Just Want to Get Better at this Thing Called Archery

Just Want to Get Better at this Thing Called Archery

I sometimes get asked questions about how to improve, you know, faster than most other people. Folk have heard me say that Archery is more like a discipline than a sport; more like a Martial Art than say, a ball sport. There are clearly some differences. We don't have to pass the ball, for a start. And we don't work as a team; other than providing support from beyond the waiting line. But there are commonalities between many sports and certainly this features if we focus on how we get better at this thing we are doing... Archery that is.

One of the best ways we can get better is by copying. And as we know archery is a very slow sport, very slow, that is until the arrow leaves the archer; when a good number of things happen rather quickly. In fact far too quickly for the unaided eye to see what in actuality is going on. So how can we improve, how can we focus on what needs to be done. Well, we might have something of an answer for you. We can copy, but not necessarily the act of doing the shot, more to do with copying those who are particularly good at their sport - what do the high performing sports people actually do to get better. Here are a few pointers. I have taken much of that written below from the excellent book by Brendon Buchard - High Performance Habits - Habit 4: Increase Performance.

We can hope to develop what we want to do with repetition and practice or we can do something else. We could utilise what Brendon Buchard calls Progressive Mastery... Utilising progressive mastery is very different from what many others call Skill Development and debunks, to some extent, the 10,000 hours ideas proposed by many who follow that kind of route.

Oneday we realised we were interested in something... let's call this interest 'Archery'. Our interest could grow and we might find ourselves visiting an archery range a few times a week, say, when we pop down to the Club. And using this approach we may show that we are quite good at what we want to do. We might develop our natural ability or our innate talent. But then we might think that the best way to get better at Archery might be to spend even more time on the Archery Range; time that for many of us is simply not available. This, repitition approach, is commonly accepted as the best means to get better at something... to do more of it.

It turns out, thankfully, that this might not be the case. Research has shown that it is not simply repetitiion that can help us on our way and in that in fact it rarely leads to 'high performance', it seems. And this is why I'd like to introduce you to Progressive Mastery. What follows are the steps that Brendon Buchard talks us through to help us on our way to that mastery. And even more oddly, the steps detailed here apply to almost any human activity.

1. Determine a skill that we want to master - here we might be focussing on a particular part of the overall skill we are looking at.

You will recall that your archery skills can be broken down in to several stages. There is the setting up of yourself (where your feet go, how far apart they might be and so forth), the set up (the bit where you lift the bow. How you do this, how you focus on where your body is, your hands, arms, front shoulder, head alignment etc), how you draw the bow, alignment of your drawing hand and where it comes to rest in, under or around the place you might call your anchor point but is more accurately called your reference point. Once settled or comfortable you will move on to releasing the arrow. And indeed your release could be a big focus of your attention. But we need to remember that the release isn't so much an action, as a reaction; particularly if you are using a clicker on a recurve bow. Your coaches can talk you through that; please ask about how you might improve any part discussed here.

2. Set specific stretch goals that cause us to be challenged along the way to our fully developed skill.

Getting better at what we do can challenge us to the limit. Setting increasingly more difficult goals is all at once tiring and rewarding. At Club we operate the 252 scheme for our outdoor season where we simply try to score the same score but with moving the target further and further away. Indoors we don't have such luxury but we do use the 'Portsmouth Badge' scheme where the rewards are additonal bling each time you score a round within the parameters of the new award. You'll see the image I've placed here that shows 'tape shooting' when I'm shooting in my garage when I occasionally place a strip of black tape down the middle of my boss and then over that a strip of low-tac blue masking tape. I aim at getting the arrows, shot from around 5 metres away into the blue strip. It is very challenging and occasionally very rewarding. It enables me to focus on the left to right of my shot and not to focus too much on the up and down. I set my sight so that after I've shot my first arrow, aiming at this causes me to hit the tape (if I'm lucky) slightly above the previous arrow.

3. Attach high levels of emotion and meaning to your journey and your results.

This may sound strange but take a look at it for a moment. We remember the things we feel emotional about. And this can, of course, be a positive emotion. Reward yourself when you take a good shot or perform something well that you have worked hard to achieve. The more positive emotion you can attach to the activitiy the more fun and the better you will get at it. Like I've said on many occasions, Archery is more of a Discipline than a Sport. It is also something we Journey On rather than Arrive At. As an old buddy of mine used to say, "It's more about the going there than the getting there, that matters."

Get Excited And we can generate feelings by getting excited about our achievements. Some of that is why we at Wymondham Archers make a big fuss when you, the archer, achieve a goal, like a 500 Portsmouth Badge. It is really important that this is recognised. Because you are important and what you do is important - so why not recognise that within yourself and give yourself a pat on the back when you get it right. Those little piques of attention get picked up by our neurological pathways and get remembered.

