Target Panic and the archer part 2

So in the first article l provided a couple of definitions of target panic and explained how I prefer to describe it as shot anxiety, since I see it manifest with some people long before they view a target.
In this post I’m going to offer some personal insights and initial techniques I’ve used to help others and myself.  I am also going to mention what I see as the potential role of the coach. These initial ideas may work for you, they may not, but please give them a try. Feel free to drop me a line or question about anything I cover here.
When I started writing this article and the previous one, I thought I’d be able to cover the key elements in a couple of posts. Well I was wrong. I think it will take a couple more than I was expecting as I want to ensure I cover as much as I can. So in further posts I will go into more detailed strategies, along with some literature and online resources you might find helpful.
In this post I’ll try and set some ground work so to speak. If you don’t have one to hand, go grab a pen and paper as you’ll need one later for a quick bit of mental exercise.

First, some bad news. Overcoming Target Panic or shot anxiety or whatever you prefer to call it requires you to
  1. Put some work in – there are no magic arrows that solve everything or a secret draw technique that quells the nerves.
  2. Remember one size doesn’t fit all – what works for one person may or may not work for you.
  3. Be patient – it takes time to work out what helps you and this means time spent working at it too.
Now for the good news.
There is light at the end of the tunnel and no its not the oncoming train. There is a wealth of knowledge out there and lots of experienced coaches who are willing to help you, so don’t think you are alone and target panic, shot anxiety or whatever you want to call it effects only you.
Coaches Role
My first comment is going to be aimed at and about my fellow coaches. May I suggest you spend as much time as possible researching and reading about target panic from as many sources as possible. You will find there is a wealth of articles, books and videos on the topic.  Some of these are excellent, giving sound, sensible guidance, others I feel are less well thought out so you will need to vet the material before considering using any of the techniques.
So what we can do for our students or fellow club members.
  1. Highlight you are available to help, even if that is just listening to their concerns. Sometimes a casual conversation during a coffee break in the club house can be all that’s needed for someone to know they can talk to you.
  2. It’s not just you – this is a vital aspect to get across to the archer. Shot anxiety can affect lots of people so they aren’t alone.
  3. There are techniques that can help but, what works for one may not work for another so it’s worth learning different techniques.
  4. It will require work on their part and yours as their coach. so expect it to take time and effort.
Archer role
This brings me to the next important factor I want to address and is aimed at the archer.
Find a coach who will work with you and is sympathetic to your concerns.  As I have said the work has to be done by you, the archer – sadly there is no magic bullet or rather magic arrow that will solve this. Nor is it an overnight process, so expect to spend some time on this.
You may try something and it doesn’t work or does work for a couple of weeks and then your anxiety returns. This is pretty normal and is why I’m stressing it takes time and effort.
Don’t be afraid to say you don’t feel its working or want to try something else.
Shot anxiety is the common cold to archers
So what am I talking about now? A bit like the common cold, target anxiety  can return at the local range while practising or at a national tournament, so it is good to remember it can reappear and to keep your tool box of coping methods to hand. You will probably need a few techniques for the different environments.
Coaching isn’t just for beginners.
I have found there is an implied stigma with some people concerning receiving coaching, especially once you are a good or experienced archer. It is almost seen as a failure, that you are seeking or receiving coaching. Phrases I have heard include “Why do you need to see a coach you can already shoot?”, “You’re a good shot just practise more.” etc.  Well here is a little fact for you to think about.
Outside of archery I also ski and have been for about 17 or more years. Even though I have been skiing for years I still go a day or two session with a ski instructor each holiday. This might seem strange to some people, as I can already ski to a reasonable level, (Most red runs in Europe and single black diamonds in Canada to give you an idea), So why take lessons? Because I know there is more to learn and I don’t want to develop bad habit or get sloppy in my skiing.
My coaching approach to help
I am quite fortunate in many ways that the majority of my coaching is either one to one or maybe one to two. This is especially true when coaching for improvement. By this is I mean archers who already know how to shoot but want to improve or have hit some form of wall. This notion of coaching for improvement is where coaching someone with target panic or shot anxiety comes in.
