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The importance of setting goals in achieving success

posted by Loree: A Skirt, A Hammer, A Life, and A Dream
Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 1:47pm EST

This is the official blog of Olympic track and field athlete, Loree Smith. It covers day to day life, training, competing, philosophies, and generally anything that comes to mind that day.

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Many of us want more out of life, out of training, out of throwing, competitions, whatever.  We desire to better, whatever better means to us.  But not all of us reach our potential or know how to progress.

I get questions from typically younger athletes, but I think this is something that can help anyone.  When you want something, you want to achieve something, you need to decide you want it.  And that’s called setting goals.

Setting goals are important because it gives you and your efforts focus.  What do you want to do? Why do you want to do it? What will it mean to you? How will it make you feel?  Those days when training or life is hard, it helps you understand why you continue to do this.  It gives you something to work towards so you’re never content with good enough.  It motivates you, drives your efforts, shows your progress.  It extends your reach so you can learn your limits.

Having goals is what makes this a worthy pursuit and not just a hobby.

So what exactly is goal setting?

When I watched the 1996 Olympic in Atlanta, I was going into my 9th grade year of high school, I was twelve years old.  I didn’t understand what it was, but I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.  I knew I needed a sport and I would have to be one of the best in the world to get there.  Honestly, when I first made that “goal” I had no idea what it entailed, what I would give, and what I would do.  I was just a chubby kid going into high school trying to get in shape for Coach Tjaden’s dreaded timed 800m run for the volleyball team.

But there was a seed planted, an idea that grew into something more, a dream realized.  I decided I wanted something, that I wanted to achieve it, and I told myself I would do.  What do you want to achieve?

I will get more into this with types of goals, but my suggestions when setting goals is to first look at the big picture of what you want to accomplish or achieve.  Is it to get a bigger scholarship, make finals, win, PR?  Make sure it’s something measurable and meaningful to you.  Then look at things you will also need to achieve to reach that goal.  This may take some sitting down and thinking, but I’m assuming if you can read this, you are capable of thought.  :)

Types of Goals:

There are two basic types of goals when thinking of things you want to achieve.  There is the long-term, something that will take time, month or years.  And then there are the short-term, day to day goals.  You’ll find it mentally healthier and more rewarding to make a good combination of the two.

Long-term goals are the big picture, they ask more and take longer.  This should be a dream of yours.  What would you like to get out of your 4-5 college years? What would you like to ultimately do with your post-collegiate training? What would you like to do before you graduate high school?  This is the central focus, something large and grand to work towards.  (I personally think, the bigger the better, but also be realistic.  I would never say, win the Boston marathon by next year, where I could say, finish a marathon by next year… see?)

My Olympic dream was a long-term goal.  Obviously a chubby kid who can’t break the 3min 45sec 800m mark wasn’t going to the Olympics that summer, but I knew eventually I did want to get there.  I remember finding out they are every 4 years and made the goal of making the 2000 Olympic team in the shot put.  I generously gave myself four years to add, oh, 30 feet to my shot! lol

My current long term goals I have set for myself are (hammer) the American Record, make finals in the Outdoor World Championships, and then to win a medal in the Olympics.  These are goals I’ve trained for since first picking up the hammer and continue to pursue.  I’ve never lost sight of this in up years nor down.

Short-term goals are just as important but on a shorter timeline.  I look at short-term goals as mile markers on the long journey to my long-term goal to keep me on track.  I look at my long term goal and then I think about things I will need to grow to get there.  Someone may have the short-term goal of fixing their wind at practice, finally being able to get all their reps in the weight room, maybe not foul any throws at the meet, make finals in the next meet, whatever… Having short-term goals are like little building blocks on our way to the long-term goals and they boost morale when you can see progress, even if it’s just small.

On a side note for short-term goals, I show up to every practice, every throw with something I want to accomplish.  I always hate it when I ask someone what they’re working on and they say nothing.  Nothing!  Well, that’s what you will get out of an unfocused practice.

After Making A Goal, Then What?

One of my favorite quotes is “Goals without a plan are just a wish.”  This brings up a good point, making goals are a challenge you set to yourself to achieve.  You can’t just say that you’re going to make the Olympic team and then change nothing to get there.

When deciding how you will achieve your goal you must be honest with yourself.  What are your strengths? What makes you feel that you can accomplish this goal?  As well as, what are your weaknesses? What will you need to improve to obtain your goal?  Also look at what’s important and what you should focus your time most on.  If your technique is crap, should you really skip practice to max out on bench?  Make sure you realistically look at what needs to be better and put them in order of important and focus.

