How to Support Your Child Reaching Their Goals

Today’s Topic: How to Support Your Child Reaching Their Goals

Hello everyone and happy new year.  This is coach Sara from Complete Performance Coaching.  I’m excited to be here with you today.  We are going to talk about something that I figured would be good for the beginning of the new year – goals.  I get a lot of questions from parents about how to help support athletes in reaching their goals.

If you’re not familiar with me or Complete Performance Coaching, we are a group of mental toughness coaches, mental skills coaches, who help teach mental skills to athletes and help athletes really identify what they’re already doing well and further develop those mental skills.  Hopefully there’ll be some information today that’s helpful for you supporting your athlete, maybe even for your own efforts at goal setting because setting goals really is a skill that we can all get better at.

Setting Their Own Goals

When it comes to supporting your kids, it’s really important to remember that our goals are not the same as our kids’ goals.  As a parent, I have to remind myself of this too.  This is true in sport and all areas of life.  Telling someone their goals and what you want them to do is not one of the best ways to help them accomplish it.  Now, we are their parents, so we do get to have some say in things, but when I’m referring to telling someone they’re goals, an example would be telling your kid their goal is to get their series by a certain date or they need to qualify for states.  Telling people what their goals are is a really great way to kill their motivation.

Tips For Goal Setting

We’re going to cover a few terms and ideas that are really helpful when it comes to setting goals in general.  These are great ideas for us to know and apply as adults in our own efforts and goals and for our kids to apply.

One thing I will say before we get into this, is some people are super resistant to goals.  It really just depends on their personality.  Some people love them, some people hate them.  Maybe you or your child are in this place of just despising goals.  It might be because you’ve had bad experiences.  You might fear failure and not reaching the goal.  All you have to do is simply change the language.  This is just something you’re working on.  Instead of “setting a goal”, you can frame it as what are you trying to accomplish?  You can toss the idea of goals, the concept, and the word out, but still, apply these same ideas.

Long-Term Goals

One concept of goal setting is long-term goals or goals for the future.  The timeframe can be anything you want.  You can have a longterm goal (we’re here in January) for the end of the year, but the end of the month might also feel like a longterm goal.

Short-Term Goals

Relative to that are short-term goals.  Those are the goals that are going to help you get there.  If you think of it as a staircase, your longterm goals are at the top.  Where you are is at the bottom.  The steps, or rungs, are those short-term goals, markers that help you ultimately get there.

When you’re setting goals, it’s useful to frame them in a positive light – what are you trying to do rather than what are you trying to avoid?  Maybe you’re saying, “I want to get my series on beam by a certain date,” versus, “I don’t want to be scared.”  I’m not being scared is a great goal, but maybe frame that as, “I’d like to be confident in my series.”

You can set goals around physical skills, mental skills, and habits you want to create.  Keep that in mind.  There are goals for the future, long-term goals, and then those short-term goals that you are working on to get there.

Two Types of Goals

There are two different and distinct types of goals that you or your athletes might set for both of those longterm and the short-term goals.

1. Outcome Goals

A goal in any timeframe can be what we call an outcome goal.  This is focusing on the end result and if often comparing yourself to other people.  This could be the score, winning, placing at a certain level on the top of the podium, etc.  These outcome goals are often exciting; people really want to achieve them. The challenge with outcome goals is that you don’t have complete control over it.  You probably know this and your kids might know this, but it’s important to talk about these outcomes.

You could be having your best day and the judge doesn’t score you as strongly as you would have liked or you felt you deserved.  Maybe someone else has their best day, too, and their best day happened to be better than yours, score-wises. So if your goal was to get first, you’re bummed because you didn’t, but you missed the point that you had this awesome day or this awesome routine.

2. Performance Goals

The performance goal is really working on improving your own performance.  You can have a performance goal of improving your score, but that’s still not 100 percent in your control.  A stronger performance goal might be having more power for your tumbling pass at the end of your routine, or improving your confidence on your beam routine from a seven to an eight.

Measuring Your Goals

When you’re thinking about these goals that maybe are a little less measurable, we’re going to talk about how to measure them.  For us as parents, we have a goal to have more energy.  Well, that’s very broad and big and abstract.  If I say, “My energy is a five, on a scale of one to 10.  I really want to get my energy to at least a seven on a scale of one to 10, ” that’s a way of knowing and checking in.  If your athlete is setting some goals to be more confident, more positive, or a better attitude, finding ways to measure that is really important.  Again, those are goals that are more in their control, meaning they can affect change on that.

