By Mark V. Lonsdale
When we discuss discipline in athletes, we are usually referring to self-discipline. This is in contrast to the military understanding of discipline which is concerned more with soldiers following orders, doing what they are told, and all at the risk of punishment. Self-discipline places the responsibility firmly on the shoulders of the athlete without having to be told when to train. If athletes have to be constantly pushed to train, they will not advance to the elite levels. However, this is not the same as having a coach or training partner who can push them to greater effort and higher levels.
Specific sports are also referred to as disciplines, particularly shooting sports and martial arts. Archery, as with pistol and rifle shooting, fencing, equitation or judo, are all disciplines and martial arts since they build skillsets that were once valued in the warrior class. Dating back to well before the first Olympics, sports disciplines are usually individual sports that require considerable commitment and self-discipline on the part of the athlete. So let’s look at what this discipline and self-discipline entails.
Self-discipline is the vital character trait that drives an athlete to attend regular training, practice diligently, or get up at 5.00 AM to hit the gym, swim laps, or do road work. For those who have fulltime jobs or are fulltime students, it takes considerable discipline to build the necessary training hours into their daily schedules.
Some of the character traits that accompany self-discipline are tenacity, perseverance, patience, and self-control. Individuals who become easily frustrated or lose their temper seldom advance in sports that require calm concentration and precision. Sports discipline is the constant striving for excellence while accepting the pain and sweat that goes with elite levels of training. It also takes discipline to patiently work through the inevitable training plateaus that plague most athletes. It takes discipline, after performing poorly at a competition, to then train harder and smarter and to come back stronger and better.
The Zen of Archery is also a component of discipline. It is not good enough to simply shoot 200 arrows per day, or 1,000+ per week. That is quantity over quality. It is necessary that every single arrow has the same level of focus and concentration. This is the Zen of Archery – not shooting 100 arrows but shooting one perfect arrow 100 times. That takes discipline.
For the novice archer, this begins by not throwing any arrows into the black (3&4), and then improving to the point where there are no blues (5&6). From there the goal is reducing the number of reds (7&8) to the point where he or she can go 60 arrows without a lapse in concentration or form. It takes thousands of arrows and many months of disciplined practice to eliminate those lapses in concentration and to begin to grasp the Zen of Archery. The goal is to go six out of six in the gold and then 60 out of 60 in the gold. After that it is all about 10s and Xs, but very few archers, even the elite, can shoot perfect scores all day and every day. Never the less, that is the discipline and the goal.
Hoyt and Nike had it right when they said, “Get Serious” and “Just Do It,” respectively. But it takes discipline to stay serious and keep doing it when weaker individuals are dropping by the way or off enjoying an easier life.