Goals by Mark Onstott (2014)


If everybody is ready, I’m going to go ahead and get going. Finish-out your Saturday with a little talk about goals, and try to get you out of here by 5:30. What I want to talk about is just the types of goals—kind of briefly go over that. Briefly, how to set goals. And then how we use goals in New Trier, and what to do when it doesn’t work out the way they’d like it to.

Types of goals. This is just general. There is, you know, virtually goals for everything, but, the way I look at it we’re talking about personal goals and, of course, that’s in swimming, every easy, you have time goals, that could be in meet or in training, we have maximum control over that and it’s real specific. Outcome goals or achievement goals, these are a little bit more general. It might be to be, top 3 in the conference, top 3 at the state, state champion, and these are – really I try to use them to focus the time goals, to get the time goals in the right range and of course you don’t have control over that in all cases, so really the time goal is our real focus.

We obviously have team goals. There is non-athletic goals, in our case the focus is around, ahh, that we talk about is around academics and social situations. Long-term goals in our way of thinking is more than a season. We have a short season, 14 weeks; short-term would be the season. You have objectives, which could be, what you’re doing today or what you’re doing today in a specific set, specific repeat or a race and then a to-do list, that’s, that’s what my goal has been for the last couple of months is I have a to-do list everyday. I’m retired and I need to have things to do, so I write myself a to-do list for everyday and try to check something off.

Why do we set goals? It really comes down to, having a long-term vision so you’re really looking down the road. Where do you want to be? What do you want to be doing, but they also work very well for short-term motivation. In other words what I’m doing today has an impact on where I want to be in the future, so I need to be on top of what I’m doing and doing the right things and doing them the right way. Goals also help you measure progress and whether or not you reach your goal there still is a measure there, there still is an indicator of where you’re at on the road to where you want to be and then when you achieve goals it helps build your confidence, it helps build your self-confidence and it helps motivate you and inspire you to do more.

Where to start? Dreams really start – goals really start as dreams, visions, a thought of what you want to do. When I was in high school my senior year I wanted to be a high school all-American. I had no idea where I heard of high school all-American. My coach didn’t talk about it. I don’t have any idea was NISCA all-American. I really didn’t know, but I know that the time was, if I remember right, for the medley relay and, yes, I was going for a relay because I was hoping to get three good guys to swim with me and then I’d be an all-American. And so I – the time was like 1:42-3 or something, actually it was just 1:42-3, 1970 they did not really put hundreds on those sweep watches, ahh, and so I dreamed about that, I thought about that, I focused on that, you know, I wrote the time down, I had in my locker, I had it at home. Umm, back then you could only swim two events. I ended up not swimming the medley relay and I swam on the freestyle relay. I had no goal. I went nowhere. We got second though, so that was pretty good. Clarity, the more you think about it, focus on it, visualize it, you clarify, you know, what you want to do, ahh, and then focus on it. It really takes time and thought to develop your goals. It’s not just picking a time out of the hat, it really takes some thought.

Here is one of probably the greatest goals of all-time that was laid out by President Kennedy in September of 1962 at Rice University. Rice University, is in Houston and I believe this was probably given as a speech where the land that was used for the, for mission control, which was right by Rice University, it was probably dedicated about this time. I don’t know that for sure, but basically President Kennedy lays out here, a really solid goal and he does it very well, choosing to go to the moon, we choose to go in this decade, there is an actual timeline on it. We’re not doing it because it’s easy. We know it’s going to be hard, but this goal will serve to organize and measure the best of us, and we’re willing to accept, we’re unwilling to postpone and we will win this goal and others. That really is how to write a goal, right there.

So the basics of goal setting should be specific. We want to go to the moon, we don’t want to get close, we want to go to the moon. Time goal should be exact. I always have my swimmers write their goals to the hundreds, it should be exactly what they’re going to see on the clock on the timing board when they look up. Achievement goals I believe can be more general, in other words I want to be top three, I want to make the varsity practice. They’re not quite as specific, but achievement goals should match up with time goals and when I talk about our goal meetings, I’ll talk about that a little more and the time goal is the main focus. That’s really what we’re – we’re trying to get it down to a time goal, but an achievement goal sometimes is a little, little more exciting than time.

