Close up of Sharon shooting

Target panic techniques – blank boss shooting and Target face anxiety

So following a brief lapse in postings, I am returning to the topic of Target Panic or shot anxiety associated with shooting. I want to finish off the series of articles with posts on practical exercises you can undertake yourself to start you on the road of overcoming such anxiety.
For those that aren’t sure of what I mean when talking about shot anxiety, more commonly known as Target Panic, I thought it worth just listing the articles I have already written on this. These goes into more details of the nature of target panic and how you can start regaining control. My goal was to end the series looking at practical techniques you can apply.

Blank boss work versus target face fears

So having looked at drawing down as a technique in the last post, let us now look at another popular technique, blank boss shooting and discuss anxiety triggered by shooting target faces. Blank boss practice is one technique which some people swear by and others aren’t so keen on. For those that aren’t sure what I mean, here is a brief description.
This blank boss technique is when you fall back on practising your shot sequence and control while shooting at a boss with no target face on it i.e. the boss is blank, hence the name “blank boss”.
The technique is normally performed at mid-range distances, so 10 to 25 yards.
The advantage of this technique is it often is seen as removing the pressure the archer can feel when drawing upon a target face. I’ve heard this sometimes called being gold shy. For those interested the Push Podcast guys in Episode 128 – Joel Turner briefly discuss this.
Whilst this can be of benefit for the archer to focus on form, draw, release etc, there is a flip side to this technique. If the person has anxiety triggered by drawing up and locking on to the gold or central score zone of a 3D, then they may well be able to draw upon a blank boss, but when then faced with a target face their anxiety returns.
Don’t get me wrong I know this has helped some people but for me, this doesn’t work. I think this is because I need an identifiable point to aim for or more accurately to focus on. Without that spot I can’t focus, my concentration goes and eyes wander. Where your eyes go, the arrow follows. Its a similar thing when I shoot 3Ds with no identifiable markings to pick out, so I hate shooting things that are all one colour.
As I’ve said, some people do find this a useful technique to help overcome target panic, so I’m going to give you an example from one of my coaching experiences of how removing the target face can help.
Several years ago I was asked by a very good friend to offer some advice to his wife. She was struggling with confidence despite being a very capable archer. I started by asking her how she felt about her shooting and one topic she would return to was about the focus on target faces, as she tended to shoot at the face and not focus on a spot.
So I removed the target face from the boss and put a target pin, about 10 mm in diameter in the centre. That would be what she would be shooting at. A small spot in a large boss for her to focus on.
After spending some time talking through her shot sequence and ironing out a couple of areas to develop we started shooting. Initially starting at 5 yards she shot at the pin, using it as a focus point. Notice I’m saying focus point rather than aim and that choice of words is deliberate. The archer is struggling with focusing on a spot not aiming her bow.
Over the afternoon we gradually moved back until we reached 20 yards. All the time focusing on her form, with the pin simply being a focal point for her shooting.
By the end of the session, she had hit the pin from 20 yards using her English longbow.
Form and focus is key.
One thing this technique can be beneficial for is when the archer wishes to work on their form. When you couple this work with a lighter poundage draw weight bow then you can have some great results. With a lighter bow, you have time to draw and focus on the steps and actions you are performing.
It is worth remembering that when you are presented with a stressful situation and you feel the anxiety building, I have found that a good technique for coping is to focus on your form. Focus on the steps you consciously or unconsciously go through and the shot will come.
So that is part one, blank boss shooting, but the other aspect is target anxiety

Target face anxiety or gold shy

Strange as it may sound, but specific target faces can trigger target panic and corresponding increased anxiety for some people. You might wonder why is this the case? Well, take a moment to think about it. Sometimes we put pressure on ourselves based on previous experiences. What about the JVD Ermin or Jay, I know Sharon hated the Merlin Tiger face for a while. They can be seen as the targets some archers love to hate.
Remember I mentioned this concept in the third post when I talked about mindset and how if you say “I never hit this face.”, it will have a negative effect on how you approach the shot.
JVD Ermin target face

JVD Ermine target face

On our practise range I tend not to use commercially available target faces. Instead, I use circular pieces of card which are actually, the cardboard bases from pre-made pizza bases. They are about 8 inches in diameter and I then draw a black dot in the centre approximately two inches in diameter. This gives me a cheap relative effective target which is easily visible at longer distances.
Simple target face

Simple target face

So why use these other than being cheap and me being a skinflint? Well, there are a few advantages.
The faces are small enough for me to move around the boss. This means if I want to practise shooting at a low target I can. This is useful as there are a few 3D targets like the crocodile which has a low body silhouette.
Moving the target face round the boss means I don’t shoot out one area of the boss e.g. the centre, so prolonging the life of the boss.
It stops me focusing on specific target faces, whether these are animal faces used in big game rounds or roundall, with multicoloured rings. Instead, it has me focusing on a small spot no matter the distance.
Drawing horizontal and vertical lines through the centre of the spot also helps as I can use it as a guide for one exercise, which I’ll cover in a future post. First, let’s go back to what are the options when confronted with a target face you dislike?
Well if you are on a field course, friendly shoot or competition, the best thing you can do is take a breath, stay calm and smile. Smile! Yes, smile, as this immediately starts to get your brain away from negativity. As a side note, it can also confuse any of your competitors who might be watching you waiting for a reaction.
One method I know works as I and others have used it repeatedly is to mentally overlay the rogue target face with one you prefer.  I know this may sound a bit strange but let me explain this a bit more, based on my own experience.
On one of our old bag bosses, we draw 4 small black spots about an inch in diameter over the pre-existing marks. Imagine drawing 2 lines on the boss one horizontal and one vertical, one halfway up and one halfway across the boss. Effectively dividing it into 4 equal squares. Then in the centre of each square mark a black spot.
You might be able to see them on the white boss in the picture below.
Mybo bag target

