Dear Coach Ruis,
About a few months ago, I decided to start practicing by myself. About 90% of my practice is in complete solitude, and my practice has become extremely productive and efficient. However, is it bad to practice alone? My thought is that since I practice alone, I won’t get accustomed to other people; overtime, I’m concerned that this might spike my anxiety during tournaments, where there are lots of people.
Also, I’ve recently implemented a “mental program” as recommended by Lanny Bassham. Am I supposed to think about my mental program before I make each shot, or while I make each shot? I’ve noticed it’s almost impossible to do the latter.
Again, these are very good questions.
Most archers practice alone, at least some of the time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But, if you never acclimate yourself to a noisy venue, you may have problems blocking out distractions when they occur. One of the ways you can “practice” blocking out distractions, is to play music you do not like during practice, preferably loudly. Obviously you may not want to annoy your neighbors or others nearby, so you will be tempted to use headphones. If you do, be sure that the cables involved will not get caught during a shot. (The new wireless ear buds look promising for practicing athletes.) I would like somebody to put together a nice compilation for this: maybe some babies crying (loudly), fingernails on a blackboard, a bunch of pots and pans clanging together (loudly), etc. One year the French Olympic team practiced while drill sergeants screamed in their faces (with suitably bulging veins, if the photos were any evidence).
Another aspect of becoming a consistent winner is learning to monitor your personal space. Some venues have very narrow lanes, while others have wider/regulation ones. If you expect a crowded venue, practicing with others will help, especially if you can stand close to one another as you shoot. If you have no one available to practice with, try shooting close to a wall, or stack up some cardboard boxes as a stand-in for an archer “in your face.”
Something almost impossible to prepare for is rude or out-of-control competitors doing things in an attempt to put you off of your game. This is exceedingly rare, but it does happen. Experience is considered to be the best teacher, but it is also often harsh and brutal.
Mental programs are quite various. There are programs you run when things go wrong in competition (usually called “recovery programs”) and planning (for practice, competition, equipment changes, etc.) is part of the mental aspects of the sport, etc. It seems, though, that you are asking about the mental processes that are run while shooting. If this assumption is wrong, let me know.
There is a dictum for archers: practice consciously, perform subconsciously, which you have discovered (“Am I supposed to think about my mental program before I make each shot, or while I make each shot? I’ve noticed it’s almost impossible to do the latter.”). So, during practice, you consciously think about what you want your subconscious mind to take over for you. This is done by only working on and focusing on, just one aspect of your shot at a time and linking the feedback you give yourself (a good shot … or not?) to that one thing. While working on your bow hand, if your bow hand was correct, whatever happens to the arrow just shot is irrelevant, that was a “good shot” (which is why we take down the target face while working on form—it can only provide mixed messages).
The foundation of archery mental programs are:
(a) your shot sequence, which provides a framework for the physical shot and the mental steps that go along with them;
(b) what I call the Rule of Discipline “if anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from the environment, you must let down and start over.” If you override this rule you are telling your subconscious mind that it is okay to shoot bad shots, that it is okay to improvise, neither of which is good; and
(c) various bits and pieces that work for you.
Here is an example of a mental program, linked to a shot:
(a) You take deep breath or two and physically and mentally relax
(b) Some people use a “trigger” which is a word to get you started but it is just as easy to take an arrow out of your quiver as your trigger. (Do not use taking your stance as a trigger point here because you often only take your stance once in an end.)
(c) When you get to the point just before you raise your bow, make a first-person visualization of a perfect shot, including the arrow landing dead center. Include all sights , sounds, odors, everything you can; make it vivid! If you just shot such a shot, you have a perfect model; if you do not, you must use strong memory skills.
(d) During subsequent form steps, some people use key words to help with weaknesses they are working on; for example, I used “strong bow arm” while drawing for quite a while.
(e) At full draw, some archers use a memorized bit of a song to keep them on rhythm; they aren’t singing it per se, but that music is running through their head,
(f) Last is a mental evaluation of the quality of that shot, which is compared with the outcome (I shot a good shot, why isn’t that a 10? Oh, the wind picked up!) and a plan for adjustments to the next shot are made.
In order to link your mental program to your shot, you have to use it on every practice shot and every competition shot, starting … oh, I don’t know … how about NOW!
This is just one example of an “ordinary shooting” mental program. Everyone is different and may need different “pieces.” But all of them have your conscious mind focusing on things that will not interfere with your subconscious program, just supporting that programming from “afar” as it were.
I hope this helps.
PS I wrote an entire book on creating a strong mental program (Why You Suck at Archery). There are many reasons WYSAA described (with recommendations to correct them) but the primary reason (covered in the entire second half of the book) is having no mental program at all.