The Importance of Setting Process-Focused Goals

Date Posted: June 16, 2013       Categories: Blog

From one week to the next and from one game to the next, sports clubs (the professional teams, parents and players) live on an emotional roller-coaster. After a win – self-confidence rises and everyone feels great until the next game. After a loss – self-confidence decreases and is joined by a feeling of disappointment that is gradually replaced by an expectation to win the next game. Itzhak Zur, Sports Psychologist, discusses the ways to improve and maintain high self-confidence even in teams that do not experience wins every week.

We won 🙂 This is awesome! We were great! – We lost 🙁 Bummer, we weren’t good enough again…

Everybody loves to win. Winning is fun. Wins are accompanied by various feelings of elation, euphoria, solidarity, unity, high self-esteem and optimism. Research shows that even testosterone levels in the body rise after a victory – which positively affects the players’ physical abilities.

And yet, as we know, most teams do not experience winning consistently. Moreover, a team that is positioned somewhere in the middle of the chart (not a bad place to be at all) will lose on average half of all matches every season. Should players in teams from the middle of the chart and below feel second-best for more than half the season? The answer is not necessarily, and necessarily not!

The way to avoid a decrease in the self-confidence and self-esteem of players is by setting different kinds of goals. One goal of course is winning the next game – this is something we strive for regardless. Only it is important to remember that this is not a goal that depends solely on us, but also on the team we are up against, so we do not have complete control over it. The second kind of goals are those that relate to our personal process of improvement, which we do have complete control over and does not depend on others – whether on a personal or on a team level.

On a team level, the goal of the team for the upcoming game might be, for example: “play more aggressively”, or, “apply a particular game method we have been practicing this week.” On a personal level, each player will set themselves a specific goal that relates to their own improvement, for example: “perform 6 sprints on the line instead of 4”, or, “go into defense quicker.”

Setting personal and team goals that focus on improving abilities that we have complete control over, gives the players a sense of accomplishment and progress. A player who has met their own goals will go home after the game feeling accomplished and with an increased self-confidence, even if they had lost. Fulfilling one personal goal creates a safety net for the disappointment that accompanies defeat.

A team who has set the goal of improving their defense, and indeed displayed better defense abilities in the game, will come out feeling accomplished and successful even if they had lost.

It is interesting to note that research consistently shows that teams and players who focus on goals that relate to the improvement process itself (which they have complete control over), also bring themselves to more victories and success in the future. This is mainly due to the fact that a sense of high self-confidence and capability are extremely important.

By Itzik Zur, Ph.D.