Tag Archives: motivation

The Ikigai of Archery

Ikigai is a Japanese word which is a composite of iki (to live) and gai (reason) so it translates as a reason to live. It is more complicated that that but I like the application of the word as “what gets you out of bed in the morning.” Wikipedia describes it as “The word refers to having a direction or purpose in life, that which makes one’s life worthwhile, and towards which an individual takes spontaneous and willing actions giving them satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life.”

To apply this to recreational target archery is a bit too puffery if that is a word, but I had a memory that popped up as I was contemplating this. There was a young man who was in my high school at the same time as I was, Charles Johnson. He was three years behind me and although we both played the same sport, basketball, he was a tad better at it that I. He ended up in the NBA as a member of the Golden State Warriors, back in the Rick Barry era, and won a NBA Championship in his tenure. I remember talking to him on the street and he broke off the conversation with a somewhat world-weary “I gotta go to work” not “I have to go to practice, but I have to go to work.”

My first reaction after waving goodbye was to think “Boy, if I got to play professional basketball, I would hop, skip, and jump my way to practice.” In all honesty, it was late in the season and the season is a grind of one-night stands on the road and I understood how he felt

But let’s get back to archers. If you work for a living, you probably only get in a good practice on weekends. Do you wake up in the morning of a practice day feeling “Oh, I can’t wait to get to the range” or do you feel “. . . <groan> another practice day. . . .” Which attitude is more likely to result in a good day of practice and good feelings from it?

Sometimes we groan all the way to the range but when we get out into the sunshine and experience the power of our bow’s and the success of our shots, we look back and wonder why we were bemoaning “having to practice.”

I am coming to the position that our attitudes are trainable, certainly they are affected by the others around us. (Which is why our mothers bemoaned us “keeping bad company.”) So, what ways can you think of it helping your archers boost their ikigai, have them jumping out of bed, eager on major practice days?


Filed under For All Coaches


Coaches who work with young people know that one of the issues affecting their archer’s success at, and enjoyment of, archery is motivation. In fact, I break down archers into three categories: recreational, competitive, and serious competitive archers. To find out which category one of your students is in, just give them a drill to do. At the next lesson, ask them if they’ve done the drill as recommended. The recreational archers will somehow have forgotten to do that or just shrug, indicating they didn’t do the drill. This is not bad behavior on their part, they are just telling you what their motivation is. They are in archery because it is fun. This is the motivation of a recreational archer. Drills are not fun, so recreational archers rarely can find the energy to do them. So, now you know.

Competitive archers will have done the drill because they see the drill as a way of increasing their ability to be competitive. Serious competitive archers will have sent an email/text between lessons asking if there were anything else they could do in addition. :o)

Americans have been fed a load of steaming bullstuff when it comes to motivation. The bulk of it involves rewards. If I do A, then I get B as a reward. It is the basis of our “pay as we go” society: if we do our job, our employer pays us. Is this the actual motivation, though?

Modern studies have shown that for more modern jobs, that rewards don’t work well at all. Rewards can actually undermine performance. But there are things that do motivate people much better, such as: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Many, many people seek more autonomy, that is control over what they do. Others are motivated to find mastery, become more expert at what they do to the point of having mastered a skill set. And others prefer to work toward a purpose they find worthy.

I was drawn to teaching as my profession because I felt that, in that way, I could earn a living while doing people some good. That is being motivated by a purpose.

Archery provides a number of these motivations. Striving for mastery is clearly one. Becoming autonomous as an archer may be a small motivation (learning to take care of your equipment so you don’t have to depend upon others, for example). There doesn’t seem to be a purpose in archery as a modern hobby. Not an outer purpose, except in the fact that archery is a very reflective sport. It allows us to see ourselves in a non-threatening manner and so learn how to create a “me” that is more to our liking.

I am not claiming that archers spend any time at all thinking about such things, but they are there.

So, if a student asks about how they can become more motivated, the above may help you get past the boring “goal setting” talks that we were wont to give in the past. Is their own self-sufficiency something they are interested in (autonomy)? Do they seek mastery? (Do they eat, drink, and breathe archery?) Do they see their participation having a purpose?

Archery is a journey, a journey of self-discovery. You may be helping them learn things about themselves that they did not previous recognize, and that, I think, is a good thing.

So, do I have a purpose in writing about archery? Yes, I still like to think that what I am doing is helping you and your students. I have a purpose in doing this and that is it, part of it anyway.


Filed under For All Coaches

Praise or Encouragement?

For all archery coaches, but especially those working with youths, a question comes up: how does one encourage one’s charges to “do better.” We are assuming here that archers who take lessons are automatically in the category of “trying to do better.” And here we will set aside those student-archers who think that lessons are magical, that they will automatically make one better. So, your student has professed a desire to get better—how do you encourage productive uses of his/her energy and discourage the nonproductive ones?

