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Goal Setting

Choosing and Achieving Your Goals

In today’s highly competitive athletic world, professional triathletes are seeking performance advantages in the fields of aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, physiology, nutrition and sports medicine.  Each of these areas offers only one piece of the performance puzzle. 

The next piece of the puzzle involves mental training for increased performance. 

The underlying principle behind a sound mental training plan is the belief that your mental attitude will determine your physical achievements or failures.  You’ve probably been introduced to this concept before, but most people don’t fully understand the real power of the mind/body relationship. Take for example, commitment — if you don’t strongly commit to do what is necessary to be successful in your training, then chances are you won’t follow through with your training program.

Everyone handles the stresses of intense competition in their own fashion, but the one aspect shared by all competitors is a dedication and passion to improve performance. You too can achieve your full athletic potential and realize your training goals. Practicing good mental habits, identifying areas for improvement, and coming up with strategies to cope with the day-to-day stresses of the demands of training for three sports means developing a stronger mental athlete come competition time.  Using your workouts to rehearse and reinforce your mental strength and skills greatly enhances your opportunity for success.

Everyone has the desire to do their best, to excel, to attain the highest standards of performance.  I have seen first-hand the desire top athletes have for athletic excellence and how it has led to a high level of success in their chosen field. These are worthy human ambitions.  This desire to excel leads to increasingly higher standards of personal achievement and enhanced self worth. A lack of concern for quality, creativity, or success would turn our society into a bleak, gray and spiritless world.  Achievement, success and the pursuit of excellence in athletics or any profession does not come without a strong commitment to do everything necessary.  The road is rocky and perilous, with numerous pitfalls to overcome. Achieving excellence in triathlon or any profession requires a great commitment to doing whatever is necessary to be successful.  Many times this demands lifestyle changes or sacrifices that can be difficult for everyone involved.  Often the most difficult barriers you face in achieving success are those you impose upon yourself, sometimes unknowingly.  Psychological barriers can become our toughest opponents to achieving success. Success starts with a belief – a dream – that you can achieve. This dream gives birth to reality.

Perhaps the best example of how success starts with belief in yourself is the Lance Armstrong story.  Diagnosed with cancer, Armstrong battled for his life.  Throughout long and difficult bouts of chemotherapy Armstrong kept one goal in mind: racing successfully again at the international level. Without his strong commitment to reaching his desired goals he never would have come close to racing again. Athletic performance is not a science.  There is no cookbook for success. If steps A, B, and C are completed, they do not automatically lead to a World Championship title!    We are all individuals and are governed by different rules that shape our bodies and motivate our minds.  There is no single way to do something.  You help forge the rules about the right way or wrong way to get to where you want to go.

Before you can chase your dreams, you must know exactly what they are and where you are in relation to them.  You must also have the courage to make your own rules and not allow yourself to be governed by perceived or imposed limitations.  Training is what we do to get ourselves ready to reach our personal athletic goals.

Goals Require Commitment: Commitment to improving your performance is something you must establish for yourself.  No one can tell you what is important in your life – that is your decision.  It is clear that successful athletes are highly committed to excellence.  There is no way to achieve a high level of excellence in your training without a high level of commitment.   When the question “How important is your athletic success?” was posed to members of the National Triathlon Team, it was clear that the most successful athletes from this already highly successful group were those who demonstrated the greatest commitment to their sport.  These athletes are fueled by high-octane passion and dedication and these values are simply a daily fact of life.  The greater your commitment to training, the more your life will focus on achieving success.  Simon Whitfield’s commitment to success in triathlon means that his life centers on eating, sleeping, and training.  This level of commitment increases his chances of successful performances.

This commitment to training at this extent may not be possible for you.  Many of the daily duties of life limit us from having enough time to devote a majority of our time to only training.  There is a point at which everyone must measure their wish list against their daily duties. There is only so much time in a day and it must be shared between work, family or relationship obligations, training, and rest.  Realistically, everyone has limits to their commitment to training, but for most of us the commitment changes daily. You must also consider the impact of training on others in your life and work to ensure their long-term support of your goals. This dedication to training can dramatically affect your progress.  You will increase your chances of success by maintaining a daily commitment to training.  Strong commitment assists in establishing crucial mental components such as desire, determination, passion and self-motivation.  These mental components will tilt the balance between “doing it” and “not doing it”.

Goal Setting: Putting it all Together.  In triathlon, outstanding performances involve the whole person: mind and body.  Establishing goals is the first step in mental preparation.   The next step in mental preparation is to develop a strong strategy as to how you will achieve the goals.

Goals that provide direction for training activities are helpful. With established goals, it is easier to determine when training gets off track so you can take action to regain control.  Without goals, it is difficult to assess whether you are on track and making progress in your training.

Be Specific: The more specific your goals, the better they are directing training positively.  Broad, general goals are not reliable in directing training.  Many times long-term, far-off goals or dream goals do not focus enough energy on the present.  My personal experience indicates that an athlete should use dream-term goals to motivate and stretch personal limits, but mid-term and micro-goals to reach the desired larger goal.

Stay in Control: There are many aspects to competition that are out of your control, including mechanical failures, competitors and climate conditions.  You will increase your opportunity for success when your energy is focused on the performance aspects of triathlon that are within your control.   I prefer to emphasize training goals rather than race results for short-term goals to measure progress.  Race success is greatly increased if an athlete is in good condition and ready to race, so stay focused on what you can control – your training, conditioning and workouts.   At times athletes become embattled with outside factors and lose commitment to the very core aspects that will create success.  Stay in control and maintain focus.