Mybo bag target

We would have 5 arrows and would shoot at each spot until we hit it and then move onto the next. The goal is to shoot one arrow into each and have a spare in the quiver. We would start at 5 yards and move back to 15 yards. (5/7/10/12/15 yards) It’s a great practise method as it focuses your mind on a small spot, along with forcing you to shoot at targets at different heights.
The second advantage is when you are faced with a target you don’t like, say a JVD Jay or Ermin all I would do is ignore the face and image the black dot from the target boss.
Away from a competition, I have known archers to buy target faces they struggle with and shoot it to death on their practice bosses. Shooting the face until they don’t feel any negativity towards it. The ghosts of past shots having been laid to rest you good say.
The key is to find a system that works for you.
I hope this advice helps. Thanks for reading, stay safe and well.
Sharon on the range

Before we start a quick reminder

So we have looked at two sides of the archers triangle, that of the arrow and bow. Now let’s look at what many see as the hardest element to gain control of, the archer.

archers triangle graphic

The archers triangle

Before we dive into this I want you to think for a moment about your mindset and how you approach these ideas.
It’s good to be optimistic when it comes to combating target panic but you have to temper this with a level of realism. So please be realistic in what you can achieve with the time you have available. Try and plan your activities so your time is used effectively and efficiently. Just like you need to allocate time for tuning your bow or making arrows you need to give yourself time to practice these techniques.
You will need to consider planning your time effectively. Don’t just go out and shoot lots of arrows believing it will cure your anxiety. It might build your muscle strength but I doubt it will solve the anxiety you feel.  Consider the fact that shooting 100 poor shots does not work as well as 30 well executed shots.

So think about practice regime and exercises you can do to help build confidence and resolve. Working on your chosen techniques whether these be focusing on your own form, shot sequence steps or exercises like drawing down off a shot have to be factored into your training regime.

view of the range

view of the range

Consider carefully how much time you can allocate to the techniques I will suggest. It may well require you to allocate 20 to 30 minutes a session in the early stages to get used to the drills. This is the sort of commitment required in the early stages.
Once you have regained control its still worth practicing the techniques every few sessions partly so they remain fresh in your mind and partly because they can help you remain in control.
Your objective is not to hit the target but to gain control over your target panic / shot anxietyremember this. Don’t let your focus move to hitting the gold, it has to be on control.
Too often we focus and perceive success as making the shot score highly. That is an outcome from solving the anxiety, your true goal is to take back control of the shot.

Physical Practise is one way but remember we are training your brain too. I mentioned in the previous article about mindset and changing the way you think about things. This includes how we consider things such as how we recall what we consider to be good or bad shots, productive or unproductive practice. Often when we start experiencing target panic we tend to recall the poor shots, what we consider bad ones. These prey on your mind, possibly because you missed a shot or scored less than you wanted. In reality the shot has gone, its in the past. remember to learn from it and move on.
You may have heard of the phrase “Making mistakes is not failure unless you let it be.” or something similar.
I firmly believe that making mistakes should not be viewed as a failure as it can provide a great learning experience. The reality is if we don’t learn from our mistakes we are likely to repeat them. Think of this for a moment. Shooting the wrong spine of arrow and identifying this only comes about from the mistake of shooting the wrong arrows in the first place.
Where archery is concerned this is very important to remember as you might try a technique and it doesn’t gell with you for whatever reason. The crucial thing to remember is you’ve tried something and made a step in gaining back control.
One way you can think of it is as if you are going to a new restaurant. You decide to try something new on the menu that sounds interesting. You might like it or you might hate it, without trying you’ll never know.

Getting good at something takes practice.
Getting better at doing the same thing takes more good practice.
Getting to a level where you are a master, can take a lifetime.

This is true if you are field archer, target shooter, fisherman, golfer or even a surgeon.
It is equally true of physical and mental practices. They take time to learn and for you to develop.

Natural Aptitude and learnt skill

Basic talent or natural aptitude only goes so far, after that its perseverance and good practice. Someone with natural talent will often start off well or ahead of another who has to work on shooting a bow. The thing is the person who is a “natural” may struggle later in their progression as they may have relied on their talent rather than developing skill. I’ve seen it time and time before affect the archers confidence as they start to struggle, wondering why it’s become so hard all of a sudden.

Modern fix, quick fix

In a modern world where people are always looking for short cuts or quick answers to fix complex issues the concept of spending time ensuring we learn the skill properly is sometimes overlooked.
Increasingly society looks for the easy fast solution. Here is a fact, target panic requires time to overcome. There maybe some quick tips that can help you find your right road, which is why I started writing these articles but there are no shortcuts or magic arrow.
The important thing to remember is effort can work and will work if the effort is focused.
Knowledge and effort makes a difference or at least it can if effort is directed and focused correctly. These posts are here to help you gain some insight and ideas on how to focus on the correct way for you.
Be kind to yourself and give yourself time. You might have been struggling with anxiety for years so don’t expect to learn to control it in hours. Remember in the second post I said there were 3 things

Put some work in – there are no magic arrows that solve everything or a secret draw technique that quells the nerves.
Remember one size doesn’t fit all – what works for one person may or may not work for you.
Be patient – it takes time to work out what helps you and this means time spent working at it too.

In the next couple of posts I’m going to cover a few techniques that can help.

  • Blank boss work
  • Target fear (where specific target faces trigger anxiety)
  • Drawing down
  • Drawing up but not shooting immediately

I might throw a few other ideas in the mix too. I hope these ideas will help.
Thanks for reading