Tag Archives: the mental game

Going Through Their Process

I was watching a golf tournament on TV the other day and a golfer missed a put by just inches. Still, he marked his ball position, lined up a line on the ball with the hole, and basically went through his entire routine for making a putt. The announcers mockingly commented on the fact that the golfer “had” to go through his entire routine, when he could have just whacked the ball home and moved to the next hole.

They should know better.

Archers know why.

To make a shot, we go through our entire shot sequence. If we let down a shot, we go back through our entire shot sequence. Basically we do this because we do not practice making partial shots. We only make full shots and we only practice making full shots.

Golfers go through their entire putting sequence for the same reasons. It is what they do to “make a putt.” In addition, when one makes exceptions to doing the full routine, it gets easier and easier to make exceptions, so they are loathe to skip their routine.

Now, golfers are not stupid. If a putt fails to go in, but is hanging on the edge of the hole, most professional golfers will tap it in without going through their entire routine. Some do this quite casually and occasionally some miss the cup in doing so . . . and walk away from the hole doing repeated face palms.

Basically, the advantages of following one’s routine are far, far greater than the effort saved by inventing a shot on the spot is. It is what was practiced. It feels comfortable and so is calming routine.

So, when you see a golfer going through his/her full putting routine for a one foot putt, realize that is how they make a putt. They rarely improvise because if they do, some bad things can happen.

And, as the putting routine anchors the putter, an archer’s shot routine anchors the archer. The familiarity of it calms the archer’s nerves, and gives him/her confidence. This is why we coaches emphasize the value of such a routine and urge our archers to write it down and refine it and then practice it until it is second nature.

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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?


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Some Thoughts on Competing Against Yourself (Personal Bests)

We encourage young recreational target archers to participate in competitions as soon as they are comfortable with the idea (and even before). We argue that competition fuels progress. Often times, however, we follow that up with the concept of personal best scores (PBs) and argue that they are really only competing with themselves.

So, why do we need those other people if we are only competing against ourselves?

There is, as is often the case, some truth in each claim, even if they contradict each other somewhat.

I am reminded of an experiment. Researchers asked cyclists to pedal stationary bikes as fast as they could and recorded their personal best records after several rounds of attempts. Despite the fact that the cyclists were sure, very sure, that they could go no faster, once they were put in a simulated race against a supposed competitor—which was really just an avatar set to their own best time—nearly all of them were able to beat their previous PBs.

Similar experiments have been repeated in the realms of academics, music, and art, with exactly the same result: individuals perform at a higher level when competing against external opponents than when working alone.

So, the idea of competition spurring athletes to greater performances that they thought they could have is supported by research, but we still have to deal with students who look at competition the wrong way. These students follow their placements during a tournament. They are obsessed with the scores of those they perceive of as their opponents, and when we tell them “they are just competing against themselves” they stare in blank amazement at our utter stupidity.

The cure for unproductive competing is not personal best scores. Those are good indicators of progress, but maybe not good goals in and of themselves.

As coaches we need to train our charges in how to compete: how to avoid distractions such as mind games, how to focus on those things that will improve their scores, how avoid evaluating their shooting until they are done, etc.

We need to teach them about comfort zones (and how to avoid their effects), about what to focus upon (shot sequence, mental game, recovery programs, etc.), and how to respond to “failures” (as they perceive them). Competition needs to fuel better practices. (“If I am going to beat “so and so” I have to shoot in the <scoring zone> so how do I get there, what do I need to do in practice to make that a reality?)

I guess I am saying is if we just leave it up to the competitions to teach them about competing, we are doing the equivalent of expecting the bow and arrow to teach them how to shoot, our guidance being unnecessary. It can happen, but good coaching can reduce the time needed and the pain experienced when learning.


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A Good Sports Psychology Blog

There is a sport psychology blog I find worth following and so I thought you might also. It is called Sport Psychology for Everyone and the kicker is the poster is Emma Karamovic, a professional basketball player. So, there is no question as to her actually experiencing what it is she talks about.

Here is her “About” statement: “I chose to create a blog about sports psychology and mental toughness because it has helped me tremendously over the past 5-6 years from high school, through college and now to being a professional athlete. For example, I have learned how to tackle problems, effectively use sport psychology techniques and strategies to build a productive and healthy mind. I have also learned how to work my way up to a healthy and strong mindset through adversity. Therefore, I want to share what I have learned, what works for me and how my way of using sport psychology every single day might help you as well. The most critical questions I would like to answer is where to start, how to start, how to maintain and develop positive thinking, as well as mental toughness. I hope that you find this blog beneficial in any aspect.

