Process Goals versus Outcome Goals

For many years process goals have been much preferred by psychologists and by some coaches, who see them as a better goal and a better measurable idea than outcome goals. A process goal could well be how one does something. They are generally measured by feel, by something slightly esoteric as opposed to outcome goals which are by nature simple to measure. Outcome goal: I want to shoot 580, I want to shoot 1250, I want to win the National Championships but I’ll come back to that one. So what’s wrong with outcome goals?

They are much maligned in the psychological and coaching press, because they are seen to be too binary, too hit or miss. Strangely they are counted as too easy, the idea being that they are not in some way clever enough, however they are the natural way one sets goals. As a coach I believe there should be a balance of process and outcome goals but I believe that the outcome goal has had a tough time of it of late.

 “What’s wrong with an outcome goal?”

We should be very careful not to pick an outcome goal that is not in the athlete’s control.

So, “I want to shoot a 580”, (let’s not get clever with the 1250, the outdoor what’s the weather like round), but 580 indoors – absolutely, nothing outside the archer’s control effects it.

sbI want to win the national championships – now that’s a bad outcome goal. Other things, other people, can have an effect. Things that are out with the control of the individual can come into force and alter whether that goal is successful or not.

A well thought out outcome goal is how we live our lives; it is how our bosses measure our work and how our whole lives are orchestrated. Very rarely do people go, “we will give you style points, we will give you points for how well you thought you did that.”

Now process goals have a place, however in my opinion they are overused. They are the method of the amateur, as they are very difficult to measure. Another problem is their lack of focus, a small increase in a process goal may cost the athlete a huge amount in effort and resource usage for actually achieving no tangible improvement. The process goal also pushes towards this culture of giving 100%, in performance effort, where often 100% isn’t needed. Going that extra mile doesn’t improve the service or the result and so is a waste of resources.

“I know I didn’t win that competition or shoot the score I wanted, but I feel I did it well”.

In this case the process goal has been achieved and so the archer  needs to assess whether their outcome goals for this situation were attainable, (winning may not be in the individuals control but picking an achievable measure “the score I want to shoot” is) and adjust accordingly how they are going to measure all aspects of the performance.

So process vs. outcome, well I think that outcome goals have had a rough time of it and we should be happy to use outcome goals especially if they are well thought out. Process goals? Well they are of use, they are often more for our personal satisfaction. It’s very difficult to justify a process goal to a coach or the person standing next to you.


1 thought on “Process Goals versus Outcome Goals”

  1. Interestingly, some suggest that the outcome goals can be constructively construed as process goals. E.g. How to release properly. The outcome is, say, relaxed fingers and the draw hand’s proper trajectory as viewed by a high speed camera. The outcome is still fairly specific – at least compared to beginners’ finger releases – but the emphasis is on the *process* of the shot of part thereof.

    Once processes like these are soundly established, along with out strengths and weaknesses, traditional outcome goals like arrow scores become more meaningful because we’re able to diagnose where the process went wrong. This is preferable to a situation where we set a desired score while our bow arm, draw, and release are all in shambles.

    So, at least to a psych student, the process goals are useful only if they are sufficiently specific to operationalise and observe. Once the processes leading to a desired outcome have been identified and fine-tuned, outcome goals become relevant markers of performance.

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