Coaching Association of Canada

Dennis Fairall - Athletics

Collaborative Goal setting

In 30 years as Head Coach, Dennis Fairall has led the Windsor Lancer to 25 CIS titles. He’s also helped propel Melissa Bishop to Pan Am gold and World Championship silver on the track. Dennis doesn’t like leaving these things to chance and like any process, he starts with a goal that takes shape through a collective and collaborative process with the athlete.

Goals are a desired result that an athlete envisions, plans and commits to achieve. The attaining of that one performance – which may be a personal best time, distance or height. Or it may include some parameters, such as achieving a particular placing in a race. If you achieve both then you will, undoubtedly, be satisfied with the results. If you achieve one – either performance or outcome – then you have also achieved success.

It is best to establish attainable goals co-operatively with the coach and the athlete. It is considered a better method than the athlete establishing self-set goals or having the coach assign the goals. It is also easier to establish attainable goals and revise those goals, once they have been achieved, than to set unrealistic goals that may not be reached and lead to a great deal of disappointment by the coach and the athlete.

There are a number of goals that may be established – short-term goals, long term goals, or performance goals (either time, distance, height or by placing i.e. being a semi-finalist). Each of these types of goals – be it an outcome or a process goal – has a purpose. It may be established to get an athlete through a particularly tough week of training, to help them recover from injury, to prepare them for the marquis competition of the year, or to prepare for life after sport. Whatever the purpose, the athlete benefits from having the coach frame the goal and relate it back to their performance and development. Having coaches involved in the goal-setting process gives the coach the opportunity to ask athletes to consider other options – “Would this alternative training camp better suit your schedule?” – or spark confidence – “You’re progressed quite quickly, World Junior Championships are now within reach.” It is a value-added process that can create a more focused or aware athlete.

If you fail to meet one of your goals, then it is important for the athlete and coach to debrief and consider the reason(s). It may be an injury, weather conditions, or external or internal factor (such as how you approached the event mentally or tactically, or lack of preparation).

Next time you conduct a goal-setting session, whether with a group or with an individual, consider how collaborative the process is and seek to enlighten and motivate them along the way.

Dennis Fairall
NCCP Level 3 Certified
Track and Field Coach
University of Windsor