Saturday, October 01, 2005


One of the things that I have enjoyed about Ultimate is that it is a springboard into other interests. Specifically, training and sports psychology. My limited knowledge of sports psych has been largely informed by Alan Goldberg (, and John Thompson's book 'Shooting In The Dark".

I have found Goldberg's discussions of expectations and goals to be helpful and applicable to Ultimate. I apologize in advance for the lack of original thought in the regurgitation that follows.

When I was making a "living"(probably better described as a "dying") as a musician in the 80's and early 90's, expectations were particularly insidious. I remember driving to gigs thinking "This is going to be a GREAT gig. The place will be packed. We will rock, and people will love us. Fame and fortune will quickly follow!!!!". Needless to say, the actual experience inevitably paled considerably as compared to my fantasy. No one would be at the show. The sound sucked. We sucked. And this is the problem with expectations: they are largely fantasies focused on things out of one's control. Many Ultimate teams and players struggle with expectations. The problems with expectations are: they can create passivity ("Making Nats this year is a matter whether I work hard or not"), pressure ("God damn it! How can play so BAD??? We are a GOOD Ultimate team. We HAVE to play better!!!"), and provide no structure for improvement("We are a good team......because.....well...we said so").

My experience is that my enjoyment and view of an event is in an inverse relationship to my expectations. I find that I usually enjoy an event/work/Ultimate a lot when I go in feeling like I/we/it will be bad/suck/dissapointing. For example, say I am on my way to my wife's work party at Christmas time. In general, I approach this party like "This will suck. Standing around with a bunch of Social Workers over egg nog will be a bad time". This attitude does not endear me to my wife, but it is hard to have a bad time when I am expecting the worst. Most of the time I walk out of there saying, "That wasn't so bad after all", and my wife feels smug because I was everyone is happy in the end. Now, if I was solely driven by expectations, specifically low expectations, I think least what I was expecting...would be pretty grim. There is an area of focus that can help, however, and it is summed up by this mantra: maintain LOW expectations and HIGH goals.

High goals are wonderful. They provide structure, challenge, hope, and excitement. What I really like about Goldberg's presentation of goals is that he divides them into Outcome Goals and Process Goals. I coach the Wellesley College Ultimate team, and the girls and I have found embracing this method is a helpful way in defining what we want to get out of a season. Outcome goals are things like "We will qualify for Regionals". They essentially focus on the "uncontrollable" elements of the sport. Process goals provide the means by which Outcome Goals can be achieved, and this is where the power lies as they focus on the "controllable" elements. Things like "we will throw x number of forehands and backhands per practice", a solid plan for conditioning, and "we will attend x number of tournaments per year".

So at the beginning of each year, I sit down with my captains and we make two lists: one for Outcome goals, and one for Process goals. We do not discuss expectations.


Mary Morgan said...
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adrian said...
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Jon UB said...

Our team just finished 13th at Regionals, and although we are reasonably pleased with that result, we are trying to think about how to get better. On our way home today, we started to map out goals and realistic expectations. Your (or Goldberg's) comments are helpful. The outcome and process goals will be a valuable exercise. Thanks for the post.

gcooke said...


Thanks for the comments. After practice on Sat, I watched a bit of the Mich/Mich State game. At one point, the commentator said that Mich State was struggling with the pressure of the expectations created by the Notre Dame game.

I think another negative about expectations is that they take you out of the moment. They don't help in the struggle with the basic paradox of the mental aspects of sport: how to remain in the moment during the "most important" moments.

Best of luck in working on your goals.


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