Recently, one of my clients attended a national financial conference where the keynote speaker gave a session on goal setting. This speaker's job was to motivate and "pump up" the delegates in attendance as they were heading into their busy tax time. My client was so impressed by the speaker that immediately upon returning home, he contacted me with a goal of completing a marathon in three hours and 20 minutes in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I was able to listen to a tape of the session that my client bought, which he eventually sent to me. The main premise of the speaker's session was "Set Big Goals." The speaker also went on to say that "realistic goals suck," and "No one ever accomplished anything by setting a realistic goal." Although this was a financial meeting, the speaker used his athletic performance (completing the Hawaii Ironman) as an example of his goal achievement.
My client started running only the year before. His first run workout involved 10 minutes in total. One year later, it took him close to two hours to complete a half marathon. A fantastic accomplishment and one that he worked very hard to attain. Now, without ever running longer than half the distance in his life, his goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. To run at Boston, he must run a qualifying marathon at a pace of about 90 seconds faster per mile than he did during his half marathon. His level of ability and V02max suggests that a three hour and 20 minute marathon is not realistic in the timeframe he desires.
As coaches and trainers, this is a situation I'm sure we have all been through, most often in the form of your clients hearing about something someone else is doing then wanting to implement it without thinking if it is appropriate. How do we handle such situations? What should we say? What should we do? My suggestion is to obtain as much data, numbers and objective information as possible in conjunction with being sensitive to your clients' feelings and understanding their needs.
You should have a goal setting method in place when dealing with your clients. You should also have an understanding of motivation and the reasons (or attributes) that people give for successes and failures in order to help motivate them.
First, let's talk about goal setting. Obviously, there are many methods and many ways to set goals. One such method uses the acronym S.M.A.R.T. - which stands for setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Trackable goals. I like to break it down to an even simpler system with my clients and I have been using the same system with great success for years.
I encourage all of my clients to keep three things in mind when establishing goals. Keep them realistic, achievable, and challenging. Every client I deal with starts with this process. Before I meet them, before I consult with them, I instruct them to list goals on a piece of paper. Usually the only instruction I give them is to separate goals into short term (2 - 3 months) and long term (6 - 12 months). I then ask them to bring the sheet of paper in with them or e-mail or fax the list to my attention before we have a discussion.
This process does a few things. One, it gives the individual time to think about his / her objectives. Often people start exercising or wanting to exercise without giving thought to why,... "because my doctor told me to", or "because my wife / husband wants me to", or "because I think I should." Establishing goals are the foundation that will dictate the method of training your clients will endeavor to participate in based on your guidance.
Secondly, the type of goals your clients list on paper will immediately give you a great deal of information about them, how serious they are, how much thought they have given the process of training and what is going to motivate them. Things you should look for include, what kind of detail have they included?
- Have they quantified goals? (inches? pounds? distances? volumes?)
- Have they qualified goals? (how often? method?)
- Have they included time lines? (days? weeks? months?).
- How knowledgeable are they about health, fitness and related goal setting (some people might not know how to set a health goal - rare, but possible)?
Thirdly, the presentation of the piece of paper also gives you information about your prospective clients. Was it folded and in a pocket? Was it hand written, typed or done on a computer and saved on disc? In the many years that I have been doing this I have found an positive correlation between how much time a person takes to write goals down on a sheet of paper and his / her initial commitment to training. If the goal is to make the Olympic or National team, the goals and the processes are clear (not easy, but clear none the less). If the person has never exercised before goals might not be as clear. It is your responsibility to help guide your clients without dictating goals for them.
You help to determine if your clients' goals are realistic, challenging and achievable through your clients' past accomplishments, genetics, fitness testing, level of ability, support networks, constant feedback, time trials, re-testing. This will help to measure outcomes, direct training, invoke consistency, continue motivation and dictate a reward system. Determining a reward system is also valuable in an effort to keep your clients motivated.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article a main reason for goal setting is to help motivate your clients. To further understand motivation we must understand a client's attribution of success or failure. Research on the subject suggests that certain individuals you deal with will be motivated to avoid failure, others will be motivated to approach success (please see references at the end of this article).
Based on the Attribution Theory developed by Weiner, people attribute success or failure to either internal, external, stable and / or unstable factors. For example, one person who succeeds might internalize his / her success, suggesting that it was due to ability or effort. The same person if unsuccessful could very well attribute it to the difficulty of the task or unfavorable (uncontrollable) factors such as weather conditions.
An understanding of motivation and the prevailing theories of success and failure (including Drive theory) will compliment your skills in assisting your clients during the goal setting process. The unstable internal factor of effort is an area where you can assist your clients greatly. Appropriately set goals will continue to motivate your clients thereby ensuring they put forth a high level of effort. If your clients have set goals that are either too challenging, not realistic or achievable, then effort will be at a minimum.
As early as 1943, Hull and his associates suggested that motivation is a product of drive and incentive. If you assist your clients in appropriate goal setting this will give them the motivation to begin. If they achieve challenging, realistic short-term goals along the way this will give them the incentive and the drive to work towards a long-term goal.
In conclusion, I completely disagree with the speaker at my client's conference. I believe it is not only important to set goals, but it is imperative that they be realistic. However, there must be a balance. Accomplishing a goal that is not challenging is not fulfilling. There must be a challenge involved. Conversely, setting a goal that is too challenging is a set up for failure. It is your responsibility to continue to motivate your clients, constantly challenging them, and most importantly, set them up for success!
- Establish goals
- daily goal(s)
- short term goal (three months)
- long term goal (12 months)
- visionary lifestyle
- Are goals realistic?
- appropriate screening
- fitness evaluation
- family history
- past accomplishments
- Are goals challenging?
- field tests
- fitness re-evaluation
- ongoing consultation
- Carron, A.V., Social Psychology of Sport, Mouvement Publications, 1980
- Horn, T.S., Advances in Sport Psychology, "The Jekyll/Hyde Nature of Goals: Reconceptualizing Goal Setting in Sport" Human Kinetics Publishers 1992
- Hull, C.L., Principles of Behavior, Appleton Century Crofts Pub., 1943
- Weiner, B., Theories of Motivation From Mechanism to Cognition, Markham Publishing Co., 1972
- Weiner B., An Attribution Theory of Achievement, Motivation and Emotion.Psychological Review, 92(4), 548-573, 1985