A Rookie Guide to Competitive Archery

By Mark V. Lonsdale

“To compete or not to compete, that is the question…,” to paraphrase Will Shakespeare. But then old Will wasn’t a competitive archer.

I can state categorically that formal competitions will make you an all-round better archer. But in reality, it’s the preparation and coaching for competition where the real heavy lifting takes place.

Once you make the decision to try your hand (and eye) at competition archery, you will be at the beginning of a long and very satisfying journey. Emerging from the humble beginnings of a backyard stump shooter, you will rise to the level of “competitor” beginning by quantifying your skills through a series of metrics.

Archers warming up for a west coast tournament

To aid in this journey, the following is a road map to competition success:

  1. Decide which form of competition you want to shoot. This will often be driven by the types of bows you like shooting, or by the availability of local matches. The choices range from Olympic style target archery to roving 3D matches with either recurve, compound, barebow, longbow, or traditional. With a good bow, recurve or compound, you can compete in both indoor and outdoor target shooting and 3D.
  2. Check your budget because top flight competitive archery is not cheap. First there is the cost of a $1,500 to $3,500 bow, complete with rests, sights, stabilizers, and release, plus another $160 to $450 for arrows. For example, a Hoyt Xceed with Velos limbs for barebow retails for $1,500. Olympic grade sights can run another $400-$500. A Hoyt Invicta is a $1,800 compound bow, but then you can add another $200-$300 for a target arrow rest, $300-$400 for sights, and $200-$280 for a top shelf mechanical release.    
  3. Apart from equipment costs, there are also the time and costs involved in traveling to out-of-state matches. Flying across country or driving 1,000 miles to a match, laying down a $200 entry fee, and spending 4-5 nights in a hotel gets expensive, plus the time away from work. Travel, by far, is the biggest recurring expense for a serious competitor.  
  4. Do some research on what the top ranked competitors are using in the way of bows, sights, rests, releases, arrows, and related accessories. Take the time to reach out to some of these folks for sage advice. My personal mantra is, “Buy the best and you will seldom be disappointed.”
  5. Study the match format and learn the rules. For example, a Barebow must fit through a  122cm circle gauge and sights and stabilizers are out. Similarly, some matches have velocity limits for compound bows.
  6. Practice the match format, including distances and time limits on your local or home range. You need to become comfortable with the format to be relaxed and shoot well.
  7. If you have the opportunity, go and observe a match without actually shooting so as to become familiar with the format, whistle commands, and procedures. The onus is on the competitor to know the rules and format before entering a major tournament. This will also be an opportunity to talk to top ranked competitors and collect info on their equipment and accessories.
  8. Jump in, but don’t expect to do well in the first match or even first few matches. It usually takes about a year to become a seasoned competitor, so set your sights on doing well the second or third year. But this all depends on how serious you are about training and if you can practice six days a week. Most top archers are shooting 240-300 arrows per day in training.

Now, as Nike says, Just Do It!!

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Motivational Tips for Archers

By Mark V. Lonsdale, Instructor/Coach

There are many good books and DVDs on virtually every aspect of archery – so much so that it can become a little overwhelming for the novice archer. Sometimes it is useful to distil it all down to a few motivational training tips.  

  • Focus on the process not on the result. In other words, as you are at full draw, you should not be hoping for a 10, but rather focused on your form and process. This is especially true during the early months of training where you are still working to build the neuro-muscle memory for a relaxed shot process.
  • Alignment is everything. Most archers will agree that a solid skeletal alignment, from bow-hand to draw-hand elbow, is critical to consistent, injury free archery. The test of this alignment is feeling the draw-hand upper arm and shoulder rotating into the back muscles, and how steady you can hold on target
Working to find a solid skeletal alignment
  • Don’t let bad shots or a bad group define you. Maintain a positive mindset and continue practicing and applying the basics. The more you practice the more your shots and groups will move into the center of the target.
With time and practice those errant reds will move into the gold
  • Don’t underestimate the value of a good coach. Also try to train with other experienced archers who can help you through the rough patches and plateaus. Shooting alongside successful competitors will motivate you to become a better archer.
  • Use failures to fuel your training. While the athlete doesn’t learn much from wins, he or she will analyze failures to find solutions. How we handle losses and failures, and how we bounce back, is a good marker of personal determination and tenacity.  
  • Keep a training log with scores and daily lessons learned. It’s fun to look back 6 months or a year to see just how much you have improved.
  • Ensure that training is always fun or at least satisfying. The sheer joy of watching an arrow in flight and then impacting in the 10 ring, should be a positive motivator for continued training. 
  • At the end of the day, remember that you selected archery as your chosen sport. Something inspired you to take up archery, but to truly find enjoyment and satisfaction in this endeavor, you need to practice regularly. Moderate amounts of frequent practice are more beneficial than infrequent day-long training sessions.

