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importance of goal setting for high performance

Ask any young player what their soccer goals are and they will inevitably talk about playing for one of the top club in the world – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester United. As I’ve spoken in my earlier blogs good technical ability is the foundation of a player’s level of ability and will ultimately determine what level they play at. However, as players progress in the game they come up against other players that area as good as them technically, tactically and physically. It is then that young players have to be prepared mentally in order to successfully compete and excel against opponents.

Goal-setting can be an important for young players in order to understand where they are at now and where they are trying to get to. When young players say they want to play for Barcelona these are dreams versus goals. Goals, as defined by Wikipedia, is a desired result that a person envisions, plans and commits to achieve: a personal desired end-point in some sort of assumed development.

“Goal setting is one of the most important skills taught to athletes in order to help hem achieve optimal performance. The Goal Setting process helps athletes understand where they are currently and also where they want to go”

(Alan S. Kornspan)

Goals that are set should be S.M.A.R.T. They should be specific to the player, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. For a goal to be specific a young athlete should outline what do I want to accomplish, within what timeframe and what are the benefits of achieving this. For example, a general goal might be to “improve as a soccer player” while a specific goal would be to “work with the ball 30 minutes after school four times a week” during the next month.

To be effective a goal must also be measurable. If a goal is measured, there is a frame of reference if progress is being made. Young players should set measurement criteria and target dates. This will allow them to feel a sense of accomplishment when targets are reached. For example, a target may be to improve successful pass completion rates in games by 10% during the next two months or as simple as improving the number of successful keep-ups by 10 % within the next two weeks.

Goals must be attainable. Young players can attain almost any goal they set when they plan their progress and establish a time frame that allows them the opportunity to put the time and effort to work towards it. Goals can seem far away and out of reach initially. However, through time, proper planning and commitment players can quickly move towards attaining these far away goals. They can achieve these goals not because the goals are any less but because they are developing and getting better and are now able to perform at a higher level of performance.

To be realistic a goal must be something that young players are both willing and able to work towards. For example, there is no point setting a goal to improve the number of successful keep-ups if the young player is not spending time with the ball practicing. Goals should also be challenging. Young players should have to push themselves out of their own comfort zone to achieve them. Every goal should be representative of significant performance progress.

A goal should also be defined by a timeframe. If there is no timeframe attached to a goal, then there is no sense of urgency or focus. If young players want to get better, then saying that they want to improve “someday” will not be effective. However, if a timeframe is set then a young player will unconsciously start to commit and begin working towards the goal.

Goals can also be outcome goals, performance goals and process goals. An example of an outcome goal would be a result, did we win the game? A performance goal can be how many completed passes a player had in a game and a process goal can be an activity that must occur for a player to successfully execute a skill. For example, how many times did a player check their shoulder before receiving possession

When young players are developing we recommend that they focus on performance and process goals, rather than outcome goals. There is already an over-emphasis in North America on outcome goals (game results) and it is important to place the emphasis in youth development on improving performance levels.


Tips for Players: We have enclosed an eBook template above that young players can use to help set their goals for the season.

Tips for Coaches: Coaches can send the enclosed eBook out to their young players and meet them individually to review or lead a goal-setting session wit the whole team

Tips for Parents: Parents can assist their children set their season goals by reviewing the goal-setting work book with them

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