A New Way to Look at Target Panic

Since we are not even close to a definitive explanation of target panic as experienced by archers, I feel it is important to get every possible idea into print, so that future investigators will have a place to start from. In this case I think a very good source for target panic is in our emotions, or rather in our interpretations of our emotions. For example, there is a bit of common wisdom that if one is getting angry, venting that anger can make things better. You don’t want to suppress it and have it build up more and more until you explode. This bit of collective wisdom is unfortunately wrong. Scientific studies show that expressing anger makes one more angry, not less. This is because we have gotten emotions wrong from the get-go. We have always thought there is a sequence in which a stimulus, say one that evokes anger, triggers an emotion that triggers a physiological response, in this case, the well-known “fight or flight” response of rapid heart beat, sweaty palms, etc. In actuality this is mixed up. The stimulus evokes a physiological response first then we associate an emotion with that response, and we are not all that good at interpreting those signals. So, a likely sequence for target panic is that subconsciously we become anxious or fearful and out heart begins to race and our palms sweat (common responses to a fight or flight situation). But when we experience these things, we can associate them with negative performances we have had in the past. In the past, when your game imploded right in front of you, you became self-conscious, embarrassed, confused, etc. so the symptoms are not far apart. You get into what I tend to refer to as the “here we go again” scenario. The sensations evoke those negative memories, by association, which makes us even more anxious, which enhances the physiological responses even more. This positive feedback loop takes you farther and farther away from what you need to do to shoot well: focus on your shot sequence in a calm and consistent manner. Now psychologists haven’t studied target panic to any great extent, but they have studied panic attacks a fair amount. One approach to people who had frequent panic attacks was to characterize those attacks as the patients misinterpreting the physiological signs (heart racing, palms sweating, etc.) and assuming the worst: they think they are having a heart attack or are going to die and they become even more stressed, which makes their hearts beat even faster and their palms sweat even more. The process feeds upon itself (it is a positive feedback loop, after all) until they enter a state of extreme panic. The doctor pursuing this line of thinking trained many of his patients to see that the initial response was their body experiencing a small degree of anxiety (for reasons unknown) and if they would just wait a bit or do some relaxation exercises, they would avoid a serious attack. The treatment turned out to be quite successful and even applied to students who were getting exam anxieties, or job interview anxieties. Another approach was to associate those feelings with something good, e.g. ‘I love the feeling of competition pressure, it means I am close to my goal!” The key thing here, that we have just learned recently, is that emotion doesn’t cause the sensations, the sensation causes the mind to interpret them, often by associating with an emotion, at which task we are not all that good. Addendum One of the more successful recent theories regarding emotions is that we learn them! We are taught how to respond to various situations by our parents and guardians. Kids with calm parents usually end up with calm demeanors. Kids with explosive parents often end up with exaggerated demeanors. As a young man, I had an explosive temper which I now believe I learned from my father. I have since trained myself out of that. But that is a whole different topic. Target Panic Science . . . Finally If you are interested, here is a good scientific paper on target panic: To what extent can classical conditioning and motor control systems serve as explanations to target panic? You can find it here: https://varden.info/doc.php?id=5 Don’t be afraid, it was written by a college student for a class and is not full of obscure jargon.

5 Comments

Filed under For All Coaches

5 responses to “A New Way to Look at Target Panic

  1. Linda Woody

    What you have said makes a great deal of sense. At times I have recovered from an injury such as recently, and have had a little target panic episode feeling as if I will re-injure myself. I just did a bit of positive thinking and self-talk and broke out of it. That is probably a good idea to help.

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    • Glad you found something, Linda! Many of us do not and disappear and so are no longer part of the conversation. I sincerely wish the archery organizations would sponsor some academic studies that would get us closer to knowing what TP really is. Just like in our shooting, if you are trying to fix a problem and you have identified the wrong thing as a problem, you are unlikely to fix it.

      I do think that that fears and negative associations are involved, but I am just guessing . . . along with everybody else.

      On Thu, Oct 28, 2021 at 5:46 PM A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:

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  2. Clueless mom

    I doubt this is the same thing, but I was looking for ways to help my 13yo who is new to archery. She’s had 3 practices at school her last getting an 8. Then they just had a competition to determine who’s on the team this past weekend. She was beyond excited and a bit on the hyperactive side. Did okay on the practice round, 7&8’s. 1st round started out well with an 8 then a 9, then missed the target for the remaining 3. The last 2 rounds of 5 she was in the 1&2,s. She said she got excited because she finally got a 9 close to a 10, but then started “messing up” and couldn’t get them back on the target. Are there any tips to help her regain focus in shorter periods of time?

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    • Everything you commented on is normal and something almost all beginners go through.

      What happened to your daughter is that she wanted to do well so much she made a mistake . . . she started trying. (“Try? There is no try. Do or do not.” Yoda) In archery trying will always lower your score. Tring involves an improvisation, something you have never practiced which never works as well as the shot you have practiced. What she will learn as she continues is that being excited doesn’t help. Trying harder doesn’t help. Giving 110% doesn’t help. What works is focusing on the process of shooting an arrow, each time an arrow is shot. Any thought of an outcome (I wanna get a 10!) is a distraction because it isn’t any part of an instruction that will help her get a 10.

      These are important lessons because much of life works the same way.

      Be sure to tell her that what happened is normal and there is a lesson to be learned. All beginners have this happen to them. It happened to me and I didn’t start archery until I was over 40 years old!

      Good luck and have fun!

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