Goal Setting: Outcome verses Process
Very few athletes, if any, set out not wanting to win during competition. Everyone wants to do their best, and everyone hopes to win. However, whether you win or lose is sometimes not within your control. Last month, I wrote briefly about goal setting. Setting a clear goal allows an athlete to have a target, something to motivate them to keep working hard. However, it’s important to acknowledge that not all types of goals are equally helpful in providing motivation for every type of fencer.
If you ask a young fencer to come up with a goal, they are most likely to think of an outcome goal. An outcome goal is oriented on how you finish (such as whether you win or lose a bout). For some fencers, they can set an outcome goal and that will provide them with a very clear objective; fence to win. While for other fencers, outcome goals can easily cause the fencer to backfire. Here’s an example:
Let’s say that fencer A has set the goal to win half of her pool bouts. She has six bouts to fence, and unfortunately due to some bad nerves she loses bout #1. Ok, well she still has 5 more opportunities to win three bouts. But next she fences the #2 seeded fencer of the competition and is now 0-2 in bouts. Now the pressure is really on, Fencer A needs to win! Getting more and more nervous that she will fail to achieve her goal with each bout, Fencer A only manages one victory in the entire pool. She feels like a failure for not achieving her goal. She knows deep down she has the ability to fence better, but she cannot seem to perform well when under pressure to win.
Some athletes excel under pressure. And many athletes can learn to embrace pressure. But for newer athletes especially, it’s all to easy to create excess pressure based on the athlete’s expectations on how they should perform. As soon as there is a threat of failure, you can end up in a spiral of stress and unproductive thoughts. “I have to win this, or I won’t achieve my goal.”
This is where process goals come into play. Process goals are oriented on the execution of a skill, technique, or process. A process goal can be as simple as taking a calming breath before getting on guard for each touch, or making sure to start with a small step in advance lunge. Process goals place the focus on how well the performance was achieved, rather than the win/lose outcome.
For many athletes, like Fencer A, placing too much focus on the outcome goal can increase anxiety during performance, and that extra amount of anxiety will only make performing well harder to achieve. With process goals the athlete can recognize what elements of her fencing she needs to focus on the most in order to perform well, and eventually be able to reach her outcome goal. This type of goal also allows athletes to better analyze their performance. After all, it’s quite possible for one fencer to win a bout having fenced horribly, while another fencer may have the bout of a lifetime, and still have lost.