My Battle with Perfection

When you shoot Compound Freestyle, also known as the Compound Unlimited style (and by many other names . . . I especially like the French label: arc à poulie, basically “bow with pully”), indoors your goal is a perfect score. In indoor leagues we varied between shooting NFAA 300 Rounds (60 arrows, 5-4-3 scoring) and the Vegas Round (30 arrows, 10-9-8-etc. scoring).

I started out in archery shooting a compound bow with my fingers on the string. I only switched to a release aid when I got tendonitis. “Release shooters” were supposed to shoot perfect or near perfect scores indoors, so this was my goal. For some reason, I struggled with the multi-colored Vegas target. I never broke 290/300 on that round, but on the NFAA Round I made steady progress. I moved up from the 260’s to the 270’s, then 280’s and 290’s. I hit a plateau, however, at around 296/300.

I shot score after score at 296 ± 2. This lasted for more than one season. I realized at the time that while shooting I had thoughts like “This first one had better be in or the rest of the round is a waste of time.” and when I finally dropped a point, I realized that I had lost mental focus during the end, thinking about scoring or worse, thinking about work, rather than thinking about executing.

Then one league night, I grabbed the wrong bow case and ended up with my outdoor bow at the league session. Instead of somewhat larger aluminum arrows my outdoor rig had Easton ACCs. Well, no sense in whining about it, I shot my outdoor setup. And I shot a 300/300 NFAA round with 42Xs, a new PB in X-count. (So much for shooting fat shafts because of, you know, the advantage.) After one regularly shot 300/300 rounds, the next goal was an X-count of 60. Note The NFAA X-ring is almost the same size as the Vegas 10-ring.

Thinking that I finally had broken through whatever was preventing me from scoring regular 300s, I shot the next league, with my indoor bow, and shot . . . 286/300. I had mistaken someone who had shot one perfect score with someone who always shot perfect scores. I certainly hadn’t brought my A-game that night.

What I Learned
It is clear that archery is a sport in which one, in short order, can approach a score that is “near perfect” in a number of rounds. (Not the York Round shot with a self bow! I didn’t break 100 on my first try . . . out of  1296 (using traditional 9-7-5-3-1 scoring).) It is easy to make the transition from “points made” to “points lost” in one’s thinking and when one is chasing “no points lost” odd thoughts crop up from “sighters” through to the final end. (I cannot clearly remember what was going through my head on the final three ends of that 300/300 round I shot, but it wasn’t pleasant.)

By extension, I now teach students that seeking perfection is a bad idea. We do not want to “shoot perfectly.” We do want perfect scores, though. A perfect score is an outcome from sticking to your shot routine and focusing on each and every shot the same way. In other words, a perfect score is not the summation of X perfect shots. It is the summation of X shots that were “good enough.” My perfect score had more than a few 5s and Xs that were shot “outside-in” (I kept the target face and examined it carefully).

And, if you want to be an archer who shoots perfect rounds almost all of the time, you have to shoot a lot of those scores, to get the mental cobwebs swept out. You want to prove to yourself that shooting those perfect scores is “just like me” and the only way to do that is to shoot a lot of them. And the only way to shoot even one of them is to attend to your shot sequence while focusing on what is happening now. Thoughts of what might happen are not helpful, not helpful at all.

Photos of the target face can be easier to evaluate than the faces themselves.

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