Cute or Horrifying?

Consider the photo (Source: Facebook) below. How do you react to it?

I found the photo charming, darling even. My partner found it horrifying. As background, you should know that when we were teaching youth archery classes, we actually created a class for the younger brothers and sisters of the students in the classes who desperately wanted to participate. Typically a child needs to be about eight-years old to participate in archery. This is for physical reasons but mostly because the child needs to be mature enough to understand the safety rules and be trusted to follow them … and we were going younger. We roped in child development specialists to help in the effort, as well as a small army of coaches to coach our “Hot Shots.” Each session ended with a flag ceremony (to the Olympic movement TV theme); we laid it on thick.

The kids were well behaved. They shot. No one got hurt. And we decided to never do it again. It just took much effort on our part to pull such a thing off. We did get some cute photos.

So, my comment on the photo (top) was that there were no arrows in evidence and we do not know where they were going or what they would be doing. For all I knew they could be going to a park for a Spring Bow Dance. But my partner’s point was more than apt. The whole purpose of a bow is to launch arrows. Archery is weapons training.

So, what do you think?



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The Bare Shaft Planing Test Had Two Fathers (At Least)

Actually I am guessing more than two, but the modern test seems to have had two.

Max Hamilton (1963) And the Basic Test
A gentleman named Max Hamilton is credited with having invented the basic test. This test is to shoot bare shafts (only) into a target about two paces away. The first thing to look for is are the arrows straight into the target or are the nocks high or low. In the nock high case, one concludes that the nocking point of the arrow on the string is too high; in the nock low result, the nocking point is too low. The nocking point is adjusted and the test repeated until the nocks are level with the shafts.

Then one examines whether the arrows kick left or right (if they do, this is ignored until the nocking point position is corrected). If the nocks of the bare shafts are to the right, this indicates that the arrows are too stiff for the bow, if the nocks are leaning to the left, the arrows are too weak.

Today we have a great many ways of adjusting the bows to make a spine match and get the bare shafts flying straight from the bow. Back then the options were more limited. (I know people who sanded wood arrows to make them less stiff!)

Obviously, if the bare shafts are leaving the bow in a “straight” orientation, there is less for the fletches to correct.

Ed Eliason (1960s?) And the Modern Test
The modern test is attributed to Ed Eliason, one of the U.S.’s most accomplished archers.

This is the test we are all familiar with. At short distance (< five paces) three fletched and two bare shafts are shot. We look to see that the fletched shafts grouped and the bare shafts grouped. If they did not, then that test is scrapped and a “do over” is in order.

The test is interpreted according to the relative positions of the two groups. If the bare shafts are higher or lower than the fletched, the nocking point position needs adjusting. This is always done first. If the bare shafts hit to the right or left of the fletched group, then the arrows are too stiff (left) or too weak (right). (Note These are all for right-handed archers. If your archer is left-handed, you need to switch all lefts and rights.) Shafts that are just a tad too stiff or too weak may be able to be adjusted using cushion button pressure. If they are more than that, almost all modern bows have adjustable limb pockets that allow for draw weight changes (too stiff arrows need more draw weight, etc.). Arrows can adjusted, too. They can be cut shorter to stiffen them, for example.

More Than Two Inventors?
The reason that I think there were more than two people whose fingerprints are on this bow-arrow test is I have read and heard considerable information from trad shooters who describe tuning by shooting arrows into loose piles of dirt or sand. They were looking for the arrows entering the pile straight. If the nocks kicked left, right, high, or low, they made adjustments.

Adjustments to all wood bows involved sanding/scraping the limbs to drop the bow’s draw weight, cutting the limbs off a bit to raise the draw weight, changing the brace height, sanding the arrows to make them less stiff, I even know an archer who added layers of arrow lacquer to his arrows to make them heavier.

Since these “tests” of the bow-arrow system go quite far back in time, and are known today, I suspect they were background knowledge for people like Max and Ed. Before these “modern” tuning tests were invented, what did people do to tune their bows? I have to assume they did something. And that the “something” was informed by what people did in their past.




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Archery, Archery, Archery All of the Time . . . Right?

