6 Goal Setting Failures That Will Ruin Your Season

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You would think that setting goals would be one of the simpler components of being an athlete. What do you want to do? What do you want to accomplish? What lights that fire in your belly?

But the truth is that many athletes are much better at stepping through a long series of workouts than they are at determining why they are training in the first place. When you are setting your athletic goals here are the top six ways you can screw up.

1. Setting Goals That Are Too Far Out

There’s nothing wrong with long-range planning or setting a series of goals that cover a range of years. But the key to long-range goal setting is incorporating shorter-term goals you can check off the list.

Training for your first Ironman is typically a 12-month process for a moderately-experienced triathlete, but trying to hit a marker that far out is extremely hard unless you have some markers along the way that help you stay on target.

Set an ultimate goal for the year or even for some time within the next few years, but backfill your goal worksheet with process or competition goals every 3-4 months so there’s always a tangible goal within your reach.

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2. Setting Goals That Are Too Conservative

If you already did it last year, it’s not a challenging goal for this year. Many athletes compete or participate in the same events year after year, but your goals around those events have to change and progress in order to make your goals list for this year.

The exception to that advice is when lifestyle changes have significantly changed your ability to train compared to last year. In that case, getting back to a previous performance level can be a legitimate and immensely challenging goal.

Successful goals push you outside your comfort zone. They scare you a bit because failure is a distinct possibility. It’s that desire to succeed in the face of a challenge that helps you commit to high-quality workouts, to training when the weather is bad, and to pushing yourself when you’re tired.

3. Setting Goals That Are Too Outlandish

Your goals should stretch your ability level, but they have to be within the realm of possibility. I’ve actually had a Cat 5 bike racer – without any hint of sarcasm – tell me his goal was to race the Tour de France within 18 months. There may be an immense talent out there who could accomplish that, but it wasn’t him.

Ambitious goals are great because they demand great focus; you know you will only accomplish an ambitious goal if a lot of things go right.  On the other hand, unrealistic goals quickly become farcical. You won’t be able to take them seriously, which means they won’t hold your attention.

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4. Setting Goals That Are Disruptive

If your goals require a complete reboot of your life, they are probably not realistic. Now, there are certainly people who have ditched their jobs, walked away from their families, and sold their earthly possessions to pursue a goal that changes the world. With extremely rare exception, your sporting goal doesn’t qualify.

What’s more, the more disruptive your goals are to your life outside of sport, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to stick to them. Minor disruptions – getting up earlier, going to bed earlier, some dietary changes, some long workouts some weekends – are pretty easy to accommodate and can be both necessary and good. Just be wary of changes that add lifestyle stress.

5. Setting Unmeasurable Goals

Athletes often set vague goals when they lack confidence in their ability to achieve something – anything – specific. Rather than risk failure they establish unmeasurable goals like “doing better on the group ride” or “being a better climber.” Those goals can be made specific by establishing performance markers (time pulling at the front, staying in the front group on a climb, improving sustainable climbing power by 10%, etc.).

Better yet, set measurable goals that are achievable through training and nutrition: increased power over a specific duration, increased time you can sustain a specific power/pace, X% increase in power-to-weight ratio, etc. These measurable goals lead to improved performance capacity, which means reaching your goals in training puts you in a better position to succeed in real-world events.

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6. Setting Goals That ONLY Revolve Around Winning

We all love to win, but the reality of endurance competition is that even the best athletes lose a lot more often than they win. There are also so many variables involved in winning an endurance race that being the fastest, strongest, and even smartest athlete on the day doesn’t guarantee a victory. It’s good for some of your goals to be related to results, but you should also set personal and meaningful goals you can achieve even if you don’t end up on top of the podium.


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Comments 12

  1. I also train for Gran Fondos and I’d like to get more creative setting goals for the season rather than just focus on improving times. Ideally something that is tangible and intangible.

  2. I typically prepare Grand Frodos. Something like 150km and 3500m elevation gain. To get it measurable I have to put a time on it. Even if conditions are good, I do not know how much time gain is realistic. How do you estimate how much you can progress?

  3. Great tips Chris. If you don’t mind, I’ll share with the group of cyclists that I train up here in Edmonton, Canada.

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  4. what a great read!

    “Successful goals push you outside your comfort zone. They scare you a bit because failure is a distinct possibility. It’s that desire to succeed in the face of a challenge that helps you commit to high-quality workouts, to training when the weather is bad, and to pushing yourself when you’re tired.”

    absolute wonderful words of wisdom. i set a goal to accomplish 10 years in a row under 9 hours at the Leadville 100 mtb race. i found all of the above mentioned failures to be quite accurate.

    i also would add accountability to a spouse for maintaining balance within lifestyle and/or small group of friends with similar interests being completely viable to managed priorities and sustaining focus.

    that having been said, with specific goals, it often requires a lot of time alone to accomplish them. for me, life demands of marriage and two kids over my 10 year period gave me very little disposable time and hyper focus on quality training.

    fortunately, i pulled it off with my last year under 8 hours in spite of living in houston, texas. cts played a strong role in helping educate me along the way and confirming my time well spent in the saddle. thank you and thank you for your ongoing words of wisdom!


  5. Great article, so many people have good intentions by setting goals, but some fail for the 6 reasons U mention.
    Here is. What is a method I use that helps me achieve my goals, it is called. S.P.A.S.E. It stands for. SPECIFIC – state in words using , what, when, where, who and how in your goal statement, POSITIVE – stat what U do want and NOT what U don’t want in the present tense, ASSESSABLE – how will I know that I’ve achieved my goal, measurable, SELF-STARTED and SELF maintained – the goal is about me, if someone else has to start it or maintain it then it isn’t my goal, ECOLOGICAL and ETHICAL – will this goal help or hinder other areas of my life? Is it the highest good of all concerned? , The above steps help to achieve goals and have a lot of what U mention in your 6 tips. I hope my comment helps. 🙂

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