She writes well, certainly clearly, and does talk about individual sports along with team sports, and she has a BA in Psychology.


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I have written about plateaus before but other ideas come along and I have additional thoughts, so I want to address plateaus again . . . some more.

For one, you need to verify you are on an actual plateau. Do you keep records of your scores? Some people don’t and are just going on the “feeling” that they haven’t gotten better recently. This may or may not be true. Keeping records of your scores on the various rounds you compete on and, better, charting those scores will be instructive. I remember one guy who felt he hadn’t made any improvement in months. It was just the beginning of indoor season and his first two scores of the season were the same as he was shooting at the end of the previous season. Of course, he hadn’t made any improvement in months . . . he hadn’t shot that round in months. And shooting the same scores as you were shooting previously after such a log break indicates that there has been no loss of scoring ability in that situation, and that is not a negative thing.

Some Things to Try
To avoid a plateau that is due to being in a rut, you should try mixing it up some. Try:
• shifting venues. Shoot at a different range or indoor range. Shoot with different people. Shoot at different times.
• doing something differently. Consult coaches, books, magazines, videos, YouTube, etc. for a form improvement and see if you can incorporate that into your shot. This is not to be done thoughtlessly, as a panacea, but with due consideration. And remember that anytime you try something new, your scores are inclined to dip some. The question (always) is do they come back up higher than they were.
• different equipment. Maybe this indoor season, try shooting Barebow, or if you shoot Barebow Compound, try shooting Barebow Recurve. If you shoot Compound Unlimited/Freestyle, try shooting with a pin sight rather than a moveable sight. Sometimes a holiday from your old routines will reset your systems to get back on a pattern that is “trending upward.”

The basic idea is to disrupt your old routines a bit (not massively!) to give you enough of a different feel as to get your attention, then you bring that attention back to your normal shooting.


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Should You Encourage Your Students to Think Positively?

I often get the question” Steve, where do you get your topics to blog on?” . . . No I don’t; that’s a lie. No one ever asks me that. I do, however, ask you to send your questions in as they give me something to write about, but since the pandemic, I don’t hear from my students, nor do I hear from you, so . . . I was reading a blog post today (Ah hah!) and I came across this statement.

The problem with much positive thinking is that it’s instrumentalized. It’s a small, easy step from perceiving positivity as a virtue in itself to believing that thinking positively makes good things happen. Then the inverse also seems true: Thinking negatively makes bad things happen. The implication of this train of thought is that people deserve their lot. Translated into economic terms, it means that the rich deserve their wealth, and the poor also earned their impoverishment.” (Susannah Crockford)

I suspect that, like many of you, I had bought the positive thinking meme hook, line, and sinker without giving it much thought. Being positive seemed like such a good thing, the opposite of “being negative.” But I am also aware that ever since the book and movie “The Secret” came out people have been making it clear that they think as if it actually could manifest real things, which is clearly magical thinking. I know this what people do. They take an idea and run with it.

By the way, manifesting changes in your life is entirely possible and it involves thinking. As Lanny Bassham says, over and over and over “the more we think about, talk about, and write about something happening, we improve the probability of that thing happening” (The Principle of Reinforcement). But the thinking doesn’t make it happen, you do. The thinking energizes, motivates, and inspires you to act is all.

But “thinking positively” is just one small step from thinking magically, so what is a coach to do?

What to Think
Obviously while shooting we are recommending “shooting in the now.” We are focused on our shooting process and what part of that process we are doing . . . now. So, neither positive nor negative thinking are involved.

What about when things go wrong, like an equipment failure at a tournament or a stubborn plateau is encountered in training? The only thoughts that are helpful in the equipment failure scenario are ones that help resolve the issue. This is why we have disaster recovery programs, they give us something to do to resolve the issue. No amount of negative thinking helps there. As to stubborn plateaus, the same thing goes: negative thinking (I’ll never get any better!”) doesn’t help solve the problem.

How about in goal setting? Here I think we need some quite dispassionate reasoning to identify a reachable goal and then build a ladder to reach it. Being positive you can reach your final goal is not really an important lever in this process, especially if you are struggling to attain the first rung on your ladder.

My Advice
I recommend that your archers need to be able to confine their thinking while shooting to “present process thinking,” which is what Larry Wise likes to call it or as I call it “shooting in the now.” When negative thoughts come up, they need to be shooed away as they offer no helpful assistance. (I tell my students “Don’t have negative thoughts about yourself, that’s what friends and family are for.” as part of my self-talk training.) As to positive thoughts, I am beginning to think they aren’t very helpful. Certainly the kind of positive thinking that is being recommended doesn’t stack up as well as clearly defined successes.

