By Mark V. Lonsdale
There is a dichotomy in many precision sports. To shoot well one must be relaxed, relying sub-consciously on neuro-muscle memory. In other words, after months or years of practice and several thousand arrows, the archer’s form and technique should be smooth and repeatable. On the other hand, learning and mastering precision shooting requires an in-depth understanding and awareness of correct form, body mechanics, and consistency. This requires constant self-analysis and body awareness, especially in the formative years. But this self analysis can also interfere with a smooth and relaxed form.
Ideally, the proficient shooter should only need to self analyze when shots are going astray on target. With time and experience, the archer should know exactly what mistake he or she made based on where the arrow impacts.
For novice archers, at least for the first year or two, practice sessions are a constant process of self analysis, body awareness, in search of a relaxed repeatable form. This begins with addressing the bow, all the way through set-up and draw, to hold, aim and release. The archer will move his or her conscious thought process from grip, bow hand and bow arm position, keeping the bow shoulder down, correct draw hand position, keeping the elbow high, drawing to anchor, transfer to the back muscles, and a smooth release and follow-through.
In the beginning, it will be difficult to analyze which part of the form is causing the arrows to go astray. But with time and coaching the archer will learn which potential flaws in body mechanics produce which impacts on target – high, low, left, right, etc. The archer will be running a mental inventory of personal body mechanics each time he or she shoots. This is also where competent coaching can greatly shorten the learning process. In the absence of a coach, videoing yourself can be very useful. There are also coaches specializing in distance learning who will accept videos on line and will respond with a critique.
Through all this, keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to be able to stay relaxed and just focus on the target and shooting 10s. Vexing over the many aspects of body mechanics and overly self analyzing on the line can and will interfere with that process. Your best shooting will come when you have put in the requisite training and can enter a competition with a relaxed confidence. As most elite athletes will attest, competitions are won or lost in the mental game.