Getting Them To (and Through) Their First Competition!

Every archery student who makes it past four or five lessons is generally keen to go to a “real” archery competition . . . and we think they should be encouraged to do so. This article is about what coaches can do to help beginners, no matter how old, to enjoy and learn from that first experience.

Where to Start
We believe people should start small as the more local the tournament, the more relaxed the environment. Throwing newbies in with archers trying to grind out a state championship can be traumatic for the newbies (and irritating for the potential champions). Since your students are not likely to be able to find notifications for local shoots, it is up to you to inform them. We like to encourage archers to make their first shoot an indoor competition because of the distance and relatively small number of shots needed (30-60). That doesn’t mean you can’t start them outdoors, just keep in mind that they probably have little experience shooting longer distances and high arrow volumes. Local club shoots, especially fun shoots, are also a good place to start them.

You will have to explain that every archery competition is sponsored by an archery organization (USA Archery, the National Field Archery Association (NFAA), IBO, ASA, etc.) and a local archery club. They do not have to be a member of the organization or a member of the club to participate because almost all archery competitions allow anyone to participate as a “Guest.” We strongly recommend that they take this route (registering as a “Guest”) even though they will not be able to compete for medals. That’s right, to win medals/trophies they must be a member of the sponsoring archery organization. (Think about it! If this weren’t a requirement, few folks would join and pretty soon there would be very few clubs and very few tournaments.) If they find they really like competing, then it is time to join an organization (there are dues) and a club (more dues).

Preparing Them to Go
It is always reassuring to have had a rehearsal of any complicated event. This is one reason we recommend you put on mock tournaments in your classes. Students will learn how to score, to not touch arrows or targets while scoring, how the whistle system is used to control a target event (but not field), how to deal with dropped arrows, and shooting line etiquette.

If you have an indoor timing system, try to work it into one of your mock tournaments. Have a colleague role-play being a Judge. Play it to the hilt. Obviously, you would not do all of this for your first mock tournament, but certainly by the third or so, it is time to ramp it up.

You may want to prepare some handouts to give to students to read (or share with parents if they are young, covering the topics in the next section. Also obviously, if you hear young students talking grandiosely about winning, you might suggest that their goals be to: #1 Have fun! and #2 Learn about competitions.

Getting Them Ready to Go
There are always some preliminaries to take care of. First, archers need all of the equipment necessary to compete: bow, arrows, tab, quiver, everything. If they don’t own their own equipment, it may be possible to borrow some from your program, but they should be taught not to expect that as it is unusual. It is also almost guaranteed that the tournament hosts will not have equipment to lend or rent. The assumption is that they always have all of the archery equipment they need to compete.

They will probably have to fill out a registration form for the competition, typically available on the Internet, but sometimes a spot can be reserved by a simple phone call. If you want to print out registration forms and pass them out, that would be helpful, too. Do not wait until the last minute to do this as there can be limited spaces to shoot (especially indoors).

Your students will have to arrange a ride to the event, if they don’t drive. Possibly the tournament host could locate another competitor in your neighborhood who is willing to give them a ride, but that is a long shot. There is a tradition of coaches giving rides to students, but as suing people seems to have become our largest national sport, we are recommending that our coaches not do this. (In many states, the volunteer driver is taking full responsibility for the behavior and welfare of minor invitees.) Plus, parents need to know that their child’s participation in archery will involve them, too (at a bare minimum as “driver”).

You do want to encourage your students to check as to whether the tournament host will be serving food (for lunch or snacks) and what they will be serving. As an example of why, if they are just serving hot dogs and someone doesn’t like hot dogs, they will have to pack a lunch. Especially if they have special dietary needs (gluten free, no peanuts, etc.) they will need to take care of their own food.

If the shoot is outdoors, they will need a hat and probably sunscreen. If rain is expected, they will want some rain jacket or other they can shoot in and a towel to dry off their equipment. Try to get them to think about all of the things that could happen on a day outdoors and how they should prepare. If they are on medication, for instance, they need to take it with them. Try to get them to think of everything so their day isn’t ruined by an ordinary thing they forgot to bring. Something they may not realize they need to bring is a folding chair to sit in (for outdoor target events). Many outdoor target events don’t provide chairs (or enough chairs).

They do not need to memorize the rule book of the parent organization. In fact, the easiest way to get all of the help they need is to tell everyone who will listen that this is their very first competition. They will find all of the officials and their fellow competitors will help them out if they get confused. As we often say, archery is a social sport! In a section below we have a “rules primer” that will mostly keep your students out of trouble.

On the Day
Strongly recommend that they have a good breakfast on the day of the competition. If they will eat what is being served at the site, they need to be sure to have enough money to pay any registration fees and get something to eat. If they are packing a lunch, they must be sure to take it with them! As an exercise you may want them to make up a list of everything they want to take with them to use as a checklist when they are packing to go, so they don’t forget anything. Alternatively, you may want to prepare a checklist for them as an example of what to bring (and how to remember to take it with them). They need directions which can often be had from a website or a computer map program and they are off!

