By Mark V. Lonsdale
With forty years of precision shooting and judo under my belt, at the national and international levels, I’ve learned a few truths about training and competitions. These apply equally to archery as they do to rifle and pistol shooting or martial arts.
Be Brilliant at the Basics. In any shooting sport, it all comes down to honing and perfecting the fundamentals, and then maintaining those skills with frequent practice. Archery appears to be relatively simple to the uninitiated, but it takes years and decades to master that simplicity. An archer never graduates from working on form and the shot process. It is not about quantity or number of arrows per session, but about quality and reinforcing solid repeatable fundamentals.
Decide on What You are Willing to Give Up. Becoming a champion in any sport requires a significant amount of time for training, financial resources, and the willingness to travel. To achieve your goals, you may have to give up other recreational activities, time with loved ones, junk food, partying and excessive alcohol. In many cases, training at the elite levels can be a long solitary journey… but one that can be extremely rewarding.
Put in the Work. Shooting 100-200 arrows a week is not going to pay dividends if your goal is to compete at the national and international levels. Entry level training may require 500 arrows per week, but as the archery-specific muscles develop, the goal is to move up to 200+ per day and 1,200+ per week. Archery training should also be supplemented with cardio, strength & stamina training, stretching, and mental toughening.
Sweat the Details. Part of the mental preparation for competition is knowing that you have done everything possible to prepare for game day. You should also have a checklist of everything you need to do a month before a competition, a week before, the day before, and the morning of the event. I’ve lost count of how many peers and competitors I’ve seen turn up on match day missing essential pieces of equipment.
Practice isn’t Competition. You can’t simulate match conditions in practice, particularly the mental pressure to perform on demand. Part of a comprehensive training plan should be to compete in as many local and state competitions as possible, within time and budget limitations. Keep in mind that many top shooters can shoot winning scores in practice, but it is the man or woman who can do it under match pressure that will take the gold.
Invest in the Best Gear. In other words, “good enough” is not good enough. You should always be striving to improve your equipment. Take note of what the champions are using and follow their example. The good thing is that a quality riser and limbs can last for years, so that is a one time big investment. Arrows used for target shooting are also expensive but will give years of service if you maintain the fletching and nocks yourself.
Accept the Pressure. Pressure is mental and usually self-imposed. We are constantly striving to shoot better, freaking out about wild shots, experiencing stress at competitions, and even worrying about winning or maintaining sponsorship. We put the proverbial “monkey on our own backs.” That said, there is a significant feeling of pressure at your first big event, especially if you are no familiar with the match format. There is even more when you make it to the finals and the head-to-head shoot-offs. Being in a line of 40 or 50 archers during qualifications is less stressful than being one of two archers on center stage with hundreds watching in person, and possibly thousands watching the live broadcast. If you have the type of personality that becomes uncomfortable when people are watching, then you need to work on your focus, concentration, and mental game.
Never Give Up. Just because you throw an arrow or two into the blue (5s & 6s) doesn’t mean you are out of the match. Even the top shooters occasionally fudge a release or experience target panic, but the winners push on through it. This is especially true in Barebow where no one shoots all 10s and Xs. So when you throw an arrow wild, you need to have the mental toughness to shrug it off, relax, and keep shooting for gold. Winners never quit.
Having Fun is Not the Goal. Yes, archery is fun; practice is fun; even training can be fun. But at the end of the day, if you aspire to be a champion, you have to knuckle down and put in the work. Training must be planned and executed with specific goals and metrics. As they say, “You don’t find time to practice – you have to make time to practice.” Training must be a daily event, even three or four times a day (my personal routine is 60-84 arrows three times a day), but it doesn’t have to be a grind. Competitions are the time to focus, block out life’s many distractions, and get the job done. The time for fun is after you have won the gold.