When it comes to coaching people I prefer to work 1-2-1 or at a push with two people. I have found this allows me to dedicate my concentration and focus on them.
My sessions run for a couple of hours and it may seem strange but, there may not be that much shooting in that time. I tend to spend a large proportion of the time talking with the archer to allow them to express their feeling and thoughts. After all they are the ones who are encountering difficulties and no matter how good you are as a coach, you aren’t a mind reader.
So this is something for you, as the archer struggling with anxiety and others of you who are coaches need to remember.
The first thing is to talk with the person and get an idea of how shot anxiety manifests, how they feel it come on. They or you may not be able to easily articulate it but over the space of a few hours or sessions, often helped with a cup of coffee and causal chat you as a coach will get an overview and the archer will feel more comfortable.
So back to target anxiety
Step 1 – How does it effect you? Identifying how it manifests allows you to consider solutions and a strategy to help. If you can try and make a note of how it manifests and how it makes you feel it makes it clear in your head.
Step 2 – What the archer does?
Once you have been able to identify how shot anxiety manifests, you can start some basic work which helps to build a foundation to work on in the future.
I always start with discussing shot sequence. This is largely because I have found that shot anxiety can creep up on a archer without them realising, gradually over time.
Put simply the shot sequence are the steps you as an archer go through when taking a shot.
Think about when you first started shooting. Chances are you were very conscious of your actions and the steps you needed to complete to make the shot. From setting your feet right, getting shoulder alignment, grip on bow etc, etc. Over time you start to perform some of these actions without thinking. This is a kin to learning to drive. When you start to learn you will be looking down at the gear stick, trying to work out how to move from first to second or third to forth and so on. As you become more comfortable and familiar with changing gears,  you change gears without thinking.
Quick Exercise
Go grab a pen and paper. Sit down and go through what you do when you are preparing to take a shot, all the way through to taking the shot and afterwards when the arrows hit the target. Once you’ve done that come back and read the rest of the post.
Why do this?
I do this exercise with students, having them note down their shot sequence, identifying each stage they go through. I then work with them to identify elements that can be improved or areas they have concerns. Okay, so this may sound strange coming form an instinctive archer,  who has to feel if a shots right to make the shot, but believe me this process of knowing your shot sequence does help.
I feel this is really important and if you take nothing else form this article think about this. As we develop as archers many elements of our shot sequence become subconscious. We do them without even thinking about it (remember my example of changing gears in our cars without having to look at the gear stick). The thing is sometimes our brains take short cuts and we miss steps unintentionally. This is a bit like when you drive a different car and find changing gear a bit harder. These steps could result in a less than “perfect” shot. I use the phrase perfect very loosely here, as meaning executing a successful shot.
By the simple action of identifying the actions we go through, the steps we take, it helps us identify what we are doing and sometimes helps us process or identify the action that triggers our anxiety.
Quick tip – Keep a crib card
One way target panic or shot anxiety can manifest is in the archer not being able to remember what to do next. This is not uncommon and I’ve successfully worked with people who feel this happen. and have learnt to overcome it. Often they have found having a crib sheet in their quiver, giving the steps they know is a useful aid. Allowing them to have an instant recap. It’s almost like hitting a reset button to remind them what they already know. Some find that simply knowing they have it is enough.
Some examples of shot sequence
Some people will got to great detail, others will group elements together, so I thought I would write out a couple of examples.
Firstly lets look at a pretty simple shot sequence someone might come up with.
Stance, body alignment, nock arrow, focus on target, draw up, anchor, settle, release.
Pretty straight forward to follow and understand but here is the point. This is an ideal example for the note in the quiver as a reminder, but and yes there is a but, what about the elements in the description e.g. “body alignment” or “draw up”. If you are working with someone or on your own think about what you mean and what you are doing in these stages. Are you rushing one stage to get to another? We are all keen to get to make the shot but it shouldn’t be at the cost of not setting yourself up right in the beginning.
