Goal Setting for Young Athletes



by Dave Gleason


Setting short, medium and long term goals is the foundation for any action plan.  Creating and attaining any goal is a process.


In the context of Goal Setting for young athletes, often a trainer or coach will direct the question of desired goal(s) by giving away the answers.  A typical pre-exercise questionnaire will ask the young athlete (and/or parent) to choose from a list of goals ranging from speed, agility, strength and flexibility to injury resistance and more confidence.


This is a terrific start but we need to reach beyond this for our young athletes.


Developing a specific culture in your facility or programs is instrumental in differentiating what you do from your competition.  Everything you do should point back toward the same ethos that your culture is built upon.  Goal setting is no exception.


For a long term athletic development program this is critical.  Can we honestly expect kids to stay in our programs for 2,3,5 or 10 years?


Setting up reward systems for young athletes will help them set and attain goals.  All too often children are pressured to succeed merely for the sake of success.


Have you ever asked a young athlete what more speed will do for them?  "More speed will help me run faster", is a very common response.


This illustrates the a lack of connection between the goal of more speed and the young athlete.  Once more, there is no sense of reward.


Think outside of the traditional paradigms to engage young athletes while building a physical culture into the network of their lives.  Set up a goal and reward system that teaches them that in the real world not everyone gets a trophy.


As a coach this often provides an opportunity to have conversations about character, what it means to set goals and what meeting those goals will mean.


Here are a few of the many goal orientated strategies that have worked extremely well in our facility:


Daily Goals:  Athlete of the day based on character.  A daily goal that reaches far beyond the bio motor benchmarks that are so revered is that of character development.  Try celebrating one, maybe two athletes at the end of every session based on effort, sportsmanship, attentiveness, and or other positive behavioral achievement.  Recognize the athlete as well as having the other athletes recognize him or her as well.



Weekly and monthly goals:  Physical goals that will help in the overall development of the young athlete that are measurable are great ways to teach the value of hard, work, perseverance and goal attainment.  Most kids today lack climbing skills (which can translate into a reduction in scapular control).  When I set up our floor plan for my facility I included a 19 foot long monkey bar/pull up bar apparatus.  Then we created the "Bar Club".  If an athlete can successfully cross the 17 bars without falling or skipping a bar, their name is forever displayed on the wall. Currently the record is 187 consecutive monkey bars equaling 209 feet!


Monthly and yearly goals:  At Athletic Revolution we use a proprietary and remarkable ranking system for our long term athletes.  Testing our young athletes based on skill acquisition for a variety of movements is the basis we use to "promote" our young athletes to a higher rank.  The skill sets we evaluate are the very skills that increase athleticism and injury resistance.


This is another example of a goal setting system that points direct back to our ethos and culture.  The higher the rank…the more responsibility to be a leader and a mentor to the athletes with a lesser rank.


BIG deals:  When any young athlete reaches a goal make a big deal about it.  When an athlete hits the mark make sure his or her peers know about it.


As coaches we are teachers and mentors to our young athletes.  Help them set goals and make sure they know what reaching those goals will mean.  Explain how important the journey they take to get there is.


Coach with Passion.  Change


Dave GleasonDave Gleason is the owner and head coach of Athletic Revolution in Pembroke, MA. Dave’s career passions are training young athletes 6-18 years old as well as playing an integral role in the development of Athletic Revolution International. Dave was the 2010 IYCA Member of Year, columnist and presenter. A proud member of the IYCA, Dave is honored to be named to the IYCA Board of Experts.




6 Responses

  1. Roy Alfonso says:

    Dave, thank you for sharing.

  2. Mark Roozen says:

    Have to set goals to know where to go and when you get there! We use movement screen to put our kids into beginner, intermediate, advanced and elite in 12 different movements – along with the skills they need to demonstrate to move to the next level. This helps set automatic goals – kids know what they need to do to achieve the next level – helps keep them focused and on track; also has them work on the keys for better performance.

  3. Aaron says:

    Dave how do you focus on the small developmental goals if you have parents that are just interested in having you make their kid a star in one session?

  4. Dave Gleason says:

    @Aaron- Education my friend. It begins at the second they walk in the door. In the end, most if not all parents want what is in the best interest of their child(ren).

    @Mark – sounds like a great start. I’m curious how you account for variances in age, ability level and experience (or lack there of) with your movement screens?

  5. Jared says:


    Great post, I too am curious how Mark does that with his kids? The concept sounds really great in terms of differentiating based on developmental age instead of biological age.

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