Setting Goals–The Early Years

Come Ready or Never Start

The Importance of Goals For the Beginning, Young Athlete



I’m a firm believer in setting goals and actively tracking your progress in attaining them.  If you read about the people who seem to be more successful in life, the one constant is their practice of setting goals.


That’s why a vital part of the ‘Come Ready’ in Come Ready or Never Start involves the importance of setting goals from the earliest stages of organized sport participation.


Yes, 1st through 4th graders need to learn about the importance of goals and learning how to set them.  And the parents need to play an active role in guiding them along any number of pathways in their young lives that are guided by these goals.  Certainly, they should be used in the school setting.  They also should form a significant foundation for your child’s sport participation.  That’s the beauty of youth sports.  Most of the kids are enthusiastic participants, so you can use this enjoyable activity to teach the value of goal setting and the lessons that are learned in both success and failure in reaching those goals. 


What goals do you set? 


Well, much depends on the circumstances behind their participation.  Ideally, they have come to you wanting to play.  The reaction of most parents?  “Great, I’ll sign you up.”  And that’s the end of the conversation.  That is unfortunate.  Because it is really up to the parent to be proactive in exploring their motivations. Asking questions will then help you introduce them to the concept of goals and what role they play in their experience.  It will also guide you in the type of goals to encourage them to set. 

Why do they want to play? 

What do they know about the sport? 

What’s the level of their interest?   

You very well may set different goals depending on their level of interest.  If the child is participating in the sport to be with friends, goals may be very different from goals set if the child is preoccupied with the sport and wanting to perform at the highest possible level. 


That said, the first set of goals to be set has nothing to do with the motivation behind their participation.  These are goals that teach the child the socialization lessons that sports can promote:

  • Have a positive attitude after every game or practice.
  • Work hard and show some enthusiasm during practices and games.
  • Don’t complain, encourage.
  • Get along with your teammates, be a good teammate.
  • Respect and listen to your coach.
  • Be at all the practices.


And, of course, there are the two golden goals:

  • Have fun
  • Don’t quit.


When children begin their  participation in organized sports, you need to explain these goals to them.    Your child has to be made plainly aware that if he or she begins a sport, they will not be allowed to quit until the season is over.  This lays the groundwork at an early age when it should be laid for this very important lesson—some things in life may not be fun but you have to finish them anyway. 


Prior to every practice and game, don’t be afraid to go over these general goals so you set an expectation for your child.  After every practice and after every game, communicate with your child to reinforce these goals.

·        “Did you have fun?”

·        “Did you work hard?”

·        “What did the coach say?”

·        “What did you do well today?”

·        “Who else played well today?”

·        “What was the best part of practice?”


While the child’s answer to these questions is important, just as imperative is that the parent comes back with something positive.

  • The coach said we could play a lot better.”

Well, you’ll have days where you won’t play your best, but if you keep up your hard work in practice you’ll have more days that you will play your best.”

  • I didn’t get any hits today.”

“Don’t worry, that wasn’t one of your goals we talked about. We just wanted you to make contact and make sure you had some good swings at the ball.”

On of your goals as a parent is to remain positive—and I realize that can be tough.  At this stage of their participation, your child does not need negative reinforcement unless it pertains to not hustling, playing or practicing at 100% or displaying a poor attitude.


You can then move on to setting goals that are specific to your child’s athletic development—either sport specific or in general.  These development goals are determined largely by your child and his or her level of commitment and desire to improve.  You and your child can set goals in their skill attainment that will allow them to better enjoy their experience.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with that.  Or the goals can be more aggressive if your child has the desire to excel or reach his or her fullest potential.


But a final warning.  Please, oh please, let the child make the decisions.  Conflict arises when their goals and your goals are not the same.   My advice:  Defer to their goals and let them experience the sport on their own terms at this age.




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