I often write to you as archers and not coaches, because I want to put you in the position your students are in, to think and feel as they do, so you will be able to help them when they are in that situation.
I just got off the phone with an author with whom I was discussing what you do when you get into a shoot-off or other situation where winning is close enough to be tasted. This author prefers not to use the word “pressure” as in “competition pressure,” instead he uses the phrase “moments of high personal value.” We, of course, as archers and coaches talk about competition pressure, which is not a helpful term at all, being almost entirely negative in connotation. (When you think of pressure, is there anything positive, happy, whatever that comes to mind? No?) So . . .
Here’s the scenario: you are in a shoot-off for a medal/award at a competition you have always wanted to “win.” So, as you step to the shooting line, what is your plan?
I have read and heard all kinds of positions regarding this situation, most of them focused on how to adapt to a “high pressure” situation. And, most of them, I think, are misleading if not outright mistaken.
Think about this. (Go ahead, I’ll wait.)
What I and others have come up with is this thinking: I got into this situation by . . . what? . . . by focusing on making shots one arrow at a time, by executing my shot process as consistently as I know how.
So, should I do something differently now?
What, are you crazy? Shoot arrows in a process you just made up or you haven’t practiced or used throughout the tournament? No!
You need, as the adage goes, to “trust your shot” or “shoot your shot.” The question, therefore, becomes “how do I do that, now that the situation has changed?”
You were shooting along, not paying any attention to your score per se, immersed in your process, and now you are in a shoot-off for an award. What has changed? Well, for one, your score is now known to you and everybody else! In a one-arrow shoot-off, if you shoot second, you will also know what arrow score you need to get.
The very first time I was in a one arrow shoot-off was a simulation put on in a training program. So, the two of us came to the shooting line and in my head I was saying “I don’t care, or even care to know, what he shoots. I will just shoot my shot.” Then the other guy shoots his shot and the supervising coach shouts out “It is a 6!” And the thought jumps into my head “All I need is a seven or higher!” What the heck! Where did that thought come from? I specifically indicated I didn’t want to know and just wanted to shoot my shot and yet, my ears still worked and my brain still processed the information and my imagination (whose job it is to prepare us for possible future actions) tells me all I need is a 7 or greater. Mentally I struggled to get my shot off as I desired.
So, what do you do?
This is what I recommend: Know yourself! You need to pay attention to how you behave in such situations and allow for that and accept that as “normal.” In those situations I, for example, tend to shake more so there is more apparent movement in my sight’s aperture. I also tend to shoot faster. By noting what happens I know that the increased motion of my aperture doesn’t affect my scoring ability (much or at all), so I can accept that as being “normal.” To avoid rushing my shots, which means shooting at a different tempo, I will take a couple of deep breaths (Please, no Zen breaths, if such things even exist.) and let them out just before shooting. This tends to moderate my tendency to go faster. Then I just try to shoot my normal shot.
On top of all that, if I can’t get off my shot in good order and have to let down, I experience big-time “fear of failure” symptoms. To compensate, I try to avoid any possibility of not getting my shot off by relaxing as much as possible (tensing up, shortens muscles, and makes things feel different).
The only way you, as archer, or you, as coach, can find out such things is to make it important to note them. Writing down one’s responses to such situations makes them easier to recall the next time that situation occurs. The absolute key is: okay, the situation is different, it is a moment of “high personal value,” but the solution is to focus on shooting the shot(s) that got you into this situation in the first place, not changing your attitude (You gotta be aggressive, man!) or, gasp, modifying your shot on the fly, a recipe for losing if there ever was one.
Get your archers to keep such notes and keep them yourself if you haven’t been. Also, it is important to note how many times you did this successfully. If you just paint the scenario as being fraught with anticipation, it never becomes something that you are confident that you can do. You need to be looking for a “been here, done that” feeling, which can be created over time, but not if you cannot remember all of those occasions.
If you experienced archers have anything to add, please make a comment to share that with your fellows.