As a coach who works with young people (and I hope that you do, too) I see and hear opinions regarding “commitment to the sport” and “developing a practice regimen” often. Just the trope “it takes 10,000 of practice to develop elite-level skill” urges us to practice, practice, practice. After all, the icons of sport seem to all have started very early. Tiger Woods, possibly the greatest golfer of all time, had a golf club in his hands before he was one year old. I have seen archers shooting before the age of two. Start early, block out everything else, and you have a shot at greatness.

So, is this a message to deliver to our student-archers?

Tiger ca. two years old.

I think this is not a wise approach. For one it is laden with survivor bias. We crave information about the Tiger Woods of the world. What made him so great? How did he achieve what he has? But we never seek to survey the entire field. How many athletes took Tiger’s route and how well did they do? How many dropped out along the way? Answer: we don’t know.

There are, however, counter examples. Consider Roger Federer of tennis fame. Arguably one of the best male tennis players of all time, certainly one of the nicest. Here is an excerpt from an article in The Guardian in which Roger Federer’s early “career” was described:

“This boy’s mother was a coach, but she never coached him. He would kick a ball around with her when he learned to walk. As a child, he played squash with his father on Sundays. He dabbled in skiing, wrestling, swimming and skateboarding. He played basketball, handball, tennis, table tennis and badminton over his neighbour’s fence, and soccer at school.

“His parents had no particular athletic aspirations for him. They encouraged him to try a wide array of sports. He didn’t much mind what sport he was playing, so long as it included a ball. Though his mother taught tennis, she decided against working with him. “He would have just upset me anyway,” she said. “He tried out every strange stroke and certainly never returned a ball normally. That is simply no fun for a mother.” Rather than pushy, his parents were, if anything, “pully”, a Sports Illustrated writer would later observe. Nearing his teens, the boy began to gravitate more toward tennis, and “if they nudged him at all, it was to stop taking tennis so seriously”.

“As a teenager, he was good enough to warrant an interview with the local newspaper. His mother was appalled to read that, when asked what he would buy with a hypothetical first prize money from playing tennis, her son answered “a Mercedes”. She was relieved when the reporter let her listen to a recording of the interview and they realised there had been a mistake: the boy had said “mehr CDs” in Swiss-German. He simply wanted “more CDs”.

“The boy was competitive, no doubt. But when his tennis instructors decided to move him up to a group with older players, he asked to move back so he could stay with his friends. After all, part of the fun was hanging around after his lessons to gab about music, or pro wrestling, or soccer.

“By the time he finally gave up other sports to focus on tennis, other kids had long since been working with strength coaches, sports psychologists and nutritionists. But it didn’t seem to hamper his development in the long run. In his mid-30s, an age by which even legendary tennis players are typically retired, he would still be ranked world No 1.I” From “Generalise, Don’t Specialise: Why Focusing Too Narrowly Is Bad for Us” by David Epstein in The Guardian magazine, July 12, 2019.

Some authoritarian countries have decided to fuel their Olympic teams by rounding up promising youths and taking them to “training centers” and having them train around the clock, starting as early as three years of age. (The parents are allowed to visit from time to time, as long as they don’t get in the way.) In these cases, athletes can be considered as disposable. If there are enough of them, those who burn out can just be sent back to their villages.

I argue that this is no way to treat a fellow citizen. None of the archers I have worked with has become a professional archer, so why would I train them as if that were their goal? All of my students were destined to be something larger than archery and if archery stays with them and contributes to their happiness, I’d consider that a success.

Urging youngsters to concentrate on archery, excluding other sports and hobbies, is a bad idea. First, it is unnecessary (or at least no one has made the argument that it is necessary) and second it cannot lead to well-rounded individuals. Were you surprised at Tiger Wood’s comeback from self-inflicted relationship wounds and then injuries? I wasn’t. What else was he going to do? What else did he train to do? What else provides his core happiness?

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Kids! Teach Your Parents Well!

Back when we were running youth archery programs a regular staple of our programs was a “Parent’s Day” in which the parents/guardians got to shoot some arrows. A key element of these sessions was, if at all possible, to have the kids teach their parents.

This was a deliberate attempt at some role reversal (usually it is the parents teaching the kids) but also it was part of our recognition that archery was one of the few sports that kids, especially teenagers (Gasp!), willingly did with their parents. If the parents could get hooked on archery, there would be a new born family activity. My tag line to the parents was “We can’t let the kids have all of the fun.”

