Arrows role in overcoming target panic

Forest of arrows

Forest of arrows

In the previous posts, I talked about personal confidence and your mindset. In the next couple of articles, I am going to look at the role of equipment setup and how these can affect your confidence in both positive and negative ways. As ever if you have any questions or queries drop me a line.
How can we build self-confidence?
Well, that is not an easy question as there are so many different potential answers. From my perspective, I’m going to use something I call the Archer’s triangle, to help break this down into manageable elements.

archers triangle graphic

The archers triangle

The triangle is what I see as the three key elements that are relevant for all archers, whether you are a target archer, hunter or field shooter. It consists of three components, Archer, Arrow and Bow. These three need to work together successfully for the best outcome. I am not saying they all have to be perfect, but they do have to work together. Since there are three I have always thought of them as the three sides of a triangle.

Arrow – all elements from shaft construction, spinning, point weight, length, etc.
Bow – covering bow mass weight, draw weight, length, brace height, etc.
Archer –  cover draw dynamic, shot sequence, mindset, draw length, release, etc.

Building personal confidence i.e. the Archer element takes time and practise, but we can build confidence via the other two sides, slightly more quickly. So I’m going to summaries some ideas on the Arrow and Bow aspects initially.
Don’t worry I’m not ignoring the Archer element or how we build the archers confidence. I will cover this. but initially I want to focus on the kit aspects and provide a few ideas on how you can develop confidence through your kit set up.

Building confidence with arrows

So we are going to start with our projectiles, whether wood, carbon or aluminium. Arrows are a vital component for all archers. For this reason, I want to offer you a thought “If you don’t have confidence in how your equipment will behave, then you will find every shot doubly challenging?

Think about this for a moment. If your quiver is full of arrows of different lengths, weights, spines then do you think each arrow is likely to perform in the same way?

A quick Google search will provide you with a bewildering amount of information on arrows, how-to guides on construction techniques, what works, what doesn’t work, etc. So I’m not going to cover that. What I am going to outline is how making my arrows helped me build confidence in their performance and behaviour. This, in turn, gave me confidence when shooting them.
You could argue that this is from the perspective of a traditional archer, making mostly wooden arrows, with feather fletchings, but I feel it is just as applicable for all archers, whether you are shooting Easton X7, XX75 or Easton Carbon Ones. So here goes.
Over the years I’ve probably spent hours making and tuning my wooden arrows to the different bows I shoot. Trying different combinations of arrow spine, arrow length, pile weight, fletching size and shape, matching total arrow weight, etc. I would document all this in various notebooks so I could refer back to them. Then I would shoot the combinations for a couple of weeks to properly test them at different distances and in varying weather conditions. If they worked fantastic, if not back to the drawing board and start again with the next set of variable until I found a combination that worked.
Sure I made mistakes along the way, that’s part of learning. I firmly believe that making mistakes should not be viewed as a failure. It can provide a great learning experience if we let it. Too many times I’ve seen people not learn from mistakes only to repeat them.

I found the process of making the arrows strangely relaxing after a day spent in front of a computer screen. The ability to focus on the single task of construction and stages involved in construction brought an element of mindfulness.
I also feel all this work paid dividends in two ways. I developed skills in making arrows, which I have been able to apply and teach to others. Secondly and more importantly, it meant I developed confidence in the arrow set up and how they would behave.

I may have told you this story before, but I believe it is worth another outing and helps to highlight how not being aware of your kits variances can affect your anxiety.

An archer came to me for some coaching. Their goal was to increase their consistency, especially at longer distances where they struggled most. They felt a lack of confidence shooting at distance and couldn’t understand why sometimes things worked and others times they would go high and next time low.

Reviewing their form and shot execution showed them to have a strong and consistent routine. It was only when I reviewed their equipment did an answer appear as to why they were struggling. Their arrows had a huge variance in mass weight, with the heaviest being over 100 grains more than the lightest. This would explain why over longer distances, 35 yards plus, the archer would see completely different results depending on which arrow they used. This leads them to believe it was something they were doing wrong, which had the effect of causing anxiety and loss of confidence.

Top Tip – pickup a digital grain scale so you can weigh your arrows easily. They are quite inexpensive and can be easily picked up off the internet or local archery shop. I wrote an article a while back on my use of them. Make sure they will weigh items in grains.

Digital grain scales

Grain scales with sponge

Obviously, there are far more potential variations in shaft weight, arrow spinning etc when making wooden arrows due to the nature of the materials. When compared with constructing arrows from machined aluminium or carbon, where the manufacturing tolerances are far more predictable. Gaining consistency in your arrow set up is vital and is one reason so many people use carbon.

You might feel you don’t have the skills to build your own arrows, but everyone can develop these skills. If nothing else you can review and check the length and weight of your arrows to ensure a level of consistency.

Grouping by weight

I group my arrows into batches by weight so all the ones I shoot are closely matched, whether they are used for first, second or thirds. So 12 of my arrows might weigh in at 460 to 480 grains. I would group all the ones from 460 to 470 grains together and have a separate grouping of 470 to 480 grains.
Unlike some archers, I don’t use my lightest arrows for my first arrows (normally the longest shots), working down to my third arrows being the heaviest (normally the closest). I prefer to know they are all in the same weight range and hence will perform consistently.

Monitoring

The thing to remember is that arrows wear out over time, especially wooden arrows. Eventually, the fibres in the shaft will no longer keep their strength, following constantly impacting targets or the ground. This is sometimes called shooting the heart out of the arrow. This can have an effect on the archer as you can quickly lose confidence in yourself if you feel you are doing everything right but your arrows aren’t flying well.
For this reason, I suggest you monitor your arrows and check they are remaining straight and undamaged. This is vital for all archers to consider, especially when shooting carbon arrows as these too can fail and sometimes in quite dramatic manners. I’ve seen some carbon arrows explode when released from the bow due to the archer not being aware the arrow is damaged and the stresses involved at the point of release caused a catastrophