recreational ice skating

When figure skating, set stretch goals for meeting "Just-Right" challenges.


by David Jacobson


ISI competitions provide recreational ice skaters with a fantastic opportunity to enjoy and benefit from discomfort.

“Enjoy and benefit from discomfort” is not a typo, and it’s not an oxymoron. Pushing beyond your comfort level, even to discomfort, is the single best way to grow as a skater and as a person. And yes, challenging yourself can of truly be fun!

Think about your start as a skater. Could you do then what you can now? Of course not. You fell down. A lot. Yet you persisted, beyond your comfort level and through the discomfort, until you reached a certain level of achievement.

Consider two concepts that are part of the Positive Coaching Alliance training we conduct in workshops for youth and high school sports coaches, parents, administrators and high school-age athletes. One concept is the “Just-Right Challenge.” The other is the “Stretch Goal.”

Just-Right Challenge

The Just-Right Challenge comes from Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning by Deborah Stipek and Kathy Seal. In a study, children were given the opportunity to keep one of 13 puzzles they were asked to play with, ranging in difficulty from easy all the way to very difficult. Invariably, the children chose the puzzle that was “one step ahead” of their current skill level.

The children whipped through easy puzzles without smiling. When they got to ones that were “just-right,” they smiled while they worked. This shows there is a desire to push beyond boundaries, past comfort and discomfort. It is very natural and healthy to want to try something just a bit harder than what you are used to.

Applied to skating, seeking a Just-Right Challenge can keep the sport fresh and interesting for you. And, of course, as you try new disciplines and skills, you improve your skating, grow in pride and confidence, and therefore enjoy skating more, which makes you work harder, creating a cycle of improvement.

To help you meet your Just-Right Challenge, establish “Stretch Goals.” A Stretch Goal is, by definition, something that you can’t do right away. If you could, it wouldn’t force you to stretch. Stretch goals go a little beyond what people think they can do but are reachable with effort over time.

Stretch Goals

Stretch Goals give you a tangible target. It is important that they be specific: not “improve my skating” but “nail back-to-back double Axels,” for instance.

Within your Stretch Goals, set effort and result goals. For example, “Each practice session, I will attempt 10 back-to-back double Axels” is an effort goal. A result goal might be, “By the end of the third practice session, I will have nailed one back-to-back double Axel.”

For competitive purposes, you will need to nail the back-to-back double Axel consistently, so your next Stretch Goal should address consistency. For example, your effort goal becomes “I will work for 15 minutes each practice session on integrating this move into my routine,” and your result goal becomes, “Within two months, I will nail this move 95 percent of the time.”

Again, discomfort is part of the bargain. But setting a specific goal creates focus and helps you feel good about spending practice time on one specific skill so that when you achieve that skill you have the confidence to set and achieve your next Stretch Goal.

While pursuing your Stretch Goals, you will be tempted to fall back on what you know and do best simply because it is comfortable and because you feel successful. Battle that temptation by reminding yourself that repeatedly doing what you already know how to do is not success. Technical and personal growth are the truer measures of skating success. And bring that growth to ISI events!


David Jacobson is the former media/communications manager for Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), and this article originally ran in an older issue of ISI’s Recreational Ice Skating magazine. To learn more about the PCA, visit


Established in 1959, the Ice Sports Industry (ISI) — creator of America’s first learn-to-skate curriculum — is an international trade association encompassing all aspects of the ice sports industry. Our goal is to promote ice skating as a participant sport and recreational activity for everyone — all ages and abilities. For more information, visit