And, of course, teaching something is a sure way to reinforce the fundamentals in the kids.

Sometimes this practice bore strange fruit. There was a lovely family that was coming to our 4-H archery Saturdays. Claudia, my partner, taught the two boys their first arrows and they loved the sport. Soon, both parents were shooting also. After about a year or so of shooting, the “mom” of the family was approached by a member of our club suggesting to her that if she were to switch to Recurve Barebow, she had a chance of making a national team. Less than a year later she was in Croatia representing the U.S. in the World Field Championships. Just a few years later, she was World Barebow (Field) Champion. Not bad for a mother of two, pushing 50 years old.

One of the boys went on to become a collegiate archer and both “boys” are now fabulously well employed and successful. This could be one of those “see what you get of you practice” stories but it is rather a “you never know what might happen” stories.

Our intention then as now was to encourage a whole family to participate in our sport. We think it helps the sport . . . and the families, and we encourage you to do the same.

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What Do You Think?

On a golf teacher blog I found the following regarding practice:

The cycle that I recommend that you go through while practicing is called Learn, Trust and Test. During the Learn phase, we are learning how to improve our technical skills. During the Trust phase of practice, we are developing trust in those skills, and then in the Test phase, we are going to Test the skills with pressurized or “performance” practice. You’re far better off testing your game in practice, than you are on the course!

As a golf teacher, the author was talking about developing a new or different shot and this pattern is to create a larger set of available shots while playing. Archery is different in that we “play” almost the exact same shot each time and don’t need a vast array of versions of our shot.

I have advocated for some time now that the overarching approach of archery development has a similar structure. Here that is:

Stage One—Create a Shot
In this phase one works diligently to create a consistent technique and a consistent shot. The goal is being able to shoot small groups consistently. High volume shooting is to be avoided. High intensity learning is the focus, aka deliberate practice. (This is not the process of learning an off-the-shelf shot, it is the creation of a personal shot, unique to you.)

Stage Two—Learn Your Shot to the Bone
Here is where high volume shooting comes. This is a process of memorization and, unfortunately, too many of us end up memorizing a poor shot, which makes for a great deal of work later on (fix the shot’s weakness, memorize that shot, then fix that shot’s weaknesses, and . . .). This results in more than one shot being in long term memory (which explains why “old habits” pop up in moments of high stress, they are still available to be turned to when what we are doing now isn’t working).

Stage Three—Develop Archery Skills
Through practice rounds and competitions we determine benchmarks of our development. These benchmarks are to prove to ourselves that we can “score well” in practice (and then in competition) so we can believe that we can do that in competition. Here we also develop skills that improve our scoring abilities (compensating for wind and weather, developing a tune, dealing with disappointments, finding our personal scoring weakness (lacks of strength, stamina, concentration, focus, etc.) and rectifying those.

Stage Four—Getting to Higher Levels
This is for advanced archers only and involves analysis of form, execution, scoring patterns, mental habits/patterns, and more, plus exploring competitions with higher levels of personal value.

Throughout each of these becoming “one with one’s equipment” is an ongoing skill development process. Even if one doesn’t repair/modify/optimize one’s own equipment, one needs to be able to adjust and work through malfunctions during scoring rounds.

What do you think?

PS Where do you think the help of a coach is most valuable? (I think it is in stages 1 & 4.)

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Learning to Shoot in “The Now”

Brooks Koepka is currently (as of 9-8-19) the #1 ranked professional golfer in the world. His mental game?

“I just stay in the moment . . . I never think one hole ahead. I’m not thinking about tomorrow. I’m not thinking about the next shot. I’m just thinking about what I’ve got to do right then and there. It’s very simple.”– Brooks Koepka

This is further evidence as to why I follow golf coaches and golf coaching online. The similarities between golf and archery are profound.

Now, having finished the preliminaries, let me ask you. Do your students practice “present moment thinking” as Larry Wise puts it and Brooks Koepka does it?

I see a great many people walking around with their phones in hand. Even women with purses on their arm or men with messenger bags, many of whom also walk around with their phone in hand.


