How to Set Real Goals For Your Next Season

How to Set Real Goals For Your Next Season

It’s human nature to stand on the threshold of a new year with a fresh slate of goals and intentions. For the athlete population, this often takes the shape of a new ‘season,’ often with time-based goals including PRs or perhaps longer, more challenging events.

The problem is that by setting only product-based goals, we miss the myriad of factors that influence our journey or process—and these are actually essential in defining personal success. In Carrie Cheadle’s book On Top of Your Game, she writes that “goals focus your energy and efforts in the direction you want to move…it’s not just the goal or destination that’s important, but choosing a destination and moving towards it.”

Consider the following three-step process to help you see the big picture.

Visualize Success

This is the big-picture view of your year. When you imagine your upcoming season all the way through to the end (including feeling satisfied and successful) what does that look like? Are you standing on a podium? Are you finishing a long trail race? Did you learn to surf, climb a mountain or maybe bike commute to work most days? At this stage, you’re looking big picture.

Try to step beyond the PR and really think about what it means for you to feel successful. Sometimes the successful self in your mind has had enough sleep, eats well and feels day-to-day satisfaction from sport and socializing. Maybe success for you means you’re happy with your body, pursuing passions and having enough time to spend with family and friends. Everyone is different here, but it’s essential to visualize who you are when you feel successful so that you understand your ideal ‘destination’ before you develop your goal and forge a path towards it.

Set Your Goals

Professional runner Kara Goucher writes in her book Strong that good goals should consider attainability (challenge but don’t overwhelm), time (set reasonable deadlines and allow for process), flexibility (have a range of goals), inspiration (how do you want to feel) and process-focus (be mindful of the steps along the way). You can break your goals into two basic categories, quantifiable, specific, measurable goals; and non-specific, emotional, subjective process or global goals.

Specific goals could include race or event completion, race finish times, bike power numbers, pace, speed, weight and general workout consistency. Non-specific goals might include happiness with yourself, confidence, resilience, stress-management, contentment and general well-being. When you write your goals down, it can help to divide them into these two categories.

Map Your Route

After spending time visualizing and breaking down your seasonal goals, it’s time to map your journey. An easy route is to anchor your season around races and events. Choose your events in advance (it’s ok to leave some flex space) and enter them into an annual training plan or calendar. TrainingPeaks will allow you to see a snapshot of the year so you can assess what kind of flow or rhythm your season will have, and how to train most effectively.

Non-specific goals can be recorded in a document stored for easy access. Remember, the brain favors routine. In order to turn a goal into a habit you need to be consistent. It’s ok to share your goals with others if it motivates you. Your route should be fun! Sport is much more than a one-and-done activity—it’s a way of existing.

Remember, this is your journey. Define it, and then stand by it. Social media is great in many ways, but not when you feel negative pressure to perform because other people are tuning into your progress. Embrace the entire journey, celebrate success along the way, and you’ll most likely find yourself achieving goals, accepting challenges and occasional failures and feeling positive throughout.

Start the new year right by visualizing your own personal success, setting reasonable attainable specific and non-specific goals, and mapping a route that will wind you through some exciting, fun terrain on your journey to success! Have a great year!


Carrie McCusker specializes in athlete performance at all levels. While she has spent the majority of her life as a competitive elite athlete she is also an experienced educator and coach with an MS in education and extensive training in the implementation of science based coaching with a focus on meeting the needs of each individual athlete. She can be reached at carrie@pbmcoaching.com or see details at www.pbmcoaching.com or https://www.trainingpeaks.com/coach/carriemccusker

Visit Carrie McCusker's Coach Profile