An athlete’s 4-year Olympic preparation cycle requires systematic planning involving the use of short- and long-term goals. These goals provide athletes with increased motivation, persistence, effort and direction in their goal pursuit. Short-term goals can be viewed as steppingstones towards the long-term goals. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore the use of short- and long-term goals by Olympic athletes. A qualitative design was used, with semi-structured interviews as the major data source. Participants were purposefully sampled from a typically understudied sports population. Four male Olympians, representing swimming and athletics, shared their experiences about how and why they set and used short- and long-term goals. The athletes spent an average of 11.3 years training and competing at the elite level. Findings revealed that winning a national championship and competing at the Olympic Games were their major long-term goals. Furthermore, these goals did not change during their athletic career. Short-term goals were primarily set to learn, develop and improve their skills/techniques that would allow them to reach their ultimate goals. Major competitive events (e.g. national championships, Pan Am Games, Olympic Games) dictated how they planned these goals. The findings also support previous research suggesting the use of both short and long-term goals. Coaches and young athletes can use the information provided to plan their sports goals. Future research should investigate the goal setting practices of team versus individual sport Olympic athletes.
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