4. Identify the factors critical for the success and develop our strengths in those areas - and fix our weaknesses with equal fervour.

Sometimes when I'm drawing the string to my face I realise that I haven't gotten it just in the right place. It's here that I need to refocus and come down, set up the shot again. For many archers you will see them fuss over exactly where they place their fingers on the string, exactly how they hold their tab and place it exactly in the same place each time they take up their bow. When we've focussed on this a number of times it becomes fully known, fully embedded in what we are doing. If you drive a car and have driven for a long time, when was the last time you looked at the gear stick, or the indicator stick. Or if you are a techy, I bet you know where the 'Q' is on your smartphone keyboard, even if you couldn't explain that to someone else. It has become second nature, as it were.

We Make Mistakes Something that rears its ugly head from time to time is that we are not so good at fixing our weaknesses (as those close to us may remind us from time to time). We don't like to look at our weaknesses, as for some reason they seem to show that we are not quite perfect. Perfect is subjective afterall. And yet it is only by looking at these idiosyncratic parts of our being, our shot, our stance, our tilted head angle... whatever it happens to be, that we are then able to intervene and amend them; hopefully to something a little less erroneous. Always good to ask your coach or archery buddy for some assistance.

5. Develop visualisations that clearly imagine what success and failure look like.

Watching someone who has got that certain skill can help hugely. And then we can take a further step, we can imagine what that might look like if we did just that thing we need to do, to improve our shot. Visualisation is very powerful. Imagine for a second, holding a lemon in your hand, it's a large lemon. It's golden and when you hold it to your nose you can smell that lovely lemony smell. Then, imagine taking a knife to it, cutting it in half and cutting it in to quarters. Now imagine picking up that lemon, holding it a few millimeters from your mouth. Then, push the juicy lemon in to your mouth and squeeze down on to the soft centred fruit. Imagine the tangy taste, how you might wince at the sharpness of it. Now, tell me... have you actually got saliva in your mouth at this very moment. If you have, you have imagined something in to place. It's a strange thing that we can even do this. And you can do this with your shot. Indeed you can do this with a whole host of things - and get better at them. You can imagine your actions down to the tiniest details and you can emulate your imagination in your actual activity - your shot, in this case. It works, top sports people have been doing it for years. And, it's free - you don't even need to buy an expensive bow. Always a good thing. Go on, have a go.

Just Imagine - Umm, Failure And if you can imagine success, then you can imagine failure. Failure is an important part of archery - probably an important part of life. How many times have you heard that better drivers are the ones who took two goes at passing their car driving test. It teaches us to accept that which we can no longer change but at the same time offers us something to take away - and the takeaway is also free. And, as many of you know, to whom I have taught archery to, that it is the arrows that tell you what you need to know; they are the digital result of your analogue actions. We might call it and feel it as failure, but in reality they are just information. So Failure is Information. We don't need to get upset about it, but we most likely will need to take something from it. You will see one or two archers on the range from time to time, who do exactly this. They don't make a fuss, they just reflect on the action they don't wish to repeat and do something to bring back to the room the action they wish to adopt.

6. Schedule challenging practices developed by your coaches or by your own careful thought.

It can be difficult undertaking some solitary practice when you are standing next to another person on the archery range. But this activity seems to be very important to getting better at something. If we practice this we might find that you'll get into a certain place where you are able to focus solely on what you are doing, whilst excluding others. This must appeal hugely to a certain cohort who consider themselves a little anti-social (me for one). But we do have a very large field and within that a small outdoor practice area, all of which support this. Also, and this is the bigger ask, we can do this, get in to our own space, on the busy indoor range too. If you really want to be on your own in that bustling place just let the folk around you know, gently of course, that you are working on something and would prefer to be left to focus your attention on that for now. You can always get all social again if you stop for a break.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat Repetitive practice too, will help hugely and this works particuarly well, taking my previous paragraph into account. You may have seen the T shirts that state 'Eat, Shoot, Repeat', and this is the mantra that most needs to be heard in that internal dialogue that goes on for ourselves. Keep doing it, keep turning up, keep practicing that same thing (as long as you are sure it is working) and keep asking for help.

Practice out the Bad Practice what you are bad at. No, I don't mean get bad at something and practice that... what I mean is, if you know you are bad at something it will serve you to learn what you need to do to get better at that something - and do it. Practice what you need to do... to stop being bad at this. One or two of our archers who like to shoot recurve, simply hate using a clicker. That's understandable, a clicker can drive an archer bonkers. But there are ways in which one can overcome the panic, the tension or whatever it is that prevents the clicker's proper use. Just ask for more coaching on this and we will be able to help.

