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

Coaching very young children – some thoughts

Balloons as a target can make it fun

Balloons as a target can make it fun

 Recently I was asked to give two young children both 6, (though if you ask them they will say 6 and 3/4 and 6 and a half) a session in archery. These are some thoughts and observations, I hope you find it useful.

Normally I coach adults or children slightly older as I believe they have a better grasp of the concepts. Also at this early age their muscles and coordination is still developing so you shouldn’t start any earlier in my opinion.
One thing is for sure. Coaching young children is very different to coaching adults. I think it is far more tiring for the coach, but can be very rewarding for both coach and them, as to the young kids even missing is good.
They have no expectations of success but just enjoy the moment.

Maybe that is something we can all learn from.

Equipment requirements 

Though I have basic beginners take down bows I decided to use a simple fibre glass bow which is easier to use and more importantly lighter in the hand for young people. I picked it up from Merlin Archery but am sure other retailers would have something similar. Details are below.
http://www.merlinarchery.co.uk/sherwood-archery-bow-kit-44.html

Ground rules 

As with adults you must set the ground rules long before they get near a bow.

  • No running at any point.
  • If I say stop we stop.
  • Remember to talk to them, not at them.
  • Its vital to make parents aware of their responsibilities of care and behaviour.

Find out from the parents if the kids have any health issues, maybe they are just getting over a cold which might make them tire quickly.

Smile

One tip I’ve found is to always smile when talking to children ensuring you make eye contact, as children love this form of engagement.
Even if they miss, smile and tell them what they have done well, it is very easy to hit their confidence and you want them to enjoy the occasion.
The thing I have discovered with teaching kids is to make it fun, so I have found showing the basics then breaking it into two sessions and having something like balloons on the target in the second half makes it fun and keeps their attention.

Small steps

As an adult or experienced archer you might shoot 4/6 or more arrows when practising.
Children have a shorter attention span so have them shoot only a couple at a time.
This keeps their attention and doesn’t tire them out. Speaking of tiring them make sure to give them plenty of breaks. If they get tired they make mistakes and can get grumpy (just like adults )
I  took the kids in turn to shoot and had the other sat in a  chair watching. This means they can be relaxing watching and you as a coach have a safe place where they are located.

Couple of other  things to consider.
They don’t have a clear concept of aiming so tend to be instinctive in their approach.
Light is right – use the lightest bow possible and I don’t just mean draw weight but also light physical weight.
Children can get cold quickly as well as tired so keep an eye on this. I was running the session on a winter’s day so the cold was a potential problem but equally in the summer heat can be a problem with sunburn or heat exhaustion.
Childrens coats tend to be quite bulky so make sure arm bracers fit and hold the sleeve back.
Don’t locate the shooting line too close to the targets as arrows can bounce back due to not having enough energy to penetrate some target bosses.
Kneel at their side as this helps to keep eye contact, don’t tower over them as this can be intimidating.

Keep the fun.

One way of making it  fun can be to put a few balloons on target boss and have them try and burst them. This is a good activity for them after a long break say after lunch.
Likewise having some comic target faces can make it fun.

Parents and guardians role

I feel it is vital to engage the parents too and get them shooting so they know what the kids are having to do.
Ideally get the kids to use their parents phones to either photograph or film them shooting. Kids love using modern tech and recording themselves or parents can give them a great buzz. (Please be careful here as filming or photographing kids can cause issues so always ensure its the parents or guardians who are using the cameras when the children are the subject.)
I have the parents or guardians present at all times too,  as archery is not a creche and you as a coach should not be used as one. It also introduces archery as a family experience which they can share.
I hope you have found this useful and no doubt there are other tips you can pick up from other more experienced archers and coaches.

I’m sure there are other coaches out that that can offer some thoughts or add their advice.

Thanks for reading.