One of the basics here is just – it needs to be their goal. They, you know, I don’t assign goals, I don’t say this should be your goal. I really want them to develop it, them to come up with it. I might help them tweak it a little and get it in alignment with what they want in other areas, but it’s really their goal and it really shouldn’t be dependent on other’s performance. So an achievement goal of getting top three in conference or state or sectional or whatever really is dependent on other people, that’s why those are a little more general and those are really goals that help them with the time goal.

This is kind of old school but, I really ask them not to share their goals with other people unless they trust them. Other people tend to be at times negative, discouraging. They can say things that they really don’t mean to be interpreted that way, but they come off that way and they can really crush somebody’s spirit as they attempt to get a goal. And sometimes the worst are their friends and their parents. So, not that I want them keeping secrets from their parents, but sometimes their parents really don’t need to know what they’re shooting for. This is more of a problem in this day and age of Internet and social media and everybody tweeting what they’re going to do and posting it on Facebook and whatever.

I know in Illinois we have a website that’s called the – I believe it’s called Prep Swimming and they have a message board and that message board blows up especially during the boys summing season and it blows up with people making comments about certain things and who’s going to win this and who’s going to win that and a lot of people making promises of what they’re going to do. I try to keep our guys off of that – Naperville, if anybody is familiar with the Chicago area, out there in the western suburbs, they kind of go crazy on that because there’s one city and about five or six high schools and it gets interesting. We try to step out of that fray and let other people promise what they’re going to do and we try to just show up and do it.

One of the real important basics of goals is to write it down. Zig Ziglar used to say ink it; don’t just think it. You need to record the exact goal, so again I want it in the hundreds, but I want them to, to actually write it down. We have a goal sheet, which I’m going to hit a little here in a minute. The process of writing it also helps get it in their head, not unlike the reason you take notes, you take notes so you can refer to them, but you also take notes because the process of writing – the brain perceives it very similar to actually doing something. So if you’re writing, what you want to do, what time you want to go, similar to visualization the brain can’t tell the difference.

It needs to be measurable. We’re lucky, obviously in swimming measurable is pretty easy. You can see improvement very easily, you can have that goal and you know whether or not you hit it and that’s an old watch. Timeframe, you want to have when you’re going to do this and in our case our goals are set based on the season. When I was in Texas and we had a 24 or 26-week season, we used to have a mid-season goal want to know where they were in the middle of the season on their, you know, path to getting to their goal, but in the current situation or my situation at New Trier, 14-week season, there is really no good midpoint to draw some sort of a conclusion on how you’re doing on your path.

Timeframe also gives you urgency, you know, I have to get it done by this time, that’s what I mean with my to-do list, because my to-do list I end up writing the same goals the next day, so some of them I started marking them with a triangle if I needed to get them done sooner and I’d work on those better and I’m doing a little bit better on that. It also, gives you a commitment. Timeframe, there is an urgency of when you’re going to do it and a commitment to get it done. I always tell the guys that they need to believe that they can do the goal; they need to be able to see themselves doing it and if – when they’re setting the time if they can’t see themselves doing it we need to back it off a little bit and they need to be able to visualize that and if you’re visualizing and you’re trying to imagine the situation where you’ve just swam a time, that ability to actually see it and believe it is critical.

We have, you know, kind of really two types of goals here, the possible and then the stretch. And I always encourage them to set that goal that they believe is possible, but they also need to keep in mind that stretch goal. And a lot of times they’ll hit their goal, in the season or possibly hit it at a sectional meet going into the state meet or even at the prelims of the state meet and they need to have that stretch goal out there so that they can switch gears and be looking at the next step.

