Have Goals, Not Expectations, for Your Young Athletes

Expectations are a burden on children but goals propel them.

Posted Nov 09, 2017

Source: CC0

In this week's vlog segment, I explore the difference between expectations and goals. Expectations act as burdens that you place on your young athletes before a competition, causing pressure, anxiety, and worry. Goals, when used correctly, act as motivators to help them become successful.

Having goals for your children in their sports participation starts with outcome goals, that is, ones related to results. Outcome goals are about possibility rather than the seeming certainty of expectations. Young athletes know that if they work hard toward a goal, it’s possible that they will achieve it. Also, goals are about degree of attainment. Young athletes can’t always set goals for which they can be sure they can completely reach, but if they make progress toward the goal, then they can see that as a success to build on.

Expectations and goals have very different emotional experiences for young athletes. Before a competition, expectations create a lot of bad feelings including fear and doubt. But, goals produce great emotions such as excitement and inspiration. After a successful competition, expectations lead to relief for having not failed, while goals create elation, pride, and even more inspiration to work harder. After a poor competition, expectations result in feelings of devastation for not having met the expectations, while goals produce, yes, disappointment, but also a determination to not fail again.

Phrases associated with expectations include I must, I have to, I need to, I better, I gotta, all of which create feelings of pressures. In contrast, phrases related to goals include I want to, I would like to, I’m aiming for, and I’m working hard to, which create excitement and motivation to succeed.

But you shouldn’t focus on outcome goals except as the end-game for your children’s athletic efforts. As soon as you and your kids establish outcomes goals, immediately shift to process goals which describe what they need to do to perform their best. The reason why this shift is so important is that young athletes can’t directly control their results, but they can control the process.

This emphasis on process builds determination, confidence, and commitment to their goals. And, if they focus on their process goals, they are likely to perform well and, in doing so, are more likely to achieve their outcome goals.

More Posts