Working with Adult Beginners

Claude and StudentAn interesting thing happened about a year and a half ago. The Chicago Archery Center put out a Groupon offer for a set of four archery lessons at their center. A whopping 1400 people bought a Groupon! But that’s not the most fascinating thing; that was that the vast majority of those purchasers of archery lessons were young . . . adults. As you are aware, archery is undergoing one of its typical growth spurts, probably fueled by popular movies, like Brave, The Avengers, and The Hunger Games and by television shows like Arrow. Many of these archery newbies are adults. Working with adults is different from working with kids. Let’s explore this.

Are Adult Beginners Different?
We teach all beginners in much the same way but we see three different groups, each of which have to be addressed at least somewhat differently: pre-pubescent youths, post-pubescent youths, and adults. Pre-pubescent youths do not have much muscular development, so the lightest weight equipment is used and “fun” is emphasized over everything but safety. These are pre-teens who usually looking at archery for recreation and not as a competitive sport (but there are exceptions, of course). Post-pubescent youths have more muscular bodies but are often growing rapidly, so much attention must be paid to their equipment so that it fits them, especially if they are getting serious and purchasing their own equipment. Allowances for growth must be made especially in arrow selection. (We go over this in detail in our bowfitting seminar.) Adults, on the other hand, do not have growing up to deal with, but we still start them with lighter weight equipment because archery form, posture, etc. is best learned with as little stress as possible. Once proper posture and technique is learned, draw weight can be increased fairly rapidly, as long as it does not degrade an archer’s form and execution.

How We Treat Adults Differently
Adults have a number of traits archery coaches to be cognizant of; here are a few:

Adults Can Overpower Light Weight Equipment By “Light Weight” we mean bows with low draw weights. Adults can overpower the equipment trying to force it to do what they want rather than learning how to get the equipment to show them how it operates best. The first job in learning to shoot well is learning how to relax. Youths often don’t have the option of muscling their bows into a particular behavior, so they can often learn to relax quickly. Some adults struggle with this. Constant reinforcement regarding relaxation is needed.

Adults are Self-Conscious About Appearing Incompetent One of our coaches went to a family reunion and took some bows, arrows, and a target to teach the kids how to shoot. One particular young lady was shooting very well in short order and this was pointed out to her parents and grandparents. When Dad and Granddad were coaxed into giving it a try within two arrows they were competing with one another and their quite young daughter/granddaughter to see who could score better! (Of course, scoring was not being emphasized.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs adults we want to appear to be at least competent and especially do not want to appear to be foolish. This is akin to teenagers wanting to look “cool” and it is as big a handicap. Our best recommendation is to encourage adults to channel their “inner child” (ask them to revert to being a 12-year old again) and just enjoy what they are doing. Encourage them to avoid thinking about how they might look to bystanders. (Most of the bystanders are other beginning archers in any case.)

Adults Control Their Own Money No parent wants some archery coach getting their kid jacked up about all of the expensive equipment they will need to progress in their sport. So, we make every effort to educate the parents and involve them whenever we make a recommendation regarding a purchase of any kind (organization dues, competition fees, equipment, etc.). With adults, you generally control your own purse-strings, so we talk to you directly.

It is perfectly acceptable for them to use your “program equipment,” as long as all they want to do is shoot arrows for fun. But once they address archery as an endeavor deeper than that, they need their own equipment. Usually the thought comes to them “if I did a little work at this I could get pretty good” or they get home and find that shooting arrows has made all of your “problems” disappear for a while. (Not only does it do that but their problems come back to them in the order of their importance, at least to their subconscious minds anyway.)

In order not to be limited in what they do, they need a bow of the right size, weight, and especially draw weight and draw length. The last two are the two pillars of archery performance and without them, not much can be done. Program equipment has all been chosen to be “enough:” that is long enough (arrows), light enough (in draw weight), light enough (in physical weight), but it can’t possibly be expected to fit every participant and it does not.

If they become interested in purchasing them own equipment, our guiding principle is that folks should buy equipment that matches their level of expertise. Experts should buy top-of-the line gear, intermediate archers should buy intermediate-level equipment and beginners need to buy beginning level equipment. This does not mean all beginners who want a compound bow need to get a Genesis, or other zero-letoff bow, a bow with letoff is good to have, but just not a really expensive one. Not only is the higher end equipment harder to afford, it is harder to use, that is it requires a higher level of expertise to use it to effect. If you want to become more expert in making equipment recommendations we teach a seminar for you in bow and arrow fitting and even if you haven’t taken the course, you may be able to recommend equipment to your adult students that will fit them and their recreation budgets, too. As always, limit yourself to your own competence. If you don’t know much about compound bows, tell your student that they will be better served going to a local shop. Do tell them that they are looking for “beginner level” equipment,” though.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdults Often Want Explanations Kids are usually told they need to just do what adults tell them to, so often we give suggestions and they just go about trying. Adults, on the other hand, are used to making their own decisions. Consequently you will need to supply explanations if asked. We recommend you wait until asked for an explanation because our definition of boring is “an answer to a question you didn’t have.” Archery class is supposed to be fun.

We also insist that “the athlete is in charge” in that unless there is a safety violation involved, they pretty much get to do what they please (in the context of the class. Archery is an individual sport and we can’t promote your independent excellence as an archer but denying you the right to make your own choices. If a student insist on drawing his bow with a two finger grip on the strip, please do tell them that we recommend three fingers on the string (to avoid damage to the nerves in the fingers from the pressure of the string) but if they insist, it is their sport and they can do what they want.

So, we encourage adults to ask away . . . but they need to recognize that in a class setting you have many people to pay attention to and you may have to ask them to hold their questions while you attend to one of your other charges. You are not being rude; you are doing what we want you to do. Just monitoring the safety of all participants, our #1 goal, requires a great deal of your attention.

If they are taking pleasure from their excursion into archery, one of our staff has written a book for adult beginners: “Shooting Arrows: Archery for Adult Beginners.” Recommend it to those who want such a thing.

Shooting Arrows Cover v4 (small)


Filed under For AER Coaches

4 responses to “Working with Adult Beginners

  1. You are so right about adults wanting to appear competent! Me, anyway. Just have to put down the faux ego and forge ahead!


  2. Dina

    I’m adding my two cents to this, since I felt that way in my archery class where I was giving myself a hard time inside for some bad shots. I had to remind myself that I took the class to enjoy the sport because the focusing helps me relax and working towards better results is part of the fun (and addictive!). I just wish I could practice hours every day 🙂


    • A big part of being a good coach for beginners is managing expectations. The rate of improvement starts out really high but dimishes with time (the law of diminishing returns applies). This is especially thrue for adults who have real lives and only get to shoot one a week or even less.

      In the recnt ITAA State Championships, I shot a nice “9” (out of ten) on my next to last arrow. Unfortunately it was on my neighbor’s target! Bad shots happen and part of archery, like part of being alive, is learning to deal with them. Don’t lose heart, the sweet shots eventually outnumber the bad.


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