If you’re a gymnast or a gymnastics coach, you’re in this because you want to improve your skills, or your gymnasts’ skills. But it’s hard to do that without a plan! How do you set that plan? To do it, you need to know how to set gymnastics goals.
Why Set Gymnastics Goals?
As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else.” And that “someplace else” is definitely not where you want to be!
If you want to achieve big things, you need to first know WHAT you want to achieve. So the first step in setting gymnastics goals is to think about what you’d like to accomplish. Not just today, this week, or this season – but look ahead a year or two, or ten! Start thinking about some of your dreams, and then we’ll set up a framework to make them come true.
What type of goals should I set?
When people talk about goal setting, I hear a lot of talk about setting achievable goals.
It’s right there in the SMART goal framework. Have you ever been told to set a SMART goal? SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound goals.
SMART goals are considered, by some, to be the gold standard for goal setting. But I disagree about the “Achievable” part.
Achievable goals are fine, if you want to play small. But if you really want BIG results, you need to set a BIG goal.
How big are we talking? Your big goal should scare you a little bit. It should feel like something that is out of reach, at least for now.
Need some examples of big goals?
- I’m a Level 3 right now, but someday I’d like to learn to do a double back.
- I’d like to earn a college scholarship to a Top-10 school.
- I want to be a national champion.
- And the big one (I know I dreamed about this!)…. I want to go to the Olympics!
Why set a goal that’s so outrageous?
Because if you set a small goal, you may or may not hit it. And your progress will be limited, because you won’t have that extra push to get yourself beyond the small, “achievable” goals.
Setting a bigger goal helps you to think big, and to take bigger action steps to get there. By aiming for a big, challenging goal, you’ll make MUCH more progress than if you limit yourself to a smaller goal.
So take some time and think about what your big gymnastics goal is, if you haven’t already set one. It’s great to set a goal that you want to achieve by the end of the season, and also a longer term goal that you’d like to achieve next year or beyond. It could be a goal for one event, or an overall goal that gets further broken down by event, by skill, etc.
Don’t be afraid to dream BIG!
But Big Goals Are Overwhelming!
Yes, you’re rightI It can be really overwhelming to think about what you’ll need to do in order to move up three levels, or get a new skill that you’re not even close to. For this reason, it’s a good idea to set a big goal, then break it down into tiny steps.
Let’s say that your goal is to get a college scholarship, and right now you’re competing at Level 3. What’s your goal for next year? Maybe you want to move up to Level 4 by next year.
In order to move up to Level 4, what do you need to do?
You’ll need to have your mobility score, and have all of the skills your gym requires for Level 4. That will be your goal for this year.
The next step is to break down how you’ll achieve those goals. While your season is going on, you’ll probably be more focused on routines, so you’ll want to set some shorter term goals for how you’ll perform your routines. Set a goal for each month of the season.
Then, break it down into weekly and daily goals. What will you need to accomplish each week to meet the monthly goal? What actions will you need to perform each day to achieve your weekly goals?
The magic is really in those small daily actions. If your goal is to do a leap on beam that hits 120 degrees (the Level 4 requirement), what will you need to work on each day to achieve it? You might choose daily actions such as working on splits, leg swings, or leaps on a line at home. If you have a beam at home, you can use that to practice too.
Maybe you already go to practice several days a week, and you don’t have time to practice at home? Talk with your coach about your goals. Most likely, he or she will be thrilled that you are setting goals for yourself, and they can work with you on a plan at practice to achieve them.
Also, if you’re have new skills you’d like to accomplish after the season, ask your coaches what conditioning or drills can be done safely at home for those skills. Then, you can set a home practice plan, and you’ll be even more prepared once it’s time to start working those skills in the gym.
Toward the end of the competitive season, set some gymnastics goals for the off-season, and break them down in the same way.
Should I set score goals?
Score goals are goals that are not directly under your control. Some people will say that you shouldn’t set score goals for this reason. When I was a gymnast, we went through one season where the coaches didn’t even want us to LOOK at our scores until after the meet. And I’m sure they had their reasons for doing that.
BUT scores are also a way to measure progress. And some people like to have a measurable way to quantify their progress. Scores are one way to track measurable progress.
