The Importance of Goal Setting In Sports

Setting and accomplishing goals for ourselves does more for our lives than most people really take into consideration. Having goals gives us something to work for; it instills an inner drive to achieve, or acquire something that we want for ourselves. And by succeeding, we are encouraged to push ourselves further, to live with purpose, and to take pride, and have passion for what you do. But how much does the power of goal setting really affect us, and does it apply to all aspects of life? Sports psychology lecturer and researcher Gobinder Singh Gill, MPhil, recently published a study that asked that very same question.

Gill’s Study

Gill conducted and published a study in February 2016 in The Sports Journal from the U.S. Sports Academy that sought to determine the relationship and impact of goal setting and emotional intelligence on performance in basketball. Emotional intelligence, as defined by Salovey and Mayer (1990), is, “a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s own thinking and actions.” Further research by Goleman (2004) on the subject of emotional intelligence suggested that ,

The use of goal setting and development of emotional intelligence can support performers in managing emotions.

Coupled with research conducted by Locke and Latham (1990, 2006) that determined goal setting “facilitates direction and focus to raise performance levels,” Gill had college basketball players in the UK fill out two surveys, one for emotional intelligence and one for goal setting, at three different points throughout the season. The surveys would assess both of these factors on basketball performance over the course of a season, as well as the influence of emotion in basketball through the use of goal setting and emotional intelligence.


The results of Gill’s study showed that emotional intelligence was enhanced for every participant over the course of the season. The participants were encouraged to set goals for themselves, and their efforts over the course of the season were tracked using Weinberg’s Goal-Setting questionnaire (1993, 2000) and Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Self-Assessment Questionnaire, which focuses on five core domains: self-awareness, emotional management, motivation, empathy, and relationship management.

As the participants progressed throughout the season, the results of the surveys showed that emotional intelligence was enhanced for all participants. Players became intrinsically motivated from engaging in the process of setting specific goals, creating detailed action plans for training and skill development, and understanding the impact that emotion has on performance levels. Although the researchers noted that the results of this study were specific to one team of basketball players, they do effectively show that,

Performers who controlled their emotions and scored high in emotional intelligence levels managed their goals effectively to improve performance. (Gill, 2016)

Further studies, however, should encompass a potentially larger population sample for further analysis into other sports and sports teams.

Get To Work

Gill’s work, along with that of Locke, Latham, and Goleman, show the value of setting goals in sports, and many other aspects of life. Setting goals allows you to envision a path to success, and then work methodically towards reaching it. The ability to keep our emotions in check, and to use them to achieve our goals, is also a crucial factor that will largely affect your ability to reach success. However, if you stick to a plan of action, and set smaller, more frequent goals to help you reach the final end-goal, there’s no limit on how much you can accomplish. 

Whatever your personal, professional, or lifetime goals may be, take some time to sit down and make a plan of action that involves smaller, more short-term goals that will help you reach the final end-goal. You can also look into ways to deal with, or handle your emotions (both daily and in general) that will help you use them to further your progress. Why wait? Make a game plan, and start down your path to success today. 

To read the full study published by Gill in The Sports Journal, click on the link below.