Tag Archives: Competition

The Value of the Personal Best System

I was reading a book last night (What’s It All About?: Philosophy & the Meaning of Life, by Julian Baggini. Granta Books. Kindle Edition . . . don’t judge me, I am a philosophy buff) and a couple of excerpts literally jumped off the page for me as they apply to archery. (So there, judgers, something good came from my weird reading habits!)

Here is the first:

“As psychologists have observed, our own sense of self-esteem is largely generated by how we compare ourselves to our peers. Yet we tend to compare ourselves to those apparently doing better than we are, discounting those who are less fortunate. That fosters discontent, since no matter how well placed we are in relation to the population as a whole, we only attend to that portion of it in comparison to whom we are losers. (emphasis added)”

Wow! I have been emphasizing that we are only competing against ourselves and . . . yada, yada, yada, and, of course, my younger students, at the very least, ignore all of this as clueless adult sayings they usually hear from parents. Of course they are comparing themselves to their peers.

I think the natural tendency to discount those “you are ahead of” is a bit overstated, kids seem to know all about social pecking orders, so I would be shocked that they didn’t know where they stood regarding their archery cohort, the whole cohort. Still if one is ambitious one does tend to focus on those ahead of them.

The author went on in a follow-up to say:

“However, putting this straight is not simply a matter of saying we can all achieve relative success and be happy with that. This kind of thinking is what motivated the idea that in education ‘all must have prizes’. Children are to be thought of as having different abilities, and success should be simply developing those abilities as best they can, even if their successes compare poorly with other people’s. But this too has its problems. The philosopher Gilbert Ryle, writing on a rather different topic, pointed out that the concept of counterfeit coins only makes sense if there are real coins to contrast them with. Likewise, the concept of success only makes sense if there is something that would count as failure. This doesn’t mean that there has to be actual failure. There can be a test, for example, with a pass mark of 50 per cent which everyone happens to pass. The point is rather that there must be a genuine possibility of failure, or else success isn’t success at all.”

I have always hated the “everyone gets a trophy” movement, if for no other reason is that discarded trophies are filling our garages and landfills.

Hey, What About Personal Bests?
Yeah, I roped you in with this topic, didn’t I? I think the PB System is still a good one and valid. Having a goal to shoot a personal best is one of the very best outcome goals because it doesn’t depend upon who else shows up. If your student is all geared up to shoot a better score than Billy, Jamal, and Andrew, what happens if none of those kids show up? The competition becomes like shooting at a target with no target face posted on it.

By targeting yourself, you have a known target and a known score and you will know if you are confident or not that you can beat it. Then, if you do, you may also beat a lot of other competitors or you may not. But if you can’t beat yourself . . . well . . . ? Setting new PBs are the very best signs of progress. You are learning to score better, whatever it is that you are doing. And better is better, no? If your major competition doesn’t show up and you win with a mediocre score, a score you knew those guys could easily beat, how do you feel?

Well, I still am recommending PBs as kind of the only useful outcome goal. If the competition is fierce, you are going to need such a score to contend. If the competition is not so fierce, it will show that you are making progress. And, you will be learning about yourself.

Part of the preparation in going for a new personal best score is demonstrating that you can do that in practice. This leads to confidence that you can do it in competition. (Going to a competition with no such evidence is “hoping” to set a new PB and there are many adages that attest to the value of such hopes . . . and they aren’t flattering.)


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I Shot a Lot Better Today Than My Scorecard Indicates

If you have been in archery competition for any length of time you have probably heard someone say “I shot a lot better today than my scorecard indicates.” This usually muttered by someone looking at their scorecard with a puzzled look on their face.

There is only one response to such an assertion and that is “No you didn’t.” And no, you don’t have to be rude and say this to the archer making that claim, unless, well, you like them and care for them.

Each and every day, you shoot your capability that day, period.

Sure, things can go wrong: equipment failures, strange gusts of wind, birds flying in front of targets, overhanging branches that were not there before jump out and deflect your shot, sure. But they happen to everyone. Deal with them.

There is nothing better in archery than our individual responsibility for our performances. You can’t blame the officials. You can’t blame your teammates. You can’t blame the conditions (everyone is facing the same ones).

