Post By: John Pine | Wednesday, April 1, 2020


Lock and Latham (2002) define a goal as “a specific standard of proficiency on a task, usually within a specified time limit”. In fact, goal setting on task performance is one of the most replicable and powerful findings in all psychological literature, with 90% of studies showing positive to partially positive results (Lock and colleagues, 1981). Put more simply it is something that we personally want to achieve! Goals come in all shapes and sizes… and I think that is where the problem may lie, many people do not know how to properly set goals. For instance, in sport, what are the goals you or your team come up with at the beginning of the season? These are the typical answers I see when I ask teams:

  • Win State
  • Go undefeated
  • Beat our rival

While these are all well and good, they are very result based. A lot of things have to go in your favor, that are out of your control, for just one of those things to happen. Another problem I often see with goal setting is that after the first initial meeting where a coach and team set their goal, that is the last time they ever speak of them. For goal setting to be effective you have to modify them throughout the season and more importantly, set different types of goals

Types of Goals

Outcome Goals:

Outcome goals are the ones we have covered already (Win state, undefeated etc), they focus on the results of a contest(s) between other teams.

Performance Goals:

Performance goals are specific aspects relative to your own performance that you want to improve on. Examples: Increasing you batting average by 50 points, free throw percentage up 15%, getting less penalty flags in football, etc.

Process Goals:

Process Goals are the specific ways that we improve our performance goals. Examples: To improve batting average, I will work on the mechanics of my swing, for free throws, practicing free throw quantity and practicing game like free throws (not just shooting 10 at a time, shoot 2, continue practicing/scrimmaging, 2 more). Process goals are important because if you use diligent focus in practice, that same diligent focus comes out in competition, the results of your process goals will help you reach your performance goals.

Then if you are lucky and your whole team has the same goal setting guidelines, and a little luck, your outcome goals will be achieved.

Guidelines for Goal Setting

  • Set specific and measurable goals
  • Set moderately difficult but realistic goals
  • Short-term and Long-term goals
    • Mechanistic Theory of Goal Setting (Lock and Latham, 2002)
      • Goals direct performers attention and action towards performance specific tasks
      • Helps performer mobilize effort
      • Goals not only increase immediate effort but long-term effort/persistence towards goal
      • Goals help performers implement new problem-solving strategies to obstacles that get in their way
  • Set outcome, PERFORMANCE, and PROCESS goals
  • Set goals for practice and competitions
  • Set positive as opposed to negative goals
    • Goals focused on achieving success vs avoiding failures


Williams, J. M., & Krane, V. (2015). Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.