By Mark V. Lonsdale
Wanting to compete at the 2024 Olympics may be aiming a little too high, but how about just competing at the annual Lancaster Classic or Vegas Shoot? You don’t expect to win the first year, but maybe in two or three years you can make it onto the podium? Well read on and see if you have what it takes to become a champion.
Many people have passing dreams and high hopes of being a champion but very few make the commitment to bring those dreams to fruition. As with all that unused gym equipment collecting dust in the garage, many individuals buy all the gear (the easy part) but then quickly give up on their dreams in the face of real or perceived challenges. One contributing factor is setting unrealistic goals without shooting for more attainable incremental steps. The other is an issue with time management. They are simply not willing to commit the time and effort necessary to progress. Becoming a champion requires time, dedication, commitment, patience, tenacity, and perseverance.
More pragmatic individuals set their sights lower by simply seeking to improve their scores at the club level, whether it be pistol or rifle shooting or archery. But they too are often not willing to make the necessary commitment to progress passed the club level – a commitment that can range from a few more hours launching arrows each day to an all-consuming passion. So if you have long-term goals, such as winning the Vegas Shoot or competing at the Olympics, then you need to understand what separates the champions from the masses of “also rans.”
Dreams and goals are both positive forces, but both need to be tempered with a healthy dose of reality. This reality consists of some serious thought about personal motivation, commitment, and the training time to achieve any given goal. This is assuming that you already have a reasonable level of fitness, coordination, and the financial resources to go the distance.
Archery is one sport where age is not a limiting factor so most people with a modicum of athletic ability can go for gold. But setting aside the costs of equipment and travel for the moment, most have not grasped the significant time commitment necessary. However, on a more up-beat note, don’t ever let someone tell you that, “You can’t do it!” or that your dreams are just that, dreams. Follow the example of most great men and women by rising to the challenge and proving those timid souls wrong. In other words, don’t ever quit until you decide it is time to quit.
Author’s Note: I started judo at age 11 and shooting at 14 but little did I know back then that these two sports would take me all over the world competing, training, and teaching. The two contributing factors to success were love of these sports and dogged determination.
So, the first step on this long but hopefully fulfilling journey of “many small steps” is to have a deep passion for what you are doing. You have to actually enjoy what you are doing and look forward to training. Next is to become a serious student of the sport. Read and study everything you can about archery including blog posts and articles by those who have gone before. With YouTube you can also study videos of past National and World champions in any of the archery disciplines. Look for top shooters you can model yourself after, but be aware that there are a number of world class athletes with very unusual styles. So the recommendation is to stay as close to standard form as possible, accounting for personal physiology, at least until you are experienced enough to make educated changes.
The next step is to get paper and pencil (or computer) and rough out a training program that is realistic and within your time and budget requirements. Yes, writing it down is the first step to making it a reality and the key word here is realistic. If you draw up a training program that simply will not fit within your work and family commitments, then you will quickly begin making excuses to skip training.
To stay focused and motivated, it is better to start light and add hours or days as you adjust your home and work schedule to suit – and it helps to have a supportive and understanding wife, husband, girlfriend, and employer. More on time management in Part 2.
Let’s look at the other areas of commitment.
Equipment – To begin with, if you have top-of-the-line equipment, the same as that being used by the national champions, then you have eliminated one big variable and several excuses. You cannot blame the gear! Also consider the fact that the $2500+ you may invest in that new Hoyt, Easton arrows, and accessories, etc., is going to be a small fraction of the cost of the time that you will put into training and travel.
Just owning the best gear is not enough. You must learn to tune and maintain that equipment so that you will have greater confidence in using it. Be assured, confidence is part of the mental game and every bit as important as motivation, enthusiasm, and skill.
Coaching – Do you have access to a good coach to help you work on your form and guide your training? Are you willing to spend some time and money to get the best coaching you can get? Without a coach to get you off on the right foot you may spend many hours just reinforcing bad habits and not progressing. The value of a good coach cannot be over emphasized, and their time has real value ($). What you gain from a good coach will be the foundation of all your training.
Training Time – Shooting in your back yard once a week, or club practice once or twice a week, and an occasional Sunday tournament is insufficient to progress at a reasonable rate. Conversely, vast amounts of undisciplined or unstructured training has less value than smaller, frequent amounts of intelligently structured training.
Now, if you are into archery for the sheer pleasure of shooting or the social aspects of the sport, then once a week may satisfy your needs. But if you have aspirations of winning at a state or national level, then you had better be prepared to train at least five times a week plus get coached at least once a week. That daily training will then grow to twice a day when you approach the high performance level of the sport.