This is why we build Ladders to Success. These are mini-goals that lead up to our final goal. As an example, if you had a student wanting to win an indoor shoot this winter and you looked up what the winning scores were for the past three years. Let’s say that score was a 285/300. But your student’s all-time best in that round was a 275/300 and they were averaging about 268. To be competitive in that final tournament, they would want to average 285 so that half the time they were over that score. You don’t want to go into an event knowing that to win you have to shoot a personal best. That places too much pressure to perform on you.

So, the goal is an average of 285/300 in competition by the time the shoot comes around. So, a ladder might be: 1. Average 270/300 by <date>, then 2. Average 275/300 by <date>, and 3. Average 280/300 by <date>, then 4. Average 285/300 by <date of the competition>. This ladder helps you to shape your practice sessions, has a known standard of measurement, and if your student climbs it may result in a win. Plus, instead of striving to reach that 285 mark for the weeks or moths leading up to the tournament and failing, failing, failing . . . they can have a success by reaching goal 1, a success by reaching goal 2, up to the final push when they are thinking “I have met all of the previous goals, I can meet this one, too.”

Basically, an ounce of success is worth a pound of positive thinking. Help them succeed by recommending what works.


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Why I Follow Golf Coaches

I follow a number of golf coaches on the Internet. I haven’t played golf in six or seven years so this may seem strange to you but there is a reason: there aren’t any archery coaches to “follow” on the Internet. This is a primary reason why I created this blog, so there would be. All ego issues aside, this is why I have done much of what I have done. I asked many, many coaches, coaches more experienced and better than me to write books about coaching archery. I never heard the word “no” so many times in my life. I tried to talk our “Precision Archery” publisher (Human Kinetics) into such a book. They said the market was too small. So Claudia and I created our own publishing company (Watching Arrows Fly) and voila! This is not one of those “if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself” things, more of “if you want it done at all, we had to do ourselves.”

“Not one part of your body will go beyond where your mind is focused.”

One of my generous golf coaches, Darrel Klassen, provided a lesson today that had him saying: “Not one part of your body will go beyond where your mind is focused.” Now he was talking about swinging a golf club effectively. His point was that many amateurs are so focused on the golf ball that once club meets the ball they relax and thereby lose a great deal of power. Golfers need to swing through the ball as if their intention was to hit a point well past it, he says. I learned this lesson as a boxer. A boxer cannot aim to deliver a blow at another boxer’s body. The result will be a powder puff strike. Boxers have to aim their blows at the other side of the boxer’s body. (Sorry about the graphic images to those of you who are sensitive to them; the story is true. My Dad wanted me to be more of a “man” and so signed me up for boxing lessons.)

So, how does this relate to archery? Oh, it relates, especially to compound archers but really to all archers. Have you heard the term “a soft shot” or been told you needed to “finish your shot?” In an archery shot, our goal is an arrow sticking out of the highest scoring area of the target, but our participation with the arrow ends with the loosing of the string. This causes a great many archers to lose focus on their bodies at the release and their muscles relax. (The focus on the arrow rather than the bow, just like a focus on the golf ball rather than a point past it.) And, as I have said many times before, we are always fighting Bell Curves. The point in time when we relax our muscles … sometimes we are a little late (no harm) and sometimes we are a little early (soft shot). So archers need to be focused on achieving a strong shot and the way to do that is to set the goal of getting to a strong followthrough position. In order to have that happen we have to maintain our bow arms “up” and our back tension (full on). Many say this has to continue until the arrow hits the target, but I don’t like that signal because that means the time varies with the time of flight of the arrow. My end point for the shot is described by the admonition: “the shot’s not over until the bow takes a bow (the other bow).” So, when the bow finishes its “bow” the shot can be stopped. This should be the same amount of time post loose in every shot, lending a greater sense of regularity to your shots.

My point here is that there is a great deal to learn from coaches of other sports. I generally look to individual sports rather then team sports as team sport coaches are often on subjects irrelevant to archers, things like teamwork and “plays.” I like golf because the mental game of golf is quite well developed and very similar to that of archery (not as well developed). Take a look at some of the golf video lessons available for free on the Internet. I have found some of them so valuable, I have bought the coach’s training package. You may, too. In a couple of cases I have gotten so many valuable free lessons from coaches, I bought their training packages out of simple gratitude.

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