Mental Edge: Expectations vs. goals for athletes

Photo: Molly J. Smith/Statesman Journal

Going into a competitive season with realistic goals adds motivation, direction and purpose for an athlete. Going into a competitive season with excessively high expectations adds pressure, anxiety and distraction for an athlete. Throw adversity into the equation, things change drastically. Let’s examine exactly what goals are and how adversity affects the athlete… A goal is a well-defined, measurable, attainable objective.

More importantly, goals are adjustable. If you reach your goal prior to the end of the season, you can set a new objective to work towards. Likewise, if an unavoidable circumstance strikes, such as an injury, you can adjust your goal accordingly… Maybe you need to extend the date in which you want to accomplish your goal.

Expectations are rigid.  Expectations are usually written in statements such as, “I have to…,” “I must…” and “I need to…” When it comes to expectations, there is no flexibility. No matter the circumstance, the expectation remains the same.

Expectations generate tension, anxiety and pressure

These are the very things that interfere with performance and cause athletes to feel that they constantly fall short. When an athlete with unrealistic expectations experiences adversity, they become devastated and feel like a failure. Every athlete will experience some degree of adversity. Athletes with realistic goals feel they still have some degree of control and can alter their objectives in a way that keeps them working towards something positive.

Working towards a well-defined, measurable, attainable, adjustable objective helps athletes stay motivated, confident and positive through a wide range of circumstances. It is important, prior to each season, to sit down and write your goals for the season. Make sure those goals are realistic and attainable by the end of the season. Understand that your goals are fluid. That means your goals are not etched in stone and can be adjusted, if necessary. With sound goals, you can maintain high confidence, stay focused and sustain your motivation through the season.

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