We’ve just had our ITA Irish Cup and National Championships this past weekend and it’s hit home again how important it is to have an appropriate plan for each and every competition and for each and every competitor. Like always, complacency is the enemy of success and in this case… the absence of a win condition. 

What am I babbling about…? Pre competition plans and post competition reviews. We’re all prone to setting meaningless goals for ourselves and accepting the affirmation that extrinsic rewards can give us, no more so than when it comes to attending tournaments. You’ve all heard the phrase “You win or you learn”. This is usually given the meme treatment and shot out on the social media posts as a conditional apology for not winning or a salve to soothe the wounds of those students who came away without a shiny medal after an event. It holds deeper wisdom too, as often we blindly accept the affirmation of a gold medal and fail to reflect on our performances but losing forces us to return to the ever famous drawing board. 

This willingness to throw our future happiness to the whims of fate and to stymie our ability to learn and progress is really baffling. As a species we seem preconditioned to doing things that are absolutely not in our best interests but thankfully, we also have the ability to override our base instincts and determine our own path, even if it is with considerable effort and force of will. So what is the problem and how do we fix it? What’s in it for me?


Gold medals are attractive, ego’s are assuaged, our projection of our best selves is confirmed and all is right with the world.

When we enter a competition we typically hope to win. Gold medals are attractive, ego’s are assuaged, our projection of our best selves is confirmed and all is right with the world. If we lose our inner frailties are exposed, we have flaws that we can succumb to and our best effort is shown to be just not good enough. That’s the roller coaster we ride when we set our goals around the outcome of an event. A better choice would be to set our goals around factors we can directly influence and achieve independent of the end result of the tournament. That way we can ‘win’ by achieving our goals regardless of the actual outcome of the event as a whole. Of course the eventual goal is winning championships, but it is much easier to achieve that long term goal if we make best use of all the learning opportunities we encounter along the way. 

Let’s have a quick review of SMART goal setting. SMART goals are:

Specific – Nothing wishy washy here, you or an observer should know when it’s accomplished

Measurable – It has to be something you can track

Achievable – You have to be realistic here, know your capabilities and go just outside your comfort zone

Relevant – Achieving the goal has to make a difference to the longer term outcomes

Timed – Nothing open ended, an end date or time

Smarter goals are also:

Evaluated – Make your goals known and be accountable to yourself and others for your efforts

Reviewed – If you achieve them, set bigger goals. If you don’t, re-phrase and re-set your goals

In the context of an ITF Taekwon-Do Competition we would look at each event individually. Here’s a few examples that might have been relevant to some of our competitors this past weekend:

  1. My rear heel will be on the floor at the moment of impact in at least 50% of my walking stances at Irish Cup
  2. I will keep my right side forward UNLESS following up a blitz or after recovering from back kick at Irish Cup
  3. I will count my steps and hold junbi for two long breaths before making my attempts during special technique at Irish Cup

They are all timed as they are event specific goals. They are each relevant in their own way as achieving these outcomes will, in the short and long term, contribute to better outcomes. For each of the people concerned, the actions are entirely achievable. The patterns can be checked by watching back the video and counting the number of times the heel is down at the end of movements in walking stance. The sparring and special technique examples can also be evaluated through video analysis. 

The missing link… we didn’t do this with all of our athletes for this tournament. What we have done in the past and should have done on this occasion was to help each competitor shape at least one goal for one event that was relevant to what they’re trying to improve on in their training and performances. I said at the beginning that complacency can lead to the absence of a win condition, and what I mean is that without a plan for the event with a specific set of goals we set ourselves up to lose. Ok, there were medals but what did those medals mean? Maybe you took the gold medal but didn’t improve on previous performances or implement what you’d set out to do based on your training. That gold medal is a loss. Perhaps you were working on controlling the pace of the match and interacting more, throwing more shots, and your implementation of that plan got you two wins and a loss and no medals. That could constitute a win, but the goal was never set. 

In summary, we neglected to give ourselves an appropriate test or challenge. We took part, we won and lost but we left the learning to chance. So we’ll spend the next few weeks salvaging points of learning from what we saw and we’ll plan better next time. 


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