Goal-setting is a topic that comes up in coaching quite often. I’ve written on the subject before with regard to setting season expectations and to changing goals when things develop differently. Goals clearly have value, especially when used to map the path forward.

There are ways, though, that goals can backfire. An interesting quote from the book Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker speaks to that issue.

“If dreaming is so bad, why do we do it? Because it’s the mental equivalent of getting drunk: it feels really good right now but doesn’t lead to good things later. That’s exactly what Oettingen’s research showed: while dreaming, we feel good. But dreaming ends up increasing depression later on. Fantasizing gives us the reward before we’ve accomplished the task and saps the energy we need to realize it. More dreams now mean less achievement later. While positive self-talk and optimism can definitely help us not quit, by themselves they don’t guarantee we’ll achieve our goals. Now, dreaming isn’t inherently bad—but it’s just the first step. Next comes facing that awful buzzkill called “reality” and its ever-present obstacles.”

Basically, what the author is telling us is a little bit of dreaming about winning the championship is fine. It’s good for motivation. Anything beyond that, though, can be problematic.

This is an argument in favor of having smaller incremental goals. They tend to be less about fantasizing and more about the work needed to accomplish big things.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

    2 replies to "Caution is needed when goal-setting"


      As usual I like the topic you address here on Goals. The thing is that I don’t see the connection of ‘dreaming’ and goals. My understanding a goal is an idea that’s:
      • Specific
      • Measurable
      • Attainable beyond easy or superficial
      • Relevant
      • Timeline
      For instance one of my club team goals this season is based on scoring:
      Limit to seven or less errors in a set.
      Score from sideout 10x
      Score from defense 4x
      Score from freeballs 4x, being that we get these opportunities.
      For every error over 7 we must match with sideout, defense, or freeballs.
      I don’t see dreaming in this type of category as described above. Dreaming is a thought process of which none of goal attributes can be achieved.


      • John Forman

        I would make the case, Kelly, that a goal can both be SMART and a dream. Winning a championship in 5 years is SMART. It’s also a dream, though, if you don’t actually have a path of sub-goals aimed at getting you there.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.