So . . . “I shot a lot better today than my scorecard indicates?” No, you shot exactly as well as your score indicates. If you want to take credit for the good scores you shoot, you also need to take responsibility for the poor scores you shoot . . . and the mediocre scores, and the up and down scores, and the inconsistent scores, and . . . well, all of them.

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Your Students Need a Club or, Better, a Team

If you have an up and coming archer, one of the best things you can do is get him/her on a team; the better the team, the better the results.

Archery is an individual sport, no? One can learn it alone, one doesn’t need other people. All true, but those “other people” can be valuable assets in the development of any archer. A member of the team who is maybe older, but certainly better can be learned from. Archers of the same ability can push your student to excel or at least keep up. Others can provide peer pressure to come to practice and go to competitions. Other archers have gear your archer may want to try.

When we started our first youth program, it was primarily getting newbies interested in the sport and learning a bit of archery. But soon competitions became a topic of discussion and our choices were to either approach them laissez-faire or embrace them. We decided to embrace them and created a competitive team. This team was not something one could sign up for. It was by invitation only and there were conditions for participation. Those conditions involved attending practices, possessing one’s own equipment, and attending and participating in a minimum number of competitions. The existence of the team was a major item of interest for kids coming through the general program and a goal for some.

When “the team” decided to attend an event, it also tended to sweep everyone together and seep them along. While we provided a very capable coach, neither he nor we provided transportation or lodging, etc. For that we enrolled the parents and the parents were wonderful chaperoning and encouraging the kids.

Archery is a social sport and kids all tend to be conformists. If the best archer on the team is practicing three times a week instead of just two, others will copy them. (Negatives can also be reinforced but our experience is that those are more rare than the positives reinforced.)

We had a case in which an archery mom begged us to let her child participate on the team. The child in question had medical issues that led to social behaviors that made his participation problematic. We put the question of his participation to the members of the current team and they accepted him, but with the proviso that if he didn’t behave he was out. And then they supported him in his team participation. I was, and still am, in awe of the generosity and maturity shown by this group of kids. They not only backed up their generosity but they called their new teammate on the carpet when he started back sliding. The mom of that student credited her son’s participation with a major improvement in his behavior.

So, the benefits to participating on a team are not always obvious or even visible, but with regard to the archery alone I think they are way more positive than negative. And just as parents want to get their children into good schools, if they are serious archers, getting them onto good teams/into good programs is also key.

Those parents and you may need to do some research to identify the really good programs in your vicinity. I hope you have some choice. As archery grows there should be more and more options available to serious competitive archers.


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Less is More . . . More or Less

A question asked of coaches often enough is “How much should I practice?” and “How many arrows should I shoot?” If you work with youths (I recommend this as it keeps you fresh and immersed in the fundamentals if nothing else) you often find yourself just encouraging them to practice more. So many kids will attend a group lesson, say, once a week and that’s it. But this is not what I am addressing here. Here I am addressing this question as if it were coming from a serious archer, one who is going to try whatever you recommend. In my parlance, a serious archer is one training to win.

An Aside—If you aren’t sure what kind of archer you are working with, give them an extensive, preferably boring, drill to do. If they don’t do it, they are a recreational archer (who only shoot for fun and drills aren’t fun). If they do do it, they are a competitive archer. If they email/text you between coaching sessions asking for what else they can do, they are probably a serious competitive archer.

There are some discussions available in the literature regarding arrow counts and training loads. Archers are encouraged, for example, to vary their shooting loads (aka number of arrows shot per day) in “high, medium, and low” sessions. I use as a rule of thumb that a high load day is at least twice as many arrows as you would shoot in one day of the competitive rounds that are current. But there is a large scheme at work here. Consider the three phases of learning archery:

Phase One—Creating Your Shot
One could get the impression form all of the how to shoot books that an archery shot is like a suit of clothes. You find one that fits your needs and then you try it on and wear it. In reality, you have to make your own suit. An archery shot is personal. And, while there are many, many similarities in archer’s shots (created by the use of common equipment and the laws of physics) everyone’s shot is unique to them (some being uniquer than others).

So, Phase One is always the creation of a shot. This is best done using dedicated practice techniques involving low volumes of shots but high intensity of focus. Errors are corrected immediately. Drills are often done for extensive periods. (If a coach is to be employed at all, this is the best time.)

