Goal setting. You’ve heard the term a million times yet maybe you’ve never actually set goals, or you’ve stopped setting goals because you’ve never achieved the goals you set out to complete. If you’ve never actually set goals it’s probably because you haven’t seen the value in it. And if you’ve never achieved the goals you set out to complete it’s probably because you’ve been going about goal setting the wrong way. In this two-part series we’ll explain the most effective way to set and attain goals in order to see success in gymnastics this season.
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Just a note. Goal setting is a topic that many researchers have studied and as such, there have been many different terms coined along the way. Some of the terms we use, in particular, might deviate from other nomenclature to make this goal setting process easier for our readers to understand.
First off, why set goals in gymnastics? In a 2003 study conducted by Steven Waples of Texas A&M University, Waples looked at the differences in psychological characteristics between elite and non-elite gymnasts. One of the characteristics he studied was called Goal Preparation. This Goal Preparation subscale indicated the extent to which the gymnasts established a firm set of goals, and then used strategies to achieve a series of intermediate goals to get them to their long range goal of “elite” status. Elite and Level 10 gymnasts consistently scored higher than Level 8 and Level 9 gymnasts in this subscale. Specifically, Waples found that elite gymnasts were more likely to set both short term goals in preparation for upcoming meets, as well as long-term goals such as qualifying for international events or college scholarships. It’s safe to say based on this study, then, that elite gymnasts habitually set and attain goals.
If this study is any indication of the importance of goal setting in achieving a high level of gymnastics, then we hope you’ll get out your notebook right now and start writing down some goals for yourself! As we saw from the study, goal setting is important for elite gymnasts and it’s probably safe to assume that it’s because goals keep them on track and help them stay focused on their journey towards success. Goals also provide them feedback as to how they’re doing along the way. Goals can provide both confidence (as they achieve them) and an indication of where they need to work harder (as they miss the goals they set along the way). So goal setting is way more than just checking off accomplishments from some list. It provides valuable information that is crucial to a gymnast’s success.
Have you ever heard the quote “A dream without a plan is only a wish?” Well goals are your plan or your road map, if you will. They are the GPS of success. They get you to your destination in the most efficient way possible. Without them, you might still achieve your goals but it will most certainly take you longer and you’ll likely get lost along the way. Plus you’ll be zigging and zagging each day which can leave you unmotivated or frustrated as opposed to staying focused on your goals, which can help you feel excited and empowered. Therefore goals can actually keep you going when you might have given up. So once again, goals are super important!
Setting Goals That Work
It’s no secret that elite gymnasts have been using goal setting to help them achieve their goals. Shannon Miller, 7-time Olympic medalist, once said in an interview: “Always set goals – short term and long term goals. If you don’t set goals, you are not going to be moving forward.”
Every gymnast needs goals because it gives them something to work towards. But how do you actually set goals that are effective for changing behavior? Writing down goals is fine but if your behavior doesn’t change because of those written goals then those goals are useless. If a Level 4 gymnast wants to become a Level 10 gymnast she needs to work harder, practice different skills, and become stronger. She needs to become more focused, more productive, and willing to learn and try harder skills. In essence, her behavior needs to change. If she keeps doing the same thing that she’s been doing as a Level 4 gymnast then she won’t get anywhere closer to her big goal of becoming a Level 10 gymnast. The fact that she wrote down that she wants to become a Level 10 gymnast means nothing until her behaviors change to reflect that goal. So basically goals won’t work unless there is a clear behavior change that goes along with it.
So how do you set goals for gymnastics? Below we break down goal-setting into 5 different steps. Read on to find out the one step where most people stop that prevents them from achieving their goals.
Step 1: Know Your Big Vision For Gymnastics
To set effective goals, the first step is to think of your big vision for gymnastics. It’s always important to start with the end result in mind and to have a big picture of what you want to have accomplished in your career as a gymnast. This could be 3, 5, or 10 years from now, maybe even longer.
For example, have you dreamed of becoming a high school or college gymnast?
Do you want to represent your country at the Olympic games?
Do you want to learn enough skills to try out for the Varsity cheerleading team when you’re in high school?
The sky’s the limit here. This is YOUR big vision and there is no dream too big. So think about what you want from gymnastics and then write it down. Even better, we encourage you to create a Vision Board to help you stay focused on your long-term vision. This is something you can hang up on your wall and look at every day.
