The Importance of Setting Goals

Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with the plan.

-Tom Landry

Setting a Goal and Achieving a Goal: Two Very Different Concepts

Goal setting is one of the most widely used practices in sport settings, schools, and the workplace. If done correctly, goal setting can motivate students and athletes to maximize their performance. In many cases, however, goals are set and then left alone. Teachers, managers, and coaches may have the best of intentions when they ask their students, athletes, and teams to set goals, but then the “full speed ahead” mentality kicks in and goals are often neglected or forgotten.

In addition, setting and accomplishing goals requires traits such as determination, self-awareness, motivation, self-control, and problem solving. If these social-emotional behaviors that contribute to reaching a goal are not addressed, the goal will likely not be met. Whether it’s individual or team goals, too often the emphasis is placed on setting a good goal, and not enough time is spent on facilitating the behaviors necessary to achieve the goal.

Goal Setting/Goal Achieving Should be Included in Every Physical Education Course

In order to inspire intrinsic motivation and help students form a personal desire to WANT to lead active and healthy lives, they need to be involved in their learning. When students have a voice, they are empowered. Empowerment leads to motivation. Health and fitness are very personal concepts. Students should have a choice in how they want to stay active and healthy and set personal goals around those chosen activities. No matter what the Physical Education unit is, a goal should be set for personal and/or team growth. By facilitating the behaviors needed to achieve a goal and then taking the necessary reflection time to track progress, goal setting becomes a much more meaningful process, and growth is more likely to occur. Goal setting/achieving provides an excellent opportunity to involve students in their learning and offer choice, which are key factors in learning, growth, and motivation.

The Gift Lies in the Struggle

Reaching a goal requires changed behavior. Changed behavior often includes discomfort. The discomfort phase of goal setting is typically where the growth begins to occur, but it’s also the phase where failure to achieve the goal becomes more likely. In order to get through the most difficult phase of achieving a goal, students need to learn how to maintain a growth mindset. They need to recognize that the gift often lies in the struggle and to embrace a challenge rather than use it as an excuse to quit.

G.R.O.W.T.H. Goal Setting Approach

We have created a step-by-step Goal Setting approach that places the emphasis on the behaviors needed to reach the goal. The acronym G.R.O.W.T.H. is used and each letter stands for an important part of the change or growth process. This step-by-step approach is provided in our books along with additional tools and resources. Below is a brief explanation:

G GoalList the specific goal along with baseline data. Include end goal date.
R Realistic PlanInclude a realistic, specific plan.
O ObstaclesProactively thinking, what are potential obstacles that may make this goal difficult to reach? By identifying potential setbacks, we will be more prepared to overcome them.
W Who and What?This is one of my favorites. Teaching kids and adults to be resourceful is a valuable life skill. How will I prevent this obstacle from becoming an excuse to quit? Who will I turn to if/when I am struggling? Who will support and encourage me? What resources will I seek to help me get through the obstacles?
T Tracking This is where many goals breakdown. Time needs to be taken to track progress. This is a form of reflection and a very important part of goal setting. Success breeds motivation. When participants actually recognize and document their growth, they will be more motivated to continue. On the flip side, if there is little or no growth, action needs to be taken. Students will need to take the time to problem solve a plan to get back on track.
H Habits This should be filled in after the goal has been reached. What new habits do I need to maintain in order to sustain my growth? Like the other components of the GROWTH goal setting approach, identifying new habits is a very important part of achieving a goal.

From L. Anderson, D.W. Midura and D.R. Glover, Team Building Through Physical Challenges: A Complete Toolkit with web resource, 2nd ed (Champaign, IL. Human Kinetics, 2020)

Again, this is a very brief description of our G.R.O.W.T.H. Goal Setting approach but it should provide the basis of what it’s all about. The bottom line is, the emphasis needs to be placed on the social-emotional behaviors needed to actually reach a goal. According to CASEL’s definition, “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions”

The Skills Needed to Achieve a Goal Must Be Taught

Yes, it’s important to write a good goal, but what good is it going to do if we don’t take time to reflect and track progress? What good is it going to do if we can’t manage our emotions when frustration sets in, so we quit? What good is a strong goal when we don’t make responsible decisions that require discipline, problem solving, and perseverance?

Reaching goals involves an emotional journey that requires hard work, discipline, and sacrifice. Explicitly teaching the necessary social emotional behaviors along with being intentional about providing reflection time to track progress are key differences between setting a good goal and actually achieving it.

For more information on how to specifically teach these skills as well as the G.R.O.W.T.H. Goal Setting process, please see our books Team Building Through Physical Challenges: A Complete Toolkit and Building Character, Community and a Growth Mindset in Physical Education. Co-Authors Leigh Anderson and Don Glover are available for workshops focusing on the following topics: Team Building, Social Emotional Learning, Character, and Community Building. Please contact Leigh Anderson at leighanderson@comcast.net for more information.

Leigh Anderson is an Instructional Coach in White Bear Lake, Minnesota where she applies many team building concepts with both students and staff. In addition to her elementary teaching, coaching and intervention experience, Leigh taught at the Graduate level in the Masters of Teaching and Learning program at Saint Mary’s University. She has co-authored three books dealing with best practices in education and has presented both nationally and internationally. Leigh holds a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education and a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

Leigh Anderson is an Instructional Coach in White Bear Lake, Minnesota where she applies many team building concepts with both students and staff. In addition to her elementary teaching, coaching and intervention experience, Leigh taught at the Graduate level in the Masters of Teaching and Learning program at Saint Mary’s University. She has co-authored three books dealing with best practices in education and has presented both nationally and internationally. Leigh holds a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education and a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

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