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Kinesthetic Sense in Archery

By Mark V. Lonsdale

The first year of archery training can be a frustrating start to a long journey where novice archers may feel like they are chasing their proverbial tail. This speaks to the issue of working to improve one part of the shot process, only to find another failing. In other words, and for example, while working to improve the anchor and transfer, the bow arm stops reaching or collapses; or, while focused on aiming, the posture and form suffer. These are just some of the separate parts of the archers’ form and shot process that eventually need to meld together.  

A competent coach can be invaluable in observing and correcting the externally visible parts of form, to include, stance, skeletal alignment, and release. But there are other physical aspects that the coach cannot observe. These are elements that only the archer can feel to include, the alignment and pressure of the bow hand, sight alignment, string blur, and the subtle feel of the transfer into the back muscles.  

Skeletal alignment is critical to the shot process

As with many sports, a consistent, repeatable shot process requires significant self-awareness of the feel of the process and kinesthetic sense. Kinesthetic sense is defined as, “The ability to know accurately the positions and movements of one’s skeletal joints. Kinesthesis refers to sensory input that occurs within the body. Postural and movement information are communicated via sensory systems by tension and compression of muscles in the body.”

As with the golf swing, the archery shot process requires a keen sense of feel built on an understanding of the fundamentals and thousands of correct repetitions. For example, if the bow hand thumb pad is not centered on the grip, then shots will impact left or right of the aiming point. If the forward pressure increases or decreases then the shots will hit high or low respectively. But this pressure point is only one part of the shot process, so let’s look at what the novice is struggling with.

The easy parts of the shot process are establishing a stable, balanced base for the stance, aligning with the target, setting the hook, and bringing the bow up. But once the archer hits his or her anchor, then several components of the process must come together seamlessly. For the novice, this becomes a mental inventory of all the body parts, skeletal alignment at full draw, and loading of the back muscles, where for the more experienced archer, these become all but subconscious.

Novices will be checking to feel if they have hit the correct anchor point; is the bow hand centered on the grip; is the reach and grip pressure consistent and directed at the target; is the sight or arrow point (for barebow) centered on the target; is the string blur aligned with the riser; is the skeletal alignment solid; and can he or she feel the transfer into the back muscles. Unfortunately, this is where frustration rears its ugly head. As the novice focuses on the string blur or sight alignment, the bow arm may begin to collapse or the string blur may drift right. This is also the danger of over-aiming or aiming too long. The longer the archer struggles for the perfect sight alignment (or point-on for barebow), the greater the probability that the muscles will begin to fatigue and doubt will begin to creep into the process.

Again, as with other precision shooting sports, there are no shortcuts and no substitute for tens of thousands of repetitions and a well-structured, disciplined training program.  A good coach is invaluable, but more importantly, the archer must develop the kinesthetic sense to feel all the subtleties of the shot process. Only with time and practice will all the pieces come together into a smooth, relaxed, seamless shot process. 

Mental strength is every bit as important as physical strength; and even more important at the elite athlete levels

So, in addition to good balance and form, the shot process from draw and transfer to release and follow through, must be strong, relaxed, smooth, and consistent. The archer must also execute the shot with confidence. If the archer lacks mental strength and confidence, then hesitation and doubt will manifest as an excessively long aiming process, plus the inevitable tremors or target panic that come with muscle fatigue. This is also a good reason to begin with a lighter poundage bow to develop the correct muscles and stamina before moving up to heavier poundage.  

Don’t be concerned that in the early stages of archery training, the novice archer will be self-inventorying all his or her body parts as he or she seeks good form. When the arrows hit the center of the target, they need to remember what that shot felt like and then work to repeat it. And when a shot goes wild, they should self-analyze and know why that happened. For example, shots going low left (for a right handed archer) is often a collapse or weakening of the bow arm reach and grip pressure; and arrows impacting left can be caused by the string blur drifting right.

To wrap this up, while a coach and the use of video are invaluable training tools, the archer must become self-aware of all their body parts and the feel of correct form and a clean shot process. But the shot process is more than just body mechanics. It’s the melding of relaxed confidence and a finely honed feel for the shot process. Or as they say, “Don’t think, just shoot!”

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The Road to Greatness

By Mark V. Lonsdale

While the purpose of sports is to make better people, not just champions, there have been many greats in the sporting world. As with any endeavor or sport, there is a simple but difficult road to greatness. Simple because there are only a few things the athlete needs to know, but difficult because of the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to truly master these simple truths.

So here is the easy part:

  1. Find inspiration in the achievements of those who have gone before you
  2. Make a commitment to your chosen activity or sport
  3. Set goals that are a series of attainable steps
  4. Study the skill-sets required for your chosen activity
  5. Become brilliant at the basics and work to master the fundamentals
  6. Enjoy your achievements but learn from your losses and mistakes
  7. Work every day to improve your performance, fitness, stamina, and strength

Now the difficult part: Follow the above plan six days a week for at least four years to enter the world of the elite athlete.