What Should an Archer be Thinking While Shooting?

What should an archer think while shooting? This is a question often asked even though it isn’t asked often enough. There is, no surprise, not a whole lot of data to examine, but I did run across a 2013 survey of 28 PGA Tour professional golfers who were asked about what their favorite “swing thought” was (“swing thoughts” being the golf equivalent of archery “shot thoughts”). Here’re the results: 18 pro’s said they didn’t think about anything at all during their swing, 10 who did claim to have a swing thought said it was to focus on a spot a few inches in front of the ball, to encourage swinging through the ball, instead of hitting at the ball, or they focused on the desired shape of their shot. None of them said they had any technical thoughts about their swing. (Read that last sentence again. SR)

Now golf is more dynamic than archery, but it has many similarities to archery. This is one of those.

  • Golfers do their analysis and thinking between shots, so should archers.
  • Golfers inspect the lie of their golf ball, obstacles in their way, potential hazards, the landing zone they want to hit and how far away it is, the wind, club selection, and on and on, but when it is time to hit the ball, they do two things: they visualize the shot they want to hit (this is a form of instruction to the subconscious processes that control our muscles; it equates to “this is what I want you to do”), and they stop thinking consciously (it is just a distraction). Archers should do the same.

There is one exception: when you find yourself or your archer making a mistake repeatedly, it is okay to have a “shot thought,” a short phrase designed to emphasize a correction, shoring up a weak point as it were. An example is “strong bow arm” or “finish the shot.” This phrase is though only at the point in one’s shot sequence where it is appropriate. Mumbling “finish the shot” to yourself mentally in the process of raising the bow and drawing it is not recommended, only after aiming when one is finishing one’s shot should the phrase be invoked. And, this is a short term process, which should last a few shots and then stop. I have known people who use a shot thought through a whole round. (I tried this myself; I don’t recommend it as it seems to focus too much attention on one part of the shot routine, thus drawing attention away from other parts. It, it seems, becomes some sort of magic talisman; use it and you will score well. It isn’t. Don’t be fooled into this kind of magical thinking.)

So, the answer to “What should an archer be thinking while shooting?” is “Nothing is best.”

Note I consider a shot to begin when the bow is raised and end at the end of the followthrough. This defines “while shooting.” What happens between one shot and the next is the post-shot routine (scoping the arrow, analyzing any fault, etc.) and the pre-shot routine for the next shot (checking the wind, slope, any adjustment suggested by analysis of the previous shot, etc.).

Another Note Shot visualization is not magic. You cannot use a visualization process to any great effect if you haven’t practiced the process you are attempting. The mental instruction that a visualization is cannot train the muscles to do what they are untrained to do.

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1 Comment

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One response to “What Should an Archer be Thinking While Shooting?

  1. Tom Dorigatti

    Great response, Steve Ruis!
    Something I’ve tried for myself and with students is to write down your Shooting Checklist in sequential order. Bullet point it with as few words as possible.
    Then, pare that checklist down to as few items as possible, focusing on those areas during your shot sequence that you mess up.
    Once the list is pared down to 4-6 items (and no more than that). You can make a bulleted list and mount it on a thin plastic placard with double stick tape. Put velcro on the back of the plastic placard and you can mount it up high on your riser so it is facing you. The object? Easy. READ that checklist BEFORE starting the shot sequence for the next shot. Do this each and every time before you shoot an arrow and after you shoot an arrow.
    IF you are trying to incorporate something new or different that you’ve added or replaced in the shot sequence you are used to, simply make that step stand out by making it RED in color.
    It is like having today’s shooting “goal” sitting right out in front of you and you are only reading it before and after each shot during that and subsequent shooting sessions.
    I am trying to figure out how to post photos on here, because I have this placard and a list available to share.
    This really does help, especially when incorporating something new into your shot routine or working on the ONE big item planned for that practice session. You have to keep the other “forgetful points” in that sequence until they aren’t a problem any longer. Again, 4-6 items MAX.

    Like

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