At the beginning of every season, practice, or other defining time period for the team, coaches usually set some kind of goal, though it is often abstract. This leads players astray, since they cannot always pinpoint what they are working toward.
This article is designed to show the importance of creating clear, well-defined goals that each player, coach, and parent knows and understands, so that everyone can work together to achieve them.
Set Goals for Each Practice and Competition
Coaches know that if players understand what they are expected to do, they will more likely do it well and do it fast. Goals help create this situation of clear expectations by defining the point of the practice or game and helping players focus their strategies on achieving that goal.
Specific means that goals should be detailed, so that everyone knows exactly what to do. Measurable means that there is a way to determine whether or not the goal has been reached. Achievable means that the goal is not too hard or too easy for the team. Reasonable means that there is the distinct possibility that with work and effort, the goal can be achieved. Timely means that the goal has a time associated with it at which time it should be achieved.
During this time, players should be allowed to create modified personal goals. The team goals should be broad enough that all players can feel included, while the individual goals should be specific and unique to each player. For instance, a team goal might include: “Improve team pitching accuracy by 20% by March.” However, an individual goal might include: “Improve the drop of my curveball to 75% accuracy by March.” This helps players see the big team goals and how their individual goals fit into them.
As the head coach, it is also your responsibility to set goals with the coaches. Your coaching staff should have goals for themselves and their teams, just as the teams have goals. Work with your staff to develop these goals, using the same guidelines and principles defined below for coaches to use with players. This holds the coaching staff accountable and shows you what is really happening each day at practice.
Let Everyone Participate
Invite collaboration from team members, parents, and other coaches. Make it clear that not everyone’s goal can be used, but try to incorporate goals with yours and combine where possible.
When everyone involved agrees to a goal and feels “bought-in,” they are more likely to work to achieve that goal. For example, a player needs to understand why a team goal is to react faster to the ball, even if that particular players is highly skilled in this area. Even that player can improve, but they can also help the team achieve that goal by working with less skilled players or sharing their tips on what makes them react so fast.
By allowing everyone to participate, you can also see what these individual people think is important. While some of the goals are going to be unreasonable or impossible, some will be SMART and should be used. Be careful not to discount the goals of others simply because they are not your own. Together, your team can achieve everyone’s goals.
Utilize Pre- and Post-Assessments
Assessing the team before and after a goal’s time period is important to accurately determine whether or not a goal has been met. If your team does not closely monitor their time for running a mile before a goal goes into effect, how are you supposed to know if they have improved their speed and endurance?
Work with all coaches to explain the importance of taking time to assess players just as goals go into effect. It may be hard to show them the importance of doing this because they are so anxious to get the team going and start practices for the season. However, these goals are essential to see if your team and coaches are doing their jobs, so make it a priority and your coaches will too.
Post-assessments are also essential. Coaches may often think that the tangible results, such as winning a championship, mean that all goals have been achieved, but this thinking is flawed. There could be hidden weak spots that the team will never uncover unless they are diligent about measuring progress on goals.
For example, just because a team wins a big game does not mean that everyone participated fairly. If your goal is to improve the accuracy of your team’s pitching in softball, a win might overshadow a true assessment of that goal. However, a good coach would look back and see which pitchers actually achieved that accuracy goal. It may be surprising how some players can slip through the cracks without every really improving.
Review and Modify Goals throughout the Season
While a goal may seem like a good idea at the beginning of the season, it is not always a good idea to keep that goal around as things progress. Changes in team structure, assistant coaches, and practice styles all affect a team’s ability to achieve a goal.
Throughout the year, you should meet with coaches and players to discuss and modify goals as necessary. This goes for both individual and group goals.
For group goals, call everyone together and prominently display the current list of goals. Go through each one to discuss the following questions:
1. Is this goal still relevant for our team? Why or why not?
2. Are we on track to reach this goal? What have we done well? Where do we need to improve?
3. How challenging is this goal? Are we going to meet it too easily? If so, what can we do to continue to challenge ourselves? If not, what can we do to make the goal challenging but still achievable?
4. Does this goal motivate our team to improve? If not, what can we do to rephrase it or make it more specific?
Allow everyone a chance to speak during this time and share opinions about specific goals or the goal process in general. Players may feel singled out during this time if they feel that they are not meeting a goal, so be prepared to moderate discussions about players’ individual abilities. For some, goal-setting is easy, because they are talented and likely to reach their goals without much difficulty. For others, goal-setting is a difficult time because it requires constant work and the fear of not meeting a team goal.
Review and Modify Goals throughout the Season
As discussed in the first section, individuals need goals as well as teams. As a coach, you should work one-on-one with players to help them determine their individual goals, focusing on effort and self-determination.
These goals should have the same SMART principles described above, but they are highly personal and should be meaningful to the individual player. As a coach, your job is to help players realize what they need to work on and help them set realistic expectations, but the goal creation should be their own.
Do not let any player participate in the sport without a clear set of goals. This puts everyone on an even playing field and holds them accountable to their stated goals for improvement during the season. With goals, players will play more mindfully and incorporate criticism better because they know what they are working toward.