She walks into the gym pumped! Today is the day she is FINALLY going to break through the mental block wall and achieve her goal of throwing that skill YOU BOTH KNOW SHE HAS. You watch her walk up to the mat, get set, take a deep breath, and like a punch to the gut, panic sets in and you watch as all motivation is lost, bracing for another long, tearful car ride home.
I know this feeling all too well because that was my story. I struggled with mental blocks and fear in my skills for YEARS as a competitive cheerleader. The most frustrating thing about it was the more I cared about hitting my goal, the harder and longer the process became… it made absolutely no sense and caused me so much heartache and missed opportunities.
Looking back, the truth is that I was not walking into the gym motivated, excited to hit my goals. I was EXPECTING my skills to happen perfectly. The process was filled with pressure and judgement, and the end result I wanted was relief, not pride. I didn’t want my skills because I worked hard and deserved them. I wanted them so that I didn’t have to worry about holding my team back or letting down my coaches or parents. Everyone made it clear what I needed to do but no one showed me how to set goals or a plan of action. If your athlete is frustrated by their goals instead of confidently crushing them, then this is for you!
In this post, I will walk you through an easy goal-setting process step-by-step that will allow your athlete to trade the overwhelm and pressure for action so she can achieve her goals with more ease and speed. My 4-step DS3 Plan will allow her to walk into practice confident and excited to work because she has a plan that puts her back in control of her skills.
Grab your favorite athlete & the free DS3 Plan worksheet at the bottom of this post. If you have ever wished you knew how to support your child without all of the drama, this is it! Happy planning.
The DS3 Plan for Achieving Your Goals
Step 1. DREAM
What are you excited about achieving? What are you working towards? When you walk into practice, what is the thing you need to accomplish before you leave for the day? Why is it important for you to show up and give 100%, especially on the days you aren’t ‘feeling it’? Write it down! The first step in goal-setting is knowing what you want to achieve.
Now, do a gut check. When you see your dream goal, does it light you up inside and make you want to dust off that AirTrak or scroll TikTok so you can stop thinking about it? If your goal fills you with fear, it is not a goal, it is an expectation. Here is the difference… A goal is something you are EXCITED about achieving, while an expectation is something YOU MUST ACHIEVE or something bad will happen. This is usually the case for athletes working through mental blocks. The ‘shoulds’, ‘shouldn’t’s’, ‘can’t’s, and ‘have-tos’ cause them to judge themselves each day they don’t do their skill. If this is you, then right now, I want you to audibly take a breath and say out loud “Everything is ok”. Now, choose to push that negative voice to the side and keep going through this process. Next, we will turn this dream into a SMART goal that has you begging to setup a private lesson.
Step 2. SMART Goal
To turn a dream into a reality, you must be crystal clear about what you are working to achieve. These five questions will help you create a SMART goal that is so clear you can already see it happening in your mind. Here are a few questions that will help you change your dream goal into a SMART one.
- [specific] Will you know when you reach your goal? In other words, is your goal specific enough? Consider a goal to be a better tumbler. At what point do you get to celebrate achieving your goal? It’s hard to know. Now, consider a goal of throwing a back handspring on the spring floor, by yourself, 3 times. This is so clear that you can almost see it in your mind as you read it. It is specific and you will know exactly when you achieve it. When you are clear about your goal, you can easily get into action.
- [Measurable] Can you track progress on your goal? In other words, can your goal be broken down into steps? When you have a goal that is measurable you can appreciate growth and progress, which will keep you motivated. Appreciating progress is key to keeping confidence high, so having a measurable goal is essential for lasting success and avoiding burnout.
- [Attainable] Is your goal realistic for you, considering where you are, your time, and resources? As a high achiever, I am all for setting big goals and going all-in on your dreams but there is a point where our ambition can set us up for failure. Setting goals that are unrealistic can cause you to become discouraged and hold you back from taking action. A few things to consider here: 1) is your goal realistic for your current skill level? 2) do you have time to work on your skills each week? 3) do you have access to the equipment or spotters needed to accomplish your goal? No, then it’s time to make some changes. If the idea of pulling back on your goals feels like not trying your best, then set a more realistic goal as your primary focus and a bigger stretch goal for after you have momentum built up.
