladder to the elite level. An important part of creating an environment of excellence is encouraging continual goal setting. Too often, goals are thought of as big intentions for the end of the season. But for goals to nurture future high performers, they have to be everywhere all the time. Goal setting means having a point or purpose that you are trying to accomplish in everything you do.
Purposes of Goals
Swimming can be a grind—swimmers come to practice every day; they are expected to work harder than they want to; they are tired all the time, and they do not have the free time that most kids do. But goals give swimmers a reason to do the program. They represent something meaningful to a swimmer that she wants to accomplish.
- Goals give focus. Most kids' minds are unfocused and highly scattered. Goals get their attention and keep it focused on a target, giving them something to think about and a purpose for training.
- Goals make decisions easier. Goals supply higher principles upon which to base thousands of decisions swimmers make every day about what to eat, how to use their limited time, how to attack certain sets in practice, and so on. Thus, goals make life simpler. Swimmers don't have to stress about little things because those decisions are already made by the direction they are heading in.
- Goals generate self-respect and respect for others. We become worthy by striving after worthy goals. We value and respect ourselves much more when we know we are attempting something great, working hard and conscientiously, rather than merely skating by and doing the bare minimum. We value our teammates more when we know they are attempting something great, working hard and conscientiously. The atmosphere created when everyone in the pool is aiming high is one of support, respect, and achievement. High goals are contagious.
- Goals provide a way to evaluate what swimmers have done. If swimmers never knew their times or could never compare their results with competitors, they would never know how they did. They would never know they fell short and needed to work harder or that they did well and should be pleased with their performance. They would never be able to see the baby steps of accomplishment that make for long-term success. They would be shooting their arrows into the darkness, never knowing whether or not the arrows hit the target.
- Goals help swimmers maintain a good attitude. Too many swimmers see training as a chore, and they see meets, especially championship meets, as pressure-filled, frightening experiences. Goals can help swimmers overcome this problem by rearranging their thinking about training and racing. Goals make swimming a game. They make fast swimming and high achievement challenging and energizing, not frightening and anxiety ridden. Continual goal setting and goal reaching builds confidence as swimmers see themselves getting better in a hundred ways every day. Occasionally falling short and trying again builds resilience and determination, and it lets kids see that failure is temporary, more irritating than overwhelming.
- Goals liberate. Most swimmers have no idea how fast they really are, because they only scratch the surface of their potential. When goals are continually being set and accomplished, the bar of self-expectation keeps getting raised—kids start to see just how fast they can become. Suddenly the seemingly overwhelming accomplishments such as making nationals or making the Olympic team get put into perspective and seem possible.
In order for goals to be motivating, they must belong to the swimmers and be important to them. But coaches play crucial roles in helping swimmers choose and achieve good goals.
- Coaches know swimmers' capabilities. Most young swimmers have no idea how fast they can be; they usually assume they aren't as capable as they really are. The coach teaches high expectations and high standards, acting as a sort of quality-control expert. When swimmers aim higher, they achieve higher.
- Coaches understand normal progress. Because young swimmers do not know what a normal rate of progress is, they do not know how fast they can expect to improve if they work hard.
- Coaches have perspective. Young swimmers have little experience in the swimming world, so they have little perspective. They don't know the various levels of achievement or what it takes to reach them, so they don't know how high they can climb. They will not aim to climb Mount Everest if they do not know that it exists.
- Coaches help swimmers attain goals. Stating a goal without attaching mean- ing to it is easy. The coach can help the athlete take the goal and give it meaning with the splits along the way and the particular practice habits and performances that will lead to the goal time. The coach also continually reminds the swimmer of what is needed to reach the goal.
Read more about Developing Swimmers by Michael Brooks.