How many of them are expecting a call, do you think? Or a alert from their bank? And they are carrying it so they won’t miss that call from the babysitter or the caretaker of their ailing parents? I think that number is very small. I think most of these people have just been trained through the use of those instruments to keep them “at hand” and check them frequently. Do you?

Can you be “in the moment” with a phone in your hand? I don’t think so.

What happens if you turn off your phone for a time (I mean off off, not just blanking the screen)? Will you miss any messages? No, your phone messages are recorded, your text messages are cued, your alerts from the bank show up in your email In Box, etc. You will not miss anything important,

Your students can benefit from practice living in the moment. This is why archery, and golf, coaches recommend meditation and/or mindfulness practice. You might want to encourage them to turn their phones off, if just for a while. Think of it as “archery practice.”

Postscript Back in my teaching days I always noted when students were oh, so proud of the cell phones, especially smartphones. I asked them if they had received that device as a gift from their parents (most had). I pointed out that a better electronic leash didn’t exist. “You know your parents can track your whereabouts through your phone.” (Blank faces and “Hunh?”) So can the police. (What???) I considered this kind of banter with students as part of the “psychic rewards of teaching.” Teasing students, while possibly teaching them something was always fun.

I also noted that students waiting to get into a classroom used to engage in talk, often discussing inanities, but sometimes things pertinent to their educations. Soon, it was dead silent outside of my classrooms because every danged one of them was twiddling with the tiny box in their hand. I have always claimed that education is a social process. If you are not going to socialize, you are turning a superior on-site education into an inferior on-line education. Could the same process affect our society as a whole? Stay tuned, boys and girls! We are going to find out.

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Compound v. Recurve Bows for Hunting

I was perusing an online article entitled “A Primer on Bowhunting.” By and large it was quite good but under the topic of bow selection I encountered the following:

“For the purpose of the rest of this article, let’s assume you’re in the market for a compound bow (which is highly recommended for a new bowhunter). The advantages are numerous, but the main ones are:
• increased effective range (usually 50+ yards)
• more accurate
• easier to hold in the drawn position (giving you time to wait for the perfect shot)
• faster arrow speeds/greater kinetic energy (resulting in a quicker and more ethical kill)”

Allow me to address the bullet points, point-by-point.

  • increased effective range (usually 50+ yards)
    Uh, most deer are taken within 25 yards, for example, so this is possibly a detriment. If a hunter thinks he is dead on accurate out to 50 yards, he may actually be enticed to take such longer shots. The problem here is the feeling of “dead on accurate” usual comes from experience at practice on an archery range, free of obstacles. In the field, however, there are branches in the way as well as other obstacles (cramped stances or no stance at all, etc.), and the farther away the game is the more time they have to react to a sound from the hunter (look up “jumping the string” for examples).
  • more accurate
    Uh, just no. The bow affects consistency, but not accuracy. Accuracy falls strictly under the archer’s responsibility. While there are aspects of bow design that do affect accuracy somewhat, it is up to the archer to use any advantage in every case.
  • easier to hold in the drawn position (giving you time to wait for the perfect shot)
    This is the primary, #1, bestest, mostest advantage of a compound bow. Because of designed in “letoff” the draw force at full draw is a small fraction of the peak draw force. Bow designs typically remove 65% to 80% of the peak draw force, often leaving less than 20 pounds of force to be held at full draw. More time means more time to aim. Recurve bows and longbows reach their peak weights at full draw and aren’t going to be held long because of that.
  • faster arrow speeds/greater kinetic energy (resulting in a quicker and more ethical kill)”
    Again, uh, . . . no. Arrows kill by cutting blood vessels that result in the animal bleeding to death. Ethical bowhunting requires the hunter to aim for the largest blood vessels, using an arrow fitted with a “broad head” which is not only broad but is very, very sharp. Larry Wise once calculated what arrow speeds were necessary to inflict lethal penetration on a deer and it came out to about 240 feet per second (fps) for a typical hunting arrow. Compound hunting bows are now promising arrow speeds of 300 fps to 350 fps. Higher arrow speeds result in what are called “pass throughs” that is the arrow penetrates the prey’s body and comes out the other side. Arrows that have left the body of the animal do no further damage, so are not any more lethal than slower arrows. (It is different for rifle hunters as faster bullets carry more energy (just as faster arrows do) but bullets kill through shock, not blood loss from severed blood vessels and there is less “drop” so longer rage shooting become easier.)

