Approaching the Mind: Part 1
Archery is a sport like any other. It requires immense physical abilities to repeat a set of steps to complete a task. Not every athlete is built the same and nor are they able to complete the task at hand exactly the same from person to person. What an athlete lacks in physical qualities, they make up for with mental strength and ability. Just the pure fact that someone never gives up is already their greatest strength.
Archers train their body to repeat every step exactly the same shot by shot. That is the true secret to being a great archer, being able to duplicate everything you do on every single shot. It doesn’t matter if it is perfectly executed. All that matters is that you do the same exact thing every single time. It doesn’t matter how much weight you can shoot or how fast the arrow can fly. A slow bullseye is the same as a fast bullseye.
Perfect form with more arrow speed will certainly help in many circumstances like shooting in the wind, but less than perfect form and a slow arrow can still hit the target where you want it to. Physical abilities are different from archer to archer and like any athlete in a sport everyone is different in that area. Better form only helps lessen the chance of a poor shot, but even bad form can still work.
Why all the talk already about physical ability and form? You thought reading this article would help your mental game, not tell you about good vs. bad form?
Within a few short paragraphs you have already learned more about the mental game of sports and archery than you realize. If you shoot a low poundage bow and always wondered how your bow weight affects a bullseye or if you have less than perfect form due to an injury and there is nothing you can do about it, then I know for those of you in those categories that I raised your heart rate slightly already and got you excited about the idea that none of that matters and you can still shoot a perfect shot.
Now let me take your heart rate up more and turn up your blood pressure. Unless you shoot 50+ lbs and can shoot 8 hrs a day with perfect form because you have a great coach, you will never win an Olympic Gold Medal. Ever!
Stirred up and mad? Did your stomach drop and heart rate jump up reading that? If it did then you are not alone and the next few weeks you will learn the basics of how and why that happens to you. Most importantly you will learn a few ways to curb those feelings.
Some of you reading this laughed at the comment and rolled your eyes thinking to yourself, whatever. If you chuckled at the comment then you have confidence. Confidence because you simply know it isn’t true or confidence because you can prove it wrong right now.
Confidence is Knowledge
It is not a secret but the biggest factor in having a mental game is confidence. Confidence is a learned trait for most, but some people are just naturally confident in everything they do. Those rare individuals just know they can do something before they even attempt it. If you are not one of those people then don’t worry about it because the key to confidence is knowledge. Knowledge gives us the ability in any situation to conquer fear. Fear is the number one distraction. We are only afraid of what we don’t know.
When you stand on the shooting line in a tournament and shoot your very first shot in practice rounds, do you shake or feel faint? That feeling is caused from adrenaline which is triggered by a certain emotion, fear. It is a normal reaction for most of us. The reason is simple. The reason you have fear is because you are not confident enough in knowing your abilities.
“…Confident enough in knowing your abilities.”
The reason seasoned archers or athletes are confident is because they know what they are capable of doing. They have knowledge of themselves and have performed in every scenario possible. They know the good and the bad. When the wind blows, they know how to aim or what to change to make the shot. When equipment fails, they know what needs to be fixed and how to deal with it.
We will get into how to gain confidence later on. The important thing at this point is to understand where you are in your mental game and work on your mental weaknesses.
As a positive booster to get you going keep this in mind every single time you compete. Every athlete has a breaking point mentally no matter how good their mental game. You will also learn in these series how to turn the mental game around and us it to “psych-out” your competition.
Now that you have a basic understanding of how confidence is knowledge, let us dive right into your first true lesson in any mental game. Fear.
Fear is a normal human reaction and is an emotion. Fear has many different faces and for most it is the fear of the unknown. Confidence is the ability to overcome fear. Knowledge is the key to confidence. See a pattern starting?
When we begin to shake it is because adrenaline is pumping through our system and fear is usually the cause. Anxiety is also fear and is hard to control unless you know what it is that is making you anxious in the first place. In order to conquer your fears, you simply have to face them. Over the years I have found this to be different for everyone, so everyone has a different approach but the results of what is next works regardless of your mental type (and by mental type remember that it is referring to whether or not you feel anxious or afraid, or if you already feel nothing) or ability.
Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. This is true no matter what you do in life or sports. Athletes practice and practice and practice to prepare for competition. We practice so that we can do what we want as we want at any moment. Being natural at what we do. We want to practice so that we get better. Practicing in a garage or in the backyard will only get you so far. You can practice your form for 10,000 shots and put years behind your practice. Let’s say that your practice is perfect every time. You shoot a planned practice with 100 shots each time. Each practice your form gets better and better and you get stronger and stronger. You can average 290s in practice for indoor, but when you shoot in a tournament your averages drop to 275s. How is that possible when you practice perfectly every single session? Your form is solid and the arrow flies so perfectly down range. The reason is because when you get to a competition you become anxious and the little imperfections start to come out when shooting. The bad shots go to your head and the score starts to drop no matter how hard you try. Be careful not to try too hard, you know what you can do. The 10s become 9s and you lose your confidence. You become frustrated and afraid of the next shot. The moment you let fear enter your mind, the damage is done. Or is it?
The first lesson in this mental game is understanding yourself. After reading this article I want you to grab a piece of paper and pen or something you can’t erase. Draw a line down the middle to make 2 columns. On one column side write STRONG and on the other column write WEAK.
Under the STRONG side I want you to write what you feel are your archery strengths, ie strong bow arm, solid anchor, etc. and on the WEAK side I want you to write what you feel you are weakest in doing.
Bow Arm * Anchor
Once you are done look at the weak column first. These are the things in your form or shot process that need work. They are not perfect but they are fixable. These are things you need to focus on each week in practice. As each part of the WEAK column improves and you feel they are STRONG, cross them out and add it to the STRONG column. DO NOT ERASE the WEAK COLUMN! You will see why later.
Your first goal is to improve one WEAK column item in one week. I call it WEAK for WEEK.
If you are unable to accomplish moving a weak issue over in a week then it is ok. It is simply a goal that has long term affects but can be corrected.
Example: You fixed your anchor this week so you can add it to the STRONG side. Don't erase it from the WEAK side. Just cross it out so you can still see it.
Bow Arm * Anchor
Anchor * Release
Now you can’t read the next part until you make this column. So do yourself a favor and don’t cheat. Just do it! Right now!
..... Waiting on you to make your columns....
You are now probably asking why would I make a column to work on my weak parts in my form when I am trying to have a better mental game in archery? The reason is because there is not a way to become confident in yourself if you still feel you have a weakness to overcome. The fact you wrote it in the WEAK column proves to yourself that you feel unconfident in that part of your shooting. The only way to overcome that part of your mind is to work on it until you can write this column later from scratch and put everything in the STRONG column. Remember that STRONG does not mean perfect. Hence the point of the exercise. The point of this is so you can see where your mind is headed. If you put anything in the WEAK column then your mind is already fighting a battle with confidence. I will say it again, STRONG does not mean perfect. It just means your mind sees it as a part of the process it is comfortable with and is confident enough to work with.
The goal this week is to know how your mind feels about your shot process. There is not a right or wrong answer, just pieces to a puzzle that you will soon learn how to put together. Without the confidence in the shot process there is not a solid foundation to build a mental game in competition. The STRONG column is your confidence and everything else is why you get afraid and anxious. By eliminating the items in the WEAK column you begin to build confidence in the entire process.
The confidence you gain from “knowing” your shot process is stronger is the beginning of a champion’s mind.
I added an item to my STRONG column for archery equipment / archery gear because being confident in your gear is half the battle. I am confident that my gear makes it safely to and from archery training because I know my Archery Recurve Backpack Akiles2 will safely carry my precious gear without worry.
Check back very soon for Part 2 of this series: Imagery. You will learn how to mentally visualize the shot process and shoot the perfect shoot without ever picking up a bow. You will learn how to build confidence without having to shoot a single physical shot.
Mental Game for the Week: When you are having a bad day shooting, stop and ask yourself what kind of pizza you want for dinner. Think about what toppings you want while shooting and drool over the idea of melted cheese. Try it and see how much better your shooting gets and then enjoy that tasty pizza!
I remember walking down the Las Vegas strip in 1991 with my luggage and my heavy bow case. Struggling with the bow case and dealing with luggage that had the worst design of moving wheels since caveman invented it. It was not fun to say the least but it was normal for most archers. In the same year I traveled the globe and had the same complaints and frustrations about carrying my stuff to and from places. Eventually I would just set up my bow, sling my quiver around my shoulder, and walk to the event with everything ready to go. Needless to say a recurve takes up space when together and things always got bumped. These were trying times.