Darts and Archery

By Mark V. Lonsdale, Shaft Shooters Archery

Premise: Does darts practice improve archery performance?

Elite athletes and aspiring elite athletes are always interested in other recreational activities that may have a positive effect on their performance. In general, all exercise in moderation is beneficial to basic good health and fitness. Golf, swimming, hiking, and yoga being good examples. But some activities have more specific benefits for the precision shooter.

Archery is a precision sport that requires good form, a repeatable shot process, honed neuro-muscle memory, awareness of body mechanics, focus and concentration, and well developed stress management and mental toughness. These requirements are also critical to golf, tennis, and yes, darts. So if you are looking for an evening recreation, at home or with a league, that may help your archery and improve focus, try darts.

A set of Voks Airbender darts, Made in the USA. Steel point darts commonly range in weight from 20 grams to 26 grams, while soft point darts are usually 18 or 20 grams.
Soft point darts used with electronic dart boards – popular in many pubs and bars
Electronic dart board for soft tip darts (left) and competition grade bristle board for steel tip darts (right)

So let’s look at the similarities. Just like a set of target arrows, competition grade darts are not cheap, they are precision machined, matched in weight, balanced, and shafts and flights can be changed to suit the toss of the player. Just as the spine of an arrow is matched to bow poundage, darts are matched to the technique of the darts player. While some players lob their darts in an arc, others throw more directly at the target. In fact, players often go through several sets of darts before they find a combination of weight, length, and flights that works for them.

Voks Keltic Knots. Darts have a balance point and various grip textures to aid with indexing on the barrel of the dart for consistency. Some prefer the weight towards the front of the barrel while others grip well back on the dart.
One of the goals of every darts player is to be able to throw three triple 20s for a score of 180. Darts matches are a countdown from 301 or 501, so throwing 180 is the fastest way to get down to a score where the players can finish with a double.

Now, looking at the body mechanics, darts play requires a stable, balanced stance, a throw or toss that is accurate and repeatable, and an inline follow through. This is not unlike the shot process in archery in that it requires total body awareness when developing a technique, followed by thousands of repetitions to drill this into the required neuro-muscle memory. As with archery, tossing darts with precision requires almost subconscious aiming and release.

For the novice player, learning to throw darts is a mechanical process that with with time and practice becomes second nature. The darts player brings the dart up to his or her eyeline, pulls back under the eye and tosses, all the time keeping the dart and toss in the peripheral vision. The player then adjusts aim or power to move the impact until this can be done without conscious thought. Dwelling too long on aiming and technique allows the mind to get in the way of the process.

The critical part of body mechanics is lining the throwing arm up with the target, keeping the elbow in, and then throwing without dropping the elbow, while following-through with a relaxed wrist and indexing on the intended point of impact. Sounds simple but it takes months and years of practice to achieve a clean, accurate, repeatable toss. As with archery, progress will be directly proportionate to the amount of time spent practicing.

As for the mental game, whether club level or national events, championship darts has all the pressure and stress of archery competitions. Plus there is the added distraction of being in closer proximity to other players and spectators, particularly in pub or bar play.

To wrap this up, the most significant benefit for the archer is the improved focus and concentration required to score well in darts. And be assured, focus and concentration can be exercised and improved, similar to any muscle group.


Big fan of Voks Darts since they are Made in the USA
Buy American!

Preparing for Competition

By Mark V. Lonsdale, Shaft Shooters Archery

Immaterial of the sport, and in particular precision shooting sports, your ultimate performance is directly related to your pre-season investment in preparation and training.

  1. Have a Plan and map out your training schedule months before the competition season begins. This includes training days, number of arrows per day, specific achievable goals and metrics, rest days, and supplemental training such as gym, resistance training, road work, plyometrics, cross-training, etc. The training plan will be built around the schedule and locations for the season’s events with performance peaks timed to coincide with major events.
  2. Know the Rules, Format, and Schedule for your selected matches, tournaments, and championships. This is especially true for equipment specifications and limitations. For example, the Barebow complete with stabilizer weights must fit through a 122cm ring.
Lancaster Archery Supply Archery Inspection Ring
Barebow inspection gauge

3. Check your Equipment to ensure that your bow, arrows, sights, grips, strings are in good shape, tuned, timed, and functional. Sweat the details.

4. Improve your Physical Condition. Archery utilizes very specific muscle groups that need to be conditioned to match the anticipated load, draw weight, and duration. You also need to have the strength and stamina to go 100+ arrows per day without weakening or becoming fatigued.

5. Match Practice should mirror Match Format. In other words, your competition training should follow the anticipated match format, conditions, targets, distances, and times. This is especially true for one-on-one eliminations, Olympic Rounds (OR), and shoot-offs. For 50 meter Barebow, this would include 122cm targets at 50 meters with 20-second time limits per shot. Or for 720 events, six ends of 6 arrows in 3 minutes, with a break, and then repeat for a total of 12 ends / 72 arrows.

6. Don’t neglect Mental Conditioning. Visualization is a proven method of mental condition which can include watching videos of past championships, studying the champions form, and visualizing yourself executing perfect shots. Mental toughening also requires training with distractions and being able to recover from a bad shot.

