How Do You Improve? Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

TCTC $5K on Tuesday, July 11, 2023, at Jamison Park in Winston-Salem, NC. (Photo by Robert Hill)

Let’s go through the steps of creating realistic and achievable goals for races. There are tons of methods to set goals; I want to share one that I really like. 

This method is a pneumonic device called S.M.A.R.T. goals to help you break down your larger goals further so you can analyze how realistic and achievable they are. Some elements of this process may overlap, and that’s perfectly OK!

S.M.A.R.T. Goals allow you to divide your goals into specific categories where you ask yourself questions to help you analyze your goals based on different needs you have that would be required to fulfill it. The detail you use in your answers may help you determine factors and obstacles you may not have overwise considered.

S-Specific: What accomplishment are you going for? Include the “W’s.”

  • Who is involved?
  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • When is the general time frame in which you are trying to complete this?
  • Where will these events take place?
  • Which obstacles or requirements will you take on?
  • Why are you doing this?

Include an A, B, and C Goal

  • “A” Goal: Best case scenario, nothing goes wrong and courses are proper distance, give specific times for each section.
  • “B” Goal: Bring the times down a little from the “A” goal and allow time for mistakes and incorrect courses. 
  • “C” Goal: Bring down times even more and prepare mentally for what you will be able to do if more events occur that will slow you down.

M-Measurable: What data will measure the goal? How much? How well?

  • Include the metrics you intend to use to accomplish your goals. 
  • If the goal is set over a long period of time, maybe set some shorter milestone goals to work on.
  • Measurement can be qualitative (quality. non-numerical related) or quantitative (numerical related).

A-Achievable: Is the goal doable? Do you have the necessary skills and resources?

  • This focuses on how important a goal is to you and what you can do to make it attainable and may require developing new skills and changing attitudes. The goal is meant to inspire motivation, not discouragement. Think about:
    • What is required to attain the goal
    • Do you have the tools required?
    • If you don’t, what would it take fulfilling those requirements?
    • Reevaluate your goals to something more attainable
  • How do you feel about this goal? Do you feel confident? Nervous? Doubtful?
    • The body is more telling about the reality of completing a goal than one might realize. Being nervous and having some stress is OK good even. But if you’re panicking about not making those goals, may want to reevaluate

R-Relatable: How does the goal align with broader goals? Why is the result important?

  • What other related goals can you set that will help you attain this goal? 
    • Make it skill (qualitative) based over time based
    • For example, mastering a flip turn will help create more efficient turns in the pool, which increases time trials or overall swimming time performance.

T-Timebound: What is the time frame for accomplishing the goal?

  • Anyone can set goals, but if it lacks realistic timing, chances are you’re not going to succeed.

As previously stated, there are many ways to establish goals, this is just one of them. Feel free to use this as a guide to break down your goals into more manageable bits so the overall process doesn’t feel overwhelming.