Phase Two—Memorizing Your Shot
Once you have created a consistently accurate shot (a sign of which is shooting consistently good groups) it is time to memorize your shot, that is learning it to the bone. In this phase you will shoot “your shot” so often that it becomes second nature. I should be able to wake you up at 3 AM and shove your bow into your hands and you should be executing good shots immediately because it is “normal” for you to shoot that way.

This memorization process involves shooting high volumes of shots. This is the first time high volumes of shots are to be attempted. Important Point—If volume shooting is a memorization technique, why would you do this before your shot is built? You would just be memorizing something you will be changing shortly.

This is not the mindless flinging of arrows so often mention as something to avoid (rather, one should never do this) but shots with full focus. How many shots per session is a variable to be winkled out. There are no tables to consult here! Archers are too variable in size, strength, ability to focus, etc. Arrow counts might stay low while the archer does physical training to increase strength or stamina. One has to feel one’s way along here. Archer’s need to learn to monitor muscle soreness; it’s location and intensity. (The wrong muscles being sore indicates the wrong muscles are being used!)

Phase Three—Maintaining Your Shot
Shooting high arrow counts is not done forever. Once an archer’s foundation is built (this often takes years, estimates I have seen being in multiples of 10,000 shots) the arrow volumes are cut back. First, there is no need for memorization and second, you risk repetitive stress injuries from over work. Occasionally, in preparing for major events, high arrow counts may be brought back as stamina tests and to reassure the archer that they still have it, that is the ability to function consistently during a long competition.

And . . .
Throughout all of this there are minor technique tweaks, often significant equipment changes, and injuries to work around, but these are all performed in the context of “your shot.”

You have probably heard the admonition to “Shoot your shot.” This is a warning to young archers to avoid improvising, to shoot the shot they have practiced. For a serious competitive archer, we try to help them make “not shooting their shot” difficult, abnormal, awkward, etc. And this does not necessarily involve high volume arrow shooting, which is only done when it is appropriate and is not a virtue in itself. (Yes, I am talking to you, Macho Man Archer.)

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The Zen of Target Archery

Articles written by me are not needed as much as in the past as authors are responding more positively to my requests. So, this post and the previous one are two things I wrote for AFm and have just been sitting for a while. I hope you enjoy them. Steve

* * *

A question often asked when the mental game of archery comes up is “What should I be thinking while I am shooting?” It appeared to me last night that the perfect mental state for shooting is very much like a state described in Zen Buddhism as the state of “no mind.” This state represents a total acceptance of reality as it is without human thoughts being woven through it. There is what to Buddhists call “no attachments” mentally to thoughts or ideas or feelings. There is no thinking, just doing.

This immediately connected in my mind to the stages of competence. Here they are:

Unconscious Incompetence
Conscious Incompetence
Conscious Competence
Unconscious Competence.

Now one could easily ask, but aren’t you delving immediately into thoughts and ideas? The answer is, of course, yes. But, I also am not shooting right now. I am trying to explain how one achieves a desired state for optimal shooting.

Back to “the stages of competence.” To explain this, think of your progression through youth and being able to tie your shoes. As a toddler, when you first began to wear shoes, a parent might say “Oh, your shoe is untied!” and you would look around in bewilderment. What? After several repetitions of this little play, when someone would say “Oh, your shoe is untied!” you might place that foot outward in your stance to have that person tie it. If you got the correct foot (the one with the untied shoe), you were entering the stage of “Conscious Incompetence” in that you were aware of the task needed to be done, but were still unable to do it yourself. When you learned to ask to have a shoe tied, you had made it fully into this stage. From there, you learned to tie your own shoelaces and, at first, it was a quite laborious process (Cross the laces, uh . . . , tuck one under, uh . . . , pull on both ends. . . .) but you were beginning to acquire “Conscious Competence.” Operating on physical tasks in the conscious realm is always awkward and slow. Soon, you were able to get through the entire sequence producing tied shoes, albeit ones that weren’t tied perfectly and they came loose often, hence a parent would be imploring you to “please tie your shoes.” Then with many, many practice repetitions you got to where you are now. You can tie your shoes without thinking about the process at all. If you tied your shoes this morning, do you remember what you were thinking about? If you can, you will discover that it was not about tying your shoes, anything but. This is because you are finally in the stage of “Unconscious Competence.” (Whew!)