7. Learn from Experience. Take every match as an opportunity to better understand your own strengths and weaknesses. A post-match review will include questions such as: Did I shoot as well in competition as I did in practice? Was I affected by distractions? Did I allow a bad shot to adversely influence consecutive shots? Was I able to compensate for the wind? Did I have any equipment issues? All of these will have a direct influence on the following week’s training focus.

Remember, Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Poor Performance.


Women in Archery

By Mark V. Lonsdale

For those who have not studied the history of archery, be assured that archery is one sport that pioneered equality for women.

Women practicing archery in 1887
1908 Olympic Games in London
Sybil Fenton Newall (17 October 1854 – 24 June 1929), best known as Queenie Newall, was an English archer who won the gold medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. She was 53 years old at the time, still the oldest female gold medal winner at the Olympic Games
1912 National Target Championships
1960 Sports Illustrated
Enough said….

Conditioning the Athlete for Target Archery

By Mark V. Lonsdale

An archer or athlete trains to become better, but “better” has several interpretations. Depending on the sport, better could mean stronger or it could mean greater stamina. On the technical side it could mean better technique, form, or process. On the mental side it could mean better stress management or improved focus. For archery, it is all of the above and more.

Let’s start with strength. Depending on age and physical condition, the aspiring archer could begin with a lightweight 25-pound bow, but will ultimately want to be shooting 40+ pounds in the recurve big leagues. But even with a low poundage, it still takes time to build the archery-specific muscles and muscle groups. Primarily these will include the trapezius, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, with collateral improvement in the triceps, biceps, and core. In the process of the thousands of repetitions, 100 to 200 each day, the archer will also be improving posture, lower back, balance, and coordination, along with the health benefits of walking to and from the targets each day.

Building strength is a process of loading and then overloading the required muscle groups, while allowing ample time between workouts for the muscles to recover, grow, and adapt. That said, archery is an activity of form and technique rather than strength, but it still requires the necessary strength to handle the bow poundage without struggling. Take a lesson from the English and Welsh longbow archers during the Middle Ages (1000-1500 CE). They trained with the bow from an early age, being given progressively larger and more powerful bows, until they could draw the 100-140 pound war bows and launch heavy arrows over 220  yards.  

The next requirement is stamina. While archery competitions do not require the stamina of a tri-athlete, even though it is not unusual to walk 5 miles in the course of a field 3D match, it still requires a level of stamina to shoot the required number of arrows without weakening. For example, when shooting an end of 12 arrows, if the archer starts strong but begins shaking for the last three, then he or she may have developed the strength but not the endurance. This is evidenced by muscle fatigue and lactic acid build-up causing the shakes.

Building stamina, as with building strength, is about meeting and then exceeding the requirements of competition. In other words, if the match format is 10 sets of 3 arrows for a 300 round, then shoot 10 sets of 6 arrows in training. If a match requires 72 arrows (720), then shoot 100-150 in training. This is not difficult considering most dedicated archers shoot considerably more than that, supported by the appropriate recovery periods. The goal here is to not run out of gas and to make the match format a relatively easy and relaxed process.

One caveat when increasing the number of arrows in each training session, it is important to maintain quality over quantity. This is where we come into the mental aspects of training. Any activity that requires a high number of repetitions also requires strengthened mental focus to be able to execute every shot with the same level of precision. If an archer goes into training with the attitude that all they need to do is shoot 100 arrows and then they can go do other things, he or she is approaching training with the wrong mindset.

The required mindset and accompanying mental focus for training is one of making every arrow count. You don’t want to throw away points in competition, so you don’t want to ingrain sloppy habits in training. This all comes back to developing the correct neuro-muscle memory. The only way to build a winning performance is to first build a relaxed winning form and a repeatable shot process. In time, that focus and concentration will pay dividends in an almost subconscious execution. As they say, “don’t think, just shoot.”    

This sounds easy enough, but once you have built the required strength, stamina, and form, the biggest challenge will be to stay focused and in the moment. For example, while training this morning I caught my mind wandering causing an unacceptable number of 7s and 8s. When I threw a bad shot I would ask myself where my head was at. On one shot I was wondering if 4” fletch was better than 5” fletch for 20 yard shooting. On another I caught myself thinking about when the UPS truck would deliver some new shafts. Another time I was still thinking about the previous shot instead of focusing on the current one. It is not significant what popped into my head while drawing the bow. What mattered was I was not in the moment and focused on my shot process and execution. The one good thing was that throwing a 7 jolted my head back into the game, putting the next two into the 9 and 10 rings.

This momentary lapse in focus and concentration clearly illustrates the importance of keeping your head in the game by staying in the moment for each and every arrow. 20 yards Barebow practice for the Vegas Shoot.

So, of all the aspects of archery training and becoming a “better” archer, it is the mental aspects that require constant attention. That said, trying harder or aiming more carefully is not the answer. In fact both can be detrimental. You are looking for a repeatable form and subconscious release, and this requires being relaxed, in the moment, blocking out distractions, and not allowing your mind to wander. Total focus should be on the target and willing each arrow into the center.

With the appropriate physical and mental conditioning, reinforced by tens of thousands of repetitions, archery should become an effortless activity where the archer is totally absorbed in the moment.    


7 Archery Exercises
1. One-Arm Dumbbell Row
2. Dumbbell Shrug
3. One-Arm Side Laterals
4. Push Ups
5. Pull Ups
6. Bench Dips
7. Dumbbell Alternate Bicep Curl


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