If they’re focused on outcome goals, the score, winning, qualifying, make a certain team, someone else is ultimately in final control or final say of that.  Those aren’t bad goals, we don’t want to say they can’t set those, but they need to be aware that they don’t have complete control and should support those with the performance goals that they ultimately can do something about.

Daily Goals

We talked about this idea of the longterm goal.  The short-term goal is that staircase to the longterm goal.  You can set these daily goals to help you get there.  If my goal is to get my series on the high beam by a certain date, I want to be on the mid beam by this date.  Every day I’m doing a certain number on the floor, a certain number on the low beam.  You come up with these daily goals that ultimately help you get there.

Your daily goals could be in the gym.  It could be things like stretching, PT, icing, or visualizing. Those are all fantastic daily goals to have.

S.M.A.R.T Goals

When I was talking about some of these examples of goals, you may have noticed I talked about measuring them.  We need to know exactly what we’re working on and how we measure it.  A great acronym to remember when you’re creating goals is to keep them SMART.  You might have heard this before, and there are different ways to talk about the “A”.  The way I like to think of SMART that the research has supported is specific, measurable, adjustable, realistic, and timed.  So what this means is when you are setting your own goals when you’re supporting your athlete to create their goals, is to encourage them to set SMART goals.


Your athlete may say, “I want to be better at the beam,” but what does that mean?  “I want to be more consistent on beam.”  Okay, that’s more specific, but, “I want to hit eight out of 10 routines,” is much more specific than the others.  As you’re setting these goals, be specific.


Find a way to measure your goals.  If your goal is vague, like wanting to be more confident, have more energy, or be more consistent, well, what does that mean?   Is it, “I want to hit 70% of my series or stick at least 60% of my beam dismounts”?  Find a way to measure it.


Being adjustable means you need to be willing and able to adjust your goals.  For example, let’s go back to our series example for a gymnast.  If the goal was to get your series on the high beam by a certain date, January 1st, and all of a sudden December 1st rolled around and you realize, “I’m still on the low beam,” you don’t want to just throw that goal out the window, you can adjust it.

You can change what your goal is by saying it’s now to be on the mid beam by January 1st.  Adjust the timeframe of the goal to be on high beam by January 31st.  You just need to be willing and remember that.  Change your goals up.  Sometimes they’re too easy.  Maybe you said, “I wanted to be on the mid beam by January 1st and December 1st you are already there.  Great, adjust.  Make that goal harder.

This is true again for us as well.  We can apply these same principles and strategies, and as I’ve mentioned before, once you have the goal, you then need to know how you get there.  How are you moving up that staircase?  By coming up with the physical and mental strategies that you need to use to put in place.

Now as a parent, you might not know what your athlete needs to do to get their series on any beam, but you’re not an expert in gymnastics.  That’s where your athlete can kind of fill in the blanks.  They may say, “Well, I probably need to go to some open gyms,” or, “I need to ask the coach if I can maybe stay a little longer after practice.” Maybe a private lesson comes in working with a mental coach.  If you or your athlete are not sure of the strategies, that’s where you have to get some support and that’s absolutely okay.


You want your goals to be realistic.  It’s good to have challenging goals and you as a parent might feel like, “Whew, that’s pushing it too hard,” or, “I don’t know if you know you’re going to get to elite.”  Well, guess what?  If your kid thinks so, support them in that.  If they think it’s realistic, go for it.


Have a timeframe.  A goal that might resonate for us adults at the beginning of the year is, “I want to get healthier.  I want to lose some weight.”  Well, guess what, if I don’t say I want to lose five pounds by the end of this month, I just say, “I want to lose five pounds,” I’m probably going to eat the cookie, right?  Because I’m not so motivated or feeling that this is urgent because it’s this month.  Instead, I’m thinking, “I’m just going to lose five pounds eventually. Sure, I’ll have that cookie.  Yeah, I’m going to make that not so great choice in my meals.”  That’s why having that time frame is really important for our goals.

Too Many Goals

A couple of general things to keep in mind when it comes to goal setting is to try not to have too many goals at once.  You may see this with your kids or with yourself – when there’s just too much to focus on, it’s hard.  There’s just simply too much to focus on. So it’s too easy to lose motivation, focus, and intention for any one thing.  Obviously, with gymnastics, there are four events.  You could certainly have a goal for each event.  That would be fine.  It’s really up to the person to decide what they want to do.

