Vicky Thornley |

Setting goals and maintaining motivation

Vicky Thornley returns with another great article, this time offering some advice on how to set goals to keep you motivated through the season. A particularly useful topic given the new season has just started

As we have entered the new rowing season, this is a good time to set some goals. No matter the level of rower you are, novice or international, setting goals is important to create structure for your training as well as giving you motivation. For some goal setting inspiration, I thought it might be helpful to share with you how I go about setting my own goals, to maintain motivation through the inevitable ups and downs.

When I was training towards an Olympics or a World Championships, I set out clear and concise targets in training that were all building towards the end game. Below is how I went about breaking down the four-year long goal of the Olympics, into daily, sizable chunks. The process helps ensure I was always moving in the right direction, no matter how far off the Olympics may be.

Set a goal

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you need to start to be great” (- Zig Ziglar). Setting the goal might sound like an obvious point, but for some setting the goal can be a challenge. You may see an ambitious goal as potentially unattainable and are worried about failure. Let’s not forget failure and setbacks in life are inevitable, and often essential to make progress.

In rowing, I failed countless times but my response to failure is to pick myself up, learn from it and keep moving forwards. Keep focussing on the reward at the end, that feeling of pride and satisfaction you will get when you achieve the goal you have set.

Break it down

Break the goal down into sizeable chunks. If your goal is a long term one, having short- and medium-term goals is fundamental to keep you focussed every day. Think, “what can I achieve today, this week, this month to bring me closer to my end goal”.

I started rowing just under five years before what turned out to be my first Olympic Games, at London 2012. On my first day of training on the World Class Start Programme, I literally couldn’t stay in a boat. I fell in three times. At this point, had I allowed the enormity of my end goal to overwhelm me, I would have struggled to move forward.

Instead, along with my coach Paul Stannard, I broke things down and set small daily goals. The first being, completing a session without falling in; and I achieved this on day four of training. We continued in this manner and within five years, I found myself on the start of the Olympic Games. Day by day, keep working towards your goal.

Goal setting template

Stay present

Keep coming back to your daily goals. It’s easy to get distracted by how far away from your end goal you feel but coming back to the present and acknowledging what is required today helps to ensure we make each day count. This is where short term focuses are important. They will help you stay in the moment and do what needs to be done at that time.

The small sense of achievement you get from executing your daily goals really helps maintain motivation and momentum. I would always have a specific goal for each training session, it keeps me present and accountable as to whether I executed what was required.

Manage deviation

Life never runs smoothly, things will get in the way of our goals, and there will be both ups and downs along the way. The important thing is to not let these distractions derail us. The Olympics was always a long-term goal but there were many situations that took me way off course in those four years, and down a path I didn’t want to be on; most notably suffering from overtraining in 2018.

When situations like this occur, it is important to reassess and change your short-term goals to account for the change in circumstance. It doesn’t mean that you can’t still achieve what you set out to do; it just means that you have to recalibrate to get back on track. Overcoming these challenges only makes achieving our goals even more rewarding.

Keep a diary of progress

This is a great way to see how far you have come and can help maintain motivation. My daily diary would contain a brief summary of my training and then a more detailed account every couple of weeks. It showed me the improvements I had made, but also any mistakes. When I read it back, it reinforced that I am making progress, shows me how far I have come and what I have learnt.

Be accountable

If your goal doesn’t involve others on a day-to-day basis, find someone you can hold yourself accountable to. When in crew boats, I often used my teammates. In the single, it was my coach Paul Reedy. Using a variety of people can help, depending on their expertise.

Find the people that work for you. They could be your colleagues, your partner or friends – it really doesn’t matter. They just needs to be people who know what your goal is, can ask about your progress and challenge you if they see you are distracted.

Reward yourself

Recognising your effort and rewarding yourself appropriately is really important! It drives motivation and tops up your energy stores. Often when I would return from training camp, I’d book a treatment at the beauty salon to help me rejuvenate, or I would go to my favourite restaurant. Having things to look forward to once you have completed something challenging, is a great way to maintain momentum.

Remember “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great”

I hope these tips help you set goals and achieve them for the upcoming season. What are you waiting for? Good luck!