The New AER Archery Curriculum

December 2010

Archery Education Resources (AER) is in the business of supplying the structure, information, and support for developing archery programs for youth and adult beginners. When developing archery programs, though, the immediate question is, “What do we teach the participants?” There are myriad archery classes going on in the country: at summer camps (private, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, church camps, etc.) and there are school programs again (Yeah!) and the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) is introducing large numbers of kids to archery. But these programs often teach just a few lessons. The archery experience at many day camps is a “one time only” experience. And, while a few summer camps have JOAD programs built into them, they are still programs, like NASP, that only last a couple of weeks.

AER feels that, in order for kids to stick with our sport, there should be some kind of curriculum (a teaching plan) that takes them from the beginning onward until they are quite advanced. Without such a teaching plan, young people move from Lesson 1 to Lesson 3, then back to Lesson 1 next summer, etc. Now archery is being taught as a diversion, not as any organized effort.

If you examine youth baseball or soccer or any other youth sport, there are all kinds of teaching materials available, targeted at formalized age-groups as well. But we have been able to find only a few snippets of archery curricula, most of which never got formally published (in which case you had to know somebody to get a copy). Almost all of these were designed for archery classes, often college classes that lasted 16 weeks with class meetings once a week. (And most of these included lessons on the history of archery, which is really useful on the shooting line.)

What is needed is not a set of lesson plans (Lesson 1 The Safety Rules, Lesson 2 The History of Archery, etc.). What is needed is a set of instructions that tells an archery class instructor what to teach, how to teach it, and when to teach it. Oh, I can hear a number of you instructors bristling with indignation in that you don’t like being told what to do. Well, neither do I, but 35 years as a classroom instructor has taught me that having something to guide the instruction of new archers is infinitely better than having nothing. And no one will be forcing you to use our curriculum. And if you do, there will be no curriculum police to check to make sure you are doing it “our way.” What we will be providing is a way to teach archery. If you think you have a better way than our way, we are going to ask you to post “your way” on our website so other coaches can try it and if “your way” proves to be better than “our way” we will change out curriculum to reflect your better practice (and give you full credit, in print).

When I last taught, the audience for my classes was predetermined, as was the subject material. The textbook was already chosen by departmental committee. On file (for public inspection) was a formal curriculum outline. Available to each student (and online to the public) was a complete syllabus including every learning objective on which students would be tested. This was normal. Inside such frameworks, teachers exercised their own personalities and teaching gifts by individualizing instruction, and exercising their presentation skills, examination drafting skills, and evaluation skills, etc. This level of structure acts as a support, not as a straight jacket.

So, why couldn’t archery have the same level of support? Why hadn’t somebody done this already?

Obviously it was time to roll up our sleeves.

Creating An Archery Curriculum
All of those aspects of formal classes (pre-determined audience, formal curriculum outline, etc.) don’t exist for archery classes, so we had to start at square one and proceed from there. But anything we come up with has to have certain attributes. The list includes:
• the curriculum must be published so that people can find it
• the curriculum must be affordable
• the curriculum must support the instructors greatly
• the curriculum must support the participants greatly
• the curriculum must be transportable (like transferring credits when switching schools)
• the curriculum must be customizable (to fit widely different audiences)
• the curriculum must be dynamic (that it can be improved over time)
• the curriculum must have a simple, clear, effective evaluation system built in (so that the instructor doesn’t have to make one up)
• the curriculum must be individualized (students don’t start archery all at the same age, some start at 8, some at 80, it is not like you can teach multiplication only in the fourth grade)
• the curriculum must be comprehensive (cover the needs of all styles of archers)

Whew, we looked at this list and said to ourselves, “This can’t be done.” And, as usual, it could be done, it has been done; it just took a couple of weeks longer than we thought.

The starting point in developing this curriculum was the question: “Who is the audience?” If you don’t know who you are addressing, you are in deep, deep trouble to begin with.

Who’s the Audience?
Currently a serious competitive archer starts with trying archery for fun. Then they get good enough and are encouraged . . .. or are dragged . . . to an archery competition. At that competition or competitions some of these young archers do well and have the thought “If I try harder, I could be good at this. I could win.” or something equivalent. They then undertake some program of advancing their skills. If they achieve success, however they define that, they continue down that path. If they aren’t happy or particularly successful, they might go back to shooting for fun, but very many drop out of the sport.

