Setting Goals the Best Way for Your Athlete | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: Setting Goals the Best Way for Your Athlete


About Me

Welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca.  I’m Rebecca Smith, founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching.  We are a full service sports psychology coaching company that provides one-on-one coaching for young athletes through Skype or FaceTime.  We also provide a complete online mental toughness training center at the Perform Happy community, where athletes of all ages are welcome to come and increase confidence, get over fear, and become the athlete they have the potential to become.  I hope you will join us there if that’s something that interests you.

Today, I’m going to answer question from one of those members.  Actually, a couple of members, because we’ve got this fabulous community; that’s why we call it a community and not just a training center, of parents, and athletes.  They are all walking this journey of peak performance, or at least trying to.  They ask me questions all the time.  I come on and I share some of those questions with you so that you can get the benefit of those responses.

Today we’re talking about goals. We have an A plus member here – her daughter is on it.  She does all the things. She watches the training and she does what I suggest, but she’s starting to have this issue where she is feeling down on herself a lot of the time because she’s setting goals and not able to reach them.

This mom asks,

Q:  I wanted to see if I can get your help on some goal setting for my daughter.  She’s very good at making goals and going after them.  I’m afraid that she doesn’t know exactly how to set the goals appropriately so that she’s able to achieve them and see success.



For those of you who are familiar with my Overcoming Fear course and some of the competence-building programs, it’s all about success and progress.  If you feel like you’re failing over, and over, and over again, it’s not going to motivate you and it’s not going to build your confidence.

Unfortunately, we as perfectionists feel like it’s all or nothing.  If we don’t perfectly nail exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, or what we think we’re supposed to be doing, we feel like a failure.  We have a hard time finding the gray area palatable between didn’t do it and did it.

Maybe you didn’t get all the way there, but how far did you get?  A lot of the time, people leave that as they look at the glass half empty, saying, “Well, I didn’t reach it, so therefore I failed,” instead of going, “Oh my gosh.  I got halfway there.  Look at how far I came today.”

S.M.A.R.T Goals

She’s doing a good job of setting what I call SMART goals.  SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Adjustable, Realistic, (sometimes I sub in Risky because I like for them to be kind of big, scary goals), and the T stands for Timed.

For example, this girl’s doing a great job of saying, “I’m going to make five Yurchenko vault drills into the pit by Friday.”  That’s super specific.  You can look back on Friday and go, “Did I do it or did I not do it?”

That’s how I recommend you set your goals.  You want to make sure that you can look back and know you accomplished your goal or you didn’t.  If your goal is “just get better at vault”, then it’s wishy washy, and it doesn’t really point your effort in a very specific direction.

Things Don’t Always Go Our Way

She’s doing a great job setting the goals which is huge.  A lot of the time people don’t even really know how to set the right kind of goal.  But here’s the catch – her idea of how practice is going to go and what the coach’s ideas are not always the same.  She said she’s talked to her about controllables.  We talk about what you can control and what you can’t control.  Obviously, when you set a goal, you’re hoping that things are going to go your way.

Other teammates are having no problem and moving through baby steps.  She needs more time with the step she’s on, but if she can’t make her goal, she comes home feeling bad.  Then, because the coaches don’t always work on what she’s got on her goal sheet, if that one day where she can work on it turns bad, she misses her goal and she feels like she failed.

Mom goes on to say,

Q:  I feel like she’s really trying to make progress, but the uncontrollables are so abundant that it’s wearing her down.  How do we set goals that are attainable and progressive without going “too slow” in her opinion, or feeling like every night is a failure.

*P.S. is there such thing as too many goals?  I feel like she has a book here, sticky there, paper sheet somewhere else, etc.



Amazing question, mom, which is why I brought it here.  I’m sure a lot of kids can relate to this, and a lot of adults can relate to this.  Perfectionists actually stop setting goals because they don’t want to fall short.  I talk to plenty of kids in my one-on-one practice.  I ask, “What’s your dream?” And they usually respond, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe … ”  They have these little, tiny, maybe-ish, wishy washy, short-term goals that they share with me.  I say, “Okay, you’re afraid of setting goals because you’re afraid of failing.”  The common response to that is, “Yeah, pretty much.”