At New Trier we do work with a goal worksheet and I do have a goal conference with all the varsity swimmers, our JV coaches. Both – we have two JV programs, our upper level and our novice, and both of them do the same thing and our freshmen coach actually does set goals for our freshmen, which, when I first got to New Trier and he was doing that I was, it totally flew in the face of everything I thought about goal setting, but it really does work out well because they really just have no clue and so him setting a target out there is good for them in their first experience in setting goals. It really works out well, he does a great job of it and it really puts them in a position where they can learn the process and then as sophomores and above, they can go ahead and set their own goals.

So, the goal sheet. It is one sheet of paper, two sides that they fill out and it helps them solidify their thoughts and really think about what they want to accomplish, what they want their goals to be. I encourage them to think about it, to visualize it, to dream about what they want to do. It helps them work through as I said in the setting of the goal and on the goal sheet we have personal goals, so it’s not just swimming goals, but they do set their personal goals for swimming, they talk about what they would like to see the team accomplish. We also have them put on some non-swimming goals. We ask for an academic goal and then we also ask them to have another goal and a lot of times there are other goals: to make more friends on the team or to get a date for the prom or whatever, it has nothing to do with swimming. The academic goals, which I don’t really have to push them to give me because at New Trier they’re – it’s very academically oriented and they have goals and they’re able to go ahead and just write them down.

Okay, the how. How are you going to accomplish a goal and the first thing is what will you do different or what will you change from what you’ve been doing and again I ask them this question, they write it down, I get some very interesting answers. I ask them about their strengths and weaknesses. Obviously we want to – want them focused on those strengths so they can be confident in their abilities and we want them thinking about the weaknesses, so we can correct things and move on and get better.

Techniques to improve. A lot of times, you know, the varsity guys are coming in from club and they have an idea of what they need to work on from the fall practices and we can continue that on working with the club coaches. Behaviors to improve. Again, there is a gambit of things that they come up with here and it gives me an opportunity to talk about the behaviors that I think maybe they should improve. Generally what I try to do is get this on the website before the season starts and schedule conferences after our first meet, which is two weeks into the season, which gives us two weeks of working out, two weeks of being around the team and one meet to kind of base what’s going on.

I asked them to describe their best taper and I used to just say describe your best taper and I’d get some answers that really didn’t help me. So, I want a little more detail. I want to know, like how many weeks, how many days it was, what was the yardage progression, how did the yards go down, what about intensity? A lot of times what they say is best taper was: last year state meet, last year sectional meet, last year conference meet, so in those cases I know exactly what they did, but I kind of want them identifying what it was and if it was like the meet. A lot of times they taper right before our season with the club team, I’m not excited about that, I’m not sure what difference it makes, how fast they swim in October, but sometimes they do that and so, you know, if something happened there and it was really good I want to know about it so we can kind of tweak what we’re doing.

Asking questions about the coaches. Generally speaking we have three coaches that work with the varsity, myself and two assistants and so, you know, if there are things that are going on, things that we can improve on I’d like to know, you know. What can the coaches do to help me achieve my goal? I like it when the coaches – whatever. Sometimes you just kind of like it when the coaches gives us morning off, umm, which again doesn’t help a lot, but you know where they’re coming from. I swim best when? Again, that helps kind of develop a feel for what’s important for that guy, what he is thinking about and what we can do to do tweak what we’re doing to work around that.

What is their motivation? I just ask that, you know, rank what motivates you and I put these things up there with a blank and they put a number on it and I ask them about team, themselves, coach, parents, friends, other and probably 90% of the number one thing is that the team. The number two thing is themselves and coach is usually in there three, parents, except for those rare individuals parents usually don’t even get a number except for some of them and when parents are number one I know I’ve got problem. Usually I could probably identify that beforehand because, you know, if I met the parents and see the interactions I know what’s going on.

