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UK Coaching Team
Talent and Performance Organising and Planning

Understanding Effective Goal Setting

In the second of a series of eight resources, Performance Psychology Consultant Philippa McGregor explores the topic of goal setting, recommends SMART goal setting as an effective process and emphasises the importance of recognising that not everything is in the individual’s control

How many of us have decided in that post-Christmas period to set about some New Year’s resolutions and then within two weeks into the following month have given up on them entirely? There is a fair chance we have all done that at some time in our lives! Our inability to reach our goals often comes down to the process of goal setting, as we don’t adequately follow a process to really embed a way of achieving what we desire to do.

This article by Philippa McGregor explains some more about the process of goal setting. From your position as a coach, it is worth spending some time thinking about the questions that she poses on how to help develop an action plan. 

As you work through these, maybe start with thinking about yourself and something that you would like to achieve, either as a coach or personally. Once you understand the process in the depth that it is needed, start to consider this with the athletes that you work with. 


  • What do they need on an individual basis to help them improve, even if within a team sport?
  • How can you work with them to help set some goals?
  • What role do they play, and do you play, in developing them towards achieving these?


Planning ‘how’ to achieve a goal

Setting a goal is easy but planning the ‘how’ of achieving a goal can be difficult. General ‘do your best’ or ‘be successful’ goals are as helpful as setting no goals at all. Understanding the key principles that underpin effective goal setting will enable more effective and purposeful use of this performance strategy, leaving it less as a tick box exercise.

Goals provide motivation in the preparation stage of performance as well as directing attention and guiding behaviour prior to and during performances. 

Goals can:

  • outline what is trying to be accomplished
  • direct activities towards objectives
  • identify benchmarks for evaluating performances
  • judge accomplishments
  • give incentives for action.

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