Choosing the Right Goal

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Sherpa are credited with being the first to summit the world’s highest mountain, Sagarmatha, or as we know it, Mount Everest. But that’s not true. There were undoubtedly several who reached the summit before them. However, they were the first to summit and return back down safely.

Setting just any goal won’t do. Choosing the right goal is crucial.

Developed by General Motors in the 1950s, the SMART-goal concept provides a way of choosing goals that leads to the greatest likelihood of success. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. Instead of just stating goals in generalities, a person using SMART goals states them with language that includes specifics that can be measured (hence able to be judged to determine whether it was achieved). Each goal builds from the previous goal.

Before we construct a SMART goal, we should start simply with a basic goal. Many people confuse a topic with a goal: For example, in a portion of the first-jump course, the topic might be “emergency procedures,” but the goal would be, “Each student must show correct procedures for at least 10 randomly chosen emergency scenarios.” The topic is a general section of the knowledgebase, but the goal is the outcome you wish to see after you present material. If you have a topic but no goal, you are teaching content instead of teaching a person.

Let’s take the very general Integrated Student Program topic of Category G1. The goal of the entire category is “develop group skills.” It’s important to present the big picture and show relevance to motivate the student. You can then tackle each element of a SMART goal:

Specific (What)
In the case of skydiving, the specific goal is what we are doing on that skydive. So, for the first jump in category G1, the specific goal is forward movement to dock. This is one specific skill in the category, which encompasses a set of skills.

Measureable (How Much)
Now we need to refine our goal to include something measurable, so the student will immediately know whether he is reaching the standard. The industry standard—regardless of which instructor or DZ program the student is studying under—is a measurable goal found in the ISP section of the Skydiver’s Information Manual: two redocks from 10 feet without assistance. “Ten feet” answers the question, “How much?”
If you have a student who needs a goal broken down into smaller parts, you can start with a smaller goal and increase it in steps, such as starting with five feet for one dock, then 10 feet for the next one. Or you could handle fall rate while the student concentrates on moving forward in a straight line. Shaping the goal in this way allows success to breed success.

Achievable (Who)
How do you know if a goal is achievable? Fortunately, if you are using the ISP, you have the benefit of a community knowledgebase spanning decades. All you need to do is verify the completed skills in your student’s logbook and encourage building on the prior experience. In essence, you ask, “Who is my student? What are his cognitive capabilities, physical skills and attitude (mind, body and soul)?”

Relevant (Why)
We can make a goal meaningful to a student by simply asking, “Why?” Your student may or may not be able to answer this question, so it’s important to be ready to communicate why this goal helps with safety or advancement to another skill.

Timely (How Many)
In a sport that relies heavily on muscle memory, creating a goal that allows for as many iterations as possible supports the necessary practice. A great coach sets up ground prep with a real-time altimeter and a repeating block in the dive flow. However, if you forget to let your student know that you are looking for only one or two correct performances of the skill, he could easily misunderstand and think he needs to get in as many iterations as he did in the ground prep. Simply stating this component of the goal relieves that pressure. Essentially, for the timely component of the goal, we are asking, “How many?”

The final, refined SMART goal for the first Category G1 jump now becomes forward movement 10 feet to dock two times. While constructing a SMART goal is simple, instructors often overlook it. The power of choosing the right goal can help a good coach or instructor become a great coach or instructor.

Jen Sharp | D-17513 | AFF Instructor, Coach and Tandem Instructor Examiner, Safety and Training Advisor
Owner, Skydive Kansas in Osage City


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