Note If you are serious about coaching archery, please go to http://www.archerycoachesguild.org and consider joining The Archery Coaches Guild. We are days away from a formal launch of the website, but most of it is already there. We are creating a space in which coaches can interact with other coaches to help solve problems and grow as coaches. Come join us. Steve
Helping Shape Archery Attitudes
If you have been coaching for some length of time it is almost guaranteed that you have encountered student-archers who had “bad attitudes.” Since your standing with those archers is not very high, there doesn’t seem that there is much you do to shape better attitudes. Let’s talk about this.
It probably is not helpful to tell your charge “you’ve got an attitude,” for that is shorthand for “you’ve got a bad attitude,” and it may not hit home. It may rather say “I don’t like you” and the response may be dislike in return.
Just so we are talking about the same thing, the “attitude” we are talking about here is “a mental position with regard to a fact or state; for example a helpful attitude, meaning a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state.” If that doesn’t help, we are talking about “how” people achieve their goals. Maybe their goal is they just want to shoot a good score or a score good enough to win a local competition. Important questions regarding achieving those goals are: what is their opinion regarding, say, “practice” with regard to achieving their goal? What about “talent?”
Is your student someone who people say is “talented” when it comes to archery? If so, do they believe those claims? And what does that mean to them? There is a trap in believing you have a “talent for archery” (we recommend that they don’t believe that as there seems to be no basis in fact for such a thing) and that trap is the fact that a talent is . . . what? Is it anything they can do anything with? Or is it just what it is, something fixed in them that they have no control over? If they believe the latter, studies have shown that people who believe they have an innate talent in them are often afraid to challenge themselves because if they fail, what does that mean about their “talent?” Did they run out of talent? Did it fail them? These are pretty scary situations because they mean something about, well, them. And they have no idea whatsoever what their talent is.
You can also easily see backhanded criticism of professional athletes, by endowing them with “natural talent” (“he has prodigious gifts” or “he is a huge talent”) as a way of saying “it is not him, it is a gift he was given; he didn’t earn it, it was a gift”). This statement ignores the amount of hard work needed to acquire any skill, implying they just naturally knew how to do those things instead of earning them through hard work. Conversely other athletes are described as “hard working” and “the first to come to practice and the last to leave,” implying that they “earned” their skills and weren’t just gifted them.
Some interesting studies about talent addressed student’s attitudes toward learning math. It seems to be true that everyone can learn math and that some learn it more easily than others. But many young people experience the following when they first begin to struggle: a parent or other adult says something like “That’s okay, kiddo, I didn’t have a talent for math, either.” This seemingly consoling statement is, presumably, meant to relieve the young student’s anxiety. Basically, they are saying “it is not your fault, it is because of nature or something (genetics); some people just don’t have what it takes to learn math.”
The problem with this “attitude” is that it offloads responsibility for performance onto something that probably does not exist. In other cultures, when a student struggles the parent/other adult reassures them by saying “you will just have to work harder, but I know you will succeed; you can do it.” Which of these two attitudes is more likely to result in a better outcome, do you think? And shouldn’t the same be true for archers?
Does practice help?
“Gee, I go to archery practice every week, I wonder why the others are getting better and I am not. Maybe I need better equipment.” We hear this from too many young archers. Just showing up is not “practice.” Showing up is a requirement for practice to occur, a minimal requirement. If they don’t show up when a range is made available for them to shoot on and you are also available to coach them, it will be much harder to get better. But there is no guarantee that if they do show up, things will get better, either. Practice, rather, is what you do to get better. If they are not getting better, then they are not really getting any practice, or certainly not any effective practice.
To become better, they must do things that make their scores better. If they adopt the attitude that “practice is what you do to get better,” and you have the goal of getting better, then there are some consequences. First they have to have some indicator of what “getting better” means. If they have a fair number of competitions where they are, they might be able to use their competition scores. If not, they might use scores on practice rounds. Whatever they choose to indicate their progress, they will have to keep track of those numbers. (Having a notebook and using it well is an absolute necessity for serious archers.)
You, as coach, can be helpful in determining things they can do to get better. But you can only make suggestions; we do not recommend making demands. Practice is not just showing up, but showing up, doing things differently, and noting which things work better and which don’t. This is why it is strongly recommended that each archer keep a list of the things they are trying and always (Always!) read that list before they start shooting, otherwise they could easily fall back into their “old normal” shooting and lose any progress they might have been making. You can help, by recommending the list, asking if they have read it (over and over and over—hey, it is a repetition sport!). We even go so far as to give out small spiral bound notebooks that students can keep in their quivers.
Coaches can also provide drills, with each drill described and a plan made, for example: “do this for two weeks and then we’ll check to see if you are better.” This drill then becomes a part of what they do when they attend your lessons (and hopefully if they are able to practice between lessons). Whether that drill is kept in their practice routine depends on whether it makes them better. You have the capacity to show them how those tests are made and whether or not their work is being directed correctly.
Don’t confuse an unwillingness to do the drills you recommend as a sign of a bad attitude, it may be a sign of a recreational archer. If the program they are in is only for serious competitive archers, then maybe they are in the wrong program. Shooting for fun is not a mistake, it is what the vast majority of archers do and drills aren’t fun. And recreational archers tend not to do things that are not fun (drills fall into this category).
Attitude is an important factor in archery. Successful archers tend to have an attitude directing them to work harder and smarter, from which they get better. They are willing to let their performance dictate what they should be doing in “practice.” They don’t worry that they are running out of talent, because there is no such thing. Coaches can help shape these attitudes by recognizing the differences between “recreational” and “competitive” archers (AER terms) and making suggestions accordingly.
“The first rule of getting out of a hole you dug yourself is to stop digging.”