Sports Psychology Tips: Why You Should Stop Setting SMART Goals

Sports Psychology Tips Why You Should Stop Setting SMART Goals

 Sports Psychology Tips: Why You Should Stop Setting SMART Goals

Why not set goals that work for you?

You have probably been force fed this goal setting structure since you were in PE, at the age of 10! Well, you’re not 10 anymore (If you’re 10 this still applies!). So, let us bypass the catchy abbreviation, and learn how to set real SMART goals, that you will attain!

SMART goals have their place and can prove to be effective, but they fail to account for individual differences. Setting specific goals can be received well by certain personality types and elite athletes; especially those who perform well under pressure, as this is induced by specificity.

Whereas, setting an OPEN goal can be more effective for someone that is starting their fitness journey, or a child that is lacking enjoyment in their sport. Open goals remove the specificity and measurability of goal setting, and instead ask you to strive for what is possible for you at that given moment. This allows you to perform with freedom and less expectation. Research has shown that open goals can result in a similar, if not better, performance, as well as drastically improving exercise adherence in novice exercisers. Although, regular exercisers have been shown to favour setting specific goals.

What goals do I set then? The moment you drop the ‘one size fits all’ approach, and take time to reflect on what is the best goal setting structure for you, is the moment you start to achieve your life goals!

KNOW Your Goals!

I don’t expect you to tell me everything you want to achieve, much rather, tell me what type of goals are you setting? Setting goals is easy. However, setting the right type of goals is the difference between achieving your targets and missing out.

Let us shift the perspective you have on goals, and break them down into three key subsections, outcome, performance, and process.

OUTCOME Goals – This is the big picture; the end result you’re dreaming of achieving.

PERFORMANCE Goals – This is considering how you need to perform in order to reach that desired outcome. They are set as a series of realistic, measurable performance goals.

PROCESS Goals – Arguable the most important, these are the minutia of goal setting. What will you do to realise these performances that lead to the big picture? Process goals are the foundations upon which we achieve our performance and outcome goals.

If you ever catch yourself daydreaming, this is probably your outcome goal reminding you of where you want to be. This is great for motivating you, however, fixating on the outcome goal can induce anxiety and cause distraction.

On the other hand, we have the process goals where we have the most control. Therefore, for those that struggle with confidence and get overwhelmed by their outcome goal, it is important that you place importance on your process goals. Through ticking off your process goals, you will develop a ‘cookie jar’ of achievements that will help accrue confidence and reduce the likelihood of dropping out.

As my great Grandad used to say, “If you count the pennies, then the pounds will look after themselves”. Therefore, if you give time to your process goals, then the outcome goals will come as a result.


You have written the goal down, good, but now the reality of its magnitude creeps in and you become overwhelmed. How do we make the goal happen? Chunking is a simple technique to have in your arsenal for when these moments arise.

Olympic marathon runners and professional golfers use this every time they lace up their shoes, or approach the 1st tee. Let’s take your big outcome goal and decompartmentalize it into a collection of goals that we have spoken about above – long, medium, short, open, performance, and process goals – so that when we piece these together the outcome goal is clear.

This technique has been used to great effect by athletes such as Rory McIlroy, to help him win his first major golf tournament since 2014, and is supported by research. Chunking has been shown to increase confidence and commitment, when the goals are set with flexibility to adjust them when necessary (I.E injury, drop in performance).

An example of chunking is:

Outcome goal or the dream: Win a major.

Performance goal to ensure the dream happens: Improve scrambling around the greens (under 30 yards) from 65% to 70%.

Process goals to improve scrambling ability:

1 – Practice under pressure, minimum 2 x per week (30 minutes) doing a skills challenge such as Par 18.

2 – Practice creatively, minimum 2 x per week (30 minutes) playing a range of shots from different lies.

3 – When competing track each shot from under 30 yards in detail for one month.

4 – When competing ensure I repeat “soft hands” on each pitch or chip” before executing the shot.

So that’s right, chunking is a great tool for athletes and exercisers to use; whether you want to win a major golf tournament or simply stick to your new year’s resolution to lose weight. 

Why not give it a try!  To help you see the button below with a blank performance profile form that you could use as a template.

Good luck and if you’d like to continue to learn more about this area or other ways that you can maximise your performance please do join us in The Sports Psychology Hub. 

Robin Hughes

Best Wishes 

Robin Hughes

Mental Skills Performance Coach and Sports Counsellor located near Chelmsford, Essex, UK supporting athletes worldwide with Online Sports Psychology Services. 

Inspiring Sporting Excellence Content Creator: For powerlifters, bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts and combat sports athletes. 

E: [email protected]

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