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Goal Setting

August 31, 2015

Goal setting is an important process in any venture.  The advice in this article is going to be offered with cheerleading-related examples, but I believe it is useful to anyone embarking on any venture.

People make a lot of mistakes when they engage in goal setting.  I know I’ve made more than I can fit in this article.  So rather than try to capture all of that into one article, I’m going to focus, instead, on the keys to effective goal setting.  With no further ado, effective goal setting involves setting goals that are the following:

  1. Realistic
  2. Measurable
  3. Controllable

The first one is so simple to understand, but so often violated.  Folks, you know you aren’t really going to learn to speak Mandarin this semester.  Come on, quit fooling.

For cheerleading, the classic example is the student approaching the coach 2 weeks before tryouts asking if they can learn a back tuck by tryouts.  The student in question usually has a sketchy back handspring and a serious need for core strength training.  Learning a tuck is a reasonable goal for anyone.  It’s the time frame that makes it unrealistic.  In terms of team goals, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a first year program set a goal of winning Level 5 Cheersport Nationals.  Look, it’s just not going to happen.  If it was going to happen, it would have happened already.  Look at the “Past Results” link and I think you’ll find a bunch of names that you recognize taking turns in the top 5 year after year with a few up-and-comers slowly working there way up the ranks.  Again, winning a major title is realistic, but the time frame needs to be realistic.

Now you might wonder, what is the harm of shooting for the moon?  As the cliché says, if you fall short, you’ll still land among the stars.  Well, this is incorrect both literally and figuratively.  First of all, if you shoot for the moon and wind up short, you’re hundred of light years from the next star.  Your much more likely to find yourself in a low Earth orbit and you’ll burn in reentry as you orbit slowly deteriorates.  And figuratively, just my opinion, but I don’t think it is healthy to set yourself up to fail.  No one should expect to succeed right away at everything they do.  Failing teaches lessons.  Failing builds character.  But pursuing something that is impossible and finding out the hard way can really steal a person’s enthusiasm, not to mention their fun.  I think it is much better to set smaller, incremental goals and work your way up.  So that’s that.

Measurable is one that I believe most people never think about.  That’s because people are comfortable with vague, less defined goals.  People say, “I want to be happy.”  Well that’s great, but what the heck does that mean?  Actually, it is a lazy goal.  The effective goal setter takes things a step further and identifies what it takes to be happy.  Then those things become specific, measureable goals.  For instance, “I am going to go to bed before 10 every weeknight so I am not tired at work.” That is highly measurable.  You now exactly if you succeed or fail.  You can track progress over a week, or month and beyond.  It’s one small piece of the bigger puzzle to achieving “happiness,” but the idea is you form all of these small, measurable goals, turn them into habits, and over time, the global goal of happiness takes care of itself.

In cheerleading, a typical “immeasurable” goal is something like, “I want to become a better tumbler.” On the surface, this might sound like a good goal.  But it is vague and hard to define.  A better, measureable goal might be something like, “I want to improve our team tumbling scores.” This goal has an issue I’ll discuss momentarily, but as for measurability, it is easily done.  You can track the scores you get at each event and see if they are trending up or down.  You can’t hide from the truth of whether or not your scores are improving.  They either are or they aren’t.  Lots of times people fool themselves into believing they are achieving the vague goals they set, when they really aren’t.  It’s easy to say, “I feel much stronger on my toe touches than I did last year,” even if your jumps are getting worse because it is a subjective statement.  It’s much harder to kid yourself when you say, “My vertical leap has gone from 30 inches to 36 inches,” when it really went back to 26 inches.  Keeping things measurable keeps you honest and keeps you on track.

Lastly, good goal setting involves controllable goals.  The automatic retort to this is, “No one can control everything.” That is true.  But there are some things you can control, or least virtually control, in totality.  Here’s a common uncontrollable goal.  “I’m going to get straight A’s this semester.” This seems like you should be able to control it.  If you work hard, you’ll get the grades you want.  But the fact is, sometimes things happen that derail your best laid plans.  Maybe you get sick and miss some key lectures.  Maybe you misunderstand the essay question on the final exam and screw it up.  Maybe, no matter how hard you study, you just can’t make sense of the material.  There are infinite things that can get in your way and stop you from reaching this goal.  A much more controllable goal would be, “I’m going to read the whole text book and not just skim through it.”  Barring something catastrophic, anyone should be able to control that.  Here’s another.  “I’m going to go back and type all of my notes from my handwritten notes to reinforce the material.” Again, this is completely under your control.  And it should help reach the global goal of straight A’s.  (You’ll also note that it is realistic and measurable – anyone can type, and you can easily track whether you did it or did not.)

Relating this to cheerleading, the classic uncontrollable goal is, “we are going to win Worlds.” You have no control over this at all.  You might make mistakes in your performance.  You might have injuries.  You might run into a better team.  You might actually have the “best” performance at Worlds and for whatever reason, the judges just liked another team better (judging has a subjective element, after all).  Here are some alternative, more controllable goals.  “We are going to warm up properly before we practice to avoid injury.”  “We are going to perfect our basic skills before we move on to more advanced skills.” “We are going to end each practice by listening to music and visualizing the routine 3 times.” “We are going to spend 20 minutes conditioning every practice.” These things are all basically controllable.  Doing them all might not get you a World’s jacket, but they will surely help your chances.

All that being said, the biggest mistake people make in terms of goal setting is to not make goals at all.  If you are on your cheerleading team just for the fun of it and to be social, there isn’t anything wrong with that.  However, if you use it as an opportunity to set and achieve goals, you’ll form great habits that will benefit you in the rest of your life, you’ll learn a lot more about yourself, and you’ll have more fun and enjoy the experience a lot more.

Thanks for reading and I hope you find this advice useful!

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