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Goals

Goal Setting Concepts: What specific actions are you taking today that support your goals?

Every tennis player at every level of ability has goals regarding their playing experience. Realistic, obtainable goals keep players focused and committed to the time, energy and discipline necessary to achieve target goals. A target goal may be as simple as, developing a level of skill to be able to rally with a friend for an hour. Or may be as sophisticated as having the capability to serve with a variety of spins to selected areas of the service box (on purpose).

Meaningful goals give players purpose, direction, stimulation and motivation as they work to improve performance. Research findings suggest that goal setting works because:

  • Goals determine what is important to the player.
  • Successfully completing the short-term steps that lead to longer term goals sustain a player’s motivation.
  • Working towards  positive goals cultivates meaningful habits of practice and mental focus. Each practice serves a purpose.
  • Measurable and specific goals provide valuable feedback. Breaking tasks into smaller chunks of learning and practice in the early stages builds a strong framework for future challenges.

A goal-setting program includes four main categories: technical, strategic/tactical, fitness and mental. Adding a nutrition component may also be relevant. Assessing these areas help prioritize and create a plan for improvement that leads to the target goal.

Technical goals address issues such as form, footwork, and stroke technique. An example of this is developing racket and body positioning knowledge to hit both topspin and slice on the forehand and backhand. Strategic/tactical goals address subjects such as playing high percentage tennis and choosing high percentage tactics against different style opponents. Whether to make a defensive or offensive play in response to an opponent hitting a shot that pulls the player off the court is an example of this type of goal.

Fitness goals are specific to each individual. Most players will improve their performance by increasing their speed, strength and stamina. Mental toughness skills are essential tools to improving ones tennis. I have never met a player who did not want to win. The ability to maintain emotional, physiological and psychological control under pressure while enjoying the challenge of competition is a learned skill.

Stages of Goal Setting

Goals have different stages of development. Long-term goals are the final result. Short-term goals are mini steps that provide feedback that the player needs in order to make adjustments in reaching the long-term goal. The first goal is to identify the long-term goal using positive language. Goals work best when expressed in terms of what the player wants to have happen versus what they do not want to occur. An example of a positive goal is, “My goal is to hit 8 out of 10 forehands crosscourt, with the ball landing past the service line and in the green”.

A player’s building blocks are short-term goals. For example a player chooses a long term goal of developing his/her ground strokes to hit with depth and top spin both down the line and crosscourt. A first stage short-term goal may be to practice hitting two balls down the line and the next two balls crosscourt. Once this pattern is consistent, the player focuses on depth by hitting two balls down the line past the service line and in the court, and the next two balls crosscourt past the service line, in the court. During stage two the player concentrates on spin as a short term goal. The player continues hitting the same pattern of two balls down the line and two balls crosscourt paying attention to the trajectory of the ball crossing over the net and the bounce of the ball on the other side of the net.

This exercise may take an hour, two weeks, or two months to master depending on the level of skill and knowledge of the player. As the player gains success he/she can add more balls to the overall drill until the skill becomes routine.

Most players say they play their best when in an alert yet calm state. When practicing on the ball machine or drilling with a hitting partner make the experience entertaining. Allow practicing to be fun. Set aside the critical gremlin that cruelly evaluates every error. For some players silencing the critical gremlin may be the primary goal.

Set up some targets on the court. It is satisfying and fun to run patterns and hit targets. If the target is too small, make it larger until your skill proficiency allows downsizing. Targets are a method of imprinting that players can later draw on during match play.

Performance versus Outcome Goals

It is important to understand the difference between performance and outcome goals. The main difference that separates outcome from performance goals is the amount of control a player has in achieving them. Winning is an outcome goal and highly valued but it may not be within ones control with certain opponents or situations. A player may play the best match of his/her life and lose the match to an opponent who is playing equally well and has the good fortune to win a few more points. Alternatively, your opponent may have a style of play that is difficult for you to play against.

If a player’s sole objective is to win then he/she will experience a lot of disappointment and frustration unless the player competes against players that are well below their skill ability. When the goal is to improve past performances this is a performance goal and a player frees his/herself to play without fear. Performance goals highlight player’s results and provide information that allows the player to set new goals and take performance to the next level. A few months ago Inside Tennis printed an article about Roger Federer that provides an excellent example of goal setting. Federer sat down and wrote all the shots he needed to develop to compete against the best players in the world. He then set out to learn and use these shots. I think he is doing a remarkable job with his performance goal achievements. The value of having someone of his caliber talk about his own goals is that, even with the scope of his talent, he takes improving his skills seriously.

Many books are written giving advice setting and achieving goals. This brief article discusses a few concepts to encourage players to think about what they wish to achieve and to develop action goals towards that end. You can take a more detailed approach with your goals or a more general approach which ever works best. An action guide is included for your goal-setting journey. Use the segments that are useful to help you begin.

A goal-setting program includes four main categories: technical, strategic/tactical, fitness and mental. Adding a nutrition component may also be relevant. Assessing these areas help prioritize and create a plan for improvement that leads to the target goal.

Six Smart Tips for Effective Goal Setting

  • Before creating a goal think about your motivation to succeed. Why do you need or want to reach this goal? What benefits does it bring to your performance?
  • Write out short and long term goals that present a moderate and realistic challenge that are obtainable within a reasonable about of time. Long-term goals may take up to 3 months or longer. Short-term goals are foundation steps leading up to the longer term goal success.
  • Focus on goal success by using positive language while writing out the goal to describe the goal objective versus negative language.
  • Create specific learning strategies that are measurable to evaluate progress.
  • Include target dates for goal accomplishment. Keep a journal that serves to record progress. Goals may take new shape as you go along if they are not working or too easy.
  • Set performance goals versus outcome goals.

Goal Setting Action Guide

Setting goals guide you to choose what you want, how you plan to get there and how well your actions are moving you in the direction set forth. Performance goals frequently lead to outcome results.

I. Write down your long-term goal. Example: acquiring the skills and abilities to become a consistent 3.5 tennis player.

II. What is my current skill ability? Example: U.S.T.A. League 3.0, In each category list your playing and practice strengths and weaknesses.

    Technical: Strengths

    1.

    2.

    3.

    Technical: Weaknesses

    1.

    2.

    3.

    Physical: Strengths

    1.

    2.

    3.

    Physical: Weaknesses

    1.

    2.

    3.

    Mental/Emotional: Strengths

    1.

    2.

    3.

    Mental/Emotional: Weaknesses

    1.

    2.

    3.

    Strategic/Tactical: Strengths

    1.

    2.

    3.

    Strategic/Tactical: Weaknesses

    1.

    2.

    3.

III. What is within my ability concerning time, energy, resources to practice the skills to achieve my goal of acquiring the abilities to play and compete at the 3.5 level? Practices, workouts outs once, twice, or more during the week.

    Technical:

    Physical:

    Mental/Emotional:

    Strategically/Tactically:

IV. Of the four areas listed above which area is a priority? Am I willing to devote time to work on improving in this area for the next 2 months?

V. Review what you have written as a priority goal. Is it achievable in a two-month period? Are parts of it achievable in a two-month period?

VI. What are the barriers to reaching this goal? (Time, weather, work, health, etc.). Does it have focus?

VII. What are the resources available to support my efforts to achieve this goal? (ball machine, facility, practice partners, coaches, etc.).

VIII. How many times a week will I set aside to practice the skills?

IX. What type of measurement tool can guide me to track the progression of my efforts and results?

Enjoy the process!