I always design a training program by first reviewing established goals.  The Startup coaching interview is a critical first step in the process. I will work with you to establish training goals to ensure that your training is focused on developing your energy systems correctly.  You will need to ask yourself what you expect to achieve from your training program. Do you expect to improve your efficiency, your speed, your power, your endurance, or all of these things?  Establishing training goals ensures that I will design a training program that leads you to these goals.  You will find that your training goals help motive you while training alone, creating a sense of personal satisfaction from the workouts.  The training program will reflect the goals you have established.  It is difficult, if not impossible, for an athlete to reach the limits of their talent without using goals to design training programs.

Dream Goals: At the top end of the goal spectrum are dream goals, or ultimate goals that push the limits of possibility.  Dream goals go hand in hand with the physical process of peaking for your season’s most important competition.  Dream goals are a great motivating factor as your body is beginning to enter peak conditioning to achieve new heights of excellence.  I will always try to nurture your motivation through the dream goals that you create.  Dream goals are goals that are long shots, but possible if everything falls into place.  These goals can help you through tough times and also serve as food for fantasy on long rides and runs.

My dream goal was to hear my national anthem played at the Olympics.  Of course, this is the highest goal in all of sport.  For someone who has been a middle of the pack age-grouper for several years, a dream goal might be to win their age group in local races and compete on the National Age-Group Team at World Championships.  I believe that my success is measured by how well I can help you reach your dream goals.

Like all goals, write down your dream goal and refer back to it regularly to remind yourself where you’re going and what the ultimate prize is.

Confidence Building Goals: Mid-term goals will often be the end-points of a training cycle.   Before tackling these goals, you should have sufficiently developed important physical qualities that will make you competitive in races.  I usually focus on developing your base endurance, aerobic threshold (tempo training) and lactate threshold before you target a mid-term goal. A mid-term goal focuses your efforts on achieving something realistic but ambitious.  These mid-term goals are confidence builders that help push you into the peaking process during the triathlon season.  Without mid-term goals as confidence builders, you would head into the heart of the season with little confidence.  Desire, commitment, and preparation would slowly leak away, and your physical attributes would go down the drain. Mid-term goals are a crucial part of the performance evaluation process that helps keep you on track.

Action Goals:  On a daily or weekly basis, it’s important to have micro goals, which create focus for each workout or week of training.  These micro goals create a common thread that ties together daily workouts and mid-term goals. They provide a daily link to your dream goals. It is the constant effort of trying to reach these action goals that builds the foundation for achieving your dream goal.  I will give you detailed daily training programs – a specific number of intervals, a mileage/time, and specific heart rate or a particular skill that I want you to train and develop.  It is the details of your daily training that become your micro goals.

Many athletes are very good at establishing dream goals, but they get sidetracked and never reach these goals because they have turned goal setting into a static process.  Daily evaluation should be integrated into your training program.  Many factors make it necessary to change daily workouts.  Planning is always an ongoing, fluid endeavor. Things change on a daily basis, races get canceled, weather affects training, or you could get sick or injured. The only way to stay on top of the variables is to change along with them.

Try writing a separate training log for your goals in the lead up to your big event.  In the very front list your dream goals, then your confidence building goals, and each week you should update it with your action goals for the week and for specific workouts within that week.  Reading through this log you would see that most of your action goals are small things such remembering to drink lots of fluids on the bike, or keeping your head down while you swim.  It is the repetition of these small details that lead to good habits, and as we all know, victory is in the details.

Visualization:  Visualization is the integration of goals into workouts.  Top athletes use visualization, or mental imagery, to see themselves performing at their peak.  You want to visualize every detail of your racing performance being perfect.  Small technical details such as start position in the water, proper transitions, pedal cadence on the bike, and relaxed arms while running, should appear vividly.  These details will help translate visualization into reality.  This imagery engages your thoughts, emotions and feelings and more importantly, blends your daily workouts into your goals.

During her workouts leading up to her breakthrough win at the 2000 New Zealand Ironman, Lisa Bentley said that she would “see” every detail of the start, middle, and end of the swim, bike, and run – right down to the food she would be taking in along the way.  Blending visualization and mental preparation into physical training helps encompass all aspects that affect triathlon performance and molds a holistic approach for managing the real-life training and racing scenarios faced by every athlete.

Guidelines For Your Goal Planning:  Once specific training goals have been determined, it is time to add guidelines for use in workouts.

1. Visualize success: Picture a performance in training or racing that is perfect and positive in all ways.
2. Visualize details: Your performance should be visualized in every detail.  Think about small details such as body position, gear selection, and the exact movement of your arms and legs.  It is the details that help drive visualization into reality.
3. Visualize regularly: Rehearse your goal performance at least two to three times per week.  The more you can visualize a perfect race or training skill, the greater the chance you will be successful.
4. Use feedback: Develop a method for incorporating feedback in regards to your goals.  Immediate feedback helps evaluate progress.  Feedback can be a great source of motivation for workouts – the more progress you achieve, the more motivated you become.  Feedback can include heart rate data, videotaping, cycling computer data, and your daily training diary.
5. Share your goals: Don’t be afraid to tell the people close to you what you want to achieve.  A social support system can help you stay on track when times get tough.  Many times when an athlete is struggling with their training or racing, a coach, friend or parent can help them remain calm and maintain their training commitment.