By Mark V. Lonsdale
Target panic is one of those curses that plagues most archers at some point, and for many, more often than they would like. The manifestation is involuntary movements, jerky releases, plucking the string, snap shooting, collapsing, all resulting in horrible results on the target. A big part of this is feeling the need to rush the shot or release as soon as the sights or arrow point crosses the 10 or X. That feeling is target induced panic.
There are a number of causes of target panic, some physical and some mental. On the physical side, an archer may be struggling with too much draw weight or may be out of condition. In either case, the archer feels a need to release the arrow as soon as he or she comes on target and before fatigue causes a collapse. Another physical issue can be simply not being in good alignment behind the bow and not engaging the back muscles. With poor form the archer is supporting the draw weight with arm strength alone rather than good skeletal alignment. This results in muscle tremors and a need to release the arrow. With good form the archer should feel the back muscles engaged and the scapula moving forward, allowing for a longer more relaxed hold. While an observer may not see this movement, the archer should feel it.
On the mental side, the archer may be worrying that he or she cannot hold the draw long enough to transfer into the back muscles. Or as stated in the NTS system, Draw to Load, Anchor, Transfer to Hold, Expand/Aim, and then Release. Again, the worry can be generated by too much poundage in the bow or poor physical conditioning.
One useful way to think about the shot process is to separate the holding/aiming from the shot execution/release. The way to do this is to practice drawing, holding, feeling the transfer, without releasing the shot. By letting down and not releasing the shot, the archer is building confidence in his or her ability to aim and hold on target without the mental pressure to release. It may also help to use a bow with reduced poundage so that the archer can focus on form and not struggle with holding.
Another important psychological aspect is mentally visualizing the transfer to hold process. Again, while this process is so minimal it may not be visible to the observer, the archer should be imagining the draw elbow coming back and around in alignment with the arrow. The archer can feel the scapula engaged, even if it is not noticeably moving forward. While this is happening the archer is aiming and holding the bow sight or arrow point on target.
One way to work on form is to begin on a blank bale. This allows the archer to focus on body mechanics and process without the pressure or aiming and releasing. Also work on holding longer than normal, 5 to 10 seconds or longer, before letting down. After several iterations without releasing, add the release and follow through, again, without an actual aiming point on the bale. This form of practice allows the archer’s brain to focus on feeling and visualizing correct form as opposed to rushing to shot execution.
The next step is to add a target at 10 to 15 yards where hitting gold is all but guaranteed. This allows the archer to build confidence in the shot process.
Keep in mind that simply entering more competitions will not cure target panic. While competition experience is valuable, and it is important to become comfortable under match pressures, the archer should enter a competition confident in his or her ability and readiness. Part of that readiness is curing target panic before adding the pressures of tournament archery.
To conclude, the cure for many problems in a variety of sports is to go back to basics and reinforce good fundamentals. Break component skills down to individual exercises, and then gradually recombine them into smooth relaxed execution.