Many of you will be familiar with the process of goal setting. If you’ve eaten the corporate shit sandwich for a living at any point, you’ll be no stranger to the annual ritual of mitigating the preposterous demands executive management puts on you to deliver implausible targets a year hence. As an aside, during my corporate years a colleague once submitted his inner most business related desires as (a) doing as little work as possible whilst securing maximum personal return and (b) doing away with his earthly body and evolving into a pure form of energy. His efforts where, regretfully, deemed ‘unacceptable’ by the body corporate and he was asked to re-think. Whilst hopelessly misguided and career limiting, I'd suggest his goals were at least honest and meaningful.
Of significantly more importance to us here are goals relating to our cycling performance rather than an outside shot at pecuniary gain from the world of commerce. Goal setting is sports psychology 1.0. Out of the four tools regularly deployed by sports psychologists, it’s the one that gets drilled into aspiring coaches before we are let loose on riders. I guess it’s become a bit trite or old hat. Even triter if you conjure up the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) acronym, but without doubt the riders who I coach who’ve done best through the Covid experience are the ones who've set meaningful goals.
By ‘best’ I mean they’ve managed to remain committed to consistent training. By ‘meaningful’ I mean the goal has real relevance to them.
The key to kick-ass goal setting is not whether they are ultimately achieved – if you ‘smash’ all your goals then they’re too easy – but whether they are sufficiently meaningful to keep you training when times get tough. Hitting 4w/kg at FTP by 4th Feb 2022 is beautifully SMART but probably not smart enough to get you out of bed on a wet Sunday in December to do 4 hours in the rain. Alternatively, you may find visualizing gliding up the Tourmalet next summer with the sun glinting off your well-honed tanned calves is more likely to rouse you from your slumber. Whilst it doesn’t have the SMART credentials of a power to weight target, a goal such as this is capable of being made SMART enough to satisfy the textbooks. More importantly, if it’s genuinely meaningful for you, it’s more likely to keep you on plan when transitory motivation dips. Of course, everybody is different, and one man’s Tourmalet heaven is another man’s vision of hell on wheels, so pick goals that mean something to you, not just your coach or ones that fit conveniently into the SMART shaped box.
‘Wait a minute’ I hear you say. ‘You’re not interested in helping me achieve my goals, just keeping me training you crafty bastard’. To which I’d say, ‘Easy Tiger, keeping you motivated to train with purpose and intent is the way to get you to your goals, not just this year, but for years to come as you get fitter and faster’. The right goal gives meaning to all the hard work so you train with intent and purpose rather than just going through the motions – simply, it makes training more effective and that's what ultimately makes you faster.
We are living in uncertain times and the timing of events change. The temptation is to set goals that cannot be impacted by external events such as, I dunno, viral pandemics perhaps, but I don’t believe we should do this at the expense of making a goal less meaningful. Dates change, events get cancelled, but training plans can flex to accommodate changes. The meaningfulness of a goal should always trump it’s measurability in my book.
Goal setting represents an investment in your athletic future and demonstrates confidence and optimism about your ability to improve. This self-belief sits beside oxygen and carbohydrates as a vital training ingredient. Set your goals with this in mind.
So, with light still in the sky and events running, it might seem a little early to start thinking about next season but meaningful goals take a little time to come together, you might dismiss a few before you settle on what will keep you motivated and committed over the coming months.
However, don’t be tempted to do away with your earthly body. You’re going to need that.
If I can help, get in touch here.
Rich Smith coaches UK and international riders and has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years. He is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a final year psychology student. He spent 30 years failing to meet meaningless corporate targets and responding badly to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property before launching RideFast Coaching.
The ramblings of a cycling coach...