Setting Goals:  The Parent, Coach, Athlete Relationship


Setting goals and working toward those goals is one of the most important life skills our young swimmers learn.  What are the benefits of goal setting? What is the goal setting process?  What are the respective roles of parents and coaches?


In the American Swimming Coaches Association and USA Swimming’s Foundations of Coaching Course these benefits of goal setting are listed: 


1.  goals challenge swimmers, giving them something to work toward

2.  goals direct swimmers to develop their skills

3.  goals provide a means of evaluating a swimmer’s progress and offer opportunities for success for the athlete.


Simply put, goals give direction and meaning to the day to day workout routine. 


The goal setting process begins with a review of current achievements.  What are the swimmer’s best times?  Next, what significant and attainable goals can be worked for over a reasonable time frame.  Goals can be related to a time standard or to a competitive achievement.  In general, younger swimmers should have a shorter time frame and the goals should be time based.  Older swimmers may have the patience to set longer range goals that may be two, three, or four years away and often those goals are based more on a competitive result rather than a pure time. 


Too often swimmer’s concentrate only on the “outcome goal” and not enough on “performance goals.”  An outcome goal might be “to qualify for senior nationals in the 400 IM in the summer of 2011.”  Related performance goals might include:  “Increase practice attendance to 9 times per week,” ”improve my 200 breaststroke time by three seconds,” “lose 5 pounds by May 1st by  eliminating empty carbohydrate snacks,” and “increase my freestyle stroke rate from 1.3 seconds per stroke to 1.1 in the 400 IM.”  Some people refer to performance goals as “objectives.”


Both outcome goals and performance goals should be specific and time framed.  Specific means quantifiable – it can be measured.  Time framed means there should be a target date for achieving the goal or objective.  Goals should be flexible because stuff happens that we cannot predict and the course may need to be altered.


The positive role of parents is vital.  Elements of good parenting in the goal setting process are:


1.  Parents encourage their children to set goals. 

2.  Parents ask their children what their children’s goals are. (But do not set their goals for them.)

3.  Parent ask their children how they are progressing toward their goals – especially performance goals.

3.  Parents provide emotional support for their children as they pursue their goals.

4.  Parents work with and support the coach for the interest of their children.


Coaches are the primary goal facilitators. They:

1.  Guide the swimmer to set realistic but challenging goals.

2.  Establish a timetable, or progression for reaching the goal.

3.  Discuss split times or other technical strategies for achieving the goal.

4.  Remind the swimmer of the relationship between workout performance and goal times at daily practices.

5.  Evaluate progress toward goals with the swimmer.

6.  Create team support for individual goals.


Goal setting is one of the most profound skills we can help our children acquire.  Parents who encourage their children to set goals, and who listen to the expert advice of the coach, and then cheer their children on can look forward to years of smiles.