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Stop Setting Goals: Set Standards

Basketball is Psychology XXXIX


Most of us have been drilled on setting goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. While setting goals sounds like a good idea, this approach is actually holding you back from reaching your full potential.

Mike Neighbors:

“My second season as the Head Coach at the University of Washington, goal setting was a part of our very culture. We were returning a strong team off of a deep WNIT run. Expectations were high. Leaders were in place. On “Goal Setting Day”, we crushed it. Crushed it! We followed Goal Setting 101 to the letter of the law and emerged from our team room with “NCAA Bound” as our season motto.

Washington had not been to the Big Dance for eight consecutive seasons and this group of Huskies was determined to change that. With smaller incremental goals of “x” wins in the non-conference, beating certain rival schools, and finishing in the top half of the difficult Pac 12, we embarked on our season. We had NCAA logos plastered everywhere around the locker room. NCAA brackets were on our scouting reports. We had posters printed and t-shirts made. You name it, anywhere we could put a reminder of our goals, we did. The season was a success.

Checking off goal after goal, we sat in a room on Selection Monday waiting to find out if our ultimate goal of making the NCAA Tournament was to be reached. Bracket by bracket the field was being revealed on ESPN. Anticipation grew and grew as each of the first three regions were unveiled on national tv. With only one region remaining, the announcement finally came.

The Washington Huskies had reached their final goal… We were going to the NCAA Tournament!!! The celebration was on… Guess what happened next?

We didn’t play well again.

We didn’t practice well.

We didn’t travel to the tournament well.

We didn’t shoot around well.

We didn’t pre-game meal well.

BUT, because we had reached our ultimate goal none of us could really identify that until it was too late. The season ended with us being upset by the #11 seed Miami Hurricanes. But judging by the return flight home, no one really seemed to care.

It dawned on me, it was all my fault. They were simply doing what people do as they achieve their goals.

It was then and there I vowed to never let it happen again.

By setting goals, I/we had been limiting ourselves. Even if our goal had been stretched to the limit to begin with, we were limiting it in some form.

Fast forward to Goal Setting Day for the 2016 season. Same team room. Virtually the same roster. Same game plan going in. This team was once again laser focused on leaving a legacy at Washington by setting amazing goals that would get us there. We increased our number of non-con wins. We decreased our desired defensive FG%. We made all kinds of minor improvements over the previous season.

Then came the magic. Led by a group of upperclassmen who had experienced the NCAA upset the year before, the discussion was about winning games in the NCAA Tournament rather than just going. Some said winning one game would be a great goal. Some argued two games was the better goal. After over an hour of heated discussion, the team emerged with Sweet Sixteen as their ultimate goal for the season. It was perfect. It checked every box of Goal Setting 101 class. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

We burned them.

Goals were gone. Goals were no longer a part of our culture.

We as a staff had agreed that by setting a series of standards together with players and working together to hold each other accountable to them, we would no longer be focused on results that accompany goal setting.

We knew that once we had reached the goal of making the NCAA Tournament the previous year our team felt like their season was done. In focusing on the standards we could judge our daily efforts versus stated points of emphasis and allow the results to follow on that basis. We brainstormed areas that we valued within our program on and off the court. We asked our players to do the same.

Together, we concluded there were 28 areas of being a student/athlete that we needed standards for: