Short-Term Goals Bring Success in Sport

Mim Haigh
Sports Writer – Athlete Assessments

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How chasing a short-term goal leads a field hockey team to a national title.


I really enjoy the teamwork in hockey – indoor, ice and field. Well differentiated roles and so many different theories on positional play, attack and defense. Recently, I watched a field hockey team win a national championship and their playing strategy was a great example of just how effective a focus on short-term goals can be.

short-term goals

A series of short-term process focused goals can connect and become stepping-stones to success and the strategy pursued by this hockey team is a textbook example. Short-term process goals are one part of a mental strategy that successful athletes carry out routinely in their pursuit of sporting excellence.

Here’s how this particular field hockey team did it…

The Coach and consequently all of the players, believed that a goal scoring play was made up of 10 successful passes. As a team, the players worked towards 10 successful passes rather than a goal. The sweeper or playmaker would distribute the ball with this in mind. Each player had a responsibility to get themselves into a receiving position, the player passing the ball had to be prepared to get it back from the receiver. The Coach counted the passes from the sideline. The crowd cheered. Every play, team members looked for one another, they passed the ball wide, players ran into receiving positions, the play was creative, the ball rarely travelled up the center, nor did it travel to favored players with a pre-empted goal trajectory in mind.

Rarely in the tournament were there 10 successful pass sequences. The score lines were low, but after a week of tight matches and tough struggles, the team we were following triumphed. They won the tournament, their strategy led them to a national championship. The win was very satisfying for team members but also for spectators and everyone supporting the team. They had a very clear strategy, a short-term process focus which was easy to see and simple to decipher, but it created limitless enthusiasm and resilience. It was a resource. A fall-back position and ultimately a great example of how short-term process goals are stepping-stones to success.

Bo Hanson, Senior Consultant for Athlete Assessments says, “the best way to set this kind of short-term process goal is to identify those elements which you have most control over in producing a successful outcome. Being able to work back from a score line to the process of creating it, then understanding the role you play in each part of the process is vital. This gives you a sense of control within the game and distinct purpose for being on the team and how to contribute to the team outcomes. Additionally, short-term process goals give you focused energy which keeps you in the moment.”

short-term goals

He also explained that short-term goals can have a dual purpose. Not only do they get an athlete through moment-to-moment, but they can also be very grounding. He says, “in the heat of competition, players can get caught up in what the opposition is doing or what the score line says, even how much time is left on the clock”.

“A short-term process goal, which breaks down the critical or match-winning actions, brings our focus back to the field of play where we have control over our own choices and behavior. It has the capacity to influence the end result.”

Successful athletes set short-term process goals as part of a winning strategy. Even though every athlete and team will respond to the game or competition as it happens, they will have their own short-term process goals to pursue and lead the play. The same goals form a fall-back plan in times of disorganization and momentary setbacks.

The most useful outcomes occur when Coaches and athletes design these goals together, in the calm of pre-event or training time. Short-term process goals are something that can be varied as an athlete becomes proficient at a skill or they may remain the same if they’re considered to be the precursor to success.

Regardless of what the goals actually are, it’s important that they’re measured consistently and become part of the process, or preparation that athletes and Coaches do.

short-term goals

Setting short-term process goals assist in preparation for resilience or recovery strategies in times of difficulty, momentary loss or mistake is all an aspect of mental preparation. Mental preparation and mental skills are an important aspect of sport and their often overlooked.

He says that mental skills, mental preparation and ultimately mental toughness are a game changing skill and like any other physical skill they need regular development and practice.

In response to constant requests for a simple program to address the development of these skills, Hanson created ATHLETE TOUGH™.

As an athlete and a Coach, Hanson knows just how important these preparation sessions are, what a difference they can make to an athlete’s life and a teams’ season. He also knows that athletes and Coaches lead very busy lives, balancing sporting achievement with their professional and personal life. With this reality in mind, ATHLETE TOUGH™ needs no interpretation.

It’s designed as a workbook with an accompanying video series that can be broken down into weekly instalments, chapter by chapter and athletes can build a mental skills toolkit to serve them for the season and into the future.

Chapters covered include Staying in The Game, Teaching Toughness and Staying Tough Under Pressure. ATHLETE TOUGH™ isn’t filled with distracting, long-winded theory. Instead, it takes the theory Coaches and athletes need to know, and explains it in a way that’s easy to understand. The activities, projects, fun exercises and reflection journaling, cover the content in-depth while keeping it interesting for this generation of athletes and most importantly, practical.

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Athlete tough

Handbook & Video Program

Mental toughness is not a mythical quality possessed by only a few. It is a teachable skill and there are a proven strategies to develop your athletes to be ATHLETE TOUGH.

“Being ATHLETE TOUGH is defined by the actions you take when your performance matters the most. In the heat of battle or when all seems lost, those who stay in the game are those who never lose sight of why they are in the game in the first place.”

This is what it takes to be ATHLETE TOUGH.

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