I am not a hunter. I gave up hunting when I was 18 and hunting squirrels. But I have been around hunters my whole life and I listen to them and read what they have written (a good book to educate yourself is Timeless Bowhunting by Roy S. Marlow). This allows me to work with bowhunters who are seeking archery advice and also for being able to communicate with target archers who also bow hunt.


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The Zen of Target Archery

Articles written by me are not needed as much as in the past as authors are responding more positively to my requests. So, this post and the previous one are two things I wrote for AFm and have just been sitting for a while. I hope you enjoy them. Steve

* * *

A question often asked when the mental game of archery comes up is “What should I be thinking while I am shooting?” It appeared to me last night that the perfect mental state for shooting is very much like a state described in Zen Buddhism as the state of “no mind.” This state represents a total acceptance of reality as it is without human thoughts being woven through it. There is what to Buddhists call “no attachments” mentally to thoughts or ideas or feelings. There is no thinking, just doing.

This immediately connected in my mind to the stages of competence. Here they are:

Unconscious Incompetence
Conscious Incompetence
Conscious Competence
Unconscious Competence.

Now one could easily ask, but aren’t you delving immediately into thoughts and ideas? The answer is, of course, yes. But, I also am not shooting right now. I am trying to explain how one achieves a desired state for optimal shooting.

Back to “the stages of competence.” To explain this, think of your progression through youth and being able to tie your shoes. As a toddler, when you first began to wear shoes, a parent might say “Oh, your shoe is untied!” and you would look around in bewilderment. What? After several repetitions of this little play, when someone would say “Oh, your shoe is untied!” you might place that foot outward in your stance to have that person tie it. If you got the correct foot (the one with the untied shoe), you were entering the stage of “Conscious Incompetence” in that you were aware of the task needed to be done, but were still unable to do it yourself. When you learned to ask to have a shoe tied, you had made it fully into this stage. From there, you learned to tie your own shoelaces and, at first, it was a quite laborious process (Cross the laces, uh . . . , tuck one under, uh . . . , pull on both ends. . . .) but you were beginning to acquire “Conscious Competence.” Operating on physical tasks in the conscious realm is always awkward and slow. Soon, you were able to get through the entire sequence producing tied shoes, albeit ones that weren’t tied perfectly and they came loose often, hence a parent would be imploring you to “please tie your shoes.” Then with many, many practice repetitions you got to where you are now. You can tie your shoes without thinking about the process at all. If you tied your shoes this morning, do you remember what you were thinking about? If you can, you will discover that it was not about tying your shoes, anything but. This is because you are finally in the stage of “Unconscious Competence.” (Whew!)

Now, an important fine point needs to be addressed and now is a good time. What happens when you flub tying one of your shoes? (C’mon now, you know this happens occasionally.) Do you revert back to Conscious Competence and work your way through tying that shoes in a step-by-step fashion (First cross the laces. . . .)? No you don’t. What you do is “attend to the process” by removing any distracting thoughts and just unconsciously and competently tie that shoe. My point is that distractions can derail your mental state of Unconscious Competence and that “attention” is the cure.

In archery, we prefer not to “flub” our shot process at all, so attending to our shot process is continuous while shooting. But . . . what does this mean?

In the language of Zen, you might be encouraged to “be with your shoes” when tying them (New Agers say “be present,” that is exist in the present moment). Some Zen practitioners go so far as to say “You are the shoe.” So, attending to the process does not mean thinking about the process. I liken it to observing the process, almost as if you are another person. If you are “present” and “attending” to your shot process, how can there be any mental distractions? There are no thoughts. All actions are occurring in the realm of Unconscious Competence and you have “gotten out of your own way” in that you are not inserting thoughts or physical steps into a routine that you have created to shoot good shots. Therefore, you shoot good shots. If you get through a long string of shots this way, you may even call that “being in the Zone” because that is, indeed, what we are talking about.

Getting There
To get to this idealized state, you must learn your process “to the bone,” that is deep into your body so that no thoughts are needed to function as you wish. This state comes through or via the other three stages of competence. It takes a lot of conscious work to create a reliable shot and then it takes a lot of shots to memorize it “to the bone.”