Yes, we are using the “M word.” There is a huge literature on the subject of motivation, a large part of which involves motivating athletes. Archery has an advantage over a number of other sports as it is perceived of as being fun, unlike running, say, or weightlifting. Archery also has a short feedback loop: shoot and arrow, get a result. You don’t have to wait a half an hour to see if your five-mile run time has improved. But “practice” can be perceived as being “boring” especially if it doesn’t involve shooting, or the shooting is unchallenging (blank bale, blind bale, etc.).

Recreational v. Competitive Archers We make a distinction in our programs between recreational and competitive archers. The difference between the two categories is in motivation: recreational archers are motivated by “fun.” If an activity isn’t fun, they lose interest. Competitive archers are motivated differently. They are looking to compete well, even to the point of winning medals and championships. Because their primary source of motivation is not “fun,” they are willing to do some rather boring exercises in the hope that they will improve enough to meet their goals. They are trusting enough in their coaches that they will be given fruitful things to do and not be given “busy work.”

Internal v. External Motivations Part of the extensive literature on motivation involves the focus of the athlete on a reward. (I am not using the technical terms here. Practitioners in the field use the terms “intrinsic motivation” and “extrinsic motivation” so if you do any research on your own, look for those terms.)

Internally motivated athletes are doing what they do for internal reasons, such as self satisfaction. Externally motivated athletes are doing what they do for external reasons, such as titles and trophies, and the respect shown by others.

There are many, many details but this is a distinction you need to understand. The key point being is if you offer an external reward to an internally motivated person, it will not only not have a positive effect, it can have a negative effect. Studies in which volunteers were offered money for their efforts resulted in refusals and a lack of interest in continuing to volunteer their time and effort. Volunteering isn’t about money and people who do volunteer can be insulted by such offers of external rewards.

As a coach, you need to be alert to the signs. A child who wears a medal to practice day after day is basically hanging out a sign that he is focused on external rewards. A child you responds to an offer of a reward, with “Whatever. . . .” is quite clearly telling you they aren’t in it for the hardware.

So, as a coach of relative beginners, what can you do?

We strongly suggest that “fun” is something everyone feels motivated by. Please do not attempt to grind your competitive archers into dust through more and more serious drills. Fun activities are something everyone can engage in and even for the most serious archer in your group, can provide a welcome respite from normal practice. This can be in the form of a game, popping balloons, whatever.

Focus on the Effort, Not the Outcome Even though some of your externally motivated charges want to collect all of the praise they can get, as coaches the route to doing better is based upon effort, so it is effort that we want to praise, no matter the outcome. So, for the student who won a medal at the most recent competition, if they had been working very hard to get better, the praise should be along the lines of “all your hard work has paid off,” rather than “that’s a cool trophy.” Some beginning archers get medals for just showing up, there being more medals available than competitors. The fact that they medaled under such conditions should never be denigrated, but if your athlete feels as if they got a “participation award” that doesn’t mean anything, you can always share your experience (I often tied for first and last in my competition group.”) and turn the conversation toward what they can do (the focus is on effort) to move up a notch. Some archers are so good, they have to compete in a more competitive category (youths against adults, for example) in order to achieve meaningful success.

Prizes Need to be Small and/or Symbolic If you offer a prize for a practice competition/game make it something small. We had a habit of making the last session of a season (outdoor/indoor) one that involved many contests with many quite trivial prizes. On one such occasion we had just been to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA and brought back every cheap trinket we could find in the Center’s store. After we had given away the very last prize we held the plastic bag they had been brought home in over our head and said that the last prize had been given, so we were done. The students immediately chanted “Shoot for the bag, shoot for the bag” and so we did and later, the winner of the bag was proudly showing his kid sister that the ordinary plastic bag had “Olympic Training Center” printed on the outside. And we were concerned that the OTC socks would be considered kind of dumb.

Allow Them to Establish Awards/Rewards We believe in student-led coaching so letting them establish their own rewards can be fruitful. It also helps them in communicating with their classmates. Suggestions of $1000 are responded to with “Okay, who is going to organize the bake sales to raise the funds?”

Use Their Ideas We have younger student-archers create their own targets as an art project and they can, if they want, come up with a game or contest associated with the target or targets they come up with. Remember that we do not allow human depictions on targets we shoot at.

Let Them Decide It is often motivating to allow your students some autonomy. Even though you may have prepared quite a bit for today’s session, they may have other ideas. Our first program was at a club which had a number of field ranges as well as a target field. Some days we would concentrate on field archery, other days on target archery. Some days they got to choose, even to the point of splitting the group depending on what the students wanted to work on (depending on there being sufficient numbers of coaches available, of course.)

The Bottom Line
As a professional coach, it is in your best interest (both internally and externally) to “leave them wanting more.” Engaged students making progress and/or having fun, show up for the next session or the next series of sessions. And they are more fun to work with, too.

Educating yourself regarding the motivations of athletes and youths and keeping motivation toward the top of your concerns as a coach will pay dividends in the long run. And I am just learning that there are significant differences in how boys and girls motive themselves and one another (as if it were not obvious, but in the past many obvious things have been proved wrong, e.g. the Sun orbits the Earth, no?)


Filed under For AER Coaches