Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Color Belt Testing - 02-04-11 - Goal Setting

We just had our latest round of belt testing on Friday of last week. We conduct belt testing every three months in our Taekwondo system in order to measure progress within each student. There are 10 belts or grades before 1st degree Black Belt. If a student tested every cycle they could earn their black belt in 2 1/2 - 3 years; however, that just doesn't happen. As student's progress the material becomes more difficult the standards more stringent. Typically, a student will take longer to progress to black belt, and that's OK.

Overall, I was pleased with the group's performance this type. There were few, if any, miss-steps on the requisite materials. Over the years, I have tried many different formats and approaches to testing the students; it has been an evolving process. Currently, I'm quite satisfied with the format we've come up with and it provides some insight on the necessity and effectiveness of setting goals.

Martial Arts education is very much focused on the individual. An individual's needs, goals, and even limitations. Student's are meant to progress at a pace that is suitable to them, and practice in a way that is challenging yet safe to their overall health. However, we all respond to external stimuli, especially when it comes to physical training.

Having time based, quantifiable goals is not only helpful, but necessary. For every belt test, my students have clear requirements and time restraints that must be met. I'd like to say everybody trains hard all the time, but that is not the case. In fact, that may not even be ideal anyway, as the human body requires ebbs and flows in order to maximize results. The reality is, student are more focused and train more diligently when testing approaches. Regular testing and thus goal setting drives the student to get better, get stronger at what they are doing.

How can you relate this outside of a Taekwondo belt testing frame work? Simple, you have to set goals that will motivate you to keep training and training in a consistent correct way. What are training or following a physical regimen for? It must be something: lose weight, get faster, stronger, learn something, or even social interaction. Set your goals to meet that big picture of what drives you.

Next, two basic things are missing from most people's goals and they are crucial to your success.

One, the goal must be quantifiable and measurable. Too often, I hear goals like: "I want to get faster" or "I want to kick better". What does that mean? Not much. Faster at what? Faster than what? How do you determine that? Arguably, there are many aspects of martial arts training that are difficult to describe and quantify. OK, break them down. Simplify as much as you can.

Two, there must be a time constraint. It is all well and good to have a goal, but without a time restraint there is no urgency and there is no way to measure success (or failure). For example, consider the "I want to kick better" goal. Without a time restraint, this becomes even more abstract. A student could spend an entire lifetime "improving their kicks". How would they know when they met there goal? More importantly, how would they know that they were not on track to meet their goal and perhaps their training method should be re-evaluated?

Do you see my point? Without time restraints and other quantifiable details you are just setting yourself up for failure. Worse, you won't even know!

But wait, there's more!

Your goals have to be attainable. They may be challenging, but they must be attainable and realistic. Otherwise, again you are just setting yourself up for failure and that failure will preclude from reaching those goals which were well within your grasp.

To summarize, here are four rules of goal setting:
1. The goal is something that motivates you
2. The goal is quantifiable and measurable
3. The goal has a time constraint
4. The goal is realistic, attainable.

So let's put these into practice. Start with the vague "I want to kick better". That's actually a good start as it fulfills our first guideline. Now break it down, be more specific. "I want to kick faster" Better, but we need more. Do you want to increase the frequency of your kicks, or do you want to increase the speed of one individual kick? "The frequency". OK, now we're getting somewhere. Try this "My goal is to kick 10 times in 10 seconds" That's it! We can quantify that goal AND we can measure it. Measuring goals will often depend on the tools you have available.

Now, we need a time constraint. How long to reach your goal? How about "My goal is to kick 10 times in 10 seconds. I plan to achieve this in 60 days"

Perfect, we have a motivating goal that is quantifiable, measurable, has a deadline, and is definitely reachable.

You see my point. There is one more thing that will really help. You need a plan, an educated plan. Seek out the best trainers, coaches, martial arts instructors....experts. Be discerning, but trust them and their advice, they will help you tremendously.

Here are some highlights from the test.

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