It is better to train five times a week for one hour, than to try and train once a week for five hours. One to one-and-a-half hours is easy to fit into your daily schedule and small amounts of frequent training helps to build muscle memory while avoiding repetitive motion injuries. But whatever your training schedule allows, each session should be carefully planned with specific training goals, video analysis, and periodic coaching.
Training Goals – A training program is usually built around the local, state, or national competitions that you plan to shoot in the coming 12 to 24 months. While you may not expect to win or even make the top ten at these events, they will add purpose to your training.
For more specific goals, this is where Eastern philosophy teaches that every long journey is a process of many small steps. If you head to the range with your shiny new Hoyt and high dollar shafts and immediately expect to shoot 10s consistently at 50 meters, you may quickly become discouraged. If you cannot shoot consistent 10s at 15 yards, you should not expect to be hitting 10s by anything except luck and random probability at 50-70 meters.
So, taking small steps, practice at a distance where you can build your confidence by tearing out the gold. Then back up 5-10 yards and work on that distance until you get the same result—all the time self-analyzing your form. Over a period of time, allowing your consistency and grouping to be the guiding light, you will find your way back to the longer ranges where you will have to deal with the additional challenges of wind and atmospherics.
In addition, use this time at the shorter distances to experiment a little with bow tuning, brace height, a different plunger or arrow rest, shaft stiffness, finger tabs, and adjustments to your form. But remember to keep it simple and only make one change at a time so as to be able to gauge its beneficial or detrimental effect on your scoring.
Competitions – There is no substitute for tournaments and matches if one aspires to be successful competitor in any sport. Participation in a single tournament has more training value than ten training sessions practicing on your own, and the lessons learned are invaluable. It is only through exposure to progressively more demanding competitions that an individual can learn to control match nerves, perform under pressure, while gauging personal ability and tracking improvement.
One secret to progressing in competition is to compete with both yourself and others. Set personal goals, such as first being able to shoot the same scores in competition as you do in practice. This does not mean matching the occasional personal best, but holding scores that you can shoot consistently.
You can also pick an individual who routinely just out shoots you and set a personal goal to beat him or her. This will give you the feel of shooting man-on-man while preparing for the pressure that comes with finals and shoot-offs. (Check out the finals of the Lancaster Classic on YouTube).
When you pick someone to try to beat, this may include learning about their training schedule and then committing to train just a little more than they do. In this way, you are motivated to train both harder and smarter.
By keeping your short-term goals small, you will frequently meet and surpass these way-points while at the same time building confidence in your abilities. Conversely, setting goals too high too soon can lead to feelings of frustration and failure. As an example, if your dream is to make the finals at the Vegas Shoot, then the first year you should be competing just to get a feel for the tournament and match format. You are also using this opportunity to study the top contenders. The second year your goal should be to make the top 20 in your division, and then, after three years of practice and experience, you are a seasoned athlete and ready to go for the win.
Travel – If you don’t have the time or finances to travel, you will probably not gain the experience necessary to make the big time. Even if you’re not a national level shooter, it is still highly beneficial to shoot in state and national competitions to get a feel for these events. The more major events you can get under your belt, the more you will become comfortable with the match format while learning to control those pesky nerves. Be assured that a significant component of successful target archery is the mental game and stress management.
These tournaments will also give you the opportunity to shoot along side the best archers in the country and learn from their successes and mistakes. Watch them like a hawk, study their form, their pre-shot routine, and video their performance for future study.
In addition to tournaments, one should be prepared to travel out of state to participate in training seminars, coaching clinics, and anything that will improve your knowledge, fitness, form, and ability.
(Note: as a national and international competitor in judo and then shooting, air travel and hotels were my biggest expenses, running several thousand dollars each year and many weeks away from work).
To conclude, if you are not prepared to commit to a significant amount of time and money, not to mention physical and mental effort, then your journey will end long before you reach your goals. And if that goal is at the National or International level, then the commitment must be of the same magnitude—significant!
Dare To Dream, Train Smart, Stay Focused & Never Quit
Part 1 has covered training commitment in broad strokes. Look for Part 2 for the blueprint to developing a realistic training program that will take you to the next level.
About the Author: Mark Lonsdale is a professional training consultant for law enforcement and military special operations teams. He is also a former national and internationally ranked judo and shooting competitor, national coach, and has contributed articles to several publications including Archery Focus. He is currently studying the cross training values of archery and training in barebow.