Tandem training. Photo: Thomas Hall

By Thomas Hall

Goal setting is relevant in everything from personal finance to lifestyle changes. The concept is relatively simple: make a goal and plan how you're going to get there. Sometimes, though putting the goal into practice isn't so simple. What follows is my story about goal setting and my take on how to make it work for you.

Make a plan

In 2004 I was nowhere near making the Olympic team, but I was on my way back from a three-year stretch of bad racing. Throughout those three bad years I was training hard and doing what I thought were all the right things, but I simply couldn't tie a race together. I was contemplating quitting when I watched my friend Adam Van Koeverdan win Olympic gold at Athens in '04, which helped rekindle my desire to win. I had fire in my belly again but still no clear plan how to use that motivation to get faster. Around this time, I started working with my new coach, Mike. One of the first things we did together was set goals.

Over a couple of beers in Fall 2004 we came up with a plan that would take me to the podium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

SMAR(T) Goals

The primary goal was obviously the Olympic Podium, but that was the easy part. There were countless secondary and tertiary goals along the way to keep me focused on, and on track to, the podium. We came up with a framework of secondary goals (think of secondary goals as steps along the way) for each year of the quadrennial. Critically, the framework consisted of goals that were: Specific, Measurable, Achievable and possible to Reevaluate.

If you set a goal that's impossible, you just end up frustrated. For example, we could have made the goal for year one to be "win the World Championships," but I wouldn't have done it. Instead it was something achievable like "be top two in Canada," something I knew I could do. Remember, these are steps, not leaps.

Having measurable goals is critical because if you can't measure your progress how will you know you're on track? We used objective measures such as how fast I could race 1000 meters, or how I finished in a given race.

Goals that are specific are also essential because if they're not specific, they're hard to measure and easy to lose track of. A specific goal should be able to answer the Five-Ws: who, what, when, where and why.

Mike and I also had small goals for almost every training I did in those four years. These tertiary goals would be listed on my weekly training program and include things such as "Focus on developing pre-race routine in practice this week.” The level of detail we used isn't necessary for most plans, but it is a worthwhile example of how far you can take goal setting.

As the quadrennial progressed and the Olympics loomed close, I had achieved some goals and missed others. What became an important process for Mike and me was a constant reevaluation of our goals. During the season we would discuss how the plan was going and adjust as necessary. Post season, over beers of course, we would do a general debrief and look at the following year’s plan and make adjustments, making goals either harder or easier depending on my performance the previous season. We learned that it was okay for me to miss some of the goals as long as I was headed in the right direction. By the time I was sitting on the start line in Beijing, I was able to look back with confidence at everything we had done, knowing it was part of a plan for me to race perfectly on that day in August 2008.


You'll have noticed I highlight the key words: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Reevaluation. I'm only a T away from SMART, a common mnemonic when dealing with goal setting. It means goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Dependant. I find the R and the T redundant because if you've come up with a solid SMA, the RT is taken care of. I prefer to use Reevaluation for R, as explained above, and Tape for T. Tape because if your goal means a lot to you, it's important to live it. So tape the goal up somewhere you'll see it all the time. I had my broad quadrennial plan taped on the inside of my bedroom door where I would see it every morning.

If you're looking to take you game to the next level, make a SMART plan to get there.

Training all day long. Photo: Thomas Hall