Goal setting – from sports to the classroom

Stephen Forsha

Winning is the goal of every athlete and team at the beginning of a tournament, meet or season. Athletes and coaches alike will tell you this. However, we all know that there can only be one ultimate winner. How do the champions reach their goals while everyone else falls short? Champions understand that the goal of winning a championship is an abstraction, the ultimate outcome they wish to achieve. As such, it provides little context on which to focus one’s efforts. More specific process goals are required to focus training. This separates champions from the rest of the field.

As we move into the fall semester, I want to share some ideas borrowed from goal setting in athletics that may help you organize your studies, increase focus, and increase efficiency in how you work towards your academic outcome goals.

Many students say that they want to earn an “A” in their classes or maintain a 4.0 G.P.A. during the semester. Some are even more abstract and simply say, “I want to graduate”. While all of these are goals to strive for, we should see these as academic outcome goals in a similar vein as winning a championship in sports. However, even these goals are waypoints towards the ultimate goal of learning. We should consistently work towards learning as our ultimate academic goal.

However, just as in sports, the problem with abstract outcome goals is that they do not lend themselves to a path of achievement. The question is how do we turn abstract goals into something more tangible, a process for success?

Below is a path to doing just that, turning an abstract goal into something manageable and focused. This is a form of backward planning beginning with your desired end state (your outcome goal) and working backwards identifying the needed tasks necessary to achieve your outcome goal.

1. Identify what your outcome goal is.
2. Identify the intermediate steps to achieving your outcome goal.
3. Establish metrics to monitor progress towards meeting intermediate steps.
4. Identify the tasks you will need to take to meet your metrics.
5. Identify your daily metric, intermediate and goal achievement strategies.
6. Do not focus on things you cannot control.

As an example, suppose I want to get an ‘A’ in each of my courses this semester, what will my plan look like. An example could be:

1. My outcome goal is to get an ‘A’ in my classes this semester.

2. I need to identify intermediate steps that will keep me on track and that I can use to measure my progress.

a. My first intermediate step is to have at least a ‘B’ or above in each course by the time mid-term grades are due.
b. My second intermediate step is to have an ‘A’ in each course by finals week.
c. My third intermediate step is to excel on each final.

3. I need to establish metrics to monitor my progress towards meeting my intermediate steps.
a. I will need to average an 87% on each assignment in each class during the first half of the semester and above a 93% on each assignment for the remainder of the semester.
b. I will need to maintain my average on each final.

4. Things I must do to meet my metrics on each assignment during the semester:
a. Review course syllabi prior to course start dates and review throughout the semester.
b. Purchase proper text/s and review prior to the semester start date and throughout the semester.
c. Attend every class session and actively participate in class.
d. Review each assignment for specific requirements and ensure I follow them.
e. Ensure I study for content mastery and review my work.
f. Complete, edit and submit all assignments on time.
g. Be an active participant in my own education.

5. My daily metric, intermediate and goal achievement strategies include:
a. Attend every class session.
b. Focus while in class, take notes and review after each class session.
c. Do not use technology during classes for non-class reasons.
d. Engage in at least 3 quality in-class discussions.
e. Designate a specific area for study at home or at a library.
f. Set aside 3 hours each night for study (21 hours per week).
g. Learn how to read (for general information, review, and depth of understanding).
h. Re-read and take notes for depth of understanding.
i. Do not procrastinate on assignments (work on major assignments at least 2 hours each week beginning immediately).
j. Ensure I am rested and have a work/study/life balance.

6. Do not focus on the things you cannot control because if you do you are wasting time and energy. Some things you generally cannot control include:
a. The day/time courses meet.
b. The amount of work required in each course.
c. The instructor of your course.
d. Who your classmates are.
e. Where the course is being taught.

Focus on the things you have control over and do not let outside distractions impact your efforts.

If you develop such a strategy towards quantifying your goals, you will find that you are more focused, use your time more efficiently and see real progress towards achieving your outcome goals. Dr. Stephen Forsha In addition, by creating such a strategy for your studies, you simply cannot help learning along the way so not only will you achieve your goals but also you will increase your knowledge and that is why we are here in the first place.

This process is no different from that used by successful athletes and sports teams. It is a proven way to change abstract goals into specific steps for improvement and success.

Stephen Forsha is the business, law, technology and languages division chair and program director for online undergraduate business programs at William Woods University.

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