Setting Effective Goals in Youth Sports
How do you help sports kids set goals that don’t create high expectations? Wait a minute, you may ask. The whole process of setting goals creates expectations!
Read on to understand the critical difference between setting goals and creating high expectations in youth sports.
This is a big challenge for parents, coaches and young athletes. Too often, kids confuse goals with expectations. They then set high expectations for themselves and get frustrated when they don’t achieve them.
This is a mental game no-no. You don’t want your athletes to do this. It hurts their confidence and undermines their performance.
Yes, you do want kids to establish goals. But they need to understand that they can modify their goals. They should be flexible. Kids need to view goal-setting as a process.
We recently talked to J. Parker Adair about this topic. He’s a coach and former semi-pro athlete who started a high school lacrosse program and has run programs for athletes who range from pre-schoolers to high schoolers.
Goals give kids a purpose, he says. They motivate them to try hard and be passionate about their sport.
To help kids avoid working toward goals in ways that create unhealthy expectations, Adair focuses on looking at goals as a step-by-step process.
Focusing on mini-goals is key.
“I tell them to focus on little things—maybe like changing their stance or position. Fix that one thing, For example, let’s keep our eyes out when going to pass. Don’t look at the ground. Now, when you have that down, start looking at one player. If he’s open, then pass to him. It’s really a building block technique.”
We agree that helping kids establish mini goals is important. You want them to concentrate on goals that will help them stay grounded in the present. These are immediate, day-to-day goals. You don’t want them thinking about the score or the win all the time.
Some examples: Play one shot at a time. Stay in the process. Focus on one point at a time. While you’re setting these goals, don’t forget to include mental game goals. For example, ask kids to let go of mistakes quickly and focus on the next play.
This kind of goal-setting yields many benefits. Such goals help kids stay grounded in the moment. When they’re playing in the moment and not worrying about the score or the win, they’re more likely to take the essential risks needed to help them grow as athletes.
Want to learn more about goal-setting, expectations, and other issues that affect kids’ confidence and success? Here at Kids’ Sports Psychology, we’ve got lots of helpful resources for you.
For example, if you search Kids’ Sports Psychology for setting goals, you’ll find these and many other resources about this topic:
- “Why Setting Goals is Important,” an audio interview with Kurt Stahura, associate professor of Recreation and Sport Management at the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration.
- Improve Young Athletes’ Motivation with Goal Achievement, an e-book written specifically for kids.
- Kids’ Video: How to Set Positive Goals.
But that’s not all. Exclusive members of Kids’ Sports Psychology can download e-books for adults and kids, watch videos aimed at helping kids improve their confidence, read articles about numerous mental game topics, take part in question-and-answer forums, and much more!
Here’s what folks are saying about our resources:
“Sports Psychology for kids and sports parents is a wonderful topic, but I am so happy about what you’re doing in this area. I think professionals like you can be so valuable in helping sports parents.”
— Al Miller, Hall of Fame Soccer Coach
Improve your sports parenting skills and help your sports kids get the most out of their sports experience:
Kids’ Sports Psychology
P.S. If you’re an exclusive Kids’ Sports Psychology member, you can listen to our interview with Adair by clicking on this link:
Expert Interview with J. Parker Adair
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