By: Nicholas Boon

Have you ever wanted to accomplish something? Meet a deadline? Learn a new skill? Of course you have – and so have your athletes. We all set goals as a way to structure our lives, improve productivity, educate ourselves, or reach new levels of success. Without question, goals are invaluable for both athletes and coaches.

Unfortunately, not everyone considers how they set their goals. The process of goal setting is extremely important; the goals we choose inherently determine whether or not they are achieved. Enter: SMART Goals.


SMART Goals provide a framework and criteria for goal setting. Since the early 80’s, SMART Goals have been applied to personal development, business management, education strategies, and of course, sport performance. Using SMART Goals for your athletes, and yourself as a coach, makes it easier to understand what the goal is, how to reach it, and whether or not it has been accomplished.

  • S  – Specific
  • M – Measureable
  • A – Actionable
  • R – Realistic
  • T – Timed


The more specific your goals are, the better your chances are of actually accomplishing it. What exactly do you want to achieve? Generalized goals where success or failure is unclear can lead to complacency, while a clear finish line can increase an individual’s motivation. Do you want to be a “better” free throw shooter? Or do you want to hit 80% of your in-game free throws by the end of the season?


Determining measurables for your goals can be tricky; thankfully, statistics in sport often serve as an effective measuring stick. Stats are not always easily applied in youth sports, but setting goals that can be defined using simple stats can go a long way to improving the quality of the goal itself. Sure, your team needs to improve on the defensive end, but how do you quantify that? Tracking a stat like transition baskets can highlight your team’s hustle back on defense, or opponent’s free throw attempts to encourage your team not to foul.


All good goals require action on the part of the individual. Not only does this promote ownership of the goal (only you can make yourself better) but it encourages putting together a plan of action to achieve that goal. This constitutes the “how” of goal setting, and as a coach this is your most powerful influence on your athlete’s goals. Through your practice planning and feedback, you can have a direct impact on whether or not your players meet their objectives.


Keeping goals realistic is a common challenge for young athletes. Their amazing combination of imagination and optimism can sometimes lead to unattainable goals. This can be dangerous; not only will this lead to inevitable failures, but goals that become seemingly out of reach are often harder to fully commit to. Talk to your athletes about their goals, and help them make adjustments if they have their sights set too high (especially in the short term).


Finally, setting a (realistic) deadline for goals forces some urgency and implores the individual to take action. Having a timeline ties in with the design of an action plan; often using smaller goals as stepping stones towards the bigger goal helps keep everything in perspective. If one of your athletes hopes to be just as comfortable dribbling with their left hand as with their right, is it reasonable to accomplish this within one practice? Or is it better to have the end of your season as a target deadline?

Final Thoughts

Something to consider when setting goals for yourself or with your athletes is whether or not they are framed negatively or positively. A negative goal may not focus on what you actually want to achieve. Instead of working to “stop turning the ball over”, set a goal to adjust your passing technique, improve communication with teammates, or learn to read the defense more effectively.

Also, consider both long and short term goals with your athletes. There are benefits to both; while long term goals provide a big picture object, short term goals provide a clearer in-the-moment focus. What do your athletes want to accomplish in today’s practice? What do they want to accomplish by the end of the season? What do they want to accomplish 5 or 10 years down the road?

Try a goal setting exercise with your team (or with athletes individually). Briefly go over the criteria for SMART Goals, and have them work on setting some for themselves. Guide them towards more appropriate goals, help them determine a timeline, and have them write their goals down to take home. And last but not least – work with them to put a plan of action in place!

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