Now, an important fine point needs to be addressed and now is a good time. What happens when you flub tying one of your shoes? (C’mon now, you know this happens occasionally.) Do you revert back to Conscious Competence and work your way through tying that shoes in a step-by-step fashion (First cross the laces. . . .)? No you don’t. What you do is “attend to the process” by removing any distracting thoughts and just unconsciously and competently tie that shoe. My point is that distractions can derail your mental state of Unconscious Competence and that “attention” is the cure.

In archery, we prefer not to “flub” our shot process at all, so attending to our shot process is continuous while shooting. But . . . what does this mean?

In the language of Zen, you might be encouraged to “be with your shoes” when tying them (New Agers say “be present,” that is exist in the present moment). Some Zen practitioners go so far as to say “You are the shoe.” So, attending to the process does not mean thinking about the process. I liken it to observing the process, almost as if you are another person. If you are “present” and “attending” to your shot process, how can there be any mental distractions? There are no thoughts. All actions are occurring in the realm of Unconscious Competence and you have “gotten out of your own way” in that you are not inserting thoughts or physical steps into a routine that you have created to shoot good shots. Therefore, you shoot good shots. If you get through a long string of shots this way, you may even call that “being in the Zone” because that is, indeed, what we are talking about.

Getting There
To get to this idealized state, you must learn your process “to the bone,” that is deep into your body so that no thoughts are needed to function as you wish. This state comes through or via the other three stages of competence. It takes a lot of conscious work to create a reliable shot and then it takes a lot of shots to memorize it “to the bone.”

The process of accomplishing this expertise is facilitated if you can accept and adjust your thinking as you go. Become an observer of your thoughts. Learn about thoughts that get in your way and learn to dismiss them. For example, when in a shoot-off, I would invariably think about winning the shoot-off. This is a distracting thought as it doesn’t help me execute my shot process. If you were observing me in such a shoot-off you might see me use my free hand to shoo away a fly from in front of my face. That was not a fly, it was an unhelpful thought I was shooing away. A physical cue helps the mental act of dismissing such thoughts.

The only distraction you have is yourself. Loud noises, the smells of lunch being cooked, other archer’s bad breath are not the distractions; your thoughts about them are.

A Caveat
On rare occasions your shot can desert you. You lose your Unconscious Competence. In these circumstances, you have no other option but to revert to Conscious Competence. Grinding away consciously is not fun. In archery we call it “losing your shot.” But the shot clock is still ticking, or your target mates are still waiting for you to finish the end, so you must continue. How to get back to shooting unconsciously isn’t something that can be taught, but some things seem to apply. Trying to operate as if you were still in that Unconscious Competence state . . . without actually trying is basically what you are attempting. You certainly do not need all of those thoughts flying through your head when you you’re your shot (fear of failure, fear of not winning, fear of embarrassment, confused thoughts, etc.) so dismiss them. Watch yourself shoot; don’t interfere. Hopefully the process itself can pull you back into the state you want. Your body and unconscious mind know what to do, if you let them do it.


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Is Emotional Detachment What I Need When I Shoot?

Articles written by me are not needed as much as in the past as authors are responding more positively to my requests. So, this post and the next are two things I wrote for AFm and have just been sitting for a while. I hope you enjoy them. Steve

* * *

When you look at archers competing, they seem emotionally detached, almost passive when they are competing. But at the end of a match or a team round, they seem exuberant, and joyful (well, if they won). So, should emotional detachment be the state from which to compete.

The answer is definitively, absolutely . . . yes . . . and no.

Drat, you thought this was going to be an easy one, didn’t you?

Focus on What You Can Control

The prime consideration for you as a competing archer to focus upon is what you can control. Primarily this is your shot process.

This is where your attention needs to be. I usually talk about being in a bubble. This bubble contains you and your bow, your target, and very little else. While you may look at the trees lining the range you are shooting at to be able to “read” the wind, mostly anything outside of your bubble is not something you need to pay attention to. Whistles, blown by officials, are designed to penetrate your bubble and, yes, you do need to pay attention to them. The same goes for vocal commands from the Director of the Shoot. But, chatter behind the shooting line, cute members of the opposite sex in the viewing stands, the bad breath of the competitor next to you are all things to not pay attention to. If they intrude, sweep them away. (If I struggled ridding my mind of these distractions, I actually waved my hand in front of my face, as if shooing away a fly, while mentally trying to rid myself of the danged distraction. That hand wave was a physical cue that helps me focus in on what I can control.)

