Sprinting to Success: Goal Setting for Track Athletes
BY DESTINY OGALI
With the track & field season now drawing to a close, this provides ample opportunity to plan, assess and evaluate our seasons.
Every athlete will have had a different season depending on the prior goals made before the start of the season. For some, it will have been an amazing season with lots of success. And on the other hand, for some athletes, this season may not have gone according to plan for different reasons. Having those sorts of discussions with your coach and overall team will enable you to better plan your training going forward.
The importance of communication for track athletes
As an athlete, if you are looking for a particular outcome, it’s important to discuss this thoroughly with your relevant team to ensure everyone is on the same page. If the entire team has the same mindset regarding what you are trying to achieve, then you can rest assured that everything will be tailored towards reaching your goals with their help and assistance.
Even if your team is much smaller compared to that of a professional athlete, it’s still essential to have a level of communication with whoever is working with you. During your reflection period, I would consider looking at what sorts of conversations you and your team were having throughout the season and the kinds of conversations you plan to have now regarding your last season and the season to come.
As much as training is a big part of your overall performance, communication will enable you to progress as you plan, discuss your goals and provide feedback to your coaches and overall team. Regularly doing this will improve the working relationships between you as the athlete and your overall team.
The benefits of reflecting on athletic performance
When setting targets, you should review your achievements and how you accomplished them. Knowing what kind of training and preparations went into the performances you had in the previous year is vital. This information will show you what sort of training went into the times that you ran that season and how well you structured your training overall. Having a log or rough idea of your training will help as you strategise and periodise your routine moving forward. You can then begin to arrange the structure of your training and understand the reasons behind doing so. Knowing why you're doing something provides valuable information regarding how that specific training routine will benefit you in the long run. Again, this will aid your development as an athlete as you will better understand what you are doing and why you are doing it.
Your targets should be specific to you and what you are trying to achieve. Your coach and team might have various technical and physical goals that they may set within your training. These goals are training-based and are separate from overall performance goals with your racing. Performance-based goals should come from you as the athlete in relation to what you want to achieve. By communicating this to your relevant team, they can then set physical and technical goals which should enable you to reach said performance goals that you will have produced prior to this.
Having these goals and targets should not put extra or unnecessary pressure on you as an athlete. These goals should provide direction with where you are trying to go and what you are attempting to do. As these are self-produced goals, there should be no excess pressure as this is something you want to do freely and individually.
The principles of effective goal setting for athletes
It's ultimately crucial for you as the athlete to formulate these targets. Once the goals are made, you can talk with your team to decide whether these goals and targets are attainable. It may be that the timeframe to achieve these goals is too short or that these goals are not challenging enough for you as an athlete. Having that conversation will enable a plan to take shape as to what you will do to reach said goals or even a further discussion over whether the goals need to be changed or altered slightly.
All of this should be helpful for you, but alongside this, it’s paramount to prioritise moving forward. We can often get too caught up in the past. Our past achievements or disappointments can cloud our vision, thus not enabling us to look forward with hope and expectation. Try not to overthink it. You should still plan but always move forward. Whether a season is a success or a lesson, allow yourself the time to reflect and decompress.
The mental side of athletic performance
The rigours of a track season are very mentally tasking. The physical aspect is a given, but the mental toughness required does not get enough recognition. Do give yourself the benefit of the doubt when assessing your performance. No matter where you are in your journey, prioritise enjoying what you do and keep moving forward. It may seem like you’ve taken a few steps back after taking one step forward. This is okay! Sometimes, we need to learn and grow in a season of loss to enable us to win.
Coping with change as an athlete
To those of you who undergo great changes in your team and environment because of work, university or general changes, give yourself time to adjust. There’s a mental adjustment period as well as a physical one. A new programme and coaching system can take time to get used to. This aspect of training and life in general is again not often spoken about. Different coaches have different ways of supporting their athletes. And with this, it’s crucial to have that dialogue with your coaches to ensure you have the same mindset with what you're trying to achieve. Ideally, this would be a conversation prior to joining the group to ensure it’s the right place for you to be.
Staying healthy for sprinting
Being healthy also comes into this. Sometimes, we as athletes try to train through pain, thinking that “it’s not too bad” when really we are only damaging ourselves further. Setting targets of simply being healthy and enjoying the sport again is just as relevant as targets to run a PB or make The Olympics. They may seem very different, but the combination of enjoying the sport and being healthy will be a huge contributing factor to whether you can achieve your goals.
If you have a niggle or are feeling some discomfort, get it checked out. From personal experience, it never bodes well when you're training and competing with an injury. I know we want to keep going and try and push through, but ultimately we’re just making the situation worse. For you to move forward, it’s critical to be in good shape. Not just physically but mentally too. During your break, you can rest your mind which doesn’t often get the rest it needs.
Why recovery is essential for athletes
If we want to train and perform at our best, we need to give our body and mind the proper rest. All these things are targets we can set for ourselves. It doesn’t only have to be performance-based goals and targets. Also, resting can and should be done throughout the season, not just when the season finishes. Taking small breaks is good to refresh, reset and recover from what you’ve been doing in the time that’s passed.
If we solely set goals based on performance-based metrics, then we can find ourselves sacrificing our health. But, if we can have goals and targets that work in collaboration with bettering our health and performances on the track, then we can have more balance. The balance of the two can enable us to be in a better place to perform at our best without sacrificing one or the other.
And as always, please don’t compare your success or season with someone else’s. Each person’s journey is different. You may take a completely different route to what some may see as “success”, but that’s absolutely fine as long as you enjoy the process and make consistent, gradual progress.
How do you set goals for track?
You may already be doing some or all of these things, and for others, there may be some aspects of these things that can be incorporated into your athlete lifestyle. Being healthy, enjoying the sport and progressing are all very important. We should enjoy what we do, and taking the relevant steps towards making positive change and moving forward will help improve our performances. Be patient, and don’t overthink it.
Take everything a day at a time and aim to maintain a good level of communication whilst building healthy and professional relationships with the team you have around you.
About Destiny Ogali
Destiny is a sprinting athlete who competes for Harrow AC, and he is incredibly passionate about helping other sprinters and athletes go further in their athletic journeys!
He already has experience in discussing athletics topics with others through The Visions Podcast, where he has sat down and spoken with some great athletes, including Desiree Henry and Aidan Syers!
You can find Destiny's sprint performances on his Power of 10 profile.