It’s similar to a business setting goals for how much money they want to make, or how many sales they want to make. You can’t control how many people buy your product. But if the numbers are steadily increasing, you know you’re doing something right.
It works just the same with scores. You cannot directly control your scores. Also, there will be some natural score fluctuation due to the subjectivity of gymnastics scoring. But if your scores are going up, you know that the work you’re doing is moving you in the right direction.
So if scores are a way you’d like to track and measure progress, go for it! Just make sure that scores aren’t your only goals. You need to have performance targets that will help you achieve those scores.
How to track your gymnastics goals
We hear a lot about SMART goals, as we discussed briefly above. Once again, SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound goals. While a goal does not have to be SMART, it does make it a lot easier to track.
Some gymnastics goals, by their nature, are difficult to track, though. Let’s say that you have a goal to improve the quality of your dance on floor. That one is going to be tough to measure. But it is still an important goal for many gymnasts.
So maybe you come up with the different areas you’d like to improve on (examples: leaps, jumps, turns, footwork, arm positions, etc.) and then track how often you work on each of these. You can set a goal to work on each category at a certain frequency – maybe it’s every day, or three times a week. Then use a tracking system to measure your progress – charts or habit tracking apps work great! Anything that you work on consistently is going to improve, so setting a goal to practice a specific skill or drill consistently is great.
Develop habits to work toward your gymnastics goals
The easiest way to work consistently toward a goal is to turn it into a habit. Once we establish a habit, our brain doesn’t have to work to remember what we are supposed to do. Instead, we do it automatically.
However, sometimes it can be difficult to remember our plan while our habits are still developing.
Here are some ideas to help:
- Put a sticky note on your mirror
- Set a timer on your phone, watch, or smart device
- Enlist an accountability partner – a family member or friend who will check in with you
- Create an “anchor” – an activity you already do daily, that your new habit comes immediately before or after (some ideas are waking up, eating a meal, arriving home, etc)
Once you’ve developed your habits, you may not need as many reminders. That’s great! Don’t get discouraged if you still need reminders, though. Research shows that it takes an AVERAGE of 66 days to develop a habit. That’s more than 2 months – and for some habits it takes even longer. Keep working consistently, and your results will soon reinforce the work you’re doing.
Plan for the unexpected
You might have a great plan set up, but then something comes up. Maybe you get sick, or a nagging injury returns, or you get really busy with schoolwork. Or maybe it’s a daily problem, like siblings or pets that distract you when you try to practice.
It’s important to plan for these distractions and bumps in the road. Write down what obstacles you might face as you work toward your goals. Then, create a plan to overcome these obstacles.
For instance, if your siblings distract you, plan a quiet place or time to practice when they won’t be around. Or, include them in your practice! Younger siblings often love to do what their older siblings are doing, and they’ll be thrilled to be included.
If you’re sick or injured, your number one focus is to take care of yourself: body and mind. Stay hydrated, eat nutritious food, and get as much rest as you need. When you feel up to it, you can watch videos of skills and drills that relate to your goals. Once you’re released by the doctor, start back gradually. It’s ok to adjust your goals if you need to!
Keep in mind that most people will fall off track from time to time. The key is to get back on track quickly. If you miss a day or two of practice, that’s ok! Just start back up again the next day, and you’ll still be on track to hit your goals. But if you let NOT practicing become a habit, that’s when it gets harder to resume. Give yourself some grace, set your reminders again, and get back to your routine as quickly as you can. You can do this!
Reward yourself when you achieve a goal
The last step in goal planning is a fun one. What will you do to celebrate achieving your goal?
Some people like to celebrate along the way, and this is a great idea too. It can help you to reinforce your habit, plus it’s a lot of fun! Maybe you can treat yourself to a movie and popcorn after you complete a week’s worth of daily work. After a month, treat yourself with something bigger, such as a special outing. Pick a reward that is meaningful to you, and you will be able to look forward to it each day.
I hope you achieve all of the gymnastics goals you set this year. But if you don’t, don’t be discouraged. Remember that you are much further ahead than you would have been if you had not set that big goal.
Start again with a new goal, and follow the steps to keep moving forward. You can do this!