When I sat down to reflect on what my next blog post should be about, several topics came to my mind. Sport psychology is such a broad topic with no one-size-fits-all solution. There's an art to finding what suits you best and using a personal strategy to improve your skills. I guess that's what I find so exciting about it - and at the same time why I found it so hard to decide on a specific topic. In the end, I finally decided on a series of blog posts about goal setting. Why?
1. It's the start of the season and most of us have goals for this upcoming season - and to achieve them, we have to plan them in advance as part of an annual process, to adapt our life style, our training, our spare time.
2. We all have different goals in our lives in general. In climbing, for example they could be, wanting to achieve a certain result at a competition, achieving a milestone in outdoor climbing or wanting to get back to our old strength after an injury.
But what exactly is a goal? Do we always automatically reach our goals? How can we improve our goal setting?
A goal is a result we desire to reach. We envision, plan and commit to it. It requires some kind of development - and usually, hard work. Setting goals are a precondition that persuades us to make and execute plans. Many of us strive to reach their goals within a finite time by setting deadlines. In competitions, these deadlines are externally determined and one has to perform on demand in order to reach ones goal - on a certain day, at a certain time, on a certain climbing wall.
However, there are different ways of setting goals. For example, if we want to win a certain competition, want to be ranked top 3 in this ranking or top 10 in another, if we want to reach finals at the World Cup or reach semis for the first time - we call these types of goals outcome goals. They focus on the result, outcome of a competition or specific situation.
When formulating a goal, we can also focus on our own performance and how we can relatively improve compared to our previous performance. For example, compared to last time you want to top out 8 instead of 6 boulders in a qualification. Your goal is to onsight an 8a which you‘ve so far only redpointed. Or you want to reach the podium this time as you‘ve only just missed out in the past. We can improve ourselves in very many different ways. Regardless of whether our improvements are big or small, there‘s an art to recognising them. Ask your coach next time where they see your improvement. This can give you valuable insight and help orientate your training. This type of goal setting is called performance goals.
From my perspective, the other main types of goals are called process goals. This is what you want to improve from a psychological, mental perspective. For example, if you noticed a lack of concentration during competition due to nervousness or other distracting factors, you write this down as a goal to improve. If you find it hard to motivate yourself during trainings, getting motivated might be a good goal to have. It‘s important to find your personal strategies so you can deal better with these things.
If you think carefully about it, you realise that we have little control over the outcome of a competition. Nobody, not even the best athletes, can enter a competition and guarantee a win. There are always other competitors or, particularly in climbing, variables such as unpredictable route-setting. Usually, our outcome goals correlate with pressure, tension, or suboptimal functioning.
I think we have all had this experience at some point - in play-offs, decisional training or competitions. If we have to achieve one thing to achieve another thing, we feel nervous more easily. For example, there will always be young, up-and-coming athletes waiting in the wings, and that can be a particular threat if you feel that your peak performance was reached in the past. If your recent results were moderate - not quite good enough to stay in the "A-Team“, you might be worried of being down-graded to the "B-Team“.
Another example which we face every single year here in Austria is the decision of who might go to the Youth Worlds. There are many strong climbers in Austria and only a limited number can compete in these competitions. This can put athletes under tremendous pressure. Being selected can mean travelling to exotic places all around the world, making friends and having amazing experiences. But all of this rests on a knife‘s edge.
Interesting fact: Research recommends that process goals contribute to a reduction of an athlete‘s sensitivity to psychosomatic fear in stress situations like this. It also proves an increase in self-confidence and an improved ability to concentrate on the immediate task, rather than the result. Our performance on demand is enhanced significantly.
I guess you know what to do next - write down your own personal goals for the upcoming season! Make sure you define your goals on all levels to shift the focus of just having to achieve certain outcomes. :)