Lets look at a more detailed breakdown
  1. Stance – are my feet flat and weight balanced on right and left leg? Am I balanced on the soles of my feet or toes? am I stable
  2. View the target – can I see it clearly, are there any tree branches that may cause problems for arrow flight or snag my bow?
  3. Focus on the target
  4. Hand on the bow in the right place, does it feel at home and ready?
  5. Load the bow and nock the arrow.
  6. Fingers on the string, can I feel the string on all three fingers,
  7. Breath out and relax.
  8. Flex bow hand to relax it.
  9. Elbow, wrist arrow aligned.
  10. Focus on target to pick my spot, let your brain work
  11. Breath out and relax shoulders.
  12. Do you feel right and ready to move on?
  13. Breath in and draw up smoothly.
  14. Raise the bow arm.
  15. Push and pull evenly with the shoulders.
  16. Hit the anchor.
  17. Hold to settle.
  18. Does it feel right?
  19. Release string moving fingers smoothly.
  20. Keep bow stable.
  21. Wait for the sound of impact.
  22. Evaluate the shot, did it fly true? *
*Just as a point of interest. I find very few archers actually spend much time evaluating the shot. They tend to review the result and not elevate it. Is it in or isn’t it? Did it score yes or no. So what I mean here is actually evaluating your performance. Did you get good back tension? Did you get a clean release? Did the arrow fly well? etc.
Okay so the second example is a much more detailed breakdown of a shot sequence and is normally what many archers do without thinking, but if we take a moment and read it again.
I talk about “Hit the anchor.” and “Hold to settle.”
Often these two actions are ones that archers with anxiety struggle with, possibly releasing before reaching their anchor or releasing as soon as they hit anchor point.
By breaking this down we can more easily work on the specific areas, coming up with suitable strategies to help retrain our brain and control out emotions.
Your turn
Take some time now to note down your shot sequence or review one you have already produced.
Then go and shoot some arrows and update your notes until you have what is an accurate representation of what you do. Once you have done this make yourself a cup of coffee, tea, have a beer or whatever helps you relax and think about.
  • What point in the sequence do you feel the anxiety start? e.g. as soon as you see the target or nock the arrow?
  • What point is it at its worse? e.g. as you are drawing up or about to release?
I know this helps as I have worked through this with archers.
By identifying this start point or worse point in the process it gives you and your coach something to work from.
I hope this helps and I’ll be going into more details in the next post where I will be looking at some strategies and thoughts on mindset, building confidence etc. Let me know what you think or if you have any specific let me know.
Thanks for reading
Bows resting on tree

Target Panic and the archer part 1

When accuracy turns to anxiety, fun turns to fear, maybe it’s time to get some help?

So here goes. I am going to try and offer some thoughts on the very sensitive topic of target panic, something I know countless people, along with several friends struggle with at varying levels. I realise it is a very sensitive topic and I will freely admit I am no expert on the subject.
All I am going to do or I should say trying to do, is offer some ideas, possible guidance and help. So here goes, wish me luck.
Based on my own experience I believe target panic of some form will affect every archer at some point in their archery life. That is a pretty big statement to make in the outset but it is something I believe to be very true.  It may manifest as a slight uneasiness when about to take a shot, to being so severe archers will want to quit shooting altogether. I’ve lost count of the number of archers I have spoken to over the years about varying levels of target panic and how it impacts them individually. For this reason I am going to be writing a couple of posts with some personal insights, suggestions and experiences.
So what is Target Panic exactly?
Well Wikipedia defines it as follows
“Target panic is a psychological—and perhaps neurological—condition experienced by many archers, both competitive and recreational.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Target_panic)
This definition has quite an important factor to remember,  as target panic can affects the competitive archer and the hobbyist. Even if  you never go to a competition and shoot purely for fun target panic can impact you.
It can also manifests in many forms and this is why I personally prefer describing it as target or shot anxiety.