Of course, if you’re just starting out in competitive gymnastics your long-term vision might come later after you’ve decided you want to continue with gymnastics for the long haul. So don’t worry too much if you don’t have a clear vision yet. It will come. But it definitely helps to know where you want to go in gymnastics and here’s why. Having a big picture is important because it makes it easier to create a plan to get you to your vision. Let’s say we have a gymnast who dreams of competing for UCLA one day. This is something that will take her years to achieve so she needs a way of staying focused each year to make sure she’s on the right track. If you know your big vision, like this gymnast does, then you can use reverse engineering to figure out a plan.
More specifically we can start in the future with her college dream and then work backwards and see where she needs to be each year to achieve her dream. If we were to reverse engineer her vision of making it to collegiate gymnastics, her yearly plan might look something like this:
Age 18 – compete for UCLA Gymnastics
Age 17 – compete as a Level 10 gymnast
Age 16 – compete as a Level 9 gymnast
Age 15 – compete as a Level 8 gymnast
Age 14 – compete as a Level 8 gymnast
Age 13 – compete as a Level 6 and Level 7 gymnast
Age 12 – compete as a Level 5 gymnast
Age 11 – compete as a Level 4 gymnast
Age 10 – compete as a Level 3 gymnast
Age 9 – compete as a Level 2 gymnast
Age 8 – compete as a Level 1 gymnast
Remember this is just a plan. Along the way she might get injured or get stuck at a certain level for many years or quit for a bit and then come back to gymnastics. So this plan will most likely need to be changed as she goes along. However, she still needs to start with a plan so she has a roadmap of the milestones she needs to hit to get to her vision. While this may change, ultimately our college-bound gymnast needs to be competing at Level 9 or Level 10 by her senior year in high school to be considered for college gymnastics. So her goal is to advance through the levels in a way that gets her to that highest level by the end of high school.
Again, if you don’t have a big vision for gymnastics yet, that’s ok. But you can see the value in having an idea of where you want to go. If you DO have a big vision in mind, take some time now to reverse engineer your vision to come up with a yearly plan.
Step 2: Figure Out One Big Goal for This Season
Rick Pitno, college basketball coach, was noted for saying “the difference between dreams and goals is that dreams are where we want to end up and goals are how we get there.” Now that you have your dreams in mind, it’s time to chunk them down into smaller goals that can help you get to where you want to go. We showed you above how you can take a big dream and reverse engineer it into smaller yearly milestones. This is more of a general roadmap of where you need to be. But now we’re going to focus on the actual goals you can work towards in the next year that will help you get closer to your big vision.
Start by asking yourself what you want to have accomplished by the end of this season. Here are some examples to get you thinking:
Do you want to score a 9.0 or better on every event at one or more meets this season?
Do you want to win States or Regionals this season?
Do you want to score out of your current level?
Do you want to learn all the skills required for the next level?
Take some time now to think about your goals for this season. Researchers call these outcome goals because they depend on an outcome happening but we like to call them Big Goals. If you wrote down more than one Big Goal then pick your single most important one. It’s essential that you focus on just one Big Goal this season because each goal requires a plan with many steps, as you’ll find out later.
This Big Goal is important because it gives you focus over the next year but you can’t stop here. This is only the beginning! Unfortunately, most people who set goals ultimately forget about them or never achieve them because they stop at this step. They pick the goal/s they want to achieve and then do nothing more. Let’s show you what you need to do next.
Step 3: Brainstorm The Things You Need To Do To Get To Your Big Goal
Now that you have your one Big Goal for the season picked out, you must create a step-by-step plan to help you achieve it. But you can’t create a plan until you know all the things you need to do in order to achieve your Big Goal. This is where brainstorming comes into play. Think of your Big Goal and now think of every single thing you might need to do to get to that Big Goal.
For example, let’s say your Big Goal is to earn a 9.0 on every event in at least one meet this season. What do you have to do in order to achieve this?
Your brainstorm session might look like this:
-Improve my form on floor so I get less deductions.
-Get more flexible so I can hit all my leap and split requirements in my routines.
-Get to vertical in my handstand on beam.
-Have more power in my vault so I can explode off the table more.
-Have straight arms in my kip.
-Work on my mental game so I get less nervous before meets.
-Take a deep breath before my floor routine so I don’t rush it.
