Grinding: A Short Introduction

Grinding is a term used frequently in golf but not so often in archery. Maybe it should be.

I remember sitting in the magazine’s booth at one USA Archery National Outdoor Championships and a young archer I coached from time to time walked in and dropped into the seat next to me. It was the first day of the tournament and he had just shot himself out of medal contention, or so he thought.

After some small amount of whining and whimpering, he shared the above conclusion with me. I said “Good!” He was more than a little shocked. This was, I claimed, a perfect opportunity to learn something.

The Basshams, the Mental Management folks, use a phrase over and over which is: “We either win or learn, there is no ‘lose.’” Actually I think we can win and learn, too, but that is for another day.

With my former young student I argued that he was about to learn what grinding was all about. His first task was to get back to the practice area and make sure that his equipment was operating correctly. No performance can counter equipment flaws.

“We either win or learn, there is no ‘lose.’”

The next thing to do was to set goals for the next days of competition. Maybe a goal for each day or a goal for each morning and afternoon session or for each distance shot. Then a renewed focus on his process, shooting one arrow at a time with no thoughts of the consequences. Thinking always happens between shots, but that is confined to how to shoot the next.

Setting personal bests at various distances or for a whole day or for . . . whatever are encouragements and demonstrations of his level of performance that inform future performances.

At the end of the shooting was the time to dissect why his first day was so subpar. Dwelling on that right away creates the wrong mindset for continuing in the competition.

Think about it, shooting a bad arrow as your last arrow can seal your fate in a close competition. Shooting a poorly scoring arrow as your first arrow is something you can possibly recover from. Grinding out a good score is an important skill. This is especially important for young archers getting disappointed in a competition and wanting to quit because all of their lofty goals have become unattainable. There is a lot to learn from “the grind.”

Now, having said all of that if there is something seriously wrong: multiple equipment failures, incipient target panic, etc. plowing on is not necessarily a good idea. One can end up just reinforcing improvised compensations. I ask, for example, my Olympic Recurve students to practice occasionally without their clicker, even to the point of shooting practice round scores. (Question: what is a clicker worth? It can and should be measured and this is one way.) Young people often engage in a battle with their clicker during competitions and end up losing to it because all of their normal reactions are positive rather than negative feedback, e.g. they tense up and “try harder” rather than relax (tense muscles are shorter than relaxed muscles making getting through the clicker harder).

So, I suggest they stop using their clicker until that can recover the feel of their shots. Later, if feeling relaxed and comfortable, they can go back on the clicker to see how it goes then. Continuing to fight the clicker results in powerful emotions becoming associated with it, causing the wrong things to be burned into memory.

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