Hanging out with Purpose

A Reflection on Gaining and Keeping Friends through Archery


Just lately I’ve been touched by one or two of our Beginner Archers who came to Club somewhat, or even, very, lonely. We know that loneliness is rampant in our society right now. “Oh yes, better connected we are,” as Yoda might say, “but more distanced than ever.” Billy Baker commented in his great book We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends. “Loneliness, is a subjective state, where the distress you feel comes from the discrepancy between the social connections you desire and the social connections you actually have.”

It turns out that many of our ailments are linked to loneliness. It seems that there’s an equivalence of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, in terms of similar health consequences for being lonely. Loneliness can drive down our longevity by a huge 32 percent. In addition to the issues affecting our health, it seems that we are rubbish at admitting to others that we feel lonely.

Friendship fascinates me. It is so difficult to place a finger on what it actually is. I see friendships building at Archery, as we regularly gather to do our thing. And it seems that regularity is a key factor when we want to build a friendship circle. Archery provides a certain vehicle that can transport us towards new friendships. But getting to grips with the tricky element of gaining and keeping friends can be challenging.

My father wasn't a big drinker. but he was a regular one. I never saw him drunk, not even merry, for that matter. It wasn't the beer that attracted him to the pub, I learned later as we chatted in the care home before he died, it was his friends. Those meeting places, those pubs, are closing faster than you can possibly imagine; something like 50 a month.


Although the cafe culture is thriving in its place, as I sit here in a great cafe with coffee in hand, fingers tapping away on my keyboard, I don’t see the social lubrication that my father enjoyed; the ambience. The culture of a cafe is different and pubs aren’t as inclusive to our multi-generational families as many would like and neither bring with them a shared endeavour; unless your kids are into coffee.

It seems that men, in particular, need focused effort, being in the same place at the same time in order to bond. As Archers we all do our thing together though, men and women (of all ages) doing their thing beside each other. But that shared effort can occur when we join any sports club. Although many of us are certainly not very sporty. And sports, certainly of the agonistic sporting kind, don’t seem to lend themselves towards fully engaged endeavour as well as a bonding culture, that can happen at an Archery Range. You know the stuff, it’s about skill, equipment, location, weather; the things that are important to those who turn up.

The space at an Archery Range offers, as the sociologists and psychologists inform us, opportunity to chat man to man or woman to woman. It seems that men like to talk shoulder to shoulder, women, face to face. At Club, the same observation is oddly accurate, as I watch how we all communicate. It’s a place that can form a core of attachment for those seeking to work on their Archery and get engrossed in David’s environmentally friendly home.

As a busy member of our Club, I do get to be part of something that I feel my father would have liked to be part of. I can turn up, luckily for me, at almost any time, catching up with one or two, or more of my pals; of whom I had no idea were there prior to me stepping through the front door. There is something that supports the conversation at Archery; a structure, a set of rules that we all are bound to.


There’s a cadence, a speed at which we move creating space to share some time together at an easy pace. Ambience grows from that shared experience. Fellow Archers can be encouraged at the efforts each makes as well as finding support with lessons learned, or missed shots. We share kit, we make repairs. We take time for each other. People get to be warm, kind and affectionate without any of the cliche labels of discomfort that can worm their way into our spaces. I could go on and man-splain how women are better at connecting than men, but it seems that I am wrong when it comes to women being better at this. We are all suffering from a dearth of friendships. Our lives too often are structured on work, family, work, education, work… and repeat.

Maria G Franco, PhD informs me in her lovely book Platonic: How Understanding Your Attachment Style Can Help You Make and Keep Friends, that people can get uncomfortable around affection. Affection, though, sometimes needs a medium, a catalyst, in order for it to be received at a level that is acceptable for the recipient; we can do this at club. We don’t have to apologise for the unplanned turning up at the club. When we arrive, we can assume we are all in the same boat. The so-called ‘liking gap’ is immediately closed because it’s easier for us to assume other archers ‘like’ us because we are all the same, for once; we are all Archers.

Generally we hate to show other people that we are feeling vulnerable. It’s a modern phenomenon. In days of yore, if we needed help, extended family, grandparents, uncles or aunties would lend a hand, or another villager would be there for us. We don’t tend to live in villages anymore and our older relatives, those uncles, aunties, grandparents, now live in a care home. And if we do live in a village, do we actually go outside?