Within your bubble there are emotions that help and emotions that don’t help.

Shooting With Emotion

You shoot a poor shot and it makes you mad. Does this help you or not? Mostly, getting mad doesn’t help, but on occasions it can. I was involved in a shoot-off for a club championship. I was in way over my head as my two competitors had won at the national and international levels, but the shoot was handicapped, so I had a small chance of winning.

The first target in the shoot-off (on an NFAA certified field course) was an 80-yard walk-up target (one shot each at 80, 70, 60, and 50 yards at the largest target face on the range with 5-4-3 scoring). My first shot was a three . . . a fracking three! I was mad. I was embarrassed. I stepped up for my next shot and was very focused (and still steamed) and shot a five. I shot fives at the next two distances to come away with a score of 18/20. I was still angry shooting the next two targets but shot more than well and ended up winning.

What I learned from that was that when the pressure is “on” (aka a moment of high personal value) I am nervous, shake more, and tend to shoot faster. Being mad actually helped me focus on what I could control. It made the shaking worse, but I didn’t try to control it, I just went with it.

I experienced other occasions in which I got mad at myself and I didn’t fare so well. I think in those cases I was focused back on the bad arrow and not on the one I was currently shooting. If I got mad at a fellow competitor and I kept thinking about the incident that made me mad, I shot poorly.

It comes down to focusing upon what we can control. If a bit of anger increases your focus on your shot process it might even help. If it causes you to focus on “world have, could have” then you will suffer the negative consequences.

Shooting Without Emotion

So, if those high level competitors seem like robots, should we go for emotional detachment? Just block off emotions, shove them out of our bubble to be dealt with later?

Actually I think this is a bad idea. I am looking for evidence to back this up but have not yet found any. I believe that being immersed in your process should involve emotional engagement, certainly there should be enjoyment of performing well at something we are good about. A certain amount of intensity seems beneficially.

I remember watching a piano master class. the student was very, very good. The master, however, walked him through a passage of a work the student was preparing for performance and he made a number of careful suggestions. After eking out several variations in his performance, he told the student that it was perfect mechanically, but lacked spark. Finally he asked the passage to be played from a place in which the student felt passionately that what the composer had written was right, correct. There was a quite noticeable improvement in the sound of that passage that time. What the teacher was doing was injecting emotion into the student’s playing, struggling for a bit to find the right trigger to elicit the correct emotions.

I tend to think an archery performance is similar. We do not want exuberant emotional displays while we shoot. They do not help as we want to shoot the next arrow from a calm place. So, most people develop the ability to stay calm during their ends.

At the same time, a certain enjoyment is needed. Do you remember running around with friends as a child? There was a sheer joy in just running around, using our bodies (they didn’t complain then like they do now). I feel something akin to this when I watch our dog running around just to run, the enjoyment in the moment of doing something physical. This supports our being in “the now,” shooting in the present moment, which supports our shot process.

And my experiments in “shooting while mad” (above) indicate that emotion can help.

So, What to Do?

I remember Coach Kim saying in seminar “everybody same, everybody different.” Learning to shoot arrows and learning to compete while doing so is a process, a process in which we learn about ourselves, specifically of how we function best. It is not just a process of learning what to do when. Yes, we all need to master a technique, but part of that is exploring and finding what technique works for us, so we adapt and test, adapt and test.

Serious competitors need to put their mental states/emotions while shooting on their list of things to explore. What motivates athletes varies from athlete to athlete. I expect everything else mental does, too.

To evaluate how your emotions are involved in your shot, the first step is becoming aware of your emotional states and comparing those with how well you felt while shooting and how well you shot. Since this is more than a bit vague, I suggest you may want to take notes. Do a practice session in which you write about your emotional states while shooting a practice round. No, not for every arrow, but every time your shooting seems to feel different or seems to change. Note what is happening emotionally as well as physically. Do the same at a competition. Compare the two sets of notes.

The better you understand yourself while shooting, the better you will shoot.



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What Is a Good Shot?

In a target archer’s post shot analysis the outcome of each shot (the “hit point”) is compared with a short-term memory replay of the shot just made to see if they match up. If, for example, the replay shows you that you had a minor pluck, which would result in an arrow to the left of center, and you check your hit point and it is to the left of center, then voila, you have matched up cause and effect. You can then include whatever move you focus on to avoid plucking in your next shot.