7. Measure your progress and get others to give you feedback.

Do a round regularly. Doing a round is really important. However you feel about it, it will make you more focused. If you realise that you get good results when you are not doing a round, then see '6.' above, as this fits in with 'Do what you are bad at'. Doing a round also lets you know how well you are doing, under slightly stressful conditions.

And doing a round isn't the only way to get better and measure what you are doing. Get others to watch what you are doing. Get them to be honest with you, even if that means they are not sure what is going on. If they are not sure... speak to a coach. We have plenty and they don't mind... honestly they don't.

8. Socialise your practicing efforts by practising and or competing with others.

Competing with others can be huge fun. It doesn't need to be 'Out There'... at a tournament somewhere in the County or further beyond; although that of course, can be a hugely rewarding means to socialise your practice. You can compete locally too, right there on your home turf, on the range we have at Easton College or at Wymondham Rugby Football Club. If you can find a buddy to do this with, challenge them to a six arrow tournament; or a one arrow shoot off. You will see at Club sessions sometimes I'll find the best archer in the room and challenge them to a Head-to-Head best of three arrows thing; often it'll be our European Champion who rocks up each week. I rarely win, but if and when I do, boy do I give myself a big well done. But it doesn't have to be with someone outstandingly accurate or even shooting on the same size face. Just put yourself under that kind of mini-pressure. You can even place a forfeit on it. If you lose, you make the next coffee. Go on be brave. It's great fun.

9. Continue setting higher level goals so that you keep improving.

Once you have done your 252 outdoors why not use a smaller face size and then repeat the process... If you have shot a Portsmouth on a 60cm face, as is the usual size; why not then shoot the same round on a single spot 40cm face. Go on make it really hard for yourself. It'll make you giggle... it makes me giggle.

10. Teach others what you are learning for yourself.

By teaching someone else you will learn for yourself. This is because when you say it, you have to remember it, when you remember it, you learn it. Do it, Say it, Learn it. We could make a new word from that DiSiLi - Do it, Say it, Learn it. And as we take the time to show another person how to do something, we somehow bring to ourselves a confirmed notion of what works. We show folk what works for me (or you) and we pass it on. I do caution on this that we really should only be showing people things that actually work for us. Once we begin doing this we will see quite quickly that talking through what we do somehow broadens the highway of understanding for ourselves and other things, other parts of our shooting, seem to become more clear at the same time.

If you'd like to give this a try, you are very welcome to approach one of the coaches and ask to have a go. Initially you might want to try with a safe audience - your coach for example or a trusted archery buddy. And later on, may be, progress to others.

Wymondham Archers Does Big Data

New Flash - We have hit a massive 100 members again this year so far. If our year begins and ends in September we were at 106 members at the end of August last year; we have all summer to keep growing. We were worried that we wouldn't manage to keep 'all' of you lovely archers due to the so called September Exodus. An annual event that happens, mostly due to the issues of finding a large upfront payment, that challenges so many of our families. We are a family oriented club and it doesn't seem fair to our families that as the number of family members grows so does the huge front loaded payment that families need to find. We are working to get around this by helping families with our ARC Scheme (Archer Relief of Costs Scheme). But we'd like to go further this coming year end in September when we'd like to offer a more rounded approach with equal Direct Debit payments per month and no upfront fee for existing members of Wymondham Archers who have done one season with us.

We would also like to not struggle as a club financially and the figures attached here show that we are moving in the right direction to achieve this. So, what is the critical figure I hear you say. Well, it is just a matter of numbers - in order to maintain the provision of archery to our current and future members we need around 100 adult members before we are actually fully independent of outside support in terms of sponsorship, folk paying additional voluntary contributions and other financially supporting activities. Although we are acutely aware that our costs will not stay still as other agencies play a role in our pressures (rental for hall and outdoor space for example) we are not there yet but we are getting there. Here are a few stats that you might find interesting. Click on the image above to see the demographic of our archers.

So, What Can I Do To Support The Club

This is easier than you might initially think. Go and find beginners. Beginners become members and members make our lovley club survive within an increasingly challenging financial backdrop. If you know someone who has shared with you that they might want to get in to archery please give them our details. Please ask them to click on the link here so that we can sign them up to a beginners course. The rest will be sorted out from there. You see, I told it was easy - although I accept, not as easy as playing football.

I hope you enjoyed our blog.

Happy Shooting

Chair - Wymondham Archers

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