- [Relevant] Is this goal important to YOU, not your coach, parent, teammates, or random strangers watching in the stands? Too often, we are working to achieve skills to make others happy. My hand is raised on this one! A good gut check for you here is to consider moments you feel more pressure when another person is watching you practice, you may care more about their expectations than your goal. If you are having trouble creating your why, imagine what GOOD THINGS will happen when you achieve your goal. What will be different for you then, and why does that excite you? Remember to focus on the good, not avoiding bad things. You want goals that are important to you so you can stay 100% committed to them no matter what happens with your coach or spot in the routine
- [Time-Bound] When do you want to achieve your goal? Notice, I did not say when do you HAVE TO have your skills. Here is the difference. Deadlines are SCARY and the opposite of helpful for achieving skills. The only reason why setting a time is important is because it helps you create a plan and stick to it. Otherwise, like homework, we will tend to wait until the last minute, stress out, and not make the most of our time. Remember, this is a GOAL, not an expectation, so this date is flexible. Push judgment aside, breathe, and write a due date next to your goal.
Way to go! Are you feeling excited yet? I love this process because as I work through each step, I can see my goal coming to life. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the process, I become more clear and feel like the things I am excited about are actually possible for me. Now all that is left is to create a plan that you can put into action. Give yourself a high-five and keep going.
Step 3. START
Imagine if I showed up in front of you with a golden envelope containing the address to a secret location where you would find 4 Taylor Swift tickets that were all yours. What would you do? Before taking the envelope, you would have the address typed into GPS, ready to set off on your journey. Easy right? Except, you don’t have a signal, and your phone cannot locate you. UGH! You know what you want and where it is but cannot make any progress on your journey because you do not know where you are starting. Just like getting your hands on those priceless T.Swift tickets, knowing where you are starting is a crucial step in achieving your goals.
For athletes dealing with mental blocks, this is tricky. Sometimes it is hard to take a realistic look at where you are when you aren’t where you SHOULD be. It feels easier to keep showing up and focusing on doing the whole skill today because you have done it before and should already be doing it, right?? No! This actually will keep you stuck longer. Focus on where you are today, honestly, with no judgment or negative feelings. Be matter-of-fact and remind yourself that this is simply information to get you closer to your goal.
Now that you know where you want to end up and where you are starting, all you need is a map to show you the way.
Step 4. STEPS
Like baking your favorite cupcake, carving a pumpkin, or putting up a Christmas tree, there are necessary steps to take in order to achieve your goals. The best part about breaking your goal down into steps is that it makes the process seem so much easier. Walking into practice to do your tuck when you have been blocking on it for months is SO MUCH HARDER than focusing on throwing tucks into the pit with a spot 3 times without hesitating. When we focus on the big goal, we become paralyzed by fear and lose confidence after the first few reps because our chance of achieving the big goal is gone. Instead, break your goal into three steps or mini-goals.
For example, imagine your goal is to throw your back handspring by yourself on the hard mat in 3 months and today, you have physically mastered the skill but are hesitant to throw it without a spot. Ask yourself, what 3 steps would get me to my big goal?
Your first mini-goal could be to get your back handspring by yourself on the TumbleTrak. Then, your second step could be to do it off of the rod floor onto an 8-inch mat in the pit. Finally, your third step could be to get your back handspring from the end of a cheese mat onto the hard floor. When you master those three steps, you will be ready to master your big goal of throwing your back handspring on the hard floor by yourself.
Of course, this is just an example to illustrate how to break a big tumbling goal into 3 steps, so be sure to tailor this to your unique situation with the help of a qualified tumbling coach or parent, with your safety as the #1 priority. But you can see the process. The best part about taking the time to do this is you can forget about the big goal and instead focus on a manageable mini-goal that feels exciting and will move you closer to your big goal without all the pressure. Sounds easy, right? YES! And that’s good.
That’s it! Achieving your goals doesn’t have to be a hard, dreadful process. It can be easy and fun by following this process! If you haven’t already, grab your free DS3 Plan Worksheet and put these steps into action. Now that you have a plan to get you from where you are to your big goal, the only thing that is left is to get to work. You can do this!
If you are dealing with a mental block or just fears and anxiety related to the upcoming competition season, I would love the opportunity to support you. Now is the time to start working on your mental game so you can be ready to compete with confidence!
As a Mental Performance Coach, I help athletes turn anxiety and fears into confidence and joy. Through 1-on-1 private coaching, learning content, and application guides I teach athletes how to master their mindset so they can achieve their biggest goals.
If you want to learn more and see if Mental Coaching is right for you, I invite you to schedule a 30-minute no-cost Performance Check Session.
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