This post is inspired by recent competition shooting experience. It has come to my attention that learning to recover from a terrible shot/a whole wave of terrible shots (waaaaah!!!) is equally important as learning how to avoid them. Comparing this to aircrafts (which i find almost as awesome as archery): when designing aircraft, the engineer must make sure that not only can it perform best under the circumstances it was intended for, but it must also be able to still land safely in as many failing conditions as possible.
Of course the definition of “terrible shooting” varies with the experience level, bow class and shooting style of each archer. In a broad definition, it is when the result of the shot(s) is way below our average. In the early learning phases it is normal to have frequent ups and downs, however, this passes quite fast with training.
I would say that, while equipment failures and major disturbances do happen, most often terrible shooting happens due to the lack of, or sudden loss of focus. Shooting an arrow to its intended target is a complicated process involving many muscles and movements. Ask any beginner (or remember yourself) and you are likely to get something like “It’s really hard to concentrate on so many things at the same time!” (Stance, grip, elbow, shoulders, back tension, other elbow, clean release, waaaht and I’m supposed to use my brain and hand-eye coordination and *aim* while doing all this?!) No matter how well trained an archer is, it will always occupy some focus to shoot and when that focus deteriorates, so will the score. The sight of the rapidly decreasing average with each shot during a competition is the material nightmares are made of.
So, what to do during this disaster?
First of all, DONT PANIC. Breathe in deeply to steady yourself, then go over the process of solving the problem:
- Awareness is the first step. The fact that we become aware that we need a solution is already a huge step. Many archers may get the compulsive urge to keep shooting like nuts (I know, I’m one of them) but we need to realise that inaccurate shooting stems from a mistake, and mistakes rarely correct themselves from one moment to the next without our intervention.
- Identify the cause of focus deterioration, and eliminate it if possible. Most often this cause will be within us. The mind likes to entertain itself with buzzing thoughts, or switch off randomly. In these cases just becoming aware of it, closing our eyes, taking a deep breath and reconnecting with the *here&now* can solve our problem. We may be suffering from “Target Panic”, which comes from the pressure of being scored. In that case, we need to keep breathing, take our time preparing and executing each shot and precisely focusing on each routine movement. It also may be annoying little things like hair in eyes. This can be eliminated quickly. Or we could be thirsty, or need the bathroom very badly. This can be more difficult to solve depending on the organisation of the competition but definitely not impossible. Sometimes the factor is out of our control. However, the fact that we are aware of it can help mitigate the effects.
- Identify the mistake and attempt to correct it. It helps to study beforehand which type of inaccuracies match which technique mistakes. By analysing the offset from target centre we can determine the mistake in our posture, especially if we shoot groups that are precise, just in the wrong place. This step may not even be necessary, as often the mistake will be felt as soon as the arrow is flying. In any case, an attempt should be made to correct it. Often the mistake will be a bad habit that we fall back on due to the onset of “autopilot”(mine for example is a slack draw elbow) so knowing these bad habits of ours can help quickly realise and reverse the deteriorating process. During the next shot, go over each movement like a mantra, focusing on each step one after the other to make sure they are correct. In the worst case if we know we cannot correct it and it is completely consistent, we can temporarily adjust our aim to compensate, as long as we immediately after the pressing situation work on getting rid of the mistake!
- Stay calm and avoid desperation. You are probably not in a situation where your life is depending on your shooting skills. Remember that you are there because you like archery. Ultimately, a competition is nothing more than a gathering of people who like archery to compare their skills. Desperation and “wanting it too much” will only deteriorate focus even further by stressing you out. Instead, shoot how you can and enjoy it. With a calm and positive attitude, shooting technique will also improve.
- Everyone can have bad days. Finally, bad days where nothing works and all our motions are clumsy can happen to anyone. In this case, the only thing we can do is move on, and enjoy being at an archery event.
What can we do to minimise the likelihood of such disasters? Practice, practice, practice. The more strongly the good shooting technique is engraved in our muscle memory, the less conscious focus it will take to execute a good shot. It is also crucial to practice shooting under competition conditions ( = going to lots of them, even if we know we won’t win them) because that has a totally different *feel* than regular trainings. Training experience will decrease possibilities of technique wreckages, while competition experience will reduce the magnitude of nerve wreckages.
In the competition that provoked me to write this, I was off to a great start but then had two catastrophic rounds of 3 arrows each that totally destroyed my average (imagine: orbiting the outer rim of the target face… what misery, even for a traditional bow!). After that I seized a chance to slip out to the bathroom, remove myself from the situation, take some deep breaths and then return with a clear mind. Although i did not manage to balance out the losses, I did manage to go back to shooting ~my average again. Whew. Seems like i didn’t forget to shoot completely from one second to the next :3 And, as a bonus, I received afterwards a great piece of advice on something I knew I needed to improve on. So not only did I manage to recover, but can expect overall improvements in my shooting. Not such a bad competition at all (only a kinda bad score xD ).~
Happy shooting to fellow archers out there!
kitty hugs to all~