Goal Setting: Making your own Syllabus

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by Brian Baxter, MA Sport Psychology

Most of the athletes I see come through SPINw are high achievers. They are high level athletes who are dedicated, self-coaches, and know how to push themselves. They don’t accept mediocrity. It’s these quality that get them to a high level in sports. but it’s also this quality that can make the overwhelmed and frustrated.

More often than not, these high level athletes are also high achievers in the classroom. Early in my career it was amazing to me how many 4.0 students come in to seek mental game training; now it’s just commonplace.

A collegiate cross country runner I worked with not to long ago was one of these high achievers in the classroom and on the field. A 4.0 student and talented runner on scholarship, she’d been struggling in her running for about a year, culminating in her refusal to run in an important event due to stress and anxiety. After a strong freshman season, she struggled with injury and sub-standard performances. She was beginning to question her abilities, her training, and herself as a runner.

I asked her to explain the difference to me between sports and academics. She said basically, for school, everything is spelled out for her: the professor gives a syllabus at the beginning of the year, and all she has to do is work hard, follow the steps, ask for extra help if needed, and do well on tests. But for athletics, there were too many factors she couldn’t control: injury, pressure from her teammates and coaches, and not meeting her own standards (“I’ve always been kind of a perfectionist,” she told me).

Goal setting is a great way to get the athlete to focus in on the small steps. For this athlete, I had her create her own “syllabus”; a goal setting plan she could use to feel more in control. At first she had trouble defining her long term goals outside of “I just want to do the best I can… run up to my potential.” So we started her “syllabus” by defining the long term goals – to be consistently on varsity and make a national event. Then we laid out the steps to get there, including Monthly Goals (to see the trainer twice a week for to prevent injury), Weekly Goals (run a set number of miles), and Daily Goals (keep a running log with positive focus, and use circle breathing for relaxation).

Now her focus is to trust in the process – her “Syllabus” – to regain her confidence and run up to her potential.

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