Once you’ve asked yourself these questions and answered them, then you must look at the how.  How will you improve your weaknesses?  How will continue to strengthen your strengths?  How will you meet your goals?

Now a plan is forming.  Once you look at what you need to change (making smaller goals of changing them) and then decide how you will go about changing them (your plan), then you are ready to achieve your success.

Readjusting Goals or Staying Focused

So you’ve implemented your plan.  Every day at training, you train with focus and purpose.  You’ve lost or gained the weight you needed, you’ve added the strength or speed or fitness, you’ve improved your technique, whatever.  What happens if you don’t achieve your goal?

We don’t like to think about this, hell, I hate thinking about not doing something in fear if the thought even enters my mind it will materialize in the real world, but it is something we need to realize is a possibility.

When we don’t meet our goals, it is good to take an honest look at what happened, what fell short.  Sometimes it was an unexpected injury or sickness, or something else out of our control, and sometimes our best just wasn’t good enough.  We need to decide if the goal should remain a goal, staying focused on it or if we should change the goal, readjust it.

If it is something that was out of our control, a bad call, injury, illness, off day, new training that wasn’t working, etc. or you just need more time to prepare then you can stay focused on the goal (may need slight adjusting) but keep working towards it.

In 2004, I was among the youngest competitors at the Olympic trials.  I had a stress fracture for almost a year and had just stumbled upon distance in the hammer.  I was 5th coming out of qualifying with an auto mark and then in finals, crapped the bed.  I didn’t throw as far as I could and I actually dropped the hammer in my 3rd throw failing to make finals by one spot.  It would be another 4 years before I got my next shot at making an Olympic team.

I didn’t change the goal, I still wanted to be an Olympian, but I did have to change the time line (2008) and make more changes to myself, train harder, become a student of the sport, become mentally tougher, etc.  In 2005, I broke the NCAA record, won my first championship title, won NACAC U23 Gold medal, and in 2008 made the Olympic team.

I didn’t see missing my goal as a failure, but more a stumbling block to point out things I still needed to improve upon.  This is staying focused on a goal.

When we need to readjust or change a goal is when we honestly see our limitations in it.  We want goals to be grand, but we also want them to be attainable.

In 1996, my goal was to make the Olympic team with the shot put.  However, in college my best was only 56′ and I was dealing with an injury the last two years that wouldn’t allow me to train it properly.  Also, looking at the strength levels and size of the other girls, I realized the disadvantage with the implement.   I had to be honest with myself, did I think I had the tools to achieve my goal?  Did I think I could put in the time and effort to attain those?  While I think if I focused on shot and was healthy, I could throw 60ft, in the end, I loved the hammer more, had more potential to do what I wanted with it, and so, I had to let go of that goal.  It didn’t mean I failed, but it meant I needed to change my goals to keep my focus and effort in what I think is productive.

Changing goals isn’t about giving up.  We set goals to realize our potential, to see what we are made of.  There is no shame in not achieving the highest goals (I know I say that, but I will effing do it or die trying! lol) as long as we literally gave everything we could.  At the end of the day, when you’ve given everything, that’s all you can do and sometimes other things are out of your control.  However, you will have done more than you every thought possible anyway, and that is what is most important.

Tips on Goal Setting:

  • Write down your goals: I write down my goals so I can see what I want to accomplish and remind myself everyday from distances I want to achieve at each meet, places, to my ultimate goals. Loree's goal and reminders

    Just a friendly reminder on the way out of room every morning.

  • Take time to enjoy when you’ve met a goal.  This is something I need to work on.  It’s okay to take a moment and be happy that you’ve met a goal.
  • Once meeting a goal, set another.  If you want to keep progressing, keep moving up your goals as you meet them.  You may surprise yourself.
  • Always, always, always be honest with yourself.  It’s amazing the people that think they are doing everything they can to meet a goal and don’t realize that showing up out of shape from break, drinking too much during the weekends, not being as mentally focused at training, etc. really take away from training.  Always look at things you can improve.
  • And remember: Goals are about motivating you and building your self confidence by achieving them.  They aren’t unattainable barriers or meant to make you feel like a failure.  If they seem that way, readjust them or your thinking.

Good luck to all those out there training!  Feel free to share your goals or stories about how you’ve achieved them.  I love hearing them!

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