Helping Shape Archery Attitudes

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Helping Shape Archery Attitudes

If you have been coaching for some length of time it is almost guaranteed that you have encountered student-archers who had “bad attitudes.” Since your standing with those archers is not very high, there doesn’t seem that there is much you do to shape better attitudes. Let’s talk about this.

It probably is not helpful to tell your charge “you’ve got an attitude,” for that is shorthand for “you’ve got a bad attitude,” and it may not hit home. It may rather say “I don’t like you” and the response may be dislike in return.

Just so we are talking about the same thing, the “attitude” we are talking about here is “a mental position with regard to a fact or state; for example a helpful attitude, meaning a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state.” If that doesn’t help, we are talking about “how” people achieve their goals. Maybe their goal is they just want to shoot a good score or a score good enough to win a local competition. Important questions regarding achieving those goals are: what is their opinion regarding, say, “practice” with regard to achieving their goal? What about “talent?”

Is your student someone who people say is “talented” when it comes to archery? If so, do they believe those claims? And what does that mean to them? There is a trap in believing you have a “talent for archery” (we recommend that they don’t believe that as there seems to be no basis in fact for such a thing) and that trap is the fact that a talent is . . . what? Is it anything they can do anything with? Or is it just what it is, something fixed in them that they have no control over? If they believe the latter, studies have shown that people who believe they have an innate talent in them are often afraid to challenge themselves because if they fail, what does that mean about their “talent?” Did they run out of talent? Did it fail them? These are pretty scary situations because they mean something about, well, them. And they have no idea whatsoever what their talent is.

You can also easily see backhanded criticism of professional athletes, by endowing them with “natural talent” (“he has prodigious gifts” or “he is a huge talent”) as a way of saying “it is not him, it is a gift he was given; he didn’t earn it, it was a gift”). This statement ignores the amount of hard work needed to acquire any skill, implying they just naturally knew how to do those things instead of earning them through hard work. Conversely other athletes are described as “hard working” and “the first to come to practice and the last to leave,” implying that they “earned” their skills and weren’t just gifted them.

Some interesting studies about talent addressed student’s attitudes toward learning math. It seems to be true that everyone can learn math and that some learn it more easily than others. But many young people experience the following when they first begin to struggle: a parent or other adult says something like “That’s okay, kiddo, I didn’t have a talent for math, either.” This seemingly consoling statement is, presumably, meant to relieve the young student’s anxiety. Basically, they are saying “it is not your fault, it is because of nature or something (genetics); some people just don’t have what it takes to learn math.”

The problem with this “attitude” is that it offloads responsibility for performance onto something that probably does not exist. In other cultures, when a student struggles the parent/other adult reassures them by saying “you will just have to work harder, but I know you will succeed; you can do it.” Which of these two attitudes is more likely to result in a better outcome, do you think? And shouldn’t the same be true for archers?

Does practice help?

“Gee, I go to archery practice every week, I wonder why the others are getting better and I am not. Maybe I need better equipment.” We hear this from too many young archers. Just showing up is not “practice.” Showing up is a requirement for practice to occur, a minimal requirement. If they don’t show up when a range is made available for them to shoot on and you are also available to coach them, it will be much harder to get better. But there is no guarantee that if they do show up, things will get better, either. Practice, rather, is what you do to get better. If they are not getting better, then they are not really getting any practice, or certainly not any effective practice.

To become better, they must do things that make their scores better. If they adopt the attitude that “practice is what you do to get better,” and you have the goal of getting better, then there are some consequences. First they have to have some indicator of what “getting better” means. If they have a fair number of competitions where they are, they might be able to use their competition scores. If not, they might use scores on practice rounds. Whatever they choose to indicate their progress, they will have to keep track of those numbers. (Having a notebook and using it well is an absolute necessity for serious archers.)

You, as coach, can be helpful in determining things they can do to get better. But you can only make suggestions; we do not recommend making demands. Practice is not just showing up, but showing up, doing things differently, and noting which things work better and which don’t. This is why it is strongly recommended that each archer keep a list of the things they are trying and always (Always!) read that list before they start shooting, otherwise they could easily fall back into their “old normal” shooting and lose any progress they might have been making. You can help, by recommending the list, asking if they have read it (over and over and over—hey, it is a repetition sport!). We even go so far as to give out small spiral bound notebooks that students can keep in their quivers.

Coaches can also provide drills, with each drill described and a plan made, for example: “do this for two weeks and then we’ll check to see if you are better.” This drill then becomes a part of what they do when they attend your lessons (and hopefully if they are able to practice between lessons). Whether that drill is kept in their practice routine depends on whether it makes them better. You have the capacity to show them how those tests are made and whether or not their work is being directed correctly.

