On Goal Setting

With a new year upon us there has been lots of talk about goals over the past few weeks. After all, it’s about the time of year when many non-athletes have already given up on their New Year’s resolutions. In track and field our year started months ago before the first day of training, but a new calendar year still marks a good time to assess our progress and a last chance to make changes if needed.

As I transition from being an athlete to a coach I have noticed my thoughts on goals make a similar transition. I was quite apathetic towards goal setting as an athlete. I knew what I needed to do, constantly analyzed it, and then made adjustments accordingly. I found having a wish list at the start of the year distracted me from the process to achieve them and therefore focused on what I needed to do.

Now as a coach I am starting to realize the motivational value of goals for certain athletes and focus more on goal setting with my athletes than I did with myself. Yet throughout it all my focus remains on the training process and using the goals to assess whether an athlete understands what they need to do and their capability to actually do it.

A Framework for Goal Setting

Before I talk about how I use goals, it is helpful to discuss the goals themselves first. Not all goals are equal and there are ways to make them more effective. I’ve done various leadership training courses for work over the past few years and goals are one recurring topics. The popular buzzword is SMART goals. This means setting goals that are:

  • S – Specific: Simply saying you want to be good is a dream, not a goal. Get down to the details of what you want to achieve.
  • M – Measurable: Have a way to determine if you have met the goal. In sports this is quite easy since results are often measurable unless your goal is something broad and vague like “improving technique.”
  • A – Attainable: You need to reach for the stars, but at the same time goals need to be realistic. Hold the carrot too far away and it no longer acts as motivation to chase.
  • R – Relevant: Make sure your goal is actually relevant to what really matters. Do you want to be a better thrower? Then don’t bother setting goals relating to your marathon personal best.
  • T – Time-bound: Set a deadline.

A nice acronym makes for a good presentation, but this exercise also serves a purpose. If your goals meet all of these categories it is much easier to define the process and much easier to measure success after the fact.

Goals from the Coach’s Perspective

How should you then assess your athlete’s goals? As I said goals can be helpful both in defining a process and measuing success. In athletics we rarely have difficulty with the second point as we have a final judge of success in the form of a tape measure, stop watch, or win-loss record. But it is still important that the goals demonstrate whether the athletes knows the process and has self-confidence. Let me give an example.

At our club we have our athletes complete a season-end debriefing where they also give us their goals for the coming year. In reviewing my top youth thrower’s goals I saw she aimed to throw one meter farther in 2015. At age 17 she could just as easily make a 10 meter leap, but this goal didn’t bother me as I know she knows what road she needs to travel down. Last year was proof of this as she set a Swiss age group record. I just care she is doing the right thing in training since the results will come and surprise her. Whether she predicts she our training will take her 1 or 100 steps down that road doesn’t matter to me.

But a low goal still is a sign of work you need to do as a coach since the process is only part of performance. A low goal can be a sign that an athlete does not know the sport well or that they lack self-confidence, both of which are vital to success. For example, someone new to the sport might not know that it is realistic for a beginner to make a 10-meter jump in one year, as is the case here. Or even if they know this they may lack the confidence to think they can actually do it. In both cases I will measure good throws to show an athlete their potential in training and mention how easily a few meters can come. It is a hard and long process, but it is essential for the coach to help with. Athletes must believe in themselves. This can be more powerful than doping.


Technical Training is Strength Training

I wrote about complex periodization last month and the topic also came up a lot in our recent seminars. Just as a quick refresher, complex periodization works all types of exercises simultaneously throughout round. Rather than a progression from general to specific work, athletes will work on technique, strength, speed, etc. simultaneously during each phase of the year. I wrote about some of the advantages of this approach, but there is one bigger advantage I didn’t even get into: complex periodization works well because often it is not even possible to separate the different elements of training.
Read more


Simplifying “Complex” Periodization

Perhaps it is the Swiss in me, but I love order. I look at training and I see how I can put nearly every aspect of it in its own little box. You can classify exercises, types of strength, bodily systems used, recovery methods, etc. But the point of classifying it is to see how you can put it all back together. What good is it to classify foods, after all, if you never make a meal?
Read more

Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky

The Germans vs. The Soviets

Look at the two sporting superpowers of post war era, Germany and the Soviet Union/post-Soviet states, and you find two very different approaches to training. Both have produced amazing results, but interestingly ideas like periodization, the concept of transfer of training, block training, complex training, special strength, etc. came just from one of the two powerhouses. Try to think of the most influential names in training methods and you’ll have to scroll well past luminaries like Leo Matveyev, Yuri Verkhoshansky, Vladimir Issurin, Vladimir Zatsiorsky and of course my coach Anatoliy Bondarchuk before you find many Germans. How come so many revolutionary ideas came from just one of these countries? Read more


Book Review: Science and Practice of Strength Training

You’d think that making presentations is about teaching others, but for me it is as much an exercise in improving my own knowledge. I get to meet new people, hear new ideas, and, most importantly, the act of presenting helps me understand what I know and what I don’t know. This final point inevitably leads me to pick up more books to fill my knowledge gaps. In preparing for presentations this fall, one of my weaknesses related to the basic science of strength training. Therefore I decided to recently reread a classic in this area: Science and Practice of Strength Training, Second Edition by Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky and William J. Kraemer.
Read more


New Podcast With Ultimate Athlete Concepts

UACLogo_CompName-1-300x163On Tuesday I had the chance to sit down with Yosef Johnson of Ultimate Athlete Concepts and Jeff Moyer of DC Sports Training for the latest edition of their video podcast. We covered special strength, training intensities, transfer of training, Bondarchuk’s analytic approach, and some other interesting aspects in training with him. Many of these topics will be looked at more in depth in our upcoming seminars, so check it out below and sign up if you are interested in learning more.
Read more

The private World Athletics Center has created some innovate new programs, like the Apprentice Coaches Program, to help advance coaches education.

Coaching Roundtable: Grass Roots Development

So far our first coaching roundtables have gathered some of the world’s best coaches to provide technical feedback emerging international throwers like Julia Ratcliffe and Chris Cralle or training advice like how to implement weightlifting in training. But I want to switch things up for the next roundtable and get some perspective on how we can grow the sport as a whole as well as individual events, a topic which is of great interest to me as I try to replicate the success of the informal American youth hammer project here in Switzerland.
Read more


The Roads to Rome

When I do a presentation about transfer of training, one of the points I emphasize is that almost anything transfers for a beginner. Even take a look at any of Bondarchuk’s correlation tables and you’ll see nearly every exercise with a high transfer. Just get them to work and they will improve. Because of this there are numerous ways to get an athlete to an intermediate level. You can rely on maximum strength. You can rely on size. You can rely on explosivity. You can rely on technique. You can rely on grit. You rely on special strength. All roads lead to Rome if being good is your goal.
Read more