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“S.M.A.R.T Goals” for Youth Track and Field Athletes

“S.M.A.R.T Goals” for Youth Track and Field Athletes

By Dr. Katherine Smith

Being a successful athlete requires determination and constant drive towards self-improvement. Lifestyle changes which support improvements in athleticism are long-term commitments that require significant effort and results in long-term rewards. In a society that emphasizes immediate reward, implementing lifestyle changes that involve delayed gratification is especially challenging. Often times people want to make changes in their lives, but they find it difficult to accomplish. This is true of children as well as adults. Helping your child to set appropriate goals is a critical component to their athletic success in sport.

“S.M.A.R.T Goals” are specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic, and time-specific. “S.M.A.R.T Goals” describe a precise approach to setting goals that is regularly used by both healthcare and fitness professionals. However, they are not exclusive to these groups, parents can use the same techniques to help their children achieve success.

Parents can work collaboratively with their child’s coach to set “S.M.A.R.T Goals” that can be used to direct behavior and to help children to track their progress in the training process. This can help children find the motivation to push towards their athletic ambitions. The first step for parents when implementing this technique is to have a clear understanding of each component of “S.M.A.R.T Goals”.

The first component of a “S.M.A.R.T Goal” is “Specific”. A “Specific” goal describes a precise action or outcome. Children will often say they want to “improve” or “get better” but frequently don’t articulate or even understand exactly what “better” is. Encouraging children to set specific goals fosters reflective thought about their athletic performance. It promotes the child thinking critically about where they are and where they want to be. Having the child describe exactly what improvement looks like is also an important first step in visualization of success, which is another technique used in motivation.

Specific goals in track and field can involve performance or process. Performance goals include a specific outcome that will be accomplished. Performance goals in track and field often include an exact time or distance that a child will achieve. Process goals involve commitment to a particular activity that the child will complete. These goals may involve attending practice or completing home workouts as directed by their coach. Use caution and the support of your child’s coach, with this specific component. You want to make sure that the goal you are encouraging for your athlete is realistic. Realize that goal setting in youth sports is a collaborative process.

The second component of a “S.M.A.R.T Goal” is “Measurable”. This component answers the question, “How will you and your child know if they met their goal?” Whenever possible, put your child in charge of tracking their progress. This will help foster ownership of the goal, as well as responsibility and accountability.

The third component of a “S.M.A.R.T Goal” is “Acceptable”. First and foremost, the concern needs to be, “Is the goal acceptable to your child?”. In other words, “Is this your goal or theirs?”. Consideration also needs to be given for who is involved in the process of achieving this goal. For example, does this specific and measurable goal involve you providing transportation, your coaches expertise and feedback or the team’s support. Making sure that the goal is acceptable to all involved will go a long way towards optimizing success.

The fourth and fifth component of a “S.M.A.R.T Goal” are “Realistic” and “Timely”. This is where the parent-coach partnership is so critical. Both you and your child’s coach know your child, however, in a distinctly different way. Your child’s coach is also an expert in the sport. Relying on the input from your child’s coach(es) regarding rate of progress can both maximize your child’s success, as well as avoid painful injuries and setbacks.

“S.M.A.R.T Goals” can also be short-term or long-term goals. A short-term goal is a step in the process. An example of a short-term goal for a child just starting out in track and field may be to complete a specific number of walk-run in a given practice. Long term goals involve a longer time period and could be a statement about what they will be able to accomplish by the end of the season or even in an upcoming season.

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