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Saul Answers: Why Should We Set Goals?

By Dr. Saul L. Miller on October 13, 2016


I’m trying to teach the team (girls bantam b) I’m helping coach about how important it is to set goals. This is something one of my coaches when I was younger really pushed on us and it helped me feel like I was experiencing a lot of success even though our team didn't win much. It seems like some of the players get it, but most of them are having a hard time, or aren’t really that interested. How can I help them understand how important it is to set goals, and the best way to do it?
- Denise, Montreal, Quebec

Dear Denise,

Thank you for your question. It’s great that you are taking the time and effort to teach your team about goal setting. It’s something that is so necessary, but often overlooked.

Jay Woodcroft, an Edmonton Oilers coach said, “I’m a big believer in goal setting. It’s important to understand what you are working toward and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. If you want to play at the highest level or you want to play college or junior hockey, you are going to have to work hard and goals are an important tool to help you get there.” 

I agree. Goal setting is important. However, it is just the beginning. Once you set a goal the next question is, “What’s the plan?” What are YOU prepared to do in terms of skill development, conditioning, mental training, and learning the game to make your goals a reality?

There are different kinds of goals. There are long term goals… like a young player saying I want to play junior or college hockey, or even I want to play in the NHL. I sometimes ask talented 15- and 16-year-olds, “How old do you think you’ll be when you make it to the NHL?” Often their response is “22 or 23 years old.” Then I ask them how would you be different then from the player you are today. They usually say “I’ll be bigger, stronger, a better skater, have better stick skills, a better shot, I’ll read the game better, be more confident…” I reply, “If your goal is to play pro hockey then those are the things you have to work on every day.” 

This would be a great place for you to start.

There are also seasonal goals. Mark, a KHL defenceman said, “This season I want to be more offensive, generate more chances, and goals and get 30 points.” To which I said, “If that’s the goal, then you have to improve your reads, your mobility, join the rush more, and improve your passing and shooting ability.” And seasonal goals should be realistic. If you are a fourth line winger don’t be thinking you are going to score 35 goals. Instead set goals to be a plus player, a smart aggressive checker, and a hard working team player. 

Finally, there are short term goals: goals for today’s practice or today’s game. Regarding practice goals, Dan Lacroix, a Montreal Canadiens coach said, “The only way to improve your hockey skills is working hard, showing up everyday at practice and having a goal or focus on things you need to improve.”  Dan added that going through practice doing just what the coach is asking is not the best way to go about it. Have a clear understanding of what you are out there to improve. 

Kevin Constantine, a veteran NHL and WHL coach summarized the relevance of goal setting as follows, “One of my favourite sayings in hockey is that a great future is simply a bunch of good todays. So set goals and want to get somewhere. And really focus most of your attention every day and every practice on all the things you are doing just to get better at the game. And if you set your goals and put in a bunch of good todays, the future will take care of itself.”

Good luck with your team. Start small and they will come to understand, like you did, the satisfaction in achieving goals you set out.

Play hard, play smart, play hockey tough. 
Keep sending in your questions. See you next month.

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October 13, 2016
Categories:  Performance
Keywords:  Ask Saul

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