Defining Success As An Amateur Athlete

When it comes to athletics, winning isn't everything.


By Kelsey Raymond


Thanks to a multitude of team and individual sports, there is an activity out there for everyone. Whether you’re a hobbyist or a serious athlete, your reasons for participating in a sporting event are probably different from those of the next guy/gal.

Chances are, especially in an individual sport setting, you won’t end up in first place. One of the greatest things about athletics, however, is that you don’t have to win to come out a winner. There are so many benchmarks (other than a blue ribbon) that we can aim for. Let’s talk about how we measure our own success and how to define realistic goals that can be achieved. 

I’m a firm believer in writing these reasons down, reflecting on them – and hopefully – developing goals. New Year’s Eve, pre-race, post-race, birthday. You name the occasion, I have a list of aspirations. It’s important to determine what you want to get out of an event. By setting goals, you give yourself something to work towards: a direction in your training. 

Next time you lace up to run/bike/hike – whatever your preferred sport may be – become aware of why you’re engaging yourself in that sport. 

Here are some great ways to define success: 

To personal best (PB/PR) or improve: 

This is a very common goal, especially among athletes competing in individual sports. Runners, triathletes and swimmers alike frequently aim to beat their own records. This is also a very realistic goal to have because you’ve already achieved the baseline time goal. You know what it takes to compete at that level. Now you get to focus on improving, even if only by a second.

Finish/complete an event:

This is also a common goal, especially among first-timers. Just wanting to cross the finish line is a powerful goal among the newly initiated. Plus, not every race is going to result in a PR/PB. Allowing yourself some leeway to just complete at an event has its advantages and is praiseworthy. 

Have fun: 

Sometimes when you’ve been heads-down for too long, it’s easy to lose sight of why you started your journey to begin with. Having fun at an event is a surefire way of preventing burnout. 

Try something new/find a new hobby:

Try anything once. This is a great mantra to have. By opening yourself up to new experiences, you might find that you love something you didn’t expect to. Coming out of an activity having found that you actually enjoyed it – and want to keep going with it – can be life-changing. Extra points for trying something that scares you. 

Get through without an injury:

The road to injury recovery as an athlete can sometimes be a long one. Once you get the green light to compete again, it’s tough to know whether you’re fully in the clear until you get back “on the saddle.” Signing up for a test event – without time expectations – is smart. Crossing that finish line without aggravating a previous injury is a great feeling and a victory on its own!

Explore new areas: 

Sports can take you places. I’m talking in the geographical sense. Signing up for an event away from your home town, planning exercise-related vacations, or just choosing a different route on your next training session – are all perfect ways to achieve the goal of exploring and satisfying that wanderlust. 

Make new friends:

Both individual and team sports have the possibility of being social sports. Join a run club, a bike club, or a triathlon training group. Gather a crew for a day hike. The best part: having friends who engage in the same sports as you will make you more accountable and likely to continue training. 

Get in shape/maintain fitness: 

Let’s not forget that our health is a wildly important aspect of being active. Participating in an activity in order to get into or stay in shape is a perfectly valid goal – and should be celebrated as well because being healthy can be hard work! 

Alternatively – actively choosing not to have goals is completely fine, too! Sometimes you just need a break even from personal expectations. 

What is your activity of choice and what are some of your goals for your training or upcoming events?

Kelsey is a graphic designer, blogger, and runner from New England. She's a lover of adventure, food and mornings. In addition to running her blog Spice & Dice, Kelsey's latest ventures are designing a cookbook and training for a marathon. 

Main photo credit: Blaze Lyjak/

Second photo credit: Grasko/