By: Justin Su’a

CEO of Su’a Sport Psychology

If you’re anything like me, you’ve made a number of goals over the course of your lifetime—Short term goals, long term goals, specific goals, time-bound goals, goals that will push you to the limit,  easily attainable goals, or even goals that you set just to please your boss. The next time you sit down with a pencil and a piece of paper to put your goals to writing, let me give you some things to consider before you start your thought process.

Goals: The Good

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was weeks before my first collegiate baseball season began, I was a young freshman at a Division I university who had great expectations coupled with an outstanding work ethic. Contemplating what I wanted to achieve for the upcoming year a thought entered my mind, “I will be an All-American pitcher this year”. I brushed it to the side simply because I initially thought, “All-American? There are hundreds of outstanding pitchers in the country! Who am I to say that I’m going to be one of the best?” However, after further thought I said to myself, “Actually, who am I not so say that I could be one of the best?” I wrote it down, and got to work.

The season began, and I put my goal to the side and focused on the things I could control. At the end of the season I put up some outstanding numbers, however, I wasn’t elected to any of the All-American teams. This was okay with me because I did the best at everything that was within my power. One afternoon I got a call from one of my teammates, “Congratulations!” He said. “For what!?” I shot back. “You don’t know? Go to our baseball team’s website and see for yourself!” After hanging up the phone I couldn’t open the website fast enough. When I finally reached the page I saw that I made the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team!

The good that comes from goal setting is when you set a goal that will light your fire, you are passionate enough to work for it, and after you achieve it you are still motivated to get better, as was my experience in this particular instance.

Goals: The Bad

Have you ever just settled for good when you could have been great? That’s the bad of goal setting. What sometimes happens when people set goals is they end up putting a ceiling on their performance. I’ve seen it on numerous occasions with some of the athletes I work with who set result goals for a certain number of points, or a specific number of blocks, however, when they achieve their desired outcome early on in the course of their performance, they settle simply because they are satisfied with hitting their goal.              The bad of goal setting is that focus, energy, and motivation can decrease after one attains their goal.


Goals: The Ugly

Consider the following scenarios:

  • Little Johnny sets an easy goal to get on base in his baseball game against a weak team in his division. When the game ends, Johnny had failed to reach base.
  • Jennifer has the goal to make the tennis team and has been taking tennis lessons from one of the best instructors around to prepare for the tryout. The tryout comes and she does a great job, however, the coach decides to leave her off the team.
  • It was always Sarah’s dream to get accepted a particular university. She receives her letter acceptance only to open it and read, “…you have not been accepted…”

The ugly side of goal setting is when you don’t achieve what you had set out to do and you begin to look at yourself as a failure, a loser, and you lose any desire to put your heart into something again. Have you ever seen this happen to someone? I have. I have seen someone fail so miserably that it has affected every aspect of their life. They weren’t able to separate their true self-worth from their performance. This is where goal setting gets ugly.

So what’s the key?

The key to goal setting is to focus on what you can control—effort, attitude, focus, etc. In the 2009 ALDS between the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins, Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez had the series of his life and was asked, “How have your expectations changed since last year’s playoffs?” Rodriguez replied, “This year I have no expectations. I just expect to go out there and have fun playing baseball.”

Before the Men’s Single 2010 Wimbledon Championship, Rafael Nadal, who ended up winning it was asked, “So what are your expectations for this match?” His answer was similar to Alex Rodriguez’, “I don’t expect anything, I just expect to give my best.”

The elite athletes of our day focus on giving their best in the present and let the future take care of itself. We could apply the same strategy to our own lives as students, leaders, parents, and employees. Could you imagine how effective you would be today if you just focused on giving your best, today? If you chose to do so, tomorrow would take care of itself.

So the next time you sit down to set your goals for the day, week, or year, remember to consider the good, bad, and ugly of doing such. Goals give purpose and direction, however, don’t let them consume you and interrupt you from giving your best right here, right now.