The process of accomplishing this expertise is facilitated if you can accept and adjust your thinking as you go. Become an observer of your thoughts. Learn about thoughts that get in your way and learn to dismiss them. For example, when in a shoot-off, I would invariably think about winning the shoot-off. This is a distracting thought as it doesn’t help me execute my shot process. If you were observing me in such a shoot-off you might see me use my free hand to shoo away a fly from in front of my face. That was not a fly, it was an unhelpful thought I was shooing away. A physical cue helps the mental act of dismissing such thoughts.

The only distraction you have is yourself. Loud noises, the smells of lunch being cooked, other archer’s bad breath are not the distractions; your thoughts about them are.

A Caveat
On rare occasions your shot can desert you. You lose your Unconscious Competence. In these circumstances, you have no other option but to revert to Conscious Competence. Grinding away consciously is not fun. In archery we call it “losing your shot.” But the shot clock is still ticking, or your target mates are still waiting for you to finish the end, so you must continue. How to get back to shooting unconsciously isn’t something that can be taught, but some things seem to apply. Trying to operate as if you were still in that Unconscious Competence state . . . without actually trying is basically what you are attempting. You certainly do not need all of those thoughts flying through your head when you you’re your shot (fear of failure, fear of not winning, fear of embarrassment, confused thoughts, etc.) so dismiss them. Watch yourself shoot; don’t interfere. Hopefully the process itself can pull you back into the state you want. Your body and unconscious mind know what to do, if you let them do it.


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Is Emotional Detachment What I Need When I Shoot?

Articles written by me are not needed as much as in the past as authors are responding more positively to my requests. So, this post and the next are two things I wrote for AFm and have just been sitting for a while. I hope you enjoy them. Steve

* * *

When you look at archers competing, they seem emotionally detached, almost passive when they are competing. But at the end of a match or a team round, they seem exuberant, and joyful (well, if they won). So, should emotional detachment be the state from which to compete.

The answer is definitively, absolutely . . . yes . . . and no.

Drat, you thought this was going to be an easy one, didn’t you?

Focus on What You Can Control

The prime consideration for you as a competing archer to focus upon is what you can control. Primarily this is your shot process.

This is where your attention needs to be. I usually talk about being in a bubble. This bubble contains you and your bow, your target, and very little else. While you may look at the trees lining the range you are shooting at to be able to “read” the wind, mostly anything outside of your bubble is not something you need to pay attention to. Whistles, blown by officials, are designed to penetrate your bubble and, yes, you do need to pay attention to them. The same goes for vocal commands from the Director of the Shoot. But, chatter behind the shooting line, cute members of the opposite sex in the viewing stands, the bad breath of the competitor next to you are all things to not pay attention to. If they intrude, sweep them away. (If I struggled ridding my mind of these distractions, I actually waved my hand in front of my face, as if shooing away a fly, while mentally trying to rid myself of the danged distraction. That hand wave was a physical cue that helps me focus in on what I can control.)

Within your bubble there are emotions that help and emotions that don’t help.

Shooting With Emotion

You shoot a poor shot and it makes you mad. Does this help you or not? Mostly, getting mad doesn’t help, but on occasions it can. I was involved in a shoot-off for a club championship. I was in way over my head as my two competitors had won at the national and international levels, but the shoot was handicapped, so I had a small chance of winning.

The first target in the shoot-off (on an NFAA certified field course) was an 80-yard walk-up target (one shot each at 80, 70, 60, and 50 yards at the largest target face on the range with 5-4-3 scoring). My first shot was a three . . . a fracking three! I was mad. I was embarrassed. I stepped up for my next shot and was very focused (and still steamed) and shot a five. I shot fives at the next two distances to come away with a score of 18/20. I was still angry shooting the next two targets but shot more than well and ended up winning.

What I learned from that was that when the pressure is “on” (aka a moment of high personal value) I am nervous, shake more, and tend to shoot faster. Being mad actually helped me focus on what I could control. It made the shaking worse, but I didn’t try to control it, I just went with it.

I experienced other occasions in which I got mad at myself and I didn’t fare so well. I think in those cases I was focused back on the bad arrow and not on the one I was currently shooting. If I got mad at a fellow competitor and I kept thinking about the incident that made me mad, I shot poorly.

