Is Emotional Detachment What I Need When I Shoot?

Articles written by me are not needed as much as in the past as authors are responding more positively to my requests. So, this post and the next are two things I wrote for AFm and have just been sitting for a while. I hope you enjoy them. Steve

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When you look at archers competing, they seem emotionally detached, almost passive when they are competing. But at the end of a match or a team round, they seem exuberant, and joyful (well, if they won). So, should emotional detachment be the state from which to compete.

The answer is definitively, absolutely . . . yes . . . and no.

Drat, you thought this was going to be an easy one, didn’t you?

Focus on What You Can Control

The prime consideration for you as a competing archer to focus upon is what you can control. Primarily this is your shot process.

This is where your attention needs to be. I usually talk about being in a bubble. This bubble contains you and your bow, your target, and very little else. While you may look at the trees lining the range you are shooting at to be able to “read” the wind, mostly anything outside of your bubble is not something you need to pay attention to. Whistles, blown by officials, are designed to penetrate your bubble and, yes, you do need to pay attention to them. The same goes for vocal commands from the Director of the Shoot. But, chatter behind the shooting line, cute members of the opposite sex in the viewing stands, the bad breath of the competitor next to you are all things to not pay attention to. If they intrude, sweep them away. (If I struggled ridding my mind of these distractions, I actually waved my hand in front of my face, as if shooing away a fly, while mentally trying to rid myself of the danged distraction. That hand wave was a physical cue that helps me focus in on what I can control.)

Within your bubble there are emotions that help and emotions that don’t help.

Shooting With Emotion

You shoot a poor shot and it makes you mad. Does this help you or not? Mostly, getting mad doesn’t help, but on occasions it can. I was involved in a shoot-off for a club championship. I was in way over my head as my two competitors had won at the national and international levels, but the shoot was handicapped, so I had a small chance of winning.

The first target in the shoot-off (on an NFAA certified field course) was an 80-yard walk-up target (one shot each at 80, 70, 60, and 50 yards at the largest target face on the range with 5-4-3 scoring). My first shot was a three . . . a fracking three! I was mad. I was embarrassed. I stepped up for my next shot and was very focused (and still steamed) and shot a five. I shot fives at the next two distances to come away with a score of 18/20. I was still angry shooting the next two targets but shot more than well and ended up winning.

What I learned from that was that when the pressure is “on” (aka a moment of high personal value) I am nervous, shake more, and tend to shoot faster. Being mad actually helped me focus on what I could control. It made the shaking worse, but I didn’t try to control it, I just went with it.

I experienced other occasions in which I got mad at myself and I didn’t fare so well. I think in those cases I was focused back on the bad arrow and not on the one I was currently shooting. If I got mad at a fellow competitor and I kept thinking about the incident that made me mad, I shot poorly.

It comes down to focusing upon what we can control. If a bit of anger increases your focus on your shot process it might even help. If it causes you to focus on “world have, could have” then you will suffer the negative consequences.

Shooting Without Emotion

So, if those high level competitors seem like robots, should we go for emotional detachment? Just block off emotions, shove them out of our bubble to be dealt with later?

Actually I think this is a bad idea. I am looking for evidence to back this up but have not yet found any. I believe that being immersed in your process should involve emotional engagement, certainly there should be enjoyment of performing well at something we are good about. A certain amount of intensity seems beneficially.

I remember watching a piano master class. the student was very, very good. The master, however, walked him through a passage of a work the student was preparing for performance and he made a number of careful suggestions. After eking out several variations in his performance, he told the student that it was perfect mechanically, but lacked spark. Finally he asked the passage to be played from a place in which the student felt passionately that what the composer had written was right, correct. There was a quite noticeable improvement in the sound of that passage that time. What the teacher was doing was injecting emotion into the student’s playing, struggling for a bit to find the right trigger to elicit the correct emotions.

I tend to think an archery performance is similar. We do not want exuberant emotional displays while we shoot. They do not help as we want to shoot the next arrow from a calm place. So, most people develop the ability to stay calm during their ends.

At the same time, a certain enjoyment is needed. Do you remember running around with friends as a child? There was a sheer joy in just running around, using our bodies (they didn’t complain then like they do now). I feel something akin to this when I watch our dog running around just to run, the enjoyment in the moment of doing something physical. This supports our being in “the now,” shooting in the present moment, which supports our shot process.

And my experiments in “shooting while mad” (above) indicate that emotion can help.

So, What to Do?

I remember Coach Kim saying in seminar “everybody same, everybody different.” Learning to shoot arrows and learning to compete while doing so is a process, a process in which we learn about ourselves, specifically of how we function best. It is not just a process of learning what to do when. Yes, we all need to master a technique, but part of that is exploring and finding what technique works for us, so we adapt and test, adapt and test.

Serious competitors need to put their mental states/emotions while shooting on their list of things to explore. What motivates athletes varies from athlete to athlete. I expect everything else mental does, too.

To evaluate how your emotions are involved in your shot, the first step is becoming aware of your emotional states and comparing those with how well you felt while shooting and how well you shot. Since this is more than a bit vague, I suggest you may want to take notes. Do a practice session in which you write about your emotional states while shooting a practice round. No, not for every arrow, but every time your shooting seems to feel different or seems to change. Note what is happening emotionally as well as physically. Do the same at a competition. Compare the two sets of notes.

The better you understand yourself while shooting, the better you will shoot.



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