Effective Short Term Goal Setting:
Near Term Planning for Long Term Success

Sheryl Kline Cardiff, M.A


Most people have set goals of one type or another for themselves or for a group, but are they effective? Do they get accomplished and are they the appropriate type of goal for the time period you are planning for? The last question is critical because there are different types of goals that are appropriate depending on the time frame you have to work with.

Short term goals require attainable results and 100% control of the outcome, compared to long term goals that can be more elusive. For example, it is common for a high school athlete to say he or she would like to play his or her sport in college. This ‘Outcome Goal’ is great for the long term. It is likely very important, and possibly a long term dream, but there are also many unknowns (what your completion will be like, if the coaches will like you, how many spots will be available etc.). It is important to dream big, but it is the small stepping stones that will get you there.

In the near term, Outcome Goals can get in the way of daily progress. For example, you lose a match or have a bad game, you may feel your performance will hinder your chances of your long term success. Even worse, is to worry about this during a competition. You double fault a game a way in tennis, and go from thinking you will lose the set, match and likely the tournament and college players certainly would not double a game away! This thought process will likely make it difficult to perform your best and focus on the task at hand.

Process Goals are most appropriate for immediate and short term goal attainment. The focus is on what you have absolute control over and what, when and where you will practice. For example, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I will serve 100 balls each day at 4:00 p.m. The focus of this practice will be tossing the ball to the proper height and relaxing my arm. Barring an emergency, you have control of where and when this will get done. If during a competition, your Process Goal may be to toss high and follow through. If you dump a ball into the net, go back to your Process Goal(s) not what could happen down the road.