Shooting Stress/Intensity

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,

Today, I accidentally stumbled into an archery tournament, so I decided to participate. At the start of this tournament, I was not under any stress at all. During the first two ends, I scored low even though I didn’t have any sort of tournament jitters. I had so little stress that I couldn’t activate my mental program. However, I decided to start putting pressure on myself by shooting after 15 – 30 seconds had passed every end. With this amount of pressure, I was able to activate my mental program and score the highest I’ve ever scored at tournament (234 / 300). Based on this experience, it seems like not having any stress at a tournament is as bad as being stressed out at a tournament. Is this a common problem?

On a different note, I decided to participate in the second competition. However, I did not perform nearly as well as I had during the first competition. I was missing and scoring 16/30’s. Again, I was not stressed, but I felt panic every time I was about to release the arrow. This caused me to flinch and hook the string. This is something I have never experienced because I only ever feel panic when it is accompanied by stress. What’s going on?


* * *

Ah, so many discoveries, so little time! The word you are using, “stress,” is unhelpful so I will not use it. What you experienced is very common but many archers do not even notice what is going on. To shoot well requires focus and attention. For the purposes of archery, focus is largely a subconscious thing and attention is a conscious thing. You have trained yourself to “attend” to what is important, when it is important. This is the purpose of your shot sequence. You learn that sequence in practice and then through repetition you make it easy and largely under the surface of your thoughts. If your thoughts wander or your attention is captured by something happening that is not relevant, that is you are distracted, you are not attending to what you should and you will shoot poorly as your timing and other important aspects will be disrupted.

At the same time as you are attending to your business, you must be focused. If you are present and operating mindlessly, as if you were on autopilot, you will also not shoot well. You can be calm and not feel any “stress,” as you put it, but you will not shoot well. Rather than being mindless, you must be mindful, and bring a certain level of intensity to your focus on your shooting.

Once you discover what these are, for you, then comes the hard part: you need to create these mental conditions when you want them and do it consistently. This is what your mental program is supposed to be designed to help you with.

The fact that you struggled in the second 300 round is not surprising. Until you have found these states of mind, when you miss, it creates anxiety, then you shift into troubleshooting mode to figure out what you are doing wrong. Unless there is something wrong with your equipment, or in your reading of your environment (sun, wind, etc.) you should not be in troubleshooting mode. What you are doing is trying to “fix” your shot in real time during a competition, a recipe for disastrously low scores.

What you need is a different mindset. Right now, you are accepting shot results as if they reflect on who you are as a person, instead of presenting an opportunity to learn. The first mindset is a dead end and calls into question your skills and reputation every time you shoot. The second is the path to excellence. If you shoot two 9’s and then a 6 during an end, the ideal mindset is a touch of Mr. Spock, a la “Fascinating.” You just gave yourself an opportunity to learn. It doesn’t say anything about your progress as an archer, or as a person, or really anything outside of that shot.

So, to be a very successful archery, Grasshopper, you must “bring it” when you compete. Every shot requires a less than 10 second period of intense focus (subconscious) while you attend (conscious) to that shot. It flicks on, then off, then on, then off. Trying to be “on” for the hours required to shoot a round would exhaust anyone and would be counterproductive. Some people use triggers to start the process: golfers use their first step from behind their ball to setting up to hit it as their trigger, for example, some archers often use a key word (Commit!) just before they raise their bow, others have just learned to turn on their focus automatically through experience.

If you want to know what it looks like, here it is. (I believe he was mentally reviewing his last shot which requires one to recreate one’s mental state.)

Butch (Lloyd Brown) v3

Butch Johnson (Photo by Lloyd Brown)




Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

4 responses to “Shooting Stress/Intensity

  1. akismet-c7c47bdd2e1ad15eac7f30912bfe68fa

    Thank you for these posts.  I am a new archer (in my mid 30’s) and really appreciate reading the lessons learned from others.

    From: A Blog for Archery Coaches To: Sent: Saturday, December 27, 2014 8:41 AM Subject: [New post] Shooting Stress/Intensity #yiv2306258198 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv2306258198 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv2306258198 a.yiv2306258198primaryactionlink:link, #yiv2306258198 a.yiv2306258198primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv2306258198 a.yiv2306258198primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv2306258198 a.yiv2306258198primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv2306258198 | Steve Ruis posted: “Dear Coach Ruis,Today, I accidentally stumbled into an archery tournament, so I decided to participate. At the start of this tournament, I was not under any stress at all. During the first two ends, I scored low even though I didn’t have any sort of t” | |


  2. Hi Steve, I really enjoyed your post about mental focus as that area is one I find particularly fascinating in sports in general. Have you written a book about the psychological side of archery at all?


    • I have a project I am actively working on right now, but I feel like it is a bit of a black hole, that is is going to suck me in so I never heard from again. There is just tons of stuff that has been written (and I have read a half ton of it) but, of course, little of it applies to archery and the part that does hasn’t necessarily been tried. So my job is to just make people aware of these aspects of the way our minds work and let them work it out for themselves. Even so, it is a formidable task.

      I am going to be writing up parts of the book and publishing them in Archery Focus, just to see if it gets any traction.

      Please send it any questions you have, it helps me focus on what is really needed rather than upon what I think might be needed.



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