A boy and a girl chase a soccer ball in a park.

The importance of setting goals and defining success for youth

Goal-setting can help kids build confidence, maintain focus, and see improvements from their hard work. It’s a powerful tool that can help them succeed in all aspects of their lives, from their athletics and academics to their personal lives. 

As with all goal-setting, kids who set goals in their sports should focus on SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-specific. Additionally, setting controllable goals, or behaviour-based goals, is vital to ensure kids focus on goals they have the power to control and accomplish. Behaviour-based goals focus on making changes to one’s own action or behaviour. In comparison, result-based goals focus on the outcome or result of the goal. 

For example, committing to focus on improving speed and power on the ice, or being more prepared for training focuses on changing a specific action. The goal of scoring three times every game, or winning a tournament, relies on the actions of other people and is out of the athlete’s control, so it’s more likely to result in frustration and disappointment. By setting SMART and controllable goals, kids will feel empowered and be driven to continue to reach their goals. 

Defining success

Achieving a goal and feeling successful is a deeply personal and subjective experience. What does success really mean, and how can kids define success for themselves? 

Success is the accomplishment of a goal, therefore goal-setting is an essential aspect of determining success for youth in sports. As success is an individual experience, it should be determined independently of the actions of other people. By defining success as winning a gold medal, it can be easy for kids to interpret anything less than first place as a failure, even if they had a personal best performance or improved on a specific goal they had been pursuing. 

Additionally, success is a term that can be applied to accomplishments of all sizes. While being named “most valuable player” or a personal-best performance always feels excellent, more minor accomplishments are equally important and deserving of the title of success. 

Accentuating small successes in practice and everyday life can build confidence, increase motivation, and deter the idea that success is synonymous with perfection. 

A girl wearing a bathing suit and a swim cap smiles as she stands on the edge of a swimming pool with other kids in her swim class.

How can you introduce goal-setting to the young people in your life? 

Goal-setting with kids should be fun!

While the idea of goal-setting can sound intimidating, a goal is really just a dream with a plan to achieve it. 

Start by asking your child what things they dream of accomplishing in the upcoming weeks, months, or years. Then brainstorm with them ways they might get there. For example, if their dream is to finally land an axel in figure skating, steps to achieve that goal might be committing to off-ice jump practice once a week. Or, if their goal is to make more friends on their soccer team, they might have the goal of talking to one new teammate every practice. 

Keep in mind the components of a SMART goal when creating the plan and ensure the action taken to achieve the goal is realistic. Also, while it’s incredibly beneficial for kids to feel supported by the adults in their lives, allowing them to lead their goals and commit to steps to achieve them on their own is useful to allow them to direct the train on their dreams. 

Goal-setting, defining personal success, and knowing how to create a plan to achieve a dream will help keep kids driven and confident in their futures.

Isabel McQuilkin is a retired competitive figure skater. She is also a psychology student studying at McGill University.

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