We all start in the same place. When we began, just launching an arrow and having it hit the butt was a joy. I can say this confidently because if we hadn’t experienced the joy of just shooting, we wouldn’t have continued in the sport, so we did . . . and we did. I was an adult beginner and I can remember the joy of hearing my arrow hit the butt on a long shot . . . and the disappointment when I walked up to the target to see my hit was all straw and no paper. I can still recall that sound and it still sounds “good.”
Fast forward to today and, well, what has happened to that joy? Do you still feel it? When? How often?
I have never advocated emotionless archery. I have always felt that you have to bring some intensity, some emotion into your shooting . . . but just a little because archery is a low arousal sport. And, those joyous moments are, I believe, to be cherished as the finest form of positive reinforcement of your shot and your shooting.
There are things in the way, however, of experiencing those joys. Evolution has primed us to notice the negatives. This provides us a certain evolutionary advantage. If we correct our mistakes, we become better, but it is unlikely that we will do that if we do not notice them.
Second is the nature of target archery itself. In the beginning, we were oh, so happy to hit the target face with a scoring shot. But after we accumulate some expertise, we notice the “good” shots less and less as they become “normal” and we notice the bad shots more and more as they become “not normal.” An arrow scoring 9 out of 10 goes from being a good shot to being a disappointing “non-10.”
Another is the somewhat subtle illusion of being in control. We think we should be in control of our thoughts and emotions. We are not. We can cultivate an air of insouciance . . . think pro golfer Dustin Johnson . . . but thoughts and emotions still come up, albeit possibly less frequently than before. And that is not controlling those thoughts and emotions so much as it is having learned to deal with them in a calm manner.
What I am recommending is that you pay attention to whether you feel that joy and when. Take note that you just did something well. Maybe it was when you shot a good shot after shooting a poor shot. Maybe it is shooting a nice group, where it scores maximally. (A nice group in the four ring is not a nice group, just one you can work with: by adjusting your point of aim or your sight, for example.) Take note of these and feel the joy . . . and then move on.
Don’t let your competitiveness squeeze the joy out of your archery. Many people look at expert archers shooting and say they look effortless. They don’t see the thousands of hours of practice behind those performances, nor do they see the mental grind going on between our ears. But if you overemphasize the negatives and shrug off the positives in a search for a better score, you may just eliminate all of the reasons you have for performing at all.
I think this is especially important because archery is a lifelong sport. No matter who you are, you will reach a peak in your ability to perform and then that will diminish . . . and diminish . . . and, well, you know. Some people can’t accept lesser performances and so quit and take up fishing or poker as a hobby. Some people accept lesser performances and keep trying to establish how well they can shoot . . . now. One of the saddest things I have ever seen in archery was when an elderly archer, one who had been a mainstay in archery, was on the line at the Vegas shoot and couldn’t get off his third arrow in one end. It wasn’t that he couldn’t get off a good shot, he couldn’t pull his bow. Sometimes a physical decline is steep and unavoidable, but modern equipment allows us to pull less weight, hold up less weight, and still shoot for a long time. The gentlemen who couldn’t pull his bow had shot the same bow for many, many years and needed to let it go, but possibly could not.
Find the joy, cherish it, keep shooting by adjusting and enjoying the sport. En-joy the sport.