But, if your mental review of a shot comes up with “ordinary” or “normal” and you look at the target and the arrow is not in the center, can you tell if that is a “good shot” or a “poor shot” with an unknown cause?

Just what is a good shot . . . for you (or your students)?

Is that 9 a “poor shot”? The other arrow is in the X.

Consider a hypothetical experiment. You or a student pins up a pristine target face and proceeds to shoot 100 shots at it all of which were considered good. What do you think the pattern of holes in the target face would be? Generally, we would expect there to be more holes closer to the center than farther away, with the pattern centered on target middle. (If the pattern of holes isn’t centered on target middle, your equipment needs adjusting. Maximum score can only be realized through this centering of your groups on the highest scoring zone of the target face. Tight groups in the 3-ring are not good!)

The question devolves, then, into “how spread out are the holes?” What is normal for expert archers is different from what is normal for intermediate archers. The better the archer, the smaller the group. The ultimate goal for group size is “smaller than the highest scoring ring on the target face.” Indoors, compound archers perform this way in major competitions quite often. This even occurs outdoors from time to time in field archery. In target archery, perfect “distances,” e.g. 30 m, have been shot.

So, archers have to be cognizant of what their normal group sizes are and use those as an indicator of whether their hit points are “normal” or indicating a “mistake.”

Younger archers often go wrong because of expectations. They shoot their first arrow (at a 10-point face) and shoot a 6. They had an expectation of shooting really, really well (often based on nothing more than a desire) and the score of 6 is disappointing, so they feel that something must be wrong and so adjust their sight, for example. This is a mistake. If you do not know what the problem is, or whether there is even a problem at all, the probability of choosing the right “fix” for the problem is near zero. Worse, if the next arrow is also classified as “poor,” which is now more likely because of a mis-set sight, another “fix” might be implemented . . . and another, and another. Said archer ends up “chasing his/her tail,” making corrections for things not wrong, getting farther and farther from a good setup. (Starting from a correct setup, even random changes will move away from the good setup to a poorer one because all paths lead away and few lead back, at least initially.)

A seasoned archer shooting a first arrow 6, might shrug and think “Not a good start,” but quickly get back into his/her shot process, making no changes/corrections/adjustments. If a 6 is normal, it is normal. It can also be disappointing, but that disappointment should not be a motivation.

We have all seen rank beginners (heck, we have all been rank beginners) shoot arrows, be disappointed, then shoot another, then another, etc. making no changes in form or equipment. “Shootin’ and hopin’” is typical of beginners. If they become serious about archery, they need to become more analytical, as described above. They can be taught this and they can learn it. The key to learning how to do this correctly is twofold: they need to know their “normal” group sizes on the various targets they shoot and they need to keep a mental list of their typical mistakes.

The list of typical mistakes, helps identify minor slips while shooting. For example, going back to the archer who had a minor pluck. If the archer’s arrows after an end are grouped nicely in the middle, but one arrow, his/her last arrow shot, is out away from the others to the left, that is an indication of that minor pluck. The shot replay might not have identified that cause, but the result may serve instead. Going back to the target, the archer can apply a correction for the minor pluck (plucks are usually caused by poor alignment at full draw, so a bit of additional attention on getting into good full draw position might be a fix) and if the left arrows don’t show up again, then problem solved.

Archery books and archery instruction often focus 99+% on technique. But intermediate archers on up need also to focus on developing archery skills. Arrows that repeatedly hit to the left of center might be defective internally where the defect cannot be seen. This is why we mark our arrows, so as to be able to identify them, and we make mental notes, such as “Arrow #5 was outside-left of the group.” In subsequent ends, if #5 shows up there again, wise archers rotate it out of the shooting set and save it for inspection later. I put them in my quiver upside down so I do not accidentally pull it out and shoot it again. I also have a tube in my quiver set aside for “extras” and “problem arrows,” and I am very careful when drawing arrows from that tube. When I do so, I carefully inspect it and then transfer it to one of the other tubes to shoot it in order. This is just one of myriad skills that serve target archers on their path to better and better scores.

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You Are Shooting Terribly; Should You Quit?

We have all experienced this if you have competed much at all. Maybe you started well and then your game came apart, or you started poorly and then went south afterward. The thoughts come easily: “Why am I doing this? I am wasting my time. I should just quit and go home.”