Don’t confuse an unwillingness to do the drills you recommend as a sign of a bad attitude, it may be a sign of a recreational archer. If the program they are in is only for serious competitive archers, then maybe they are in the wrong program. Shooting for fun is not a mistake, it is what the vast majority of archers do and drills aren’t fun. And recreational archers tend not to do things that are not fun (drills fall into this category).

Attitude is an important factor in archery. Successful archers tend to have an attitude directing them to work harder and smarter, from which they get better. They are willing to let their performance dictate what they should be doing in “practice.” They don’t worry that they are running out of talent, because there is no such thing. Coaches can help shape these attitudes by recognizing the differences between “recreational” and “competitive” archers (AER terms) and making suggestions accordingly.

The first rule of getting out of a hole you dug yourself is to stop digging.


Filed under For All Coaches

2 responses to “Helping Shape Archery Attitudes

  1. I have issues when I sometimes encounter students who choose not to listen. I find this is most common with teenagers. If you’ve ever tried to teach someone who is stubborn and doesn’t want to listen you will understand what I mean. On two occasions I have even cancelled lessons and issued refunds because I simply don’t want to teach people who refuse to listen and apparently see the instructor as more of a babysitter. When refunding their remaining lessons I don’t mention their attitude at all but instead politely give an excuse that something has come up and I cannot teach those lessons any more. It bothers me that some people sign up for archery lessons but have no intention of listening to the instructor… it is like paying university tuition and not bothering to show up for class. Thankfully this is relatively rare.

    As a personal trainer I and others in my field often encounter people who don’t like to exercise or practice outside of scheduled training times. You can give them a list of exercises to do, ask them to practice on their own time, etc – but only the truly motivated and enthusiastic people will bother to do the exercises/etc.

    I really enjoy teaching seniors archery. They are very enthusiastic, have very flexible schedules and I find they are a joy to teach. They have in my opinion the best attitudes.


    • Hi, Charles, if you are teaching an individual, I think your approach is appropriate. If teaching a group, if someone doesn’t want my attention I go work with someone else. If those someones achieve betterment of their shooting, maybe the recalcitrant one will come around. In any case, it is supposed to be fun and they might be having fun without your help. Obviously I have no way of knowing how your lessons were structures. If they were described as “serious training for serious competitors” it would be one thing and if “serious fun with a bow and arrow” it would be another.

      I can’t tell from your comments, but I often see cases in which it appears a student has “no intention of listening to the instructor” but are really cases in which the coach is telling the student things they do not want to hear. If you are working with what we call a “recreational archer,” one who is motivated only by the fun of shooting, telling them they need to do drills or memorize a shot sequence will only be met by bewilderment. Those activities do not sound like fun, and so will be ignored (as more polite than laughing in our face or telling us “Like I am going to do that.”) Only what we call “competitive archers” will respond to such recommendations as the “fun” in archery for them is in shooting well or “winning.”

      As I said, I can’t tell if this was the case with the person or persons you had in mind. But the next time this happens, see if you can see if you are giving mixed messages in this way … giving advice to a highly competitive student who is not a highly competitive student.

      And, as a career teacher, I have to warn you that your own happiness with teaching may be affected if you don’t focus on their experience and not yours. It took me 20 years as a teacher to finally wise up and stop blaming my students for their poor performances. I instead honored their choices to do what they wanted to do (I taught adults). So, I recommended that they read the assigned material, and do the practice problems, etc. Then I said, “you’ve heard this a thousand times before, so it may just be accumulated wisdom or systematic bullshit. You get to choose. If you do not want to do the homework as suggested, there will be no penalty, but you will take the same tests as everyone else and if what you are doing as a substitute doesn’t produce the results you want, you may just want to try something different,” including what I was recommending. (I often asked students who indicated they couldn’t be bothered doing the homework “How’s that experiment going?”) The sad thing was that these students had been trained to do what they were doing. Former teachers gave them good grades for what I considered substandard performance because a teacher with students with low grades is an unhappy teacher (students complain, parents complain, administrators complain,…). Unfortunately there were not a great many of us trying to hold the line, so the results of my experiment were mixed. I did, however, get to keep my self respect by honoring their choices. And their behavior and not their words will tell you. People notoriously commit to exercise programs and then out and out refuse to do what they committed to do (now that’s a tough gig); archery at least is inherently fun while you are doing it.

      Now having said this I will admit that Principle #51 in my new book “The Principles of Coaching Archery, Volume 1” is “You can fire students.” The basis for that, though, would be because of a conflict between the student’s goal’s and the student’s behavior, not with any goals you might have for the student. One of the questions I ask all beginning students is “Why do you want lessons?” The most common answer is because they want “to get better.” I have to follow that answer up with “What does that look like to you?” because for some “getting better” means competing and winning and others it means personal satisfaction is appearing to be a competent archer.

      As an aside if you have ideas about cardio training for archers, consider writing an article for Archery Focus magazine on the topic (for which you will get paid … uh, not much ;o). If you are interested, you can contact me directly at


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