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by Stewart Flaherty

Goal setting is a crucial aspect of soccer psychology, and can lay the foundation for your work with a player as soccer coach. When people think of sport psychology, they often associate it with long ra ra speeches, and insightful words creating a higher level of performance, however, this view is simplistic and a little naïve.

Sport psychology is seeking excellence, and excellence is about actions and achievements. Goal setting is both a map and a yard stick for how effective the actions of your soccer players are. To reach their goals, players must adopt positive behaviors and good habits.

The SMART goal setting model is often adopted when you are helping your soccer players set goals regarding their performance. The SMART model signifies;







Below we will give you soccer specific examples of how to use this model.


Specific is known as the what, why and how of the SMART goal setting model. For a goal to be specific you must clearly state what it is you want to do, why you want to do it, and how you plan to achieve it. For example, a defensive player may set the goal of winning over 90 per cent of aerial challenges he competes for.

Winning aerial challenges is the ‘what’, to improve as a defender and help his team concede less goal is the ‘why’, and heading practice and defensive drills will be the ‘how’ in this scenario.


Being measurable is crucial to goal setting, the measurable aspect is what allows you to monitor progress and see if a player is developing enough to meet her performance goals.

An easy example of a measurable goal is for a player to provide 15 combined goals and assists. After each game, you can easily keep a running total and see if a player is on target to reach their goal.

In this example, it is much more preferable to combine goals and assists rather than fall into the common trap of simply goals alone. If you as a coach send a message to a player that individual goals scored by them are somehow valued more than a teammate’s goal, do not act disappointed of a ‘me first’ attitude to scoring is fostered.


Both you as a coach and your soccer player must agree on what the goals are. If a player sets a target of 45 individual goals in a season, you may see it is a long shot, and also worry that the player will become selfish in his pursuit of this goal. As a result, you as a coach will be less likely to go all out helping your athlete achieve this goal.

From the athlete’s perspective, if you set a goal for them that they do not believe is possible, then they can become stressed out and feel pressure that will hinder their performance.

You should spend at least 20 minutes with your player before the season, discuss your expectations of them and ask what their aspirations are for the coming season. When you have shared each other’s thoughts you should put in place 3 to 5 goals for the player for the coming season. The number of goals you set is significant, setting only one goal can lead to a player having narrow focus and ignore success in other areas if one specific goal is not achieved. Setting too many goals can become impossible to achieve, whereas 3 to 5 goals can keep clarity, but allow some success even if a certain goal is not met.


Whether or not a goal is realistic is a huge grey area. As a soccer coach, some players will not live up to the standards you expect, whereas some will far exceed the expectations you had of them. The best you can do is to use your experience and opinion to guide a player. You will not always be right, but coaching is not a 100 per cent science, and as long as you guide a player with the intention of helping them be their best, you are doing your job.

Try to set a goal that you believe the player is capable of, but they will have to strive to achieve it.


A time frame is important to create the urgency a player will require to reach their potential. If a player sets a target of 5 goals throughout a season, complacency is a risk as many games are in front of them to achieve this goal. However, if that goal is adjusted to scoring 5 goals in the next 10 games, that same target becomes very different, and a sense of urgency intensifies.

You should set goals that are season long, but also goals at time intervals throughout the season to monitor progress. For example in a 25 game season, you could set a player the target of having 5 combined goals and assists after the first 8 games, 10 after 16 and 15 at season’s end.

If a player starts out strong and is on course to shatter a goal set in preseason, do not be afraid to consult with them and adjust the goal to stretch the limits of what they can achieve.