Setting Age-Appropriate Goals

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Winter is perfect for goal setting and young athletes are no exception. Age-appropriate goals can keep athletes motivated but poor goals can be discouraging for an athlete, especially young athletes who may choose to leave their sport early.

Encourage your young athlete to gradually take over the responsibility for choosing their own active goals. When the young athlete makes the choices, he or she will feel more in control and may be more likely to love their activities.

How do we know if a Goal is Age-Appropriate?
The Long Term Athlete Development Model (LTAD) is a proven model for successfully developing athletes. Within LTAD, there are seven stages of athletic development. Coaches, parents and kids who follow the stages at the right ages (don’t rush!) are most likely to reach their top potential as athletes. The LTAD can provide us with age-appropriate goals for kids from toddlers through post-high school.

The first three LTAD stages, (age 0-12), prioritize fun and skill development. These early skills can form the proper foundation to become more serious about a sport after age 12 (if they desire). If your kids are 6 or younger, their goal is simply to enjoy being active as often as with as much variety as possible. For kids ages 6-9, stage two is called “FUNdamentals.” Appropriate goals for these kids are to learn skills and have fun. Stage three, (ages 8-12), is called “Learn to Train.” In this age group, it is appropriate for kids to experience structured training. Here, practice attendance becomes an appropriate goal, along with having fun and practicing skills.


LTAD stages four through six take a junior athlete up through different levels of competitiveness (if they desire). Junior athletes aged 11-16 can begin to “Train to Train,” in other words, do the base training that they will need to prepare for the very hard training required in high school. Work towards increased training pace and volume as goals for these kids. High Schoolers are ready to “Train to Compete,” if they desire (Stage five). Now, it is finally age appropriate to set goals to accomplish certain race results. Stage six is for world-class athletes 18 or older. Stage seven is called “Active for Life.” Any athlete may enter this stage at any age to enjoy lifelong activity.

Goal Reminders

Goals are easily forgotten. For the youngest kids, parents will need to continually find fun ways for kids to be active. Encourage older kids to create a “Dream Board,” or a collage where they write their goals for the season and decorate with drawings and pictures. High School kids should use a workout journal (notebook or online) and write down their goals for the season and the mechanics of how they will achieve them.

Help your young athlete to set appropriate goals and watch them reach their potential whether as competitive athletes or lifelong healthy people.

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Chris Palmquist is an USA Triathlon Elite Coach, USA Cycling Elite Coach and Youth/Junior Coach with 19 years of coaching experience. She has written for Chicago Athlete Magazine for more than 20 years. As a Team MPI Head Coach, she has coached athletes to regional, national and world class success. She is a USA Paratriathlon National Team Coach and Team USA Coach at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, ITU World Paratriathlon Series and High Performance Camps at the Olympic Training Centers. Chris coaches youth and junior triathletes as Head Coach for the MMTT Youth Triathlon Team and for USAT at national Junior Skills Camps. In 33 years as an athlete, she has raced several sports including triathlon (13 Ironman), collegiate rowing (Cornell 83-87), canoe/kayak, cross country skiing (20 Birkebeiner) and road bike racing. Chris is married with two kids. Favorite Quote: “Do Simple Better” ~Joe Maddon

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