-Work on being more expressive in my dance elements on both floor and beam.
-Eat a better pre-meet meal so I’m not as sluggish during my meet.
-Get more sleep the night before my meet so I have more energy.
Really take the time to write down EVERYTHING you can think of that might help you achieve your Big Goal. You might even add more things to your list as you think of them. Don’t skimp on this step. This is how you start to create what we call Game Plan Goals (also known as process goals).
After you’ve completed your list, you can read through your ideas and see if any of them are actionable steps right now. For example, if you look back at the list we created above, you can see that the action “Take a deep breath before my floor routine so I don’t rush it” is quite specific and thus our gymnast can add this to her list of things to do during her meet without having to break it down further into smaller steps. See if there are any other items on your list that are actionable as-is.
It’s quite common that many of the items on your list will be more vague and need breaking down. On our list above, the idea to “get more flexible so I can hit all my leap and split requirements in my routines” only tells us that this gymnast needs to be more flexible but doesn’t tell us how she can become more flexible. We need to know her exact “next action steps” to get to that goal. So this goal would require further steps to complete. This is where Step 4 comes into place.
Step 4: Create Specific Game Plan Goals
From the list that you brainstormed, you can now read through all your ideas and see which ones need to be broken down further into actionable steps. The idea is to have a list of things that can be executed with clear action steps. If you’re not sure how to achieve that goal then it needs to be broken down into smaller steps.
Below we give you examples of how to break down some of the ideas we wrote above for our gymnast trying to score a 9.0 on all of her events:
–Improve my form so I get less deductions.
This could be changed to: During practice, focus on straight legs, straight arms, and pointed toes when I tumble. Ask my teammate to tell me if I did it correctly for every pass.
–Get more flexible so I can hit all my leap and split requirements in my routines.
This could be changed to: Sit in each of my splits for 2 minutes every day at home.
–Get to vertical in my handstand on beam.
This could be changed to: Do ten 20-second spiderman handstands against my wall to focus on that vertical position while tightening my body.
–Get more sleep the night before my meet so I have more energy.
This could be changed to: Go to sleep by 9pm the night before my meet to ensure I get at least 10 hours of sleep.
–Work on my mental game so I get less nervous before meets.
This could be changed to: Visualize myself doing each of my routines perfectly every night before I go to sleep.
You can see that we have created specific action steps that this gymnast can focus on to improve her routines. These are called Game Plan Goals. Now it’s your turn to take your brainstormed ideas and create more specific action steps that you can work on right now.
Step 5: Put your Game Plan Goals in Order of Importance
Now that you have a list of Game Plan Goals, it’s time to put them in order of importance. While it’s ok to work on more than one Game Plan Goal at a time, we suggest focusing on no more than 3-5 at once. Look at your list and see which one of your goals will have the biggest impact on your Big Goal right now. In our example of our gymnast who wants to score a 9.0 on every event in at least one meet this season, her focus should be on getting as few deductions as possible which means form should be her number one priority. Using the five examples we broke down above, her list might look something like this:
1. During practice, focus on straight legs, straight arms, and pointed toes when I tumble. Ask my teammate to tell me if I did it correctly for every pass.
2. Sit in each of my splits for 2 minutes every day at home.
3. Do ten 20-second spiderman handstands against my wall to focus on that vertical position while tightening my body.
4. Visualize myself doing each of my routines perfectly every night before I go to sleep.
5. Go to sleep by 9pm the night before my meet to ensure I get at least 10 hours of sleep.
Now she has a list of Game Plan Goals in order of importance that she can focus on this season. Next week we’ll discuss the exact way to use and track your Game Plan Goals for maximum success as well as give you tips and tricks for achieving your goals. We’ll talk about some other kinds of goals you can create and give you more examples of goal setting. For now, get to work creating your Game Plan Goals for the season!
It’s no secret that the best athletes use goal setting to help them achieve success. In gymnastics, especially, goals are vital for keeping gymnasts focused on their dreams as well as on their shorter term goals. To set goals that work for you, it’s important to start with your big vision for gymnastics so you have a roadmap of where you want to go. Then you need to figure out one Big Goal for your season that you can work towards. Once you have your Big Goal you need to brainstorm all the things you need to do to help you achieve that goal and create specific Game Plan Goals. Finally, you can put those Game Plan Goals into order of importance and start plugging away each day at your Big Goal.