How to Set Goals the Right Way | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: How to Set Goals the Right Way

Hello!  I’m Coach Rebecca Smith.  I am doing our weekly Facebook live session where I answer questions from members of the PerformHappy community and anyone that shows up live.  If we have time, I get to ones that people have sent me through email throughout the week.

About me

  • My name is Rebecca Smith, and I have a master’s degree in sports psychology.
  • I’ve been working with young athletes for over 15 years on improving performance.
  • I’m a High Performance Coach specializing in work with individual athletes from age 8 to 18.
  • We work on things such as: building confidence, overcoming fears, overcoming mental blocks and finding flow.
  • Flow is my most recent passion, I mean I’ve always been into it, but I’m doing a training right now in my Perform Happy community all about finding your flow.  Your flow is that magical experience where everything falls into place. I’ll be giving you a little taste of that today while answering a question I received this week.


Q: “Is it ok to set goals? For example, going from a 36.5 all-around score to a 37.5. Is it ok to set a goal for a better score?  For example, after reflecting on what could’ve been better about a floor routine, working on polishing, trying to go from a 36.5 to 37.5.”



With the first part of the question, my first reaction is to say “Well, yeah.  Of course.”  But here’s the rest of it.  This is a gymnast’s parent I believe.  So this dad is in the right place for sure.

My simple answer is yes.  It’s ok to set goals.  I love goals.  I am the biggest fan of setting goals you’ve ever met, because setting goals is what has created the life I have today.  This includes my success, it’s all based on setting goals.


Setting Goals Keeps Us Motivated

I am really motivated by goals, but not everybody is like me.

Everybody learns differently and has a different brain, but I can give you some general ideas about goals.  I’m going to do a mini-training right here so that you guys can get an idea of what is right for you.

When I work with swimmers, the stress is always about the times… “I just want to drop time, and I’m not dropping time.  How do I drop time?”  But the focus on the time is usually what makes kids fall apart at swim meets.  It’s that they’re swimming while thinking about the time.  Meanwhile, the time gets their body so tense and stressed that they cannot swim their best.

They think about a time, they get stressed, they don’t make the time.

Stop thinking about the time!  There is no time when you’re racing.

So, for this gymnast’s dad, there is no score when she’s competing.  There are no scores.  If you are in the future, worrying about the score, you cannot be in flow.  Same goes for when you’re in the future worrying about a time.


Incorporating Flow into Reaching Your Goals

Flow is when you’re doing your very best performance because you are perfectly present.

You’re in your body.

You have the perfect focus.

You’re trusting your training, and you’re letting your muscles do what they’re trained to do.  Instead of tensing them up and hoping that you get that score…

And then you don’t, because your muscles are not doing what they’re trained to do.  This is because you don’t usually train or practice like a ball of nerves.  The scores and the times are beneficial in the gym and in the pool when you’re training.  Because that’s what motivates effort.

So I’ll give you guys some of the downsides, benefits and a little sneak preview of my training in The PerformHappy Community on setting goals.

The process of setting goals is that it’s an art, not a science.  Actually, I love that there are scientific articles on how goal setting is not a science.

Goal-setting it’s different for everybody and is like a moving target. But there are major benefits if used properly.


The goal setting process is essentially as follows:

  1. You want something.

  2. You come up with an idea of how you want to get there.

  3. Choices are made that are in line with that goal (while ignoring things that are not).

  4. Either the goal is reached or you rethink it.

  5. Whether you get it or not, you learn.


Ok, You Want Something. Now what?

Make what you’re aiming for is something that you really want.

Because a lot of the time, the mistake that people make with goals is that they’re aiming for something that they may not actually want.  Maybe the coach wants it, maybe their teammates all want it so they say they want it, maybe their parents want it.  Make sure you want these things for a good reason.

This is why in our flow training series in the PerformHappy Community I have a whole session on intention.  It’s about making sure that you’re aiming for something you actually want, because if you’re not, that will explain why setting goals is not working.


Develop Ideas on How to Get There

Now, you’re going to always have an idea. But what if the idea doesn’t work? “I want to qualify for ‘X.'”

“Shoot I didn’t qualify at that meet.”  Do I give up?  No. I try at the next meet.

“I didn’t get to state or regionals this year.  Ok, I’m going to try again next year.  I’m going to try a different want to proceed.”

You set out an idea of how you want to get there, and then know that if something changes or life happens, you’re going to make a new choice or get creative.

Make Choices in Line With That Goal

This lines up with the concept of commitment to me.

When I got married I basically set a goal to stay married to this person for the rest of my life.  A goal and a commitment are similar.  What I do on a daily basis is make decisions in line with that goal.

So, if I have a choice to be a jerk or be nice to my husband, based on my goal I’m going to hopefully avoid the jerk decision and choose to be nice.