When they get to the shoot site, they need to unpack. Outdoors, they will be given a shooting lane assignment and will want to pile their gear up close by. In field events they need to be prepared to carry everything they will need on to and around the course. Indoors, everybody will be in the same building and often they will be just looking for a place to put their stuff down. Because indoor events take place in the winter, people not only have their archery gear but bulky jackets, hats, gloves, etc. Recommend they try to keep everything in one place so they can find their gear when they need it.

Competing archers will need to check in at the registration desk and pay any fees they need to. They will get scorecards to fill out. (Don’t forget to have your “newbies” tell them “this is my first shoot” and they will get extra help.)

In USA Archery sponsored events they may also have something called “equipment inspection.” Probably your brand new competitors will be registering as “Guests” and Guests usually are not required to go through equipment inspection, but doing so will give them that much more experience for the next time. The one thing that often catches people is that every arrow has to be identical and uniquely identified as being theirs. Most people write their name or initials on their arrow shafts with a Sharpie, or other permanent marker. If their arrows are black, they make silver Sharpies. Having this done ahead of time is just one less thing to worry about on “shoot day.”

Almost universally when it is your time to shoot, they will be allowed two “practice ends.” Often there is a place to shoot some arrows to warm up before then but sometimes not. The two practice ends aren’t scored, but give them the opportunity to meet the people they will be shooting (and scoring with). Explain to them (and incorporate into your mock tournaments eventually) that for scoring purposes, typically four archers are grouped together: two become scorekeepers, one becomes the “caller” who reads the arrow scores out to the scorers and the fourth is there to be used to break disagreements. If they say to everyone “this is my first shoot” they will probably be given the easy job of being the fourth in the scoring group, but maybe not. (Did they bring a pencil to score with? and mark arrow holes with?)

The shooting line is controlled by the whistle system except during field shoots in which people just take turns. They should be familiar with the whistle system, as we usually teach it in Lesson 1.
When they are finished shooting, their scorecard must be signed by the archer and by both score keepers, but only after the archer has checked the math (they are responsible for their score card and any errors on it). There are penalties for turning in incorrect scorecards so if they need a calculator to check the math, we hope they brought one. When they turn in their scorecards, they will be checked to see if all of the signatures are present and that the scores (and X counts, etc.) all agree. Then they will be given one of the cards as a record of their performance and the tournament people keep the other for their records.

There may be breaks during the shoot (or not). These will be explained before the shooting starts, so encourage them to listen up for all vocal directions provided.

A “Rules Primer”
Many beginning archers worry about violating the rules. We don’t think worrying is helpful. Usually, Judges and fellow competitors will cut newbies some slack. (They did tell everyone “this is my first shoot,” didn’t they?) But, if they violate a rule over and over, they should expect to pay a penalty.

Here are some “rules” that, if they follow them, they will be very unlikely to encounter any trouble.

Straddle the Shooting Line Not all of the archery organization’s rules require archers to straddle the shooting line while shooting but all of them allow it. So, if they do this, they cannot be faulted. To straddle the shooting line, archers must have one foot in front of the line and one foot behind (neither is “on” or touching the line).

Shoot After Someone Else Does There are penalties for shooting too soon or too late in timed events, so we recommend that at the beginning of each end your newbies wait to raise their bow to shoot until someone else launches an arrow. This may cost them a second or two, but is cheap insurance against shooting before the time allowed. New archers generally shoot quite fast, so there is little danger that they run out of time.

When Scoring, Don’t Touch! Touching (yes, just touching) an arrow or a target before the arrows are scored can incur a penalty! The safest thing to do is to touch nothing and only pull their arrows after someone else has.

When Not Scoring, Don’t Touch In some organizations there is a penalty for even touching someone else’s equipment without their permission. Official rules aside, this is rude; tell your students “don’t do it.” If they see a really cool bow, it is okay to “look but don’t touch.”

When in Doubt, Ask! If your archers are unsure as to what to do, have them ask their fellow competitors. (Obviously they do not want to ask any of them a question when they are at full draw.) All archers are welcoming of “newbies.” They will be welcome, too.

This may seem like a lot of “dos” and “don’ts” but when competing you don’t want your students to be thinking about anything but shooting. An event is much more fun when they have everything they need and don’t have to worry about getting a ride home, or whether they have enough lunch money, or anything else. And, we want them to have a good time and attend other competitions so they can fully enjoy our wonderful sport.


Filed under For AER Coaches

2 responses to “Getting Them To (and Through) Their First Competition!

  1. Great post. Note that in Europe, each archer announces their arrows for scoring. If you call out someone else’s points – it is quite a faux-pas. My first comp was after 3 months of shooting and I was last place but had a great time. My objective was simply to be there. My top concerns were noise from the time clock buzzers and seeing/hearing 40 archers shoot at the same time. Even now at world cups, I am happy to be there and love hearing all those bows on the line but I like setting new records too 😊 Kelea


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