Setting Goals that Don’t Satisfy When Reached

There are a couple of downsides to setting goals, I’ve been there.  You can reach your goal and still not be happy because the goal, like the outward things in life, is not the thing that makes you happy.  I can vouch for that.

I had a period in life where I was off my passion, off course.  Life looked really good, but it didn’t feel good, and I wasn’t on the right track.  Even though I was knocking goals off left and right, I felt very empty.  Then, I got back on track.  I knew i wanted to work with kids.  I wanted to do sports psychology.  Yes, I could create this nice-looking life, but that didn’t fill my heart and soul.  I had to get on at that new path.

Setting Goals Are Not Enough to Make Us Happy

Goals in and of themselves are not enough to make us happy.  Often, when we set goals, we expect when we reach that goal then we’ll be happy.  So there are a couple of flaws in that thinking.  First of all, you might not reach your goal because life happens.  On the other hand, you might reach your goal and you might not be happy, so then there’s other stuff going on.

We can’t put all of our eggs in the goal basket, but our members know that I am a huge fan of goals.  I like to have a 90-day goal, a vision or an overarching goal.  We look back on my previous 90 days, see what’s flowing, what’s flopping, what’s thriving, what’s struggling, and we go in and reflect.

Then it’s time to set a new intention for my next 90 days.  If you want to download that, I have a format I use for that.  You can go here and grab that 90-day goal action planner.  Grab that and you can do your own reflecting.

Vision Boards Go a Long Way

I also have a big, beautiful vision board right above my desk that has pictures of nice-looking house, a pool, and a beautiful bathroom.  Those are just a couple of pictures.  I also have things like trust, feeling good, pure happiness, and best friends.  These are the things that inspire me.

It would be really cool to have a pool.  And guess what, you guys?  I put this pool on my vision board a year and a half ago, and as of next month, I will have a pool.  These things subconsciously keep you moving in a certain direction.

I love to be able to look back at old vision boards and go, “Oh my gosh.  I did that.” Something appealed to me in a magazine once that said, “The graduate.”  At this point, I was a college dropout and thought, Why would I put that on my board?  Well, I did, and guess what?

If you heard my podcast, or my Facebook live video last time, I talked about my process of going back and getting my master’s degree.  It started with this weird little cutout on my vision board.  That started with a goal.

Give Yourself Permission to Dream

I put this out and it lines me up in a direction of, “Well, what would that be like to take one class?”  Or, “Gosh, how would one end up with a swimming pool?”  Those sorts of things just start to swim around like, “What might it be like to compete level 10 gymnastics, or go to that college?”

Give yourself permission to dream, then things start lining up.  However, it’s not enough to just want things, want outcomes, because there has to be something filling your heart up in the meantime so you can stay the path and stay the course.

Setting Goals Keep you Focused

Reaching the goals isn’t the point of setting them; it’s not the reason why I have you guys post goals every week.  Setting goals funnels your focus, your energy, motivation, and your effort in a certain direction.  If you are trying to make five vaults this week, and your coach is not taking you to vault, you’re more likely to go, “Hey, coach, can we go to vault?”  They might say no, but you’re more likely to do the things that are going to get you there.  You might ask, “Hey, while we’re doing floor, could I do a couple of vault drills right here because it’s right where the setup is?”

This gets you lined up with that intention.  You will have a better chance of reaching it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to.  It doesn’t mean that I’m going to have the exact white farmhouse that’s on my vision board, but it does get me thinking about what I can do that will move me in that direction, thinking about what little things I can do.  Can I ask the coach?  Coach says no, at least I tried my best.  Maybe I’ll visualize instead.  I’ll do something that can get me moving in that direction.  I will tumble on floor with the intention of getting my punching stronger so that I can go and punch the board better tomorrow.

Whatever it is, it gets you thinking about it, and it gets you moving in that direction.

Setting Goals the Best Way for Your AthleteProgress is Success

All I want for any of you guys is progress. That’s what we want because progress is success if you train yourself to look at it that way.  If you feel like getting halfway to a goal is a failure, you are selling yourself short.  If you feel like getting halfway to a goal is major, awesome progress, then you go back the next day charged up and ready to keep making more progress forward.