At Club, we get to be around others and express our ‘smaller’ vulnerabilities safely. I do it all the time. I’ll ask a fellow coach how they might be able to help me with an issue of teaching. I’ll warmly accept when someone shares that I might have a noisy bow (I do have a noisy bow). We can also share how we feel by our demeanour. I’ve been around Archers who have shed a tear or two when having a bad day. We can take a moment or two with our struggling Archers; that can make all the difference to their day, or even their week. Helping others’ can make us feel warmer, stronger even, to deepen the bond and friendships we are creating and nurturing.


Each and every time we take a shot, some other error might come to the fore. At this time we are practising a type of gentle vulnerability. We know our shot can go poorly or not where we would like it to. That practice of vulnerability can inure us to other ‘larger’ vulnerabilities; learning that, quite often our experiences are a moment in time, they are temporary.

Men react to vulnerability differently to women it seems. Men circle the wagons, shoot more or throw up their arms in disgust; they fight at it, or go home (flee). Women, I am learning, make friends and ‘tend’ to what needs to be done, build on their relationships, and work out what to do. Men - shoulder to shoulder, Women - face to face.

If we are feeling close (emotionally) to an archer nearby we might share our frustration. The Archery Range is a place to practise more than just our Archery, because judging others is a worthless effort. We know this because, at any time, if that judgement were to occur, fate might just turn on the Archer, as they make a doozie of their next shot.

And as we take a moment to review our efforts there will always be time to practise self-compassion too; being a friend to ourselves. “If the world is full of people ready to criticise you, let’s not be first in the queue.” I’ve said on too many occasions. Being kind to ourselves and mindful of our efforts can go a long way towards helping our own mental health. We can review what has happened in terms of the larger experience of life; it’s just Archery - we all miss the mark from time to time.

As we practise our vulnerabilities with our Archery, we’ll see ourselves becoming more authentic, less threatened. Moving away from threatening thoughts means that we can enjoy our Archery experience without being hijacked by our defence mechanisms that are supposed to protect us, but in reality push us into a kind of withered-self.

As those close to you sympathise with your efforts you’ll soon be learning who are those to get closer to. Lean in to the support, it can unhide a friend standing right there beside you, a fellow Archer. A person you may not have otherwise seen. If we practise by showing up at the Archery Range, promoting the mere-exposure effect, we may find that our social anxiety, if we have some, fades away. We’ll get to see other people around us as more than just fellow Archers; dare I say friends. If we are part of a diverse group, we might see our fellow Archer first, then, later, may be as a friend. The effort can overcome privilege in all its manifestations. As the process of turning up, shooting, standing next to another person and learning about them naturally occurs. You’ll soon discover who shares values that resonate with your own.

As we work on our own effort, distracted from the melee of life away at the Archery Range we can take time to be a little more generous to our fellow Archers. We might bring along something to eat for sharing, remember someone’s birthday, offer to collect some arrows and on occasion, help to retrieve one or two from the wood around the boss.


Trying to win at Archery can be a lonely place; there can, afterall, only be one winner. But the gaining and keeping of friends is a win-win at every level. At competition there is always the expectation of performance. With friends there is acceptance, acknowledgement and fun. We can connect with each other, without the loss of a single point.

Here’s one further element to the building of friendships; affection. We are a reserved group, Archers. We don’t leap all over each other when we score a goal; we don’t score goals, we only do the impossible. A footballers goal is nearly 18 square metres, the goal for an Archer covers an area of just over 12 centimetres (on our largest of target face). It would be easy to consider that if an Archer gets just ‘one arrow’ in the gold they’d be all over each other. But we know, it’s not like that.

Showing affection at club, we might consider would be misplaced. We’re not all huggers afterall. But we can show our affections in our greetings, our smiles, the warmth of our responses, the casual nod of a head and in giving some time and energy to our fellow Archers and friends. We can praise their efforts, compliment their abilities, get excited about their successes and offer our commiserations (at whatever news we see or hear). There are indeed many avenues to offer affection beyond the physical - although many of us love giving and getting a hug.

When we are seeking to build our network of friends all of the above are useful directions. From that growing sense that you’ve now made a friend, it might be time to let them know you enjoy a curry, a pizza or good coffee, when you could head out, away from the Archery Range. Being there, without flaking will build a sense that you are reliable towards them as they will hopefully be towards you.


If you'd like an article on an Archery Club theme, please email me.

Pete Hill - Chair

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