A lot of times friends come up and that would be non-swimming friends, it’s important to them to do well probably because it makes them feel important around their friends and makes them feel like they have something that their friends admire them for and then we have events. I asked them to get me to choose events; they get to choose them. I have basically a grid that I them fill out so they can fill out these splits. I ask them to do two or three individual events and also I ask them to do, two relay splits, so, they’re going to – actually three relay splits, so they can do a medley, they can do, you know, a stroke, they can do a short and a long on the freestyles. I ask them why they chose those events and they’re pretty smart kids, so a lot of times they will say well I chose those events because, you know, looking at who graduated and looking who’s coming back, it looks to me like I could be on the medley relay. And it looks like my best shot is as a breaststroker or a butterflier or whatever, or they say, you know, we’ve got, you know, six guys in the short relay and they’re going to be fighting it out, so I need to find another slot, so that’s why chose the events I chose.

Of course, a lot of times they just say that’s the event I like, I want to swim that and that gives you an idea too when you’re coming down to the end of the year. You’re making those final decisions, when you know that somebody really, really wants to swim the 100 butterfly and they could be in the 100 free or the 100 butterfly that really is kind of a wash you make a decision that makes them happy. I also want them to write down their current best and this is one of the things when I first got to New Trier nobody knew what their best times were and so to me a true test of a swimmer is they know what their times are, they know what their best are and they can tell you what their best times are and if they don’t, you know, there’s a little disconnect there.

Okay. As I talked about, we do goal times, so I want to know the exact times, I want them to do splits, a lot of times when they come into the goal conference they’re doing splits, but, you know, they may just take the, you know, 25s, four 25s of 100 and, you know, just divide it in four and put it down, or just put down 50 splits rather than 25 splits and in a 100, you know, I’d like to see 25 splits. Generally on a 100 we take splits for the 25s, in the 200s we’re going to take 50s, the 500 we’re going to take 50s. So I want to see what those are, so they can, you know, start developing a plan on how to swim races.

One of the other things that I do on the goal sheet and go over in the conference is, I start talking to them about leadership and, because this is a really, you know, I talk to them for between 20, 25, 30 minutes. It gives me a great opportunity to see what they’re thinking about the leaders around them, about the leaders of the future, and how the current leaders are doing. So I ask them how are the captains and seniors doing and, you know, I get some pretty good answers and it tells me a lot about both the seniors and the captains as well as about the individual who is giving me the answers and a lot of times they’ll say, well, I don’t like it when, you know, the captain gets on me and tells me I need to finish to the wall or I need to be on my interval or I need to get down to dry land faster, you know, and that kind of tells you something about that kid, you know.

I ask them to rate themselves as a leader and this is, always, not always, it is sometimes very surprising what the kids will do and I asked them to rate them 1 to 10 – rate themselves 1 to 10, I’ve had one of my best swimmers that I ever coached, he rated himself 1 and he basically wrote in I would be a terrible captain. I asked him about that in the conference and he just said no, you know, I wouldn’t be a good captain, you know, and he was a kid who had problems, you know, working at the proper level and staying focused and doing what he was supposed to be – he was an incredible talent. Strangely enough, I have people – the guys apply to be a captain, so at the end of their junior year they have to apply to be a captain and then I interview them to be a captain as well and strangely enough this young man, who put that down on his goal sheet, applied to be a captain. I didn’t even know where to go with it. I interviewed him, I asked him about it. He really didn’t have a good answer.

I asked them to pick the top three leaders on the team, so a lot of times, you know, they’re picking a junior and a couple of the captains or a senior who wasn’t a captain and again it’s good to know who people are looking to. It gives you an idea who you should be tapping to help in situations where you need that leadership. Some of the other questions I asked, basically for them to pick the top three juniors in several different areas. The one area, work ethic, and so they just write down three names, who they think. I tell them upfront you can pick yourself, that’s fine, so again, it gives me an idea who the swimmers perceive is working hard and that’s about 80%, 85% exactly who I think is working hard, But, sometimes there are some random ones and it, you know, makes me pay attention a little closer to what they’re doing. It also helps me understand this person better because if – if somebody puts down the guy who said he was a horrible leader is a great leader then I have to question the judgment of the person putting him down. I have to wonder what they’re thinking and what their end game is.