The rational for my description is simple, as the anxiety felt by the individual can occur long before ever getting to the shooting peg. I know I’ve spoken with some archers who can’t go to the warm up or practice area. Others feel it when they are preparing to set off or in the car on route to the location.
For this reason I’m going to offer my own definition.
“It is a level of anxiety felt by the archer, which can either result in manifesting in physical feelings of unease, loss of muscle control or manifest in the lack of mental skills such as concentration or focus.
The level of anxiety varies widely and can present itself on the field or at stages before. “
Okay so that is a pretty lengthy definition but I believe it covers the key elements.
So lets explore how target anxiety can manifest with a few common examples.
  • As the archer approaches the peg they feel they have forgotten how to shoot, their brain goes blank and they can’t seem to remember the order of the stages in their shot sequence.
  • An archer may find it difficult to draw up on a target, with their bow feeling too heavy, they can feel like their muscles and brain aren’t communicating. Yet they can draw up perfectly well when not aiming on the target.
  • Archers may feel their kit is letting them down and be constantly altering the pressure on their button or adding / removing twists in their string.
  • Some may be able to draw their bow, but release the string as soon as they have drawn up towards the target. Releasing the arrow long before they intend to or are on the target. They are effectively missing the aiming part entirely as they feel unable to hold on a target believing they must immediately release at full draw.
  • Archers may feel unable to release the string when at anchor, as they hold and hold for what they believe is a more controlled shot. Eventually releasing the string when they become to shake or can’t hold it any longer.
  • These are just a few examples, there are countless others which goes to demonstrate how target anxiety can impact on an archer in different ways and at different times. The good news is there are techniques that can be employed to help you.
So what can trigger the onset of such anxiety? Here are a few possible scenarios
  • You might find it builds gradually over time. A common example I have seen is for the archer to start shooting very quickly, releasing as soon as they think they have reached full draw.  Please note this is not the same as snap shooting where an archer has trained to draw and release in a fast single motion. With target anxiety they are not giving themselves times to settle and aim. Over time they begin to lose control of the final stages of the shot process.  Eventually resulting in them prematurely releasing the string and having the arrow impact in the ground in front of the target.
  • Another example comes when you apply pressure on yourself to perform, to reach the next level or perceive that you should be improving faster.  I have seen archers spend hundred and hundreds of pounds on new arrows, limbs, release aids etc. All in the belief that this is what is they need for them to succeed. I have little doubt you have heard the phrase all the gear and no idea to describe them. The reality being that what they need is the support and instruction on improvements to their form or mental outlook to the hobby.
  • When you have achieved a level of success and feel others watching you. On a personal note I can admit to this being how it manifested for me. I am a reasonable shot with my flatbow and been fortunate to win a few medals at local and national level.  Over time I’d gone from a beginner, or rather an also ran, to  a top 20 place, to top 10 and then a medal winner. Problem with this is the level of expectation that comes with shooting well. I would get to a competition and feel people watching me, whether they were or not, it was how I felt. I would feel they would expect me to place. This is one of the reasons I hate being picked for memberships of teams at competitions. I’ve had to work very hard to overcome these demons and I’m still struggling at times. The key thing it is possible.
  • Want to match own expected performance – again this is personal to me. I will admit I am competitive, but very much against myself. If I take a shot and don’t score as well as  i’d expect, I could start a downward spiral. If it was down to good course laying I wouldn’t feel so bad as they tricked me, but if it was down to me then I can get pretty low. I let that poor shot effect the next  shot and so on.
I’m sure you can think of other examples, maybe personal ones based on your own experiences.
As coaches, we may well be the last people archers come to for help. Sadly this is often quite late in the development, being more often the last call behind Google searches and YouTube. This is part of the problem with Target Anxiety as archers don’t want to admit they may have a problem. We live in world where admitting problems or we may not be perfect is seen as wrong or a weakness. This is something that has to change and in my view is simply wrong.
In the next article I will go I to more details on what  can help and identify in more detail how it has impacted me and what I have tried to overcome it. In the meantime if you have any comments or thoughts let me know.
Thanks for reading.