Thursday, February 24, 2011


Part two in this series will focus on the benefits of learning goal setting, goal attainment, self-discipline, decision making skills and the development of self-confidence. I have chosen the topics for part two based on their commonalities and the over-lapping skill sets they share. Developing good goal setting skills and self-discipline can increase goal attainment. Decision making skills, good or bad are the foundation our children will build these skills upon. With success in these areas, self-confidence soars.  Click here to read Part 1.


The Encarta Dictionary defines self-discipline as: the ability to do what is necessary or sensible without needing to be urged by somebody else. A self-disciplined person will choose to do what’s right and act in a way that is congruent with that decision.

The very act of participating in youth sports develops self-discipline and decision making skills, particularly in team sports. If Johnny is on first base and Jimmy hits the ball, Johnny must run or be put out. Johnny has been taught by his coaches that if he’s on first base and the ball is hit on the ground, he should run to second. He has the knowledge and ability he needs to make the right decision.

This is a simple example of learning self-discipline. Johnny had only two choices, run to second base or be put out. For a five year old playing T-ball, this is a good lesson. If Johnny was on second base with no one on first base when the ball is hit on the ground, he would have several options and a more difficult decision to make.

For a child to benefit by learning self-discipline, coaches and parents must allow them to make decisions in situations where they are prepared with proper knowledge and ability. We must gauge the decision the child may be asked to make against their preparation and decide whether to let them make the decision or use the situation as a teachable moment. If a coach is going to make the decision, an explanation as to why they had the child do what they did is a good lesson. This lesson will increase the chance of the child being prepared to make the decision the next time they are in a similar situation.

It’s crucial to understand that self-discipline is not self-taught, only self-administered. Self-discipline is learned, it improves with practice, training, education and experience. All of these can be provided by a child’s parents, coaches and teachers.

Parents and coaches are part of a child’s adult support system that will teach the child right and wrong. If we are to expect our children to make the right decisions, we must educate them as to what is right and wrong. Parents should be diligent in their efforts to choose coaches who teach or at least reinforce the family values being taught at home. Children should be encouraged to consult with people they trust when they aren’t sure what the right decision is in a particular situation.

We cannot expect our children and athletes to be perfect when making decisions. They are going to make mistakes. Youth sports allows children to make decisions, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes in an environment where the consequences are minimal, making it a great opportunity for teaching those skills. No matter the age, our children can be developing their decision making skills. They can learn to gather information, analyze the information and decide what to do next. If the decision doesn’t create the desired result, they can consider why and hopefully use that knowledge to make a different and better choice the next time.


Setting goals is a skill. It’s what I call a crossover skill, one that can be applied to all aspects of your life. An individual who is adept at goal setting can make their life simple, organized and successful. With proper goals we can eliminate a lot of effort toward peripheral, non-essential activities, and we can focus on forward progress and follow a streamlined path to success.

We all set goals. When we go to the grocery store, the goal is to buy food to feed the family. When a coach prepares for the season he sets goals. A coach may set formal goals for the team and use charts and testing to measure completion of the goals. A shopping list is a form of goal setting. When the shopper checks the list before entering the check out lane, they are measuring their success.

Because we all use goals, it makes sense to continually improve our goal setting skills. The goal setting process is really quite simple. Decide what you want to accomplish, write it down, make sure it is measurable, look it over to see if there are some intermediary goals that can be written to help in attaining the original goal (there probably will be). This is followed by training, learning, building or doing whatever is needed before measuring results to see if the goal is accomplished. If the goal is attained, great, write a new goal. If the results don’t match the desired outcome, determine why and write a new goal. This flows in a cycle, write a goal, train, measure the outcome, write a goal, train, measure the outcome. You can read more about this cycle at this link: Progressive Motivation Cycle.

Youth sports are a perfect environment for teaching goal setting skills. It’s easy to write progressive, appropriate, measurable goals in a sports setting. Every drill, every activity, every practice, every game, every season should have goals, some formal with charted results and some “quick-hitters” where recording results aren’t necessary.

A key to success, in most endeavors and particularly in youth sports, is writing appropriate goals. Goals should not be too easy or too hard. They should be progressive, moving from point A to B to C. They need to be easily understood and measurable. For inexperienced athletes, coaches should be heavily involved in the goal setting process. As athletes become more adept at setting goals, the coach will become more of an adviser and a resource for information needed to set appropriate goals.

Good coaches want to develop independent athletes who know what they want to accomplish in their sport. Coaches who succeed at this create the hazard of losing touch with the athlete’s goals. As athletes become more skilled at setting goals and, therefore more independent in the goal setting process, it becomes imperative that goals are written and understood by the athlete, coach and parent. Athletes will attain goals most consistently when all involved understand the desired outcome of training.

Goal attainment (or not) will be based largely on the training process. Coaches should have systems in place that provide a streamlined path toward the athlete’s goals. These systems should focus on forward progress and help avoid time spent on unnecessary tasks. Although individualization is a must for good coaching, a coach shouldn’t reinvent the wheel each time a new goal is written. With experience and time, a coach or organization will meet new goals with methods, processes and systems already in place, decreasing the randomness of training and increasing the chances of goal attainment.

There is a process for being successful. Proper goal setting and good training systems are the major players in this process. These can be learned and practiced in a sport setting and carried over to the real world for a lifetime of success.


Developing the skills mentioned above create obvious benefits. It’s essential to understand that these skills improve with practice and thought. The education never stops. The less obvious benefit of learning these skills and the most exciting to watch in children is an increase in self-confidence.

It’s hard to measure self-confidence in an objective way, but you can see it when you watch children play and compete. Real, genuine self-confidence comes from making good decisions and attaining goals on a regular basis. These things create success and success increases confidence.

"One important key to success is self-confidence.
An important key to self-confidence is preparation."
-Arthur Ashe

1 comment:

jon said...

Great article Mark!