Goal-Setting for Athletes

Posted by Scott Christensen

Before the track season begins to stir with physical activity is an important time for the middle distance coach to establish oneself as a psychological leader.  It is a time for long-term planning of coach directed individual motivation issues.  It is a time to establish a list of performance and training goals for each athlete.  It is also an appropriate time for the athletes themselves to do some goal-setting for their season.  Athletes have a hard time separating goals from dreams, so pre-season is a great time to instruct the athletes on how to set up goals that will be challenging, while also being attainable.

goal settingThe purposes of goal-setting is to enhance and structure mental training in sport and consequently life skills in general.  Goal-setting is the means for establishing a plan that should point toward a consistent direction for training and competition in sport.  Goals are also waypoints that keep athletes on the road to a desired end-result.  Goal-setting provides the mental fuel for consistent training, tenacious racing, and athletic longevity.


There are four categories of goal-setting that must be addressed by the middle-distance athlete.  These goals are: general, short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals.  Basically, goals are anything wished for, dreamt about, or achievable choices concerning an activity such as middle-distance running.  They are not about what somebody else may want, it is about what they want to choose to pursue and achieve.  It is their behavior and motivation that will ultimately cause goals to be reached, not the pursuits of others.  The guidelines for these four goal types are:


  • General goals: These goals should be realistic and challenging.  Since nobody knows their actual limits in anything, these goals should be set to improve the level of performance based on past personal history.  While these goals are of a general nature in regard to cross-country running, the individual’s goals addressing them should be specific and measurable.
  • Short-term goals: These goals are clear and specific and are over a period of time from today to about three weeks from now.  Many times this type of goal simply revolves around the goal for today’s workout.  It may be about the intensity or duration of the work, and is a mental picture of exactly what one would like to do.
  • Intermediate goals: These goals may be specific as well as broad.  They may also be less defined than short-term goals.  These goals would be all of the things a middle-distance runner wants to achieve during this current training period.  Because there are several goals during this period of time, there will need to be some prioritization of what is most important.  Some goals may need to be postponed.  Many times a significant intermediate goal may be to run a personal best for the middle-distance race distance or to find success against all of the competitors they will face in a race.
  • Long-term goals: These goals are the ultimate reward.  They should be written down boldly and placed in conspicuous places so that the athlete is frequently reminded about what the satisfaction level is ultimately going to be.  Long-term goals are cumulative and are reached only by achieving the success level of shorter term goals.  A long-term goal may be something like the desire to be a state champion in middle-distance running or to qualify for an important meet.

Coaching Resource:  Speed Development for Distance Runners

The athlete, coaches, teammates, and trusted confidants will be instrumental in developing a runner’s goals.  It is important that the athlete truly believes that the goal is desirable and achievable.  Below is a list of task cues for the coach to approach their middle-distance athletes on in an attempt to enable them to be productive goal-setters:

  • Write down the general goals that they want to accomplish when they began the track season.
  • Have them describe on paper what it will feel like to accomplish their short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals.
  • In order to eliminate excessive frustration and confusion, write down examples of steps they will need to use in achieving a long-term goal.

Now how to structure your mid distance workouts to ensure this goal-setting will work!



Scott Christensen - Scott Christensen’s teams have been ranked in the national top 10 eight times. He won the 1997 High School National Championship and his squads have captured multiple Minnesota State Championships. Scott has coached 13 Minnesota State Championship-winning teams and 27 individual Minnesota State Champions. He was the USTFCCCA Endurance Specialist School junior team leader for the World Cross Country Team in 2003 and the senior team leader in 2008. Scott is a 14-year USATF Level II endurance lead instructor.

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