Setting goals for improving performance

Setting goals for improving performance
Written by Frosso Patsou

Setting goals is a very constructive but also a difficult procedure for athletes and dancers, regardless of age, sport and level. Over the past three decades, sports psychologists have dealt too much with the way and the effects of setting targets in improving performance.

At a rate of over 90%, all the investigations converge at the fact that setting goals affects performance and helps both in stress management and to increase the self-confidence and motivation.

The term objective is an aim or practice which must be achieved at a specific time. The objectives can be focused on training or competition, to be short-term or long-term, to be realistic and effective e.g. to win a match or contest and performance objectives e.g. to focus on improving one’s personal capacity and to improve as an athlete/dancer.

It is clear that expressions such as “going strong” or “play/run/fight/dance as if there’s no tomorrow” as well as fragmented targets which don’t have programming, structure, purpose and duration are not apparently objective and have no useful effect on the performance of the athlete/dancer.

The researchers argue that the objective focuses on the trainee’s attention to specific and important aspects of the work which needs to be done e.g. improvement of the flow in a choreography. Moreover, they offer extra help to the trainee to increase his efforts both on a daily basis but also in the long term. Finally it has been proven that by setting targets, trainees develop new strategies and insights concerning the sport.

In accordance with the socio-cognitive theory, daily achievable, realistic and eventually effective targets lead to the decrease of anxiety, increased effort and the boost of self-esteem, more personal satisfaction, higher levels of attention and effort, and ultimately to the achievement of a better performance.

In order for this tactic to have positive changes in our performance it is very important to follow the principles and norms mentioned below:

1. Set specific measurable objectives

The vague and non-measurable objectives create a climate of doubt which can easily lead to loss of interest and consequently to giving up the sport. The improvement and feedback needed to get the athlete/dancer to continue with the same intensity and passion must be present.

2. Set realistic and achievable goals

One should neither exaggerate the expectations of targets nor set lower targets . In both cases, the result will not be satisfying and will block efforts.

3. Set both long-term and short-term objectives

The targets must be daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. In this way, it is easier to adjust, to assess and redefine them in the event of failure to achieve one’s goals, in order to reach the desired result.

4. Set both performance and competition objectives

The goals should relate to our personal improvement but also to the result of the competition. Most of the time, these goals are fundamentally linked.

5. Set positive and not negative goals

It is better to think “what you should do right ‘ rather than ‘ what you’re doing wrong.” Focus on the positive part of your effort and set positive goals, not negative.

6. Set dates

Record your goals on specific dates. This will help you to fully control your achievements.

7. Identify the strategies that led you to attain your goals.

The successful process and progress towards achieving your goals can be an important auxiliary protocol that you can follow the next time in order to reach the desired result.

8. Commit to your goals, reset and reassess them.

The goals are set to achieve them. As difficult as they might seem to keep up with, you should be focused on them and do your best to achieve them.


Kingston, K., & Hardy, L. (1997). Effects of different types of goals on processes that support performance. The Sport Psychologist, 11, 277 – 293.
Kingston, K., & Wilson, K. (2009). The application of goal setting in sport. In S. Mellalieu, & S. Hanton (Eds.), Advances in applied sport psychology: A review (pp. 75e123). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Mullen, R., & Hardy, L. (2010). Conscious processing and the process goal paradox. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 32, 275 – 297.

About the author

Frosso Patsou

Sports Psychologist

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