To our teams who are moving on to the State Competition this year, congrats! But for the rest of our teams, we’re not just going to say “better luck next year.” We want to help your team get ready for next season right now.
Okay, you’re right. Next season won’t be coming up for a while. There’s a whole beautiful summer between now and the fall semester. The advantage of thinking about next season already is that this season is still fresh in the Triathlete’s minds. And when it comes to goal-setting, the fresher the experience, the better the goals.
It’s no secret that in the moment, winning feels better than losing. But improving can be its own reward, and one that isn’t dependent on the whim of the judges.
Setting Goals is as Easy as 1-2-3
This goal-setting exercise can be done for the team as a whole and for individuals on a team. If you are doing this is a group activity, allow your students to each have one “secret” goal that they don’t have to share with the group, but they must share at least one goal and the steps to reach it.
One low-pressure way to start the discussion of what worked and what could be improved, is to talk about the student’s favorite and least favorite challenges this year. See how many Mind Sprints they can name and how they felt about them. Ask about their favorite and least favorite P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box prompt this year. Did anyone feel frustrated about Face-Off? This is an easy way to get your students talking about what worked and what didn’t work over the season.
Then, it’s time to identify, quantify, and assess. So, have your students grab some paper, and divide it into three columns. (Hint – turning the page horizontal to a “landscape” rather than “portrait” configuration will give more space to each column.)
1. Identify Areas for Improvement
“Perfection” is a myth. Nobody does everything right all of the time. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, and both can be areas of focus for goal-setting. This is why “Areas for Improvement” is a better label than “weakness;” even if you are good at something, there’s always room to strive to do it even better. And the more specific you can be, the easier it will be to measure success.
The first concrete step for goal-setting is to identify these areas for improvement and write them down. Each student should use the column on the left to record at least two ways they’d like to do even better as individuals during USAT next season, and one way the team could perform better overall. These areas for improvement could be in response to specific challenges they faced this season, such as “get faster at answering verbal brainstorming prompts,” or could be more general, like “listen to each other.” But the goals can’t get too broad, either, or they stop being helpful. Saying “get better scores” isn’t going to be as valuable as identifying specific areas where the scores were lower than they would have liked. It’s best if your Triathletes make their own lists, but here are a few suggestions to get them started if they get stuck.
- Drawing backdrops for P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box
- Answering current events questions
- Listening to each other
- Staying in character
- Using time effectively
- Speaking up
- Writing clearly
- Making props
There’s no need to share these lists yet, so have them work on this individually to start. Sharing will come after step 3.
2. Quantify – Create Steps that Lead to Success
People often forget this very important stage in the goal-setting process. It isn’t enough for us to just to declare we plan to “do better” in the year to come. To reach a goal, we need to identify the concrete steps to take to get us there. You may find that some of the goals from above are hard to break into steps, which means the focus of the goal needs to shift to make is something measurable. The Triathletes should use the middle column to record at least one step they can take to reach each goal for themselves and their team.
Let’s use “listening to each other” as an example. It’s easy to say “we’re all going to listen better next season,” but making sure this happens requires more than a promise. For instance, the team could agree that after reading the prompt in every P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box planning session, every teammate gets a chance to share their ideas before anyone touches the materials in the box. This doesn’t mean everyone has to have an idea, but they are guaranteed an opportunity to speak up if they have one.
If Triathletes did end up with list items like “score higher in Face-Off,” there are steps to take there, too. The subject areas in Face-Off are always the same: science/health, social studies/geography, math/music theory, English/literature, and current events/consumer issues. We’ve provided some tips for improving Face-Off performance before, but there could certainly be other ways. And if the students come up with the ideas themselves, they are going to be more likely to stick.
Mind Sprints may change from Meet to Meet, but there’s never a bad time to practice using the SCAMPER technique to improve verbal brainstorming skills. There are ways to practice, like making P.A.R.T.Y.-style props and skits in between Meets. But saying the next step is “practice” is only halfway there. It’s easy to put off practicing if there is no deadline or minimum number to meet. So, make sure the steps take either time (hold one practice before each Meet) or quantity (I’ll turn 10 plastic cups into props) to make them measurable. This makes the steps easier to accomplish, which will help the students reach their goals.
In addition to needing concrete steps in order to accomplish your goal, choosing milestones means that you can easily assess how much progress you’ve made. If you look at the steps the students brainstormed for the section above and find that there is no way to measure when they are done, they might need to rethink their areas of improvement and their next steps. Goal-setting needs to be a fluid process, but as long as it leads to actionable steps that can be measured, then it’s been successful, even if things have to get tweaked along the way.
Goals can be assessed at any time, but if you never set a time, then it’s easy to let the assessment slide by. The goals and steps can be evaluated at the end of each season, but also after every Meet or on a monthly basis, depending on the goal. The advantage of assessing progress more often is that the students may find they have already achieved a goal on their list, so they have a chance to set another one and continue to make progress. On the other hand, they could find out something they thought was a reasonable action step turns out to be too hard or too easy, or they prefer to do it with a friend. Any part of the goal-setting process can be changed at any time, but it won’t happen unless a time is chosen at the beginning.
Sharing Goals and Steps
If you are doing this as a group activity, now it’s time to share and discuss the goals the students made for themselves and the team as a whole. They should each share at least one personal goal, then each share their team goal, and how they plan to achieve them. Students may have suggestions for each other and the types of steps someone can take, and how to achieve their team goals. This activity has the chance to turn into an interesting discussion, and we encourage you to do it as a group.
If a student is working alone, that’s fine, too. But goals are much more powerful if they are shared with someone, like a friend, parent, or coach. Just saying a goal out loud makes it seem more “real,” and if other people know what someone else hopes to accomplish, they will be more likely and able to help them along the way. Sharing creates a sense of accountability that keeping it to yourself simply can’t match. So, even if a goal is only shared with one person, the act of sharing is already a step toward success!
Do you have any goal-setting activities to share? Did this activity lead to any surprises? Share with us in the comments.