Some Thoughts on Competing Against Yourself (Personal Bests)

We encourage young recreational target archers to participate in competitions as soon as they are comfortable with the idea (and even before). We argue that competition fuels progress. Often times, however, we follow that up with the concept of personal best scores (PBs) and argue that they are really only competing with themselves.

So, why do we need those other people if we are only competing against ourselves?

There is, as is often the case, some truth in each claim, even if they contradict each other somewhat.

I am reminded of an experiment. Researchers asked cyclists to pedal stationary bikes as fast as they could and recorded their personal best records after several rounds of attempts. Despite the fact that the cyclists were sure, very sure, that they could go no faster, once they were put in a simulated race against a supposed competitor—which was really just an avatar set to their own best time—nearly all of them were able to beat their previous PBs.

Similar experiments have been repeated in the realms of academics, music, and art, with exactly the same result: individuals perform at a higher level when competing against external opponents than when working alone.

So, the idea of competition spurring athletes to greater performances that they thought they could have is supported by research, but we still have to deal with students who look at competition the wrong way. These students follow their placements during a tournament. They are obsessed with the scores of those they perceive of as their opponents, and when we tell them “they are just competing against themselves” they stare in blank amazement at our utter stupidity.

The cure for unproductive competing is not personal best scores. Those are good indicators of progress, but maybe not good goals in and of themselves.

As coaches we need to train our charges in how to compete: how to avoid distractions such as mind games, how to focus on those things that will improve their scores, how avoid evaluating their shooting until they are done, etc.

We need to teach them about comfort zones (and how to avoid their effects), about what to focus upon (shot sequence, mental game, recovery programs, etc.), and how to respond to “failures” (as they perceive them). Competition needs to fuel better practices. (“If I am going to beat “so and so” I have to shoot in the <scoring zone> so how do I get there, what do I need to do in practice to make that a reality?)

I guess I am saying is if we just leave it up to the competitions to teach them about competing, we are doing the equivalent of expecting the bow and arrow to teach them how to shoot, our guidance being unnecessary. It can happen, but good coaching can reduce the time needed and the pain experienced when learning.


Filed under For All Coaches

2 responses to “Some Thoughts on Competing Against Yourself (Personal Bests)

  1. Competition does tend to motivate beginning or advanced beginning archers as it is an official event where the results will often be published on the Internet. The official event also is exciting as there is preparation of equipment and supplies, The archer also gets to meet other competitors who may be intermediate or even advanced-level archers depending on where the competition is located (mostly would be a local club or regional-level tournament). Yes, the archer should have a realistic idea of potential for placing and if not able to achieve the podium finish yet, would still have that probably better personal best score.


    • I have written before about how one makes a reasonable estimate of the probability of winning, never a bad thing to have. (I was an expert in wishful thinking when I competed seriously.)

      On Sun, Feb 7, 2021 at 3:07 PM A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



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