For the athlete who desires to play beyond the recreational level, achieving success can be compared to a journey.
Goals and Objectives
To be considered a journey, there has to be a destination. If you want to compete in the Olympics or the World Championships, that is your ultimate destination. To get there without getting lost along the way requires good navigation.
The first step is to set goals and objectives. However, it's important to understand the differences between them. Objectives are targets for the next event or the next season, whereas goals have a longer timeline, closer to the destination. With this in mind, your objectives for the coming season are not your goal, but waypoints en route to it. (Read about Good Techniques for Setting Up Goals.)
If you're familiar with orienteering or map reading, you probably know all about waypoints. A waypoint is a point on the map that you intend to pass through en route to somewhere else. Waypoints are important but they aren't the destination (goal).
For example, if you aim to get to Dallas from New York passing through Atlanta, then Atlanta is a waypoint. If for some reason you divert through Memphis and never get to Atlanta, it doesn't matter. You may have taken a longer or different route than you first intended, but your destination is still the same. You wouldn't turn back and go through Atlanta just because it was on your original route.
Applying Waypoints to Your Training
So what does this mean for athletes? Let's go back to your goal of going to the Olympics. Your first target (objective) for arriving at your destination (goal) is to win the state championship. But if you don't win the state championship, does that mean you should give up? Of course not. It just means you have to adjust your route. You accomplish this by changing training methods, coaches or whatever you need to do to get back on track. (Read Sports Psychology 101)
Clearing Up Confusion
Right now, all this may seem obvious, but many people confuse the importance of waypoints (objectives) with their destination (goals). It's rare that a planned route through life doesn't take lots of twists and turns. So in order to reach your destination and achieve your goal, you may need to travel through different waypoints (adjust your objectives).
Rarely do even professional athletes achieve immediate success. Sure there are exceptions, but most athletes suffer a crushing defeat at some point. Michael Jordan didn't make his high school basketball team as a freshman. It's disappointing and it hurts (as it should), but it should not affect your destination (goal) one bit. A poor season is just that. It might delay your progress or it might not. Regardless, it shouldn't change your dream. Honestly, if your dream is so easily changed, then you didn't want it enough and you should stop chasing it. A setback is not a roadblock; it's just an excuse to make a comeback. A true champion sees that. (Read NBA Rookie Jimmer Fredette on Learning From Losing.)
If something doesn't go according to plan, assess why it didn't, fix what you can, forget what you can't control and move forward. (See Dealing with Poor Performance for tips.) Don't let it stall your progress. It's a waypoint (objective), not a destination (goal).
Reaching Your Destination
So what happens when you reach your destination (goal)? Here's the curve ball: the simple answer is, you never do.
There is a reason people refer to life as a journey, and it applies to your athletic dreams. If you get to the Olympics, you will set a new goal—to win a medal. And when you achieve that, you will go for the gold. Then you'll set a new goal to medal in two Games. The key to getting better is to never stop moving forward, because once you do, someone who has been waiting in the wings will pass you by.