Winthrop's Dr. David Schary: How to set goals to maximize your summer training

The weather is heating up, which means summer is right around the corner. For athletes, summer is a great time to work on weaknesses. The long days provide ample time to prepare for the upcoming seasons.

But training without a plan will not maximize results. It is like driving to a new city without a map or GPS; you will waste precious time getting lost (and frustrated) instead of enjoying your destination.

Goals are the GPS that will lead you directly to your destination – an improved athletic skillset. Goal setting is not the fanciest tool in the sports psychology box, but it is the most important. Without goals there is no way of knowing where to use the rest of the tools.

But as basic as goals are, many coaches and athletes do not regularly use them. I cannot stress their importance enough, so I have listed three simple tips to help you set the best goals possible this summer.

▪ Different types of goals. There are three types of goals: outcome, performance and process. Outcome goals focus on competition and social comparison, such as winning the state championship. Performance goals emphasize personal accomplishments independent of other people, such as attaining a personal best. Finally, process goals are behaviors or actions during practice and competition, such as using proper technique to tackle. Each type of goal is necessary for success because each focuses on a different part of the athlete. I see the three types working together. The outcome goal is the final destination, while the performance goals are the roads that lead you to the destination, and the process goals are your vehicle. Without all the goals, you are left stranded with nowhere to go.

▪ Set challenging, specific, but achievable goals. Goals that are moderately challenging will get better results than goals that are unrealistic or too easy. The trick is finding the level of difficulty that will stretch your skillset without being impossible. In addition, goals must be specific. Vague goals (‘run faster’) will struggle to help increase performance because they do not adequately challenge the athlete. Good specific goals (‘decrease 5K time by 30 seconds’) will set the bar just high enough to force improvement.

▪ Develop timeline and get feedback. Any goal needs to have a realistic deadline to ensure adequate progress and to help increase motivation. A timeline for the summer should include both short-term and long-term goals. The short-term goals make a long-term goal more attainable because they break up the big goal into manageable steps. To start, an outcome goal can be a good long-term goal and then use performance and process goals as short-term goals. Finally, athletes of all abilities need feedback on their progress. Coaches and trainers need to check in on the progress made toward each goal, and if needed, adjustments can be made to ensure that an athlete continues to improve.

If an athlete is not familiar with how to set goals, make sure a knowledgeable coach or parent helps. All goals should be written down; remember that a goal is a contract. It helps some athletes to display their goals in a prominent place, like on the fridge or a bedroom wall. Regardless of where the goals are recorded, they must be frequently revisited to ensure that progress is being made.

Goals are important to ensure that athletes productively use the summer to improve their athletic skillset. However, all athletes need some time off from their sports. Make sure that the summer does not become over-planned. Take some guilt-free time away from training. This will refresh the body and mind, preventing overuse injuries and burnout.

Enjoy the summer, plan realistic goals, work hard, track your progress, and I guarantee you will be a better athlete in the fall.

Do you have a question about how to improve your athletic performance? Dr. David Schary invites questions or comments from any athlete, coach, or parent. Email any question or comment to