Performance profiling and goal setting are tools to help you analyse your own personal skill set (strengths and weaknesses), and then to make step-wise plans to improve both skills and performance level.
If you are feeling confused about how to approach improvement in your given performance domain, these tools are the key to simplifying the complex world of performance. They can help you assess where you are at in terms of critical performance targets for success, and plan your time and effort to maximize improvement in your training.
Performance profiling is a very valuable process even if it does not lead to goal setting. It supports communication and discussion between performers and their trainers/coaches, building stronger relationships. It also helps create shared language when discussing performance, so that assumption and misunderstanding do not affect these relationships. Finally, it helps to improve discussion about where both the performer and the trainer feel improvement and effort are needed, leading to shared understanding of what training goals should focus on.
Performance profiling refers to breaking down the very complicated and general concept of performance into smaller and smaller units until they are specific enough to be useful for assessing a performer’s abilities. For instance we can break performance down into 5 pieces: physical abilities, tactical decisions, technical skills, mental skills, and performance-life balance. And if we wanted to, we could then break each one of these down further. Physical capabilities can be broken down into strength, endurance, flexibility, speed, balance etc.
The content of a performance profiling chart looks different for different sports, but the process is the same. You can keep breaking down each level more and more but there is usually a fairly intuitive stopping point that is workable for the performer. We don’t want to overwhelm or confuse someone with too much, so getting to a point that is functional but simple is usually best.
Once there is an agreed upon set of performance targets, the performer will score themselves on each target. Additional input from trainers/coaches or team mates can also balance any personal bias if rating yourself is difficult or inaccurate without other opinions. These scores make up the profile of the athlete and can be visibly represented using several techniques, such as mind maps or pie charts. From this we can prioritise areas for effort to be allocated for improvement. Performance profiling supports the goal setting process immensely.
Goal Setting: My Big 10 Tips
There are several well-documented strategies and approaches to setting goals.
You may have heard of the SMART goal method (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time based). These guiding principles for refining goals ensures they are easy to act upon, and improves our ability to assess success and failure in an objective way.
The toughest part of goal setting is the ongoing goal-getting process. I am a big believer in what comes after goal setting rather than the process itself. Here are 10 valuable tips to improve your goal setting/getting process.
- Set performance and process goals. Performers will generally come up with outcome goals like ‘win an Olympic gold’. Outcome goals are inspiring but should be seen as rewards rather than goals. They are rewards for good performance and processes in training. Outcomes are sadly out of our control and the only way we can influence outcomes is by focusing on improving process and performance. Stopping the goal setting process at an outcome goal like ‘become first trumpeter in the band’ would simply reflect laziness or lack of knowledge and skills. Outcome goals do not direct action, but they represent our hopes and dreams, or our benchmark for long-term success. So a good trainer or sport psychologist will help performers move from outcome goals to performance and process goals. A performance goal is usually about improving on a personal standard like improving your first service percentage in tennis by 10%. A process goal is even more specific and controllable such as “bend my knees and extend my arm and look at the target when serving”. Process goals represent the ‘how to’ of performance goals (I will improve my service percentage by bending my knees etc).
- Goals should be short term, medium and long term. Breaking down success into several stages and steps and having a benchmarking process at each stage, keeps performers accountable to their ongoing goal process. It also reduces the likelihood of becoming overwhelmed with the workload and journey. Weekly or monthly reviews to assess goal progress are helpful.
- Once goals are set, select appropriate, efficient, top quality training methods to achieve them. Goal setting encourages learning. Once we have set a goal we may need to learn new ways to train if we are not achieving them with old methods. Improving the quality of training activities and processes can save time and reduce wasted energy (your two most valuable and limited resources).
- If you do not reach goals, assess the following before blaming yourself: your goals (SMART?), your strategies, your life circumstances, and finally reflect on your own accountability. Don’t jump to get down on yourself. A lot of the time, personalising a failure is not the appropriate way to improve and reduces self-esteem and confidence. We need to look at all the factors first and be creative when re-approaching goals we have failed to reach. Don’t give up, adapt!
- Keep goals visible in your living and performance spaces. If they are buried in the gym bag or in the drawer it is unlikely they will be seen again.
- Reward yourself when you reach your goals. Reinforcement is how people learn, and helps to increase motivation. Rewards can take many forms. Build up rewards are useful as they match the progress of athlete learning and encourage long-term delayed gratification rather than short-term. A build up reward could be a token economy such as putting a marble in a jar every time you meet your weekly goals, and when it is filled you gift yourself a day spa visit.
- Be ready to take risks and make errors, improvement is about performing at a level where you are challenged and fail sometimes. If you are scared to try new things and fail and make errors, you will not be training at a level where you can improve to reach your goals. Stepping out of the comfort zone and getting comfortable being uncomfortable is necessary for improvement.
- Once this process is complete and goals are structured and time-lined, it is important to be honest with yourself and predict barriers to success ahead of time. This way you can anticipate roadblocks and plan to reduce their effect on training. For some people, these will be circumstances in their lives and for some it may be psychological barriers such as emotions or motivation. A sport psychologist can be very valuable in this process.
- Keep the set of goals to a maximum of 7 at any one time, to keep things simple so as not get too overwhelmed. There is good evidence that the human working memory system has a maximum capacity at any one time of approximately seven. Information overload can occur after that, leading to avoidance and indecisiveness with action.
- Begin the process with performance profiling, as a foundation to build from.
If you are interested in finding out more about how to make performance profiling and goal setting work for you, whether for sports, business or other areas of life, I welcome you to make an appointment with me.
Author: Abra Garfield, BPsych, MPsych (sport & exercise), MAPS; Medicare ATAPS provider.
Abra Garfield is an endorsed Sport and Performance Psychologist, with a passion for the outdoors and the human journey to find meaning and happiness. He has spent time as a sport coach, mentor, activity facilitator, and academic tutor, including travelling overseas with youth sport teams as a chaperone, coach, and counsellor, and finds it extremely rewarding to provide his clients, regardless of their background, with a safe place to talk.
Abra is the Principal Sport Psychologist and founder of Summit Performance Psychology. Visit the Summit Performance Psychology website to learn more or like us on Facebook to receive Summit Performance Psychology Articles and event updates.
Psychologist Abra Garfield has moved.
Find his details on his website: Summit Sport & Performance Psychology.