It comes down to focusing upon what we can control. If a bit of anger increases your focus on your shot process it might even help. If it causes you to focus on “world have, could have” then you will suffer the negative consequences.

Shooting Without Emotion

So, if those high level competitors seem like robots, should we go for emotional detachment? Just block off emotions, shove them out of our bubble to be dealt with later?

Actually I think this is a bad idea. I am looking for evidence to back this up but have not yet found any. I believe that being immersed in your process should involve emotional engagement, certainly there should be enjoyment of performing well at something we are good about. A certain amount of intensity seems beneficially.

I remember watching a piano master class. the student was very, very good. The master, however, walked him through a passage of a work the student was preparing for performance and he made a number of careful suggestions. After eking out several variations in his performance, he told the student that it was perfect mechanically, but lacked spark. Finally he asked the passage to be played from a place in which the student felt passionately that what the composer had written was right, correct. There was a quite noticeable improvement in the sound of that passage that time. What the teacher was doing was injecting emotion into the student’s playing, struggling for a bit to find the right trigger to elicit the correct emotions.

I tend to think an archery performance is similar. We do not want exuberant emotional displays while we shoot. They do not help as we want to shoot the next arrow from a calm place. So, most people develop the ability to stay calm during their ends.

At the same time, a certain enjoyment is needed. Do you remember running around with friends as a child? There was a sheer joy in just running around, using our bodies (they didn’t complain then like they do now). I feel something akin to this when I watch our dog running around just to run, the enjoyment in the moment of doing something physical. This supports our being in “the now,” shooting in the present moment, which supports our shot process.

And my experiments in “shooting while mad” (above) indicate that emotion can help.

So, What to Do?

I remember Coach Kim saying in seminar “everybody same, everybody different.” Learning to shoot arrows and learning to compete while doing so is a process, a process in which we learn about ourselves, specifically of how we function best. It is not just a process of learning what to do when. Yes, we all need to master a technique, but part of that is exploring and finding what technique works for us, so we adapt and test, adapt and test.

Serious competitors need to put their mental states/emotions while shooting on their list of things to explore. What motivates athletes varies from athlete to athlete. I expect everything else mental does, too.

To evaluate how your emotions are involved in your shot, the first step is becoming aware of your emotional states and comparing those with how well you felt while shooting and how well you shot. Since this is more than a bit vague, I suggest you may want to take notes. Do a practice session in which you write about your emotional states while shooting a practice round. No, not for every arrow, but every time your shooting seems to feel different or seems to change. Note what is happening emotionally as well as physically. Do the same at a competition. Compare the two sets of notes.

The better you understand yourself while shooting, the better you will shoot.



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Positive Self-talk v. Bullstuff

Many archers on the compound side view the mental game of archery to be ridiculous hoodoo. They are wrong, but you gotta love them anyway.

Part of this distrust is due to misunderstanding a few things. Take, for example, positive self-talk. Self-talk is “what you say to yourself about yourself,” and positive is, well, positive. Many people think this involves mumbling to yourself phrases such as “I am a great archer.”

This is not positive self-talk. This is bullstuff. And we all have built-in a bullstuff detectors, that are especially effective when we are bullstuffing ourselves. This is because if we consciously say (to our self) something like “I am a great archer!” our subconscious mind will rapidly compile all of the evidence to the contrary and present it to us. Oops. (You can’t bullstuff a bullstuffer is the adage, I believe.)

A much better example of positive self-talk is “I am becoming better all of the time.” This phrase supports your efforts to get better. This phrase focuses on whatever markers you are using to gauge your progress (practice scores, group sizes, competition scores, etc.). Of course, if you are not getting better, this is bullstuff. Getting better and better and better is, of course, the path to getting good or even great.

You just can’t make false claims about yourself to yourself. (Believing such makes you a member of the category we refer to as “deluded.”) This is why “I can win.” is a believable statement . . . if you have proved to yourself and others that you can . . . by winning something. If you haven’t it is bullstuff. This is why as a competitive archer, we need to win to learn how to win. This is why we start our charges at small tournaments and don’t go to the national championships as a first tournament. They have to convince themselves that they can win, by winning, then the positive self-talk of “I can win this!” is just stating the obvious.

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