Reasons Behind Your Goals

Too many goals can be overwhelming.  It’s important for yourself and to have a conversation with your athlete about why – what’s your motivation?  Why is this goal so important?  They could have this outcome goal of, “I want to make it to states,” or this performance goal of, “I want to improve my beam score, I want to get my series.”  You can have all these goals, but why?  Why do you want to do this? “Because it’s going to be really exciting when I do my series or that’s the thing that lets me move up to the next level that I want to do.”

Working Toward Your Goals

Helping your athlete know why they want to do this and tap into that excitement and motivation for it can help as you move through goals, because as we know, as adults, goals aren’t linear.  Even I described it as that staircase, but it’s not always an upward fashion.  Sometimes it’s stalling at one stair, sometimes it’s moving backward.  It’s important to help your athlete understand that and know that that’s a normal part of the process.  We really do have to help our kids understand what’s normal in these processes.

Just because you set a goal and you have a great plan doesn’t mean you are going to get their super easily, you have to be working at it.  There will be days, weeks, sometimes months that it’s so hard.  So,  remember why you’re doing it and why you’re excited about it.  That can be super helpful.

Vision Board

If your athlete is very visual in nature, maybe have them create a vision board to go along with her goal.  It could be a picture of them achieving the goal.  If the goal is going to the state meet or making a certain team, print that out or draw a picture of what it will look like.  That will help them stay motivated and focused on the goal.

Talk about how it’s going to be exciting when they get there, but it’s also going to be hard along the way. Again, this idea of these stairs is nice to understand, but working towards goals doesn’t really look like that.  Keep in mind, supporting your athletes through this once they’ve set their goals.  Share these concepts with them so that they have the best chance of getting there.  Help them with setting SMART goals.

The top of the staircase or ladder, the longterm goal, doesn’t have to be an outcome goal.  It doesn’t have to be, “I want to win something or beat someone.”  It can be those performance goals of, “I want to get a certain skill,” or, “I want to improve on something.”  That can be your top of the staircase,

Breaking Down Your Goals

Sometimes you need to break those goals down further.  For example, if they want to improve an overall score on floor, maybe part of that is getting one tumbling pass that’s improved and difficult. Maybe it’s improving their turn from a single to a double, or it’s getting more extension on something. There might be some sub-goals within that bigger picture goal.

Having Goals While Dealing with Fear

I know a lot of our athletes come to us because they’re scared of skills.  Since I’ve talked a lot about a series on beam, we’ll continue with that.  The goal can sometimes become overwhelming, specifically, the goal of getting your series on high beam can feel really scary because that’s what they’re scared of.  Now they have this goal and it’s meant to be motivating and there’s a plan, but it becomes really overwhelming.  Think about encouraging your athlete to break that down.  Maybe it’s getting a series on low beam by a certain date.  Now your athlete knows, you know, and hopefully, the coach knows the goal is still to get the series on high beam, but that’s not what you’re focusing on.  You’re focusing on low beam.  Feels more manageable, right?

If they start thinking further ahead, if they think about those steps that are next and it becomes overwhelming, your job is to remind them.  “You know what?  Once you reach this goal of getting your series on low beam, the idea is that you feel confident and comfortable there so that the next step isn’t going to feel as overwhelming.”  You’re making what would be short-term goals more of the longterm goals and that’s what the focus is.

Overcoming Roadblocks

We have our goals, we know the plan, but as an adult you know, things get in the way.  Life happens, setbacks happen, injury, illness, lack of motivation, tough day, etc.  You can do two things to get back on track.  First, think about what might get in the way.  It’s really helpful if you can preview what could get in the way of your goals.  For an athlete getting their series on a certain beam, it might be fear getting in the way.  What can we do to deal with that roadblock?  If it’s,  “I really want to improve my bar dismount, but now that we’re in season, we don’t really focus on dismounts, we just focus on routines, how might you work on that?  Can your athlete get a private lesson?  Can they go into open gym and work out in the pit?

You might need coach support with some of these things, but really figuring out what those potential roadblocks are and how you will handle that is really helpful.

Creating Habits

You can also think of regular habits that can be created if this is something they want to have happen on a regular basis or that they want to maintain.  For example, that series on high beam, it’s not just, “Oh, I did it once on high beam and now I’m done.”  No, this needs to be maintained.  You will likely need habits created along the way that help you achieve that goal and also maintain it.  This could be, “To get my series on beam, I should probably be doing more imagery of my series so that I feel more confident and more comfortable with it.”  So what are those habits your athlete ultimately needs to develop?

