Laying foundations for a competitive future - Solomon Star News

Laying foundations for a competitive future

04 April 2014

Dear reader, welcome back to the April edition of Perspectives in Sports.  A quarter of 2014 is now history, which also means there are only three more months until the Commonwealth Games are upon us. 

This week, the rain seems to want to impose itself upon many willing athletes and stop them from getting out there, yet preparations continue!  As discussed last month, mental preparation in sports is crucial.  A tool that neatly links physical and mental training together is goal setting in sports.  As promised, in this edition we will explore the nature of goal setting and it's benefits, together with the 'open coaching' approach.

No matter how hard or how often you train, it will not be as effective as it could be if you do not have a master plan to stick to.  Knowing what you want to achieve and in what timeframe is very important.  You must identify your goals (what do I want?) and design strategies to get to these goals (how will I get there?).

Goal setting must go hand-in-hand with an open relationship between coach and athlete called informed coaching.  Both must agree on what they will work on and how.  Setting goals therefor becomes a major motivator for the athlete!  It will encourage them to work harder, stay focused, overcome temporary setbacks and build their self confidence!

It is very important that goals are challenging yet achievable.  If goals are too easy to achieve, the athlete will lose interest or may become overconfident; if they are impossible to achieve, the athlete will be disappointed and lose confidence.  Hence goal setting is something very subjective - the coach must KNOW their athlete!  What goals you set for your athlete will depend their age, stage of development, confidence, ability and motivation.

Generally speaking, when setting goals you work backwards.  First you have a grand plan - for example a medal in the PNG2015 Pacific Games.  This becomes your long term goal.  Then, to reach this goal, you pick certain medium term goals, such as achieving certain results at other competitions in the run up to PNG2015 - reaching the top 5 in the Oceania Championships, a regional open championship, doing a PB in the next 6 months, changing your stride length or cadence, modify your run-up technique for jumping skills etc.  For each of these medium term goals, you design short term goals, milestones if you will, which are under your control through training and testing.

Another way to look at goals is to distinguish between outcome goals, process goals and performance goals.  Outcome goals relate to the outcome of a competition or any other result.  They are long term goals and are not fully under your control as the opponent's performance does affect them.  Process goals typically represent improvements in techniques, skill or strategy.  They are essential building blocks to achieve your ultimate outcome goal.  These types if goals are fully controlled by you and typically are medium term goals.  Performance goals are short term goals and relate to improving immediately measurable aspects such as time, distance, height, weight lifted etc.  They are fully under your control and help you reach the more complex process goals.

We have already hinted at the required nature of goals in the paragraphs above, but let's just spell them out again so it is clear: goals must be SMARTER:

  • Specific: define a goal - it must be precise and detailed;
  • Measurable: know how to check for improvement;
  • Accepted: both athletes and coaches must agree on what they work towards;
  • Realistic: a goal must be challenging but achievable;
  • Timely: set dates by which a goal must be achieved;
  • Exciting: goals must inspire and motivate the athlete; and
  • Recorded: both goals and progress must be written down.

Does goal setting work? You bet!  Allow me to give you an example from about four years ago.  I had set myself the ambitious plan to take a karate team to the 2011 Pacific Games in New Caledonia, so in 2010 I started looking at what would be required, training-wise but also financially.
I had to convince NOCSI that karate was worth taking to the Games and was asked the very direct question whether I could 'guarantee' medals. My answer was a very sobering 'No... But what I can guarantee is the best possible preparation for medal chances!'  I set about creating a master plan in the run-up to the Games in which I needed my fighters to reach the semi finals at least to be eligible to fight off for bronze.

If they would win the semi finals, they could fight off for gold which would be a bonus but in my mind at that stage very ambitious.  Hence, my realistic goal was semi finals and potential bronze.  I then had to identify individuals who I could work with and push to the extent required.  I started with a huge number of people which was filtered down to about 15 in the course of 2010.  Only five men and one woman would be picked to go. The last 15 were given their medium and short term training schedules which involved 11(!) training sessions a week.  The final selection followed early 2011 after which training plans and goals were redrawn and individualized. 

The physical training worked with the athlete's ability and also incorporated mental training, especially imagery techniques.  The final six were very clear in what was expected from them in the last few months before the Games; they all knew what they were and were not capable off.  Their expectations were realistic.  They became confident, determined and single-minded.  The subsequent results spoke for themselves.

Unranked Solomon rookie fighters (I only started teaching karate in Honiara in 2008) were in competition with a number of experienced athletes from the region, some with world ranking having represented France on several occasions.  From six Solomon fighters, five reached the semi finals. Of those five, four won their bronze medal fight off with the fifth fighter only narrowly missing out in a much disputed result (Outcome goals do get influenced by opponents and referees!).  Our long term goals were indeed achieved thanks to an agreed, realistic and visible master plan.

So yes, goal setting works! It makes for a strong and trusting relationship between athlete and coach.  It keeps your mind focused on the ultimate goal whilst not being swept away by wishful thinking.  So everyone wanting to take part in PNG next year, design your master plan now and implement it.  Onwards and upwards we go!

Next month, I would like to address an aspect of high level training that cannot be overlooked.  With elite training come injuries.  Such injuries need to be dealt with promptly and correctly in order for athletes to be able to continue training and competing, and stick to the master plan.  Hence, next month we will address some aspects of injury prevention and management.  Until next month, happy training!

Provided by Dr Andy Roosen
PhD Sports Biomechanics and Motor Control, BSc First Class (Hons) Sports Science, Director Synergies Ltd

About the author: Andy holds a PhD in Sports Biomechanics and Motor Control from Loughborough University in England, which is generally regarded as the home of Commonwealth Sports Science.  In his competition days, he won the 2000 Copenhagen Karate World Open.  He has authored a book on martial arts injury prevention and management as well as various scientific articles.  He has resided in Honiara since 2005 and is the national coach for karate.