Swimming blog - TRAINING How goal setting can help you become a better swimmer

Goal setting is a fundamental aspect of sport. It’s a powerful process that motivates you and can turn your dreams into reality. Goals, however, needs to meet certain requirements for them to be achievable. We explain how all level swimmers and triathletes can benefit from goal setting. Let’s jump in. 

S.M.A.R.T. goals just got S.M.A.R.T.E.R.

S.M.A.R.T. is a clever acronym invented for thinking about how to organize your energy effectively around achieving your goals. It appeared in a management paper in 1981 and became the popular way of thinking about goals. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. 

We, however, went trawling the internet and wanted to see if a smart one out there had found smarter goals. And indeed, Psychology Today has slightly tweaked the original acronym into S.M.A.R.T.E.R. which we think is much more applicable to sporting types like ourselves. As we said in the beginning, S.M.A.R.T. goal setting lends itself to sport in a very natural and organic way. Let’s explain using the SMARTER acronym, with a little Spark at the end.

Is your goal specific? “I want to do a triathlon”, is not specific enough.  Asking when, where and how will make it a lot more specific. Wanting to do “a” triathlon is different to saying, “I want to do an Olympic distance triathlon or qualify for Kona”, which are specific goals. Your goals can be anything as long as they are specific. They don’t have to be in competition, it can also be as easy as being able to swim 100 freestyle non-stop or learning the flipturn within 2 months. Having a specific goal will keep you motivated and on track more easily.    

Are your goals measurable? What metrics are you going to use to determine if you meet the goal? It might be as simple as getting to the starting line, crossing the finish line, setting a best time, or being able to swim freestyle continuously. It doesn’t have to get more complicated than that. Or the main goal could be broken down into sub-goals to facilitate your training. These sub-goals are milestones along the way, like doing a sprint triathlon as training before your Olympic distance triathlon. In any case, sport goals are objective and easily measurable, which makes setting measurable goals lots of fun.  

Have you accepted your goal? Have you said YES to the goal? Obviously, it needs to be realistic to be achievable. You first need to learn to walk before you can run. On top of that, you will need to take ownership of the goal if you want to reach it. Ownership is believing deeply in your goal and not letting it be determined by outside forces or people. The first IRONMAN started as a competition between a runner, swimmer and cyclist, who all believed their sport tougher and harder than the other’s sport. The challenge was accepted, and a new form of endurance sport was born. Accepting your goal, while keeping it achievable, will allow you to stay motivated day-in-day-out. 

Is your goal realistic? Being honest with yourself is a tricky thing. The goal needs to be hard enough to challenge you and be just out of reach, but not so out of reach that you have no hope of achieving it.  For instance, having a goal of doing a triathlon on Mars is, at this moment, not realistic and demotivating for sure. On the other hand, it mustn’t be that easy that no effort or minimal effort is required to achieve it. In either scenario you’ll have little incentive or motivation to put in a positive effort. 
Something has to be said about the human spirit though. Great sporting achievement has come when the bar has been set unreasonably high and achieved. Just build it up before going for the stars is our advice.

The best goals are ones that have an expiration date. Signing up to a race is a great way to create a fixed and hard time-limit. You’ll now have a deadline for which you will need to be ready and this is a great way to stay motivated and slightly scared, both of which are good things. This will also help the measurable metric as it helps define how many weeks to the race and allows for your training to be measured more specifically.

It might be obvious, but make your goal inspiring and exciting. It helps with the buy-in process and keeps you motivated throughout the buildup. Emotion plays a huge role in achieving our goals, the more positive vibes you can hang onto your goal, the better the chance of getting over the finish line and achieving it. An exciting and inspiring goal will help you deal with setbacks, pain injury and/or wanting to do other interesting things. 

Tell a friend, blurb it on social media. You are much less likely to renege on your goal if you know that people know about it. It motivates you if people ask how the training is going or how far you are in reaching your goal. Community is key. If you are less exhibitionist, write it in your journal. Just the act of writing it down will make it feel solid and real and something you can get behind. On low days, it will remind you how enthusiastic you were at the beginning and why you chose this goal in in the first place. 

And finally, the spark - Setbacks and being patient
How to deal with set-backs? If goals fall away due to setbacks like a broken leg, a cancelled race or a crazy virus that stops the world (very unlikely right?) – what then? Change your goal and move on. Find other goals. Focus on things that you can influence. Keep your thoughts away from the future and it’s worries. There is no value in keeping a goal if it has fallen away or become, for some reason, unrealistic.

Being patient is the most underrated athletic ability in a modern world of instant everything. Muscles take time to grow and get stronger and believe it or not, more importantly, so does your mind. Take the time to become the athlete you want to become. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You should train like there is a tomorrow. Coming back healthy day after day is the best way to train S.M.A.R.T.E.R.


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