Avoiding Extrinsic Motivation

Before we finish up, in terms of supporting your athletes with their goals, I want to touch on the idea of rewarding your kids for their goals.  Instead of bribes,  like saying, “I’m going to pay you for your grades for every A you get,” or, “I’ll give you $20 when you get your series,” or, “I’m going to give you an iPhone,” that’s what your kid would love, right?

Rewarding Effort & Progress

Hopefully that’s a very extreme example.  I wouldn’t suggest any of that because what happens is they’re working to check off the box and then get the thing you’ve bribed them with, and that’s extrinsic motivation.  It’s encouraging them to do these behaviors, to get these things.  That type of motivation, when used appropriately, can be helpful.  But when it comes to goals, what I would suggest is finding fun ways to celebrate the progress and to really connect it to the effort that they have put in and the progress that they’ve made.

There’s a subtle difference.  You can use things that are meaningful, but kind of smaller.  You can say, “When you’ve gotten that first step, when you do the series on low beam consistently, when you’ve gone through a week of that, on Friday you’re going to pick the meals that we make.  If you always go out on Friday night,  they get to pick the restaurant.  Find fun ways to encourage and support your athlete. Favorite meal, movie night, my six-year-old is motivated by new apps on my phone.  He gets a new game app on my phone.

You can pick things that feel like a reward, but again, we don’t want it to be a bribe.  We’re not dangling the carrot in front of them, you’re encouraging them along the way.  Do what works best for your athlete.  In general, we really want to try and stay away from fostering this idea that you do things for something else, the extrinsic motivation, but rather you’re encouraging them to do it because they want to.  This way, they see the effort, they enjoy it, and they’re improving.  It’s finding the way to use that extra little incentive to encourage them and to keep them going.  Keep that in mind for yourself and for your athletes.

Always Move Toward the End Goal

Setting goals is a process and it’s not linear.  There will be movement forward, there will be stagnation, there will be movement backward, but oftentimes to help all of that progress move forward, even if there is some of them backward, is monitoring goals.  Keep track of it.  “I said I was going to do this by this date.  Am I on track?”

You can help your athlete by checking in, following up, but not nagging because we know our kids do not deal well with nagging.  Let them take the lead, but check in and to see how it’s going.

Physical & Mental Skills

Remember that a lot of times if your athlete’s goal is physical, like wanting to get a certain skill or a certain score, there are mental aspects involved.  There are mental aspects involved in everything, especially if it’s getting through a fear or being confident – mental skills.  Make sure that when your athlete is coming up with the short-term goals and the strategies that they’re using their mental skills as well.  They should be including things three times a week: visualizing for at least five minutes, saying an affirmation before doing any beam skill, etc.  Make sure that the mental skills are included as part of that goal setting.

Get Support From a Coach

If you’re sitting there asking, “Wait, what do you mean mental skills?”  That’s what we’re here for.  We can help you with that.  If your athlete is struggling with their mental skills, don’t forget we’re here to support you.  We have great options for online, individual training.  You can do a free consultation with me or any of our great coaches.  Click here to see the schedule.

If you do have questions specifically about goal setting, you can check in with us in the course in the PerformHappy community if you’re already there or set up a session with one of us and we’ll be happy to help you with your goals and all of the mental skills that will ultimately help get you there.

Thank you so much to all of you watching.  I did see one final question that I want to check in on.

Q: If an athlete is working on getting a skill back, should they set weekly goals or one short-term goal and reevaluate it once they achieve the short-term goal?


That’s a great question.  I think it comes down to what your athlete is most comfortable with.  You could do either.  That’s the challenge with some of these mental skills, there isn’t one right way to apply them, but that’s also the beauty of them, you can find a way to make it work for you.  I think if they’re getting a skill back, it can be motivating to kind of know, “I need to get this skill back by this date so then I can break it down.  I know I need to be at this point by here and this point by here and this point right here.”  That can be helpful to know.

If you have an athlete who gets overwhelmed by that and seeing that big picture feels like too much, then I would just go with the short-term goal is almost like your longterm goal and when you do it, celebrate.  Then what is next?

Figure that out based on what you know about your athlete and hopefully that will help them.

Thank you, everyone, so much.  Again, this is coach Sara.  I’ve enjoyed being with you today.

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