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.
3D deer in field

Shoot Report – Barry Cheadles’ 3D course October 2019

Sun through the trees

Sun through the trees

This was another shoot where I would be behind a camera rather than a bow, but I wanted to get something written and out there as I feel its worth promoting. This isn’t an NFAS club by run Barry Cheadle who does all the course laying and preparation.
Situated at Bower Hill, Nr Button Oak its about a 45 minute drive for us, depending on the traffic. In fact it wasn’t the traffic that delayed us but the weather, as when we were packing the car to leave we were having to scrape the ice off the outside, that was  once we got that far as the padlock on the gate was actually frozen. Anyhow lets get back to the shoot report.
Groups mustering

Groups mustering

The course consisted of 30 targets, all of which were 3D targets ranging in sizes from some small rabbits to wolves, not forgetting the small carp set in the stream.
The grounds are a hillside which comprises a mixed woodland and sections of confers, offering a variety of terrains and lighting.
Archers in the woods

Archers in the woods

One negative comment I will make and to be fare was completely outside of Barry’s control. The previous day the area, like much of the UK had had very heavy rain. This made some of the paths and routes through the course quite treacherous underfoot, with them resembling streams rather than pathways. I know Barry is looking at this for his next shoot and as I said I don’t think he was expecting the weather we had the day before.
Archers waiting for the off

Archers waiting for the off

This wasn’t his first shoot and I was glad to see the course numbers were up from previous shoots he’s organised with there being over 40 archers all of them shooting unsighted classes.
Archers gathering

Archers gathering

The scoring system  was different to other competitions but was easy to follow. Barry combined elements from the NFAS and  Border archery competitions. You got your shooting peg on which there was one for an adult and one for a junior. You shot your first arrow and if you were in you were going to score 15 points if in the animal or 20 points if in the kill /  central marked zone. If you were not successful of your first arrow you can take a second row from the same peg, with a potential of 5 points or 10 points. This made it very easy for both the maths and also for newbies or experienced archers. It also made for a pretty fast shoot, which is ideal in the winter months.
Wooden arrow and Carbon arrow

Wooden arrow and Carbon arrow fighting for central spot

Unlike the NFAS you weren’t having to move pegs and it meant you could try and adapt for your second shot if you need one.  I wonder whether it makes it a bit easier for the course layer too as you set your shooting line and have less issues with different positions along that line. I’ve commented already on the weather on the previous day and early morning but have to say that Sunday was a truly glorious day with bright sunshine if a little on the chilly side.
As I said getting round in a few places was quite challenging due to the previous days heavy rain fall. I think a few more direction signs might have helped too as Barry was using new areas of the woodland.
Archers in the field

Archers in the field

Not all targets were in the woods somewhere outside in fields making for a bit of a nice mix. He also has the ability to shoot out from the wood into fields or from fields into the wood which offers a nice contrast.
3D deer in field

3D deer in field

There weren’t that many long shots, by long I mean over 30 yards but I think it is quite a technical course and works well for developing skills.
I hope Barry will run future shoots as I’ve been to a couple of his and each has improved on the previous. He asked for comments and feedback and I think he’s received lots, the majority of which have been positive and constructive in any criticism.
Sharon shooting

Sharon shooting

One interesting thing Barry has to do, which is the same as we have to at our shoot grounds is to mark any deer targets. He actually puts some coloured tape around the ear all the neck to signify it is actually a target, as his area has a small resident wild herd of deer which occasionally puts in an appearance.
On the peg waiting for the start

On the peg waiting for the start

 In all I think it was  a really good day I think the only downside was if the fact that it was 30 targets without a break I think maybe in future he could reorganise the paths so that you can have a break halfway around.
Considering this has been set by one person I think it’s done really well and want to wish him the best of luck in the future.
Thanks for reading.