Preseason goal setting

At the moment the preseason is well on it’s way in the US and in Scandinavia with players enduring the hardship of starting up again after a relaxing vacation time away from football. The players are facing a new season with high hopes of improving themselves and their team. When they come in to training camp their enthusiasm and motivation is top and they can’t wait to get the season going. These weeks or months are spent learning and improving the style of play, team building on and off the pitch and general work to be as ready as possible for the upcoming season.

At some point during the preseason it is usual for the club or coaching staff to call the players to a team-meeting where different themes are discussed. Themes can range from a common set of rules that the players on team has to follow, guidelines from the club to even parts of the training method or the style of play. These themes will be up for discussion among the players in this team-meeting. But there is one theme of this team-meeting that is a certainty to come up in most teams. And maybe this theme has been decided by the club on beforehand, however, it is common that the players get their say in this process, often guided by the coaches or the directors of the club. This theme is of course the goal setting discussion for the season.

In these goal setting discussions all around the football world there are players talking about season objectives such as ”staying up”, ”mid-table”, ”top 5” and only a select few teams that say ”win”. Football players that started playing football for the same reason that any human play games of different kinds, namely winning, say that they want to lose a number of games during the upcoming season. Young children playing football and adults playing a game of tag have one thing in common, and that’s the will to win. The point and meaning of any game, per definition, is to win. For some people the reason of a game could arguably be ’not to lose’. But it’s never, ever anyone who plays a game to lose. Yet, in these team-meeting going on in the football world, there are young players, old players, amateurs and professional players who sit in a room and discuss how many games they are going to lose this upcoming season. How crazy is that?

As a player I could never understand my team-mates or coaches who sat around the table and talked about finishing mid-table with a straight face. I wanted to win, every game, always, and I still do. Even though I also understood that we would probably not be able to win every game, the thought of not giving absolutely everything I had to win every game was one that I did not understand. As a football player and as a coach your goal is to win every game. Without winning the existence of a game is not possible. No one has ever invented a game to lose.

When you gather your players in this preseason for your team-meeting and the subject of goal setting comes up, you will end the discussion in 30 seconds by saying: WIN EVERY GAME. After these 30 seconds and the goal of the season has been established you can now spend your time on the question that really matters. The difficult question that holds the key to your success this season is not goal setting, what you really need to discuss is: HOW?

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6 thoughts on “Preseason goal setting

  1. But these kind of “goal settings” are everywhere (football, business etc.)? So it must have worked for someone since they’ve passed it on?


    1. Thank you for the comment Mosquito!

      Of course goal setting is imperative for the individual player and person to develop and feel mastery.

      However, at team level, the game dictates the goal setting per definition. A game, whatever game that may be, is played to win. Hence the goal of the football team is always to win.


  2. I would say a clear YES to a lot of things in this article, and a couple of humble “?”. Yes the objective (at least at senior level ) is winning. Winning should be the absolute goal, as we do not go out on a pitch to ever loose? I agree, but at the same time, one must be realistic in any goal setting you do. I hate to loose, so I completely agree with the sentiment behind ” who ever acknowledges the possibility to loose before a game is played?”. Well, as a playmaker, I am also very interested in analytics behind the game, ranging from statistics to angles in which we move to play/receive the ball (Yes a little bit of a geek). As such, when someone tells me to set a goal, the dreamer (and the very poor looser) in me can set a “WIN” easily. Then I am asked to realistically set the process (no use for a goal if you do not have a process to achieve it, right?), and the analytical part of me starts churning. Realistically, unless you are a high ranked team, you have to account for some losses (unfortunately). Does this then go against the motivation of playing if we claim that the motivation is winning? I do not think so, because if our only pure motivation was to win, we would quit a long time ago on the account that we can simply not win every game. But we can use the realistic approach as a tool of measure. We can say that we can “afford” to loose this game against a much higher ranked team, and let it be an extra “!” behind the “W” if we win. To understand your limits does not necessarily limit yourself (or your team). It could even serve as extra motivation if predicted right, and in an understanding of process and analytics. It is almost like putting in a bet. I might want one team to win, but statistics might go against it. Heart vs mind?

    But let me make it clear, I would never tell anyone it is ok to loose, just because statistics are against us. Always beat the odds! Winning mentality.


    1. Hi Lisa-Marie,

      Thank you for your comment!

      On a philosophical level, a game of football is always about trying to win for both teams. However, one could argue that there are exceptions to this rule, for example when you play knock-out rounds in the Champions League you try to win over two games since this is the rules of the competition. Also an argument could be made for the same to be true in a league where you try to win over 38 games (or similar). But as a philosophical rule the goal, on team level, should be to win every game.

      The most important issue to discuss is the HOW you are going to achieve this goal. And here one should be realistic, as you say, and take the qualities of the players and other teams in consideration. The HOW is the method, or style of play that gives your team the greatest chance to win every game.

      You are also talking about individual goal setting, which I think is imperative and much more important to ensure your development and performance as an individual player than the team goal.

      Thank you!


  3. Hi Marcus,

    Thanks for sharing your interesting view on goal setting. My question is: What happens if you lose a game? Than you cannot reach your goal anymore, right? So, how do you handle this disappointment? This becomes esecially true, when playing a tournament with a team and you play for third place. For example, in basketball for some nations becoming third would be a great achievement – still they would miss out on their goal. So, although I think there is some truth to it in your theory, I guess realistic team goals are also necessary. What do you think?

    Thanks in advance.



    1. Hi Sven,

      Thank you for your comment!

      On a philosophical level, every game is in itself about winning. However, only one team can win, so there will be games that you loose. This does not affect the goal for the next game, because that is again to win.

      Of course there are games that have a bigger external pressure and value (as a tournament) that could influence your application as a coach, for example the choice of tactics for the team.

      Winning, loosing and drawing are possible outcomes of the football game that one has to accept when playing the game. But on a philosophical level, the goal is always the same, to win the game.

      Thank you!


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