Track & field athletes can be training and preparing for several different events at one time. One athlete may be training for sprinting events, a jumping event, and a relay. Another athlete could be training for a mid-distance event, while yet another teammate may be preparing for all throwing events.
While these athletes are all doing different things, they should have one thing in common: they are practicing towards accomplishing their goals.
Why Have Goals?
Goals help us stay on track and monitor our progression. When coaches and athletes work together to create specific, quantifiable goals, it helps us focus on areas of performance, and areas of improvement.
Goals must have some type of metric. For example, imagine if a sprinter came up to you and said, "Hi coach, I thought about it and I have my goal - I want to win every race." Compare that to another sprinter who approaches you and says, "Coach, I have my goal! By mid-way through the season I want my 200m time to be around x.xx, and I want my squat and deadlift max to increase 5% by the end of every week." The second sprinter has the right mindset. The goals the second sprinter presented are measurable, specific and personal, while the goals the first sprinter presented are too broad.
Let's break down how you can create your goals for your upcoming season.
What Type of Goals?
Having a business background, I like to structure athletic goal-setting like a business. In the business world, the type of goals professionals set are S.M.A.R.T. goals:
Achievable (or attainable)
Note: there is no designation of a 'long-term' or 'short-term' goal. I encourage athletes to have goals with different timelines. For example, one season I instituted the "win something today" philosophy in which each athlete had to 'win' something either in practice, meet or in everyday life. That was a goal they could accomplish every single day. There were other times when I sat the team down and we talked about where each person wants to be mid-season, end of season, and hopefully post-season.
After discussing why we need to create S.M.A.R.T. goals, the athlete needs to understand the importance of writing them down. Studies show that people who write down their goals are significantly more likely to accomplish them than people who choose not to write the goals down. It is often said to athletes that they should "visualize the finish line", and writing down your goals is a way to visualize what the athlete wants to accomplish. Writing the goal(s) down makes it real and adds accountability to the athlete.
As much as I love everything that deals with track + field, I know that there are a limited number of athletes whom love practice for the sake of practice. No thrower wants to ruck sandbags or a distance runner to run mile repeats, with no goal in mind.
Aligning your goals with practice creates an atmosphere where 'intentional practice' (or 'deliberate practice') can flourish. Intentional practice comes alive when the structure of the training session is built to focus on a particular ability in order to achieve mastery or improvement.
For example, a right-handed basketball player may spend two practices a week only shooting with their left hand. Or a left-footed soccer player may schedule 30 minutes of practice performing corner-kicks from the right corner flag.
For track & field, due to the breadth of skills required in order to be an elite athlete, the athlete and coach need to sit down to determine which goals benefit both the athlete and the team so the training regimen can reflect the hierarchy of the goals. For example, due to the wear and tear of triple-jumping, building single-leg strength is incredibly important for the athlete to prevent injury and improve power. If that is a goal for the athlete, the training should be focused on the goal during the pre-season, into early regular season. Yes, the athlete should still have strength-training sessions throughout the season, but creating an intentional practice focusing on building strength and power should be in place well before the athlete gets into regular competition training.
It's Okay to Fail- Learn From It
Aligning goals to create an intentional practice routine truly helps both athlete and coach. Sometimes things go exactly according to plan, and the athlete and coach are able to look at the practices and see how the athlete progressed, and can feel good that the practice routine and the goals matched up. But, more often then not, things don't go according to plan. The athlete could get injured, or nature and weather conditions could interfere, or the athlete could have one or two poor performances that could shake up their confidence.
Failing to reach a goal doesn't mean that the athlete will fail to reach their potential. Documenting the goals, the progress, and creating the 'intentional practice' can help the athlete and coach evaluate what went wrong. If it was an injury, maybe the training lacked a strengthening cycle, or there may have been some over-training/over-exertion that tired out the muscle. Perhaps it was the athlete's diet or other activities that caused them to be unprepared for the program.
The key point is this: failing is okay. Not learning from the failure is not okay.
Goals are benchmarks we use to make sure we're making the right progress. If we fail, we need to learn from it and restructure our goal(s) and practice.
Example Season with Goal-Setting (high school track & field)
- Beginning of week, meet with upperclassmen and discuss season, big meets and dates. Could also establish captains. Coach outlines program goals
- Mid-week, meet with all those coming to open workouts, discuss program, outline goals again, run workout
- End of week, all open workout members write down 2-3 goals they want to accomplish before regular season (tell them to be specific, not things like, 'make the team’)
- Coach meets (informally) with workout participants, encouraging athletes to share goals and encourage teammates
- Workouts continue, getting upperclassmen involved to notice weak spots to create intentional workout outline
- Create intentional workout schedule, highlighting different areas that could use improvement
- If doing V/JV/team cuts, outline needs and requirements for making teams; giving athletes the month to prepare
- Intentional workout outline continues, could field requests of different athletes to determine additional needs
- Continue workouts as needed. Coach updates/modifies program goals based on team makeup
- Create the team; congratulate athletes, outline next steps
- Team meeting. Captains and specialties (throwers, sprinters, MDR, jumpers, LDR) break up to discuss goals, and set goals for their events (written down)
- Individually, team members create goals for big meets, mid-season, sectionals/qualifying meets and end of season (written down)
- Create some kind of process/protocol to check goals with assistant coaches. Create practice plan to align with goals as close as possible
- Coach check-in with whole team. Update on program goals
- Coach to meet with team members/ other coaches to see how member goals are aligning with practice. Adjust, mentor as needed
- Have separate meetings with coaches and injured/discouraged athletes and have a goal-restructuring meeting
End of Season
- Before post-season, get whole team together. Analyze program goals
- Team members to look at their goals and progress since pre-season. Have them jot down how they got to where they are now, good and otherwise
- Reflection and next steps, what is the athlete going to do next in order to continue to progress?
Track & field is quickly losing the reputation of "Oh, everyone does track", and is becoming a serious place for athletes to demonstrate their athleticism and versatility. Therefore, if it is a serious undertaking, one needs to take it seriously. Creating goals and aligning them with focused, specific training will make intentional practice beneficial for everyone involved.