Empowering Youth Athletes: 

By: Russell Kowalinski | Posted: 01/08/2024

Setting goals is a crucial aspect of a youth athlete's development, providing direction, motivation, and a roadmap for success. However, not all goals are created equal. For youth and adolescent athletes, personalized and attainable goals are key to fostering growth, instilling discipline, and ensuring a positive athletic journey. In the pursuit of these objectives, learning from struggles, losses, and failures becomes a vital component, shaping character and influencing lifelong change.

Vision & Process

The foundation of goal-setting for youth athletes begins with a clear vision. Coaches, parents, and athletes must collaboratively define long-term objectives that align with the athlete's aspirations. A well-defined vision helps set the tone for the journey ahead, providing a sense of purpose and direction (short term goals). 

While the ultimate goal may be grand, breaking it down into smaller, manageable processes is essential. Youth athletes should focus on the step-by-step progression required to achieve their larger objectives. This approach not only makes the journey less overwhelming but also allows for the development of essential skills and habits along the way.

It's hard to beat a person who never gives up - Babe Ruth

Buy In, Schedule & Process

For goals to be effective, youth athletes must buy into the process wholeheartedly. Coaches and parents play a crucial role in instilling belief and enthusiasm in them. Encouraging athletes to take ownership of their goals fosters a sense of responsibility and accountability, driving intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is an energy source that cannot be stopped - versus external motivation relies upon others expectations for success and can be taken away. 

Time management is a critical component of goal attainment. Establishing a realistic and well-structured schedule helps youth athletes balance their academic, social, relaxation and athletic commitments. Coordinating training sessions, competitions, and recovery periods ensures that athletes stay on track without compromising other aspects of their lives. Allowing for breaks and spaces for activities and fun other than their sport is also important to prevent or avoid burnout.

Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong - Alex Morgan

Regularly tracking progress is a fundamental element of successful goal-setting. Athletes should establish benchmarks and milestones, allowing them to assess their advancement over time. Coaches and parents can provide constructive feedback, celebrate achievements, and adjust strategies as needed. Tracking progress not only keeps athletes motivated but also fosters a growth mindset of continuous improvement.


Flexibility is key in the dynamic world of youth athletics. Goals should be adaptable to accommodate changing circumstances, unforeseen challenges, and the evolving needs of the athlete. Encouraging adaptability teaches young athletes resilience and equips them with the tools to navigate the inevitable ups and downs of their athletic journey.

You miss 100% of the shots you never take - Wayne Gretzky

Learning from Struggles, Losses and Failures

In the pursuit of athletic excellence, setbacks are inevitable. However, the manner in which young athletes respond to struggles, losses, and failures can shape their character and influence in their whole life, especially beyond their sport. Embracing these challenges as opportunities for growth is a fundamental aspect of setting goals that go beyond the field or court.


The ability to bounce back from setbacks is a trait that transcends sports and contributes to lifelong success. Coaches and parents play a pivotal role in cultivating resilience by reframing failures as valuable learning experiences. Encouraging youth athletes to view challenges as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks fosters a mindset that can endure the trials of both sports and life.

I can accept failure, everyone fails at something.
But I cannot accept not trying - Michael Jordan

Reflective Listening, Mindset Shift and the Building of Character

Every loss or failure presents a unique chance for reflective learning. Athletes should be encouraged to analyze what went wrong, identify areas for improvement, and develop strategies to overcome similar challenges in the future. This introspective approach not only enhances their performance on the field but also equips them with valuable life skills such as problem-solving and self-awareness. Turning struggles into learning moments requires a mindset shift. Coaches, parents, and athletes must collectively embrace the idea that setbacks are not indicators of insurmountable obstacles but rather opportunities to refine skills and strategies. Cultivating a growth mindset helps young athletes develop a positive attitude towards challenges and positions them for long-term success.

Encouraging Support for Lifelong Change

The ability to face and overcome adversity builds character. Youth athletes who learn to navigate setbacks with grace and determination develop qualities such as perseverance, resilience, humility, and empathy. These character traits extend far beyond the athletic arena and serve as a foundation for success in academics, careers, and personal relationships. Creating a supportive environment is crucial for helping young athletes navigate challenges. Coaches and parents should provide encouragement, guidance, and constructive feedback during difficult times. By fostering an atmosphere where athletes feel supported rather than judged, they are more likely to embrace the learning opportunities presented by struggles, losses, and failures.

Make sure your own worst enemy doesn’t
live between your own two ears - Laird Hamilton

The lessons learned from overcoming challenges in youth sports have the power to catalyze lifelong change. When young athletes understand that setbacks are not roadblocks but rather detours on the path to success, they develop a resilience that extends far beyond their athletic endeavors. These experiences become the building blocks of a mindset that thrives on continuous learning and improvement throughout life, not perfection. 
In the context of goal-setting for youth athletes, the combination of personalized and attainable goals with the ability to transform struggles, losses, and failures into learning moments is a powerful recipe for success. By instilling resilience, promoting reflective learning, fostering a growth mindset, building character, and providing encouraging support, coaches and parents empower young athletes to navigate challenges with grace and turn setbacks into opportunities for lifelong change.

Take a look at our goal setting worksheet for you and your athlete. Work with them to identify attainable and realistic goals for their coming season or year in sports. Do one for each sport they play and use as a conversation piece to check in with them as they build and work on their internal motivation and direction at a lifelong love of challenges and growth.

Use the accompanying goal sheet and work with your youth athlete to set definable, reachable and attainable goals. Have this worksheet on a wall, mirror or door that is seen daily to help maintain focus and drive! "Elevate your game - reach your PEAK"

Search our posts
Get in touch
You can message a clinic directly using this form.
Contact Form with Map
Maple Valley