Well, should you quit?

I have seen a great many archers do this. It is not unusual at all. I have never heard of an archer being accosted for doing this, accused somehow of poor behavior. They paid their fee. Is there a rule that they must finish? (No, there is not.)

So, there are some real benefits to quitting. There is no sense in trying to deny it. One is simply you don’t shoot any more agonizing bad shots that day. Another might be you don’t have any more embarrassment associated with your poor round. And, hey, there’s a cold beer in the fridge at home.

I can’t imagine that you are shocked that I recommend to my students that they do not quit, unless unable to continue. The reason for this is simple: every round you shoot is an opportunity to learn and build towards something better down the road. When you give up and pack it in mentally for the day, it’s a missed opportunity to improve.

I suggest that my students may want to set a new goal for what remains of the tournament. Obviously they can practice their recovery program. They could also switch to a back-up bow and give it a good test.

What are some other good ideas to support “keeping going?”


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We Should Work Them Like Rented Mules . . . Not!

The general approach to youth sports with the goal of creating adult champions and elite athletes is to engage kids in serious training at a young age and make sure they specialize in that sport because there are many, many hours of training needed. We have espoused the contrary opinion that children should not specialize in archery at an early age, that they should explore other sports and participate in a variety of them. Many of the things they get out of participation in other sports are beneficial to their archery in any case.

Two recent “articles” highlight these points. Here’s an excerpt from one:

The 10,000-Hour Rule For Sporting Success Is Largely A Myth, So Let Kids Dabble by Sean Ingle

A Danish study, which looked at the differences between 148 elite stars in multiple sports – including canoeing, cycling, rowing, sailing, skiing, swimming, track and field and triathlon – compared with 95 near-elite athletes in the same disciplines, found a similarly surprising picture.

As the academics noted, the near-elite athletes accumulated “significantly more training hours as early as age nine and continued to complete more hours through early adolescence until age 15” compared with elites. The elites also had their first national and international competitions at an older age. It did not matter. The elites intensified their training regime during late adolescence and went past them.

Epstein notes that the research points a similar way in most sports. “Eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in which they will eventually become experts,” he writes. “Instead they tend to ‘sample’ a wide number of sports in an unstructured or lightly unstructured environment” before specialising only later.

Why might this be? Part of it is that early specialisation and highly structured training can lead to lower motivation, burnout and potentially increased injury rates. But there is a more fundamental point that Epstein wants to make: acquiring skills in multiple sports, often via unstructured play, helps develop creativity and equips people better to handle fresh challenges later in their sporting life.

Also, on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel recently there was a segment called The Norwegian Way (Season 25, Episode 5, Air date: May 21, 2019). This segment focused on Norway’s youth sports programs, which basically focus on inclusion and fun and not winning and losing. Races are run but lists of finishers aren’t produced. Soccer/football matches are had but the score is not kept. Competitions are had but as far as possible kept local so as to not create traveling expenses for parents. Participation is key and participation fees are low . . . and if the fee cannot be afforded by a child’s family, the children are allowed to participate anyway. Coaching is egalitarian, not focused on finding the “talented” athletes. This is for kids from 6 to 12 years of age. If a child after that point wants to participate more significantly, then focused training and all of the rest kicks in. By the way, Norway’s traditional sports are winter sports and Norway took more medals than any other country in the last Winter Olympics. Apparently their youth programs haven’t undermined their success.

Also interesting is how they pay of all of their youth sports programs and elite training facilities: sports betting. The government runs the sports betting programs in country and skims their sport program funding off the top.

The takeaway for archery is important here: focus upon participation and coaching and fun, not upon “talent development.” Shoving kids into competitions with medals and trophies is unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. We are, of course, the country which has decided more often than not to give identical trophies to one and all participants in a youth sport. It would be less expensive and create less trash to give none.

Another takeaway is that competitive youth sports are dominated by the relative age effect. To make competitions “fair,” youths are put into age groups. But studies have shown that the kids at the “older” end of each of these age brackets dominate and as a result receive special attention, so they dominate even more. This biases such competitions in favor of more physical mature youths, not necessarily more talented. Just forgoing the “judging” aspects of the youth programs would solve this problem.

Let me know what you think.

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Now What Do You Do?

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.


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