Confidence, you know, pick the juniors with the most confidence, pick the juniors who help build your confidence, so the ones who are supportive, pick the junior who you trust the most, Pick the junior with the best attitude and, you know, sometimes the guys who you think have really great attitudes because they can show you a good attitude when you’re around, in the locker room they don’t have such a great attitude and it really comes out, in this type of question.

Again, pick the top juniors who hold teammates accountable. It’s very difficult to get leaders to do that. So you really want, to know who you can go to and who you can look to take care of those type of things on the team level. Respect the leaders, they are the juniors they respect. Who is mentally tough and again the perception from the, from the trenches, from the pool is sometimes different than what the coaches see. Who do they think has the best relationship with teammates and coaches? Ahh, those are two separate questions that I ask and, again, a lot of times the ones who have the best relationships with the teammates are kind of the ones who are cutting up, who maybe aren’t that focused, but they’re fun and of course, you know, a lot of times fun translates into not working hard, not doing what you’re supposed to do and the perception might be because the coaches are on those guys that they don’t have as good a relationship.

And what juniors unify the team, bring the team together and, you know, actually work at that. And then talking about dealing with failure, what if they don’t hit their goals and, you know, some things you can do during the season is help them stay on course. When you know what their goals are it’s pretty easy to talk to them and get them back on track. You know, so if someone is having problems coming to practice and you know that their goal is a pretty stout one in their event and you know they’re not swimming at that level in meets, it’s pretty easy to sit down with them and talk about what they need to do to refocus, what, you know, what do they need to do to get coming to practice, any health issues they might have, that can help them, you know, get back to practice and get back to work. If they’re not working hard enough, not working on the correct intervals, we have pretty strict intervals that everybody has based on the 600 and so, you know, sometimes I find somebody and they’ll be, you know, in the interval that’s five seconds slower and again, if you know what the goals are you can help keep them on course or get them back on course so that they can stay focused and keep moving.

We try to re-evaluate during the season if they’re kind of approaching their goal or if possibly they’re struggling. In either case, a lot of that talk goes on when we’re evaluating races at meets and we’re talking about what they want to do and where they’re at and what they need to change in order to get faster and, you know, when I’m talking to them after event I like to just ask them to tell me, you know, what they perceived took place before I, you know, give them my opinion of what I think took place.

The bottom line with goals is you can’t just set it and forget it, it’s really a daily, situation where, you know, you need to stay on top of it everyday, keep it in your mind, you know, I encourage them to visualize their races and we’ve kind of run the gamut at New Trier as to how much we’re involved as a coaching staff. We’ve done everything from weekly visualization, with the group, to doing three weeks at the end of the season as we get into our taper phase, we’ve done it mandatorily, we’ve done it voluntarily and really in the last few years we’ve done it voluntarily and we’ve had really not many kids do it, so we kind of cut it out all together.

We still encourage them to do it, so they’re visualizing their races, they’re thinking about their races, they’re thinking about their times, and they’re thinking about it in a positive way, you know, if you can visualize it like it has already happened, as I said earlier, that visualization, your brain has a hard time telling the difference and the more detailed you can make that visualization better chance it has of clicking in and becoming a reality.

A lot of the re-evaluation and dealing with disappointment happens right at the meet where they swim, where they just swam whatever race and, you know, so that’s the point you want to do it right away, a lot of times they might have another race to swim, so you’ll want to get them redirected, but, you’ll want to get them on a positive track as soon as possible and you really can’t wait till after the season. So some of the things that I tried to do is talk and focus on the successes and it’s a very rare, rare occasion where a kid doesn’t swim faster, but he might not hit that goal that he is shooting for.

One of the things that we do – I do when I do the, goal conferences is I really try to hone in on the proper goal so that it’s a goal that’s obtainable and the swimmer has the maximum chance for success and a lot of times they’ll come in and a kid who is 57, 100 butterflier and his goal for, at that point probably 11 or 12 weeks in the future is to be a 50-point butterflier and I really try not to tell them they can’t go 50 point, but I just tell them on the – the timeframe on their 50 point has got to be a little different, but what can we do at the end of this season, where can you be a the end of this season and that helps, really lessen the chance that they’re not going to hit their goal. Then they can go on and move on to the next step and get that 50 point.