All of this told us that there are, in this country, two main audiences—recreational archers and competitive archers. Here are our definitions of the two audiences we identified:

Recreational archers are training to participate.
Competitive archers are training to learn how to win.

Our opinion is that if you try to train a recreational archer like you would train a competitive archer, you will fail (certainly way more often than not). Conversely if you try to train a competitive archer like you would train a recreational archer, you will fail. This must be taken into account in any archery curriculum developed.

The Two Audiences

At any archery competition, paradoxically, you will see recreational archers competing with competitive archers. Since archery is an open sport (anyone can enter and compete in almost all competitions) you can and will see all kinds of archers, including these two types, in the same competition, even competing side by side. One would think that because they are all competing, that they are all competitive archers. We don’t think so. There is a vast difference between the two kinds of archers. And even though there are archery competitions which have cash awards, and recreational archers do enter them, they have a vanishingly low chance of winning any money. Recreational archers are motivated by the participation . . . by having fun. If they enter a “money shoot” it is because if they get lucky and win one of the cash prizes they will be able to brag to their friends about their archery prowess. It is not about the money. It is about having fun. And if it isn’t fun, recreational archers generally won’t do it.

Competitive archers are training to learn how to win. They will often do whatever it takes to improve their chances of winning: physical training (weights, cardio workouts), nutritional programs, sports psychology programs, expensive coaches, purchasing the finest possible equipment, and lots and lots of practice shooting arrows. Many of these activities are “not fun.”

Going to competitions does not make you a competitive archer; seriously trying to win them does.

Being a Recreational Archer Recreational archers enjoy shooting arrows: some shoot in their backyards, some shoot with organized clubs, some attend a great many competitions year around while others never attend competitions, some competed in the past but don’t any more. To be a recreational archer means that you may go to a competition and compete, but the highlights include getting to see your archery friends and experience the competition and maybe challenging yourself, but winning is not anticipated.

Recreational archers don’t have to practice much, they only need to shoot enough arrows that they stay in “shooting shape,” which can be loosely defined as being “not too sore” after a competition. A great many recreational archers compete with just themselves in that they keep track of their personal best scores and try to better them. If they dream of winning a big tournament, it does not supply enough motivation to train hard.

Being a Competitive Archer Competitive archers range from archers determined to make an Olympic team and who have focused their whole lives on that goal, to family people who are just passionate about their sport and who want to explore their own abilities. You will find very young and very old competitive archers. These are people who spend a significant amount of time each week practicing, refining their technique and equipment, and thinking about their sport. Competitive archers seek out coaching and advice from doctors, nutritionists, and chiropractors about their physical fitness. They are serious about their sport—serious, not humorless—competitive archers like to have fun as much as anyone, but part of the fun (a major part) is shooting and competing well.

Competitive archers really can’t get enough: enough practice, enough equipment, enough coaching, etc. Competitive archers focus on identifying their mistakes, not as an exercise in self-loathing (“I am so stupid!”), but to identify things they want to correct. Some keep log books of data and notes to help them get better. These are behaviors we are teaching our coaches to look for in identifying prospective competitive archers.

AER’s Curriculum is Directed at . . .
So, we decided that AER’s audience is . . . drum roll, please . . . recreational archers. Because, right now, there is almost nothing for them. They are also an audience sufficiently large to supply the financial incentives to create the teaching materials, websites, support, training, etc. for the effort to succeed. Competitive archers have a number of systems in place to meet their needs (although it still seems much to difficult to identify those systems, but that is for someone else to tackle).

What we are trying to do is expand the participation of people of all ages in the sport of archery. If they participate. If they have fun. If they are encouraged to attend competitions. If they go to a competition. If they do well . . . they may just decide they are a competitive archer and will want to start serious training.

Until then, we are developing a complete curriculum that will take student-archers from not having shot an arrow to competing at the national level. This curriculum has all of the criteria described above and will be published sometime in 2011.

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