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Why and How Athletes Should Set Non-Sport Goals

Why and How Athletes Should Set Non-Sport Goals

Many young athletes enjoy setting and working toward sport goals, whether it’s achieving a personal best in competition or just doing a certain number of free throws at each practice. While goals around sport performance are important, non-sport goals are equally critical to a young athlete’s well-being.

Here, TrueSport Expert Amanda Stanec, PhD, the founder and owner of MOVE + LIVE + LEARN, shares why and how parents and coaches should help athletes set non-sport-related goals, as well as other tips to help young athletes thrive.

Understand why this matters

Setting goals outside of sport is important because we want young athletes to not over-identify as athletes, or put too much emphasis into a sport,” says Stanec. “This is hard to hear for some athletes and parents, but honestly, we’re all a couple of ACL tears away from not doing that particular sport anymore. Additionally, many sports end for students at the end of grade 12. And even for the vast majority of those people who do get to play sports in college, few go on to play professionally. Being able to set and achieve goals outside of sport helps athletes find balance at every stage in life.”

Before deciding on some goals, have your athlete define their version of success. And success, Stanec says, should ideally mean feeling good about our place in the world, rather than having a certain amount of money or material items, or scoring a certain number of points on the team. It’s a feeling, not a list of accomplishments.

Add some self-reflection

Stanec starts with assessing the foundation: An athlete should strive for a certain level of well-being, above and beyond simply being healthy (which she considers to be ‘the absence of disease and illness’). “Well-being goes beyond that,” she says. “It includes how one feels about their place in the world, and about their quality of life. Hopefully, sport is a piece of that, but wellness and well-being are more holistic than just sport performance. There’s physical, social, spiritual, environmental, emotional, and intellectual wellness, and all of that combines to make up our overall well-being.”

“Help your athlete create self-awareness, where they’re able to identify their strengths and their opportunities for growth,” she says. “For instance, an athlete might realize that they do great fueling properly for practice, but get anxious about leaving their phone unattended throughout practice. So that athlete may want to set a goal around phone use rather than nutrition, which they already have under control. Similarly, athletes should set goals that are very meaningful and personal to them, not ones that are heavily influenced by their parents or coaches.”

Some pieces of the wellness puzzle—social and physical for instance—may come from sport. But ensuring your emotional wellness or even your physical wellness beyond your sport performance are just as important. Stanec suggests that athletes take stock of where they are right now, and consider areas that could use some improvement. A full lifestyle overhaul isn’t necessary here: just consider what areas might be lacking, and those will be the areas where goals should be set.

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Mental Health Parent, Coach TrueSport