Also, the A in SMART stands for adjustable for a reason.  It means if life intervenes, if you get sick, if your coach is an a mood, if you don’t get to go to that event today, if whatever, you can go, “All right.  Today’s Wednesday.  I still have five to get.  It’s not looking good.  How about I aim for three?  Or, maybe I can switch my focus to XYZ.”

You could also say, “Hey, coach.  Are we going to go to vault in the next couple of days? I’m just curious.  I’m trying to plan out my goals for the week.”  I don’t know a single coach who would say, “Goals?  You shouldn’t be worried about that.”

There are a lot of wild and crazy coaches out there, but if they’re saying, “Oh, you have a goal to get to vault?  Hey, maybe we can try to go there tomorrow.” A lot of the time it comes down to speaking up and saying, “You know, I’ve got this goal of getting this. Can you help me with that?  Or would that be possible this week?”  If they say, “No, we’re not going to get there,” then you respond with, “Okay, then I’m going to move my timeline out an extra week so then I can have a better chance of getting it.”

Learn How to Get Flexible

Back to perfectionism – flexibility is not a strong suit for those of us who are really want to please, to do well, and really want to be perfect.  For those of us who want to get every goal we ever set, that’s part of the training.  It’s learning how to be flexible.  This is something I’ve had to do personally, switch from to-do lists to wish lists.

I used to write these big, long lists of all the things I wanted to get done.  I would never get through even half of it and I would feel like a failure.  You are getting that that’s a pattern here.  Now, every time I write a list of things to do, I write a wish list.  If the universe wants to line up in such a way that I can get done, fabulous.  If not, I will assume that I’ve done the best I could, because I put my effort into it and it is what it is.

Brain Dump!

What I do is I start my day with what I call a brain dump of all the things I’d love to do today.  I dump it all out on a piece of paper.  Then, I pull out my calendar, and I look, at, “All right, it’s nine AM.  I have five clients.  I have three windows of time.  What can I get done today?”  Then, I go, “Realistically, I can get done two of these things on my insanely long list.”

I write a little wish list, and I go, “At 9:30 I’ll do this. At 12 I’ll do that.  At two I’ll do this.”  And do I finish it every single time?  No, but I’m not mad at myself because my goal, my overarching goal is to be a grateful servant, you know, to really do good work and be of service.  If I’ve done that, then I accept myself that day.

Accept Yourself No Matter What

You know what?  Even if I haven’t, even if I’ve been a totally impatient pain in the butt to my husband, and really short with my kid.  Even me in the worst form, I still accept myself at the end of the day, because it’s something I have to do.  Before you can set any goals or any intentions, you have to have that underlying goal of even if you don’t get your goals, you still accept yourself no matter what.

It might be extra hard for some people because we really want to impress.  We really don’t want to disappoint others.  We really don’t want to disappoint ourselves, but you have to have that as your underlying foundation – I accept myself and I love myself no matter what.

With that in mind, here’s my wish list.  Here’s what I’d love to get done this week that I’m going to focus my effort, focus, and motivation on.  I’m going to walk in that direction.  I’m going to praise myself for progress.  My parents are going to praise all of my progress, too.  Even if I feel like I failed, they’re going to say, “Hey, look how far you came.  You worked really hard out there and I’m proud of you.”  Then, you’re going to go to sleep, wake up, and try it again.

Don’t Worry About the Outcome

It’s not the outcome that makes you happy, it’s being able to say, “You know what?  I was a good person today.  I was of service today.  I helped people today, therefore, I’m good.  Everything’s good.  I’m good no matter what.  If I reach a goal, awesome.  All the better.”  A lot of what I touched on is in the most recent course I’m putting together, which is from anxiety to confidence.

For those of you who attend the weekly live trainings in the community, those are still in the training room as past trainings as we’ve been working through a whole series. There are two trainings on goal setting in there that, if you haven’t checked them out, go do it because it’s a more in depth overview on what I talked about today.

For those of you who have questions, you can reach me at  If you want to get in on the fun and join the community, you can visit here.  Check it out.  Again, if you want that free download, the 90-day goal planner, you can go to, and I will see you back here next week.  Thanks for joining me.

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