Managing Expectations/Showing Them How to Win

If you have ever had to help a young archer deal with a disappointing performance, you probably realize that their expectations are not always grounded in reality. I am going to address this topic under the rubric of “showing them how to win.”

What Is the Basis for an Expectation?
Many young archers attend a competition, even for the first time, with an expectation that they will do well or even win. These are not true expectations, they are more accurately characterized as hopes. I argue that if you help them learn to assess their chances realistically, this will help your serious archers to shape their practices and efforts to become better as they will learn what it is they need to improve.

So, what are the variables involved in a winning performance? There are many:
• shooting a winning score (a DNF doesn’t win you anything)
• who else shows up (the majority of my first place medals came when I was the only competitor)
• the environmental conditions (if you are a poor wind shooter and a strong wind comes up, your chances of winning go down)
• . . . and many, many more things.

What Should be the Basis for an Expectation?
Ah, good question, Grasshopper! Let’s start with the basics. I ask my archers to go on the internet and look up the winning score for their competitive category for the past three years. Let’s say the winning scores were 256, 248, and 262. The next question I ask is what is their best practice round score? If they have never shot a 248 or higher, then their chances of winning are slim and none. A better comparator would be the average of their past five (5) practice round or even-mixed practice/competitive round scores.

These questions bring out the usefulness of keeping records. Plus they raise all kinds of other questions. Let’s say that the average winning score was 255 and your student’s five round average was 255, what are the odds of him/her winning? If it turned out that 255 was the winning score this year, your student’s odds were roughly 50% in that half the time he/she scores over 255 and half the time he/she doesn’t (roughly anyway). To have a higher chance of winning requires a higher round average or maybe a lowest score shot being above the winning score identified.

Are There Other Benefits?
Oh, I am so glad you asked. There are myriad other benefits of getting them to look realistically at their own expectations. Consider the following scenario:

A student of yours has expressed a sincere desire to win a state title, so you put him through the process of seeing whether that is a reasonable expectation and . . . argh, his/her scores are at least 20 below the needed score to contend. Your student’s face drops as if you had just crushed a child’s favorite toy. You, however, address this shortfall optimistically. You say: “We have six weeks until the state tourney, let’s see if we can improve your scores enough to contend!”

There are a slew of things you can do. Starting from then you could say “Let’s see where you are. I want you to shoot a practice round right now and I want you to try to shoot your best score!” Of course, “trying harder” gets you nowhere in archery and your student now has an opportunity to prove this to himself. When his really low score gets logged (you can even stop him part way with “This isn’t working, let’s try something else.”) you can then share with your archer that the only thing that has been successful at creating better scores is to focus intently upon the process of shooting arrows, one arrow at a time. So, to work you go.

You can take the opportunity to check his/her bow tune, introducing the topic if it hadn’t been already. Obviously checking his/her equipment to make sure it is functioning properly is important. You can encourage additional practice sessions. I am sure you can add a great many things to this list.

Even if his/her practice score average only improves 10 of the needed 20 points, they can go into that competition with an honest expectation, plus there are other goals than winning. You can emphasize being prepared for all that will happen. You can look forward to experiencing a “big shoot.” You can set the goal of getting a good start. You can set the goal of finishing strongly. Meeting a bunch of goals is a way to characterize a successful tournament.

All of these goals need some preparation. You can’t just send off an archer with a “Make sure you get a strong start!” if they have no idea of how to do that. Obviously process goals are more valuable at this stage and they should be kept to a small number.

And, of course, there is the mental game. You need to recognize that a strong mental game supports a strong physical game; it is not a replacement for one. Ideally the two “games” grow side-by-side.

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