I got this call for help email from a colleague in Italy:
“My average score at indoor competitions is around 510-515/600. I am quite regular in this. My objective is to reach 540/600 within the indoor season and I am working on it. But yesterday I shot a first half with a typical score (257), but I was feeling good, and in the beginning of the second half I started shooting very well. After seven ends I had 193 points which was 13 points higher than in my first round! I went back to the shooting line and asked ‘How many ends to go?’ ‘Three.’ I said ‘Not possible! I have 193 points already!’ Well, you can guess the result of my next end. I followed a 28 with a 20, then a 26, then a 21 and ended up with a ‘normal’ score of 260.
“Apart from the fact that I was writing the scores (which I will try to avoid from now on), if I think back to that end, I cannot retrieve a different way of shooting, but obviously it happened. I tried to concentrate more after the 20, and it was slightly better, but in the final end, I shot another 5!
“In the second part of the competition I had been shooting with an average of 28/30, until I realized I was going ‘too well’! My question for you is: what can I do to avoid this problem? Is there any ‘trick’ apart from trying not to realize how many points I got?”
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What you are dealing with is called a “comfort zone,” you are “comfortable” shooting 510-515. As mental guru Lanny Bassham says “shooting 510-515 is just like you” making it part of your self-image and, according to Lanny, self-image controls performance. What is needed is to reframe that mental set point inside of you and there are a number of things one needs to do. A simple one is to avoid a practice many archers do without thinking. When warming up or just shooting at a target, they will only be concerned with how their arrows group on the target face. If the groups are tight, no matter where they are placed, they are happy. This is a mistake, your groups should always be centered on the target’s center (e.g. the gold) because your subconscious mind keeps track of where your arrows land. You want to be someone who “always hits the gold” (“I live in the gold!”) … now that’s a powerful self image! Also, your subconscious mind keeps track of your group sizes. If your first arrow at, say, 70m is left of the center in the blue, did you do anything wrong? If that arrow is within your normal group size at that distance,. then you did nothing wrong and should take no action. If it is outside of your normal group, you need to check whether something is wrong (loose sight, bad form on that shot, etc.). If the shot is “normal” and you think something is wrong and make an adjustment, then you are on a path to failure.
Primarily, though, the little things don’t make big changes. To make a bigger change in your “comfort zone” you need to shoot “normal” scores in practice that are higher than 510-515. Here is how you do that: you start with a bigger target face at a shorter distance, say a 80cm target at 9 meters. Shoot a practice round (30 arrows, 300 points and multiple by 2 to get a 600 point score equivalent). Your score should be very high; if it is not, you are losing focus (probably because it is too easy … you think). You need to focus on shooting your normal shot, in normal rhythm, just at this larger target much closer up. Your arrows should all land in the gold (9s and 10s) giving you a score at least in the 560-580 range. Focus on getting your score to as high a level as you can without doing anything different like aiming too hard, trying to “help” shots into the 10-ring. Keep a score card and keep records of each and every score (just looking at those much better scores reinforces what you are doing). You must do this several times. (Obviously this takes quite a bit of practice time.) Then you can move the target from 9m 2-3 meters farther away and repeat the process. In 3-4 steps of doing this you will be back to 18m. After you shoot 2-3 very good scores at 18m, you go back to 9m with a 60 cm target face and repeat the process. All the time, you need to retain a high level of focus without “trying to score.” (“Try? There is no try; do or do not.” Yoda from Star Wars) After you have gotten through the series with the 60cm face, go back to 9m with a 40cm face. When you finish the series with the 40cm face, you will be at regulation distance (18m) with a regulation target face and along the way, you will have shot 100’s of arrows into the gold and shot dozens of scores higher than 510-515. Then it will be “like you” to shoot scores higher than your “old normal.”
Your subconscious mind sees an arrow in the gold and it is an arrow in the gold. It doesn’t care that you “cheated” by using a larger face at a shorter distance. Only “experience” can lead to an improved self-image but we can accelerate that experience (rather than wait for several years as your scores creep up slowly) through these kinds of exercises.
A word of caution: if your form or execution or equipment are weak, this will help, but much less than if your form is solid and your equipment is tuned well. Check your tune and make sure your setup is good before doing the above exercise. You need to have confidence in your equipment to perform well.
If you figure out a way to not know your score, I will appreciate your sharing that! You must, however, must (must, must, must,…) avoid projecting your score into the future. So, if your end score is 26 or 25 or 27 you just approve of that and move on. You do not want to think things like “If I keep this up I can shoot a new personal best!” … these kinds of thoughts take you out of the “now” and place you squarely in the future and you must shoot in the “now” in order to shoot well. Also, you will end up on an emotional roller coaster and you now know what they feels like—”Oh, I have 193 points, how can that be?”) which will undermine the steadiness and calmness needed mentally to score well.
Does this help? These are methods archers have used successfully to move their comfort zones up and thus improve their scores.
I do hope this helps and you let me know if you try it and whether it worked for you.