Sport Psychology: Goal Setting - Try the Three-Tier System

Sport Psychology: Goal Setting - Try the Three-Tier System

Dick Moss, Editor, PE

    When setting goals for the upcoming season or for individual races, many athletes set objectives that are unrealistically high. When they do this, they are setting themselves up for disappointment.
    A better option is to use the three-tier goal system used by Bob Williams, a running coach in Portland, Oregon (and inventor of the Williams Pace Calculator).
The Three-Tier Goal Setting System
    Williams prefers to use three different goal levels:

  • Good
    A reasonable goal your athletes are fairly sure they can reach. Examples could be a race time within 5% of last year's personal best; equalling the year's best rebounding total for a single game, etc.
  • Great
    A time or performance your athletes think they can attain (at the time) if everything goes according to plan, conditions are perfect and there are no mistakes.
  • Optimal
    This is a performance your athletes would ultimately love to achieve: for example, a school record, a national qualifying time, the performance set by a respected peer, the performance they'd eventually like to achieve over their high-school career, or even over the course of their entire career. While it might be a little unrealistic at the time, it provides your athlete with some long-term perspective.
    Setting goals in three levels will give your athletes a larger range of desired performances and avoid the repeated disappointments that may eventually lead to dissatisfaction with the sport.

1. Owen Anderson (PhD), “How to change a plateau into a peak.”  Running Research News.” January-February, 1990.
2. Jean M. Williams, Editor, Applied Sport Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance, 6th Edition, McGraw Hill, 2009.

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