This works with sports too.  If your goal is that you want to make a select soccer team, but you don’t feel like going to practice, you make the choice to go anyway.  Because it’s in line with what you want.

You ignore the thing that’s moving you away from what you want.

Here is the key:

If you get nothing else out of this Q&A session, pay attention to this.  The reason we set goals is the same reason we do sport…

Because we want to become better humans.  We want to improve the lives of those around us, and guide others to do the same.

We want to become better versions of ourselves in everything.  It’s why we’re here.  I believe we set goals to improve the complete athlete.

Here’s the catch: It’s not necessarily about reaching the goal that will make you a better human, it’s about the process.  If you get the goal, great!

I set goals that I intend to achieve, and I do achieve them.  But, I also grow as a human through the process of goal-setting and goal-getting.  If I fall short, it’s a major opportunity to figure out what I can learn.

How to Set Goals the Right Way

Going back to the scores vs. not scores… How do you set goals?

You absolutely can set a goal increasing your all-around score.  Of course, we have to know that it’s not always in our control.  A judge may be having a bad day.   You can have the best performance of your life and not get that score.  But that’s when the growth happens.

You’ll say “Ok, so I didn’t get my 37.5. Was this whole season a waste?”  I know a lot of perfectionist kids who would say that it was.

What we have to do as parents and coaches is help kids to figure out that if you didn’t get the goal, it’s an equally valuable experience.  You put in the effort and worked hard. You improved in certain ways.  If you didn’t get the goal, let’s figure out why and you’ll get it next time.


The Benefits of Goal Setting

I always think back to a girl I went to school with that studied in the same field as me who felt like goals didn’t work.  Everyone has their own opinion and all brains work differently, but here are the scientifically proven benefits of goals:

  • It focuses your effort.  You know exactly what you’re supposed to be paying attention to if you have a goal.
  • Setting goals motivates you and gets your energy moving toward something.
  • It increases your effort.  Even if you don’t feel like it, if you really want to qualify you’ll show up and work a little harder.
  • It helps you strategize and get creative.  If you can’t get there one way, you have to try it another way.
  • You’ll know if you’re on track or not.  It’s also scientifically proven that having short-term goals that build toward a long-term goal make your long-term much more likely to be achieved.  You’ll know that if you’re not reaching one goal, you may need to rearrange another.  Or adjust something. It’ll let you know if you need to make a change.
  • It’s a measuring stick for progress.


Now, Here Are the Downsides:

  • You can be disappointed and stressed out.
  • It can take you out of the moment, because your focus is on the outcome.  If you’re too obsessed with your goal, you’re not in the moment enough to do what is necessary to reach it.
  • It also can trigger comparison thinking and fear of failure.

Those are some things that you want to be careful of. I talk about those things in my PerformHappy trainings.

The 3 Types of Goals:

  1. Outcome goals
  2. Performance goals
  3. Process goals

All of these are important and they all serve a purpose.


Outcome Goals


  • Beating a specific person
  • Winning
  • Qualifying
  • Getting a score
  • Getting a medal or a trophy.

Outcome goals are not totally in your control.  Yet these are what people focus on most when they set goals.  It’s very motivating.  If you want a trophy, you’ll work your butt off to get it.  But, those are the goals that are also most likely to lead to disappointment, comparison and fear of failure.  The other goals (process and performance) are critical.


Process Goals


  • Instead of: “I’m going to get a 9 on beam,” you focus on: “I’m going to push through my shoulders in my handstand.”

What exactly are you doing in this moment to make the skill better?  It will also likely help you stay on the beam, and perhaps get you the score you want.  But those are the side benefits, not the main focus.

Those are process goals.  They’re what you do when you are finding flow.  You do it one skill at a time.  You’re doing exactly what you would hope to do in that skill.  Every time you do what you’re set out to do, you’re reaching a goal, whether you realize it or not.


Performance Goals

This is all about your personal best.  If you get up to do a beam routine and you know in your heart that that was the best beam routine you’ve ever done and your score was less than it was last time, you’ll go “Ok, the judge was a little harder, but I know that was a personal best for me.”  You might not have gotten the outcome goal of the best score, but you got the performance goal of knowing you did your very best.  You also would have accomplished a lot of process goals to get yourself to that good performance.


Wrap Up

I’ve got a freebie that you guys can download below.  That’s my 90-day goal-setting action plan.  It’s what I use with PerformHappy community members, on myself, and I recently used it on my husband who’s training for a marathon.  You’re welcome to grab a copy and go through it.  It helps you lock in what your intention is and walks you through my process.

If you’d like more, this week our topic in the PerformHappy community is goal setting following up on last week’s intention setting.  We would love to have you.  Click here for more information.  For 1 on 1 coaching, click here.  Reach out if you guys have any questions.  I will see you next week!

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.