Goal setting in Irish dance

 In Rising Tide Irish Dance Academy

It’s a new year, and the perfect time to set some goals for dance. But how do you set goals that will motivate you, challenge you, and help you grow as a dancer?

What motivates you?

Before setting your goals, its important to understand what motivates you. There are two types of motivation: internal (intrinsic) and external (extrinsic). Author Shane Murphy explains internal motivation is “when participation in a sport is inherently pleasurable, when effort is based on enjoyment of competition, excitement, or the desire to learn and improve,” meaning you’re motivated by learning and perfecting new skills or steps. External motivation is “when sport involvement is steered by trophies” or other results, meaning you’re motivated by how well you perform in competition (The Sport Psych Handbook, p.7).

Irish dance tends to be a very competitive sport with a big focus on feis results. The good news is that setting goals related to how we perform in competition can be a great motivator to push us through difficult tasks (like hill sprints, or a really tough drill class). However, since Irish dance is very subjective it may sometimes feel like your hard work doesn’t matter, which can be discouraging.

Before setting your goals think about what motivates you. Do you love learning a new skill or step, does it help you to focus on an upcoming competition? To help keep you motivated try setting two goals:

  1. A skill based goal (e.g., improve over-downs or drums, increase flexibility, turnout, etc.) to help with your internal motivation
  2. A performance goal (e.g., place 1st in Novice reel, place top 50% in prelim competition, etc.) to help with your external motivation.

What makes a good goal?

A well written goal has three key parts: outcome, measure, timeframe.


Your outcome is what you want to achieve. When writing your outcome it’s important to be specific; make sure you’re really clear on what you want to accomplish. When setting a skill goal, focus on a specific skill or movement you want to improve rather than competition results. Your goal should also be realistic and attainable, while still stretching you (without breaking you). With hard work and determination anyone can achieve incredible things, but if you’re in Open Prizewinner setting a goal to recall at the World Championships this year might me more discouraging than motivating.

Make sure your goal is framed in a positive way. “Don’t come last” is not an achievable goal, it’s not something you can work towards so much as something you’re trying to avoid – it puts you in a defensive rather than offensive mindset. Instead try “I will place in the top 70% of my competition.”


Its important to be able to measure your goal so you know whether you’ve been successful. Look at the example above, placing in the top 70% of a competition is easily measured. When looking at a skill related goal (e.g., increase my flexibility in my front clicks), you can take pictures or videos to help measure the height of your clicks before you start and at the end of your goal to track your progress.


Napoleon Hill said that a goal without a deadline is just a dream. It’s important to set specific deadlines for your goals to keep yourself motivated and hold yourself accountable for your progress. Some deadlines are easy (e.g., the Oireachtas, the feis on May 19), others you’ll have to set yourself. You can make your goals short term or long term. Skill goals are good short term goals (1-2 months). If you’re working towards a longer term performance goal, setting some short term skill goals along the way can keep you motivated and help track your progress.

What else can you do to set yourself up for success?

Once you set your goals, take some time to think about what you’re going to do to achieve your goals. Identify (at least) three concrete steps you will take to achieve your goal. For example: Make a detailed schedule to help manage work and school, or start using a mindfulness app to focus your mindset.

The road to success is never a straight line, so spend some time thinking about obstacles that could get in the way. Will it be difficult to balance homework and dance? Do you get really nervous at competitions? Once you’ve figured out what could trip you up, think about what you can do to manage those obstacles. By planning ahead of time, you’ll be better equipped to handle any barriers that come your way.

Write your goal down and post it somewhere you’ll see it every day. When I was studying for my adjudicator’s exam, I wrote “I will pass the ADCRG” on a piece of paper and stuck it to my mirror so I looked at it every morning while getting ready for work. Then tell at least one person what your goal is and ask them to check in with you, this is another trick to help keep you accountable. Your dance teacher is a good person to start with (as they’ll be better equipped to help you train if they know what you’re working towards), but consider telling a friend, a dance buddy, a parent, or all of the above. We all need support, and by asking people for help they can check in to keep you accountable, and prop you up when you need a bit of encouragement along the way.

What are your goals for this dance year? Share in the comments below. To help you as you set your goals, feel free to download our goal setting template. For more information about goal setting and motivation, check out The Sport Psych Handbook by Shane Murphy.

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