Goals--what individual players and teams are striving to accomplish--come in all forms and sizes. What drives one player might be quite different from what drives another, and the same is true of coaches. And that’s OK, as long as those varied individual aspirations don’t conflict with or diminish the importance of the shared objectives of the team.
One tactic used by basketball coaches is to place a large photograph of the site of the national or state championship on the wall in a high-traffic spot such as the locker room. Players passing by each day are reminded of their mission--the destination the program wants to reach that season. For example, Marquette used such a photograph in 2003, when they were a long shot to make it to the NCAA finals, and they claimed that literally keeping their eyes on the prize each day helped them to ultimately earn their trip to New Orleans.
We did the same thing at Rowan University. Before each season, I’d place a picture of the site of the NCAA Division III Final Four near the main entrance (and exit) of the locker room. Our teams reached three Final Fours in four years--winning the national championship in 1996--and we believed that the photo’s presence helped us maintain a daily focus on working toward that special goal.
Before you can set a useful goal, you need to know why you would want to do so in the first place. One reason is that goals provide a clear sense of direction. As targets that you’re seeking to hit, they help focus attention (as was the case with the photo of the Final Four site). Players and programs without clearly defined goals seldom achieve their potential. They might want to succeed, but they work without a purpose or a plan.
Another potential benefit of a goal is that it can serve as a source of motivation while you are striving to achieve a certain result. As anyone who’s been through a tough, long season knows, practices, injuries, travel, and so on can take their toll over several months, and it’s easy to get down or distracted. Keeping goals in mind during those tough times can provide that extra spark needed to overcome the inevitable challenges you’ll face.
Understanding that goals can be beneficial, what should you consider when trying to identify and set them? Good goals share four basic attributes:
- Meaningful. Players and coaches must find value in achieving the goal, and they must be willing to apply the time and effort necessary to do so.
- Specific. The criteria for accomplishing the goal must be explicit and concise. Vague or convoluted goals can be misinterpreted and hedged on if players or coaches fail to achieve them.
- Measurable. Accomplishment of goals must be based on observable or quantifiable actions, not on subjective standards, "intangibles," or feelings.
- Consistent with a larger, overall plan. Individual goals within a basketball team have to fit within and be prioritized according to the primary objectives of the program.
Each year, players and coaches should share in developing the overall plan for the team. This should include setting specific goals and committing to them. The overall plan and the major goals are typically defined in the spring, after evaluation of the previous season has been completed. These goals should be the foundation and focal points of everyone in the program for the season ahead.