When they haven’t got the goal then we talk about changing the timeframe, talk about when would be a more appropriate time for it to be. Shooting to hit that goal. What would they do different, what do they think they needed to do more of. Umm, sometimes it’s as simple as they missed they turn or, umm, you know, something happened that was, you know, in effect catastrophic or it was a situation where it they just didn’t do very good pace, they swam a poor race, umm, you know, we try to caution them of course as they’re in the taper situation about how to swim races and how to be smart and how not to swim the whole race, in the first 25 or the first 50 just because you feel great and, you know, you’re rested, you’re shaved, you’re tapered, you’re ready to go, but you’ve got to – still got to swim the whole race, and what can we do to keep moving forward, what’s the next step, what’s the future, and how can we keep getting better.

A lot of times in the goal conference what I need to do is balance out their achievement goal with their time goal and a lot of times what happens is a kid will say his achievement goals, he wants to qualify for the state meet, but the goal time that the puts down is not a state qualifying time. It may be a very appropriate goal time, but is not a State qualifying time. So he wants to go, you know, 48-mid in the 100 Freestyle, and the State qualifying time is 47-something. He needs to understand that those two don’t match up.

He may want to be top-3; if you’re top-3 you go to varsity conference—generally speaking. So he may want to go to varsity conference, and he puts down a time that in the past has not been a top-3 time. And, you know, sometimes I have to go through and say, well, okay, you’ve got this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy. Right now you’re sitting fourth and this guy is a second-and-a-half faster than your goal time. So you’ve got to think about what you want to do and how that fits in.

The goal conference is also a great time to help them work on proper splits; you know, what would be the proper splitting of a race. So we can kind of clean that up. Clean-up their goal so they’re more in alignment, they’re realistic, and then we don’t have to deal so much with them not obtaining their goal. But probably the most important thing is refocus them, get them going in the right direction, so that they can move on without dwelling on what could be perceived as a negative situation.

(I think I balanced out Sergio pretty good here.) Anybody have any questions?

[audience member]: With 30 guys on your varsity team, and 25-30 minutes at least of goal conferences, where do you find the time to fit that all in?

[Onstott]: We’re very fortunate at New Trier that we have a 9-period day, plus an advisory—which is a homeroom—and I teach 4 periods. (I taught 4 periods; I don’t teach any periods right now.) So I had time, and most of them are taking 5-7 classes, so usually they have a period and usually they can match-up. If they don’t then we do it right after practice one day, or we… you know, I’ve done them on the bus going to a meet—we try to fit them in. Our freshmen are at a different campus, so when we have freshmen on varsity—and we usually have at least 1, sometimes up to 4 or 5—then I try to fit them in also on the way to a meet, or after Saturday practice is usually a good time. So you just kind of work around it.

[audience]: I’ve had problems, with my group, where we sit down to do goals and I have specific questions that they can’t come up with any answer….

[Onstott]: Now they can’t come-up with any answer to the questions you have, but did you give it to them in advance and let them fill it out and bring it in?

[audience]: Yes, and they’ve had like two weeks.

[Onstott]: I don’t know. What questions are you asking that are so hard?

[audience]: A lot of the same things that you ask them.

[Onstott]: Well, I think you’ve got to kind of look at the situation. I mean if you’re asking them what they want to swim and they don’t know.

[inaudible audience response]

[Onstott]: Well, there is an issue there; there is a disconnect somewhere. If you’re asking a time question and they don’t know what they want to go. Part of that you maybe help them sort through, and probably you can help them sort through all that; and you probably need more than 20-25 minute conference with them. But that is an indicator, it would be an indicator to me, that they haven’t given it much thought and there possibly is a motivation problem. Maybe they’re there because their parents want them there, and so they really don’t care what stroke or what time—that’s not of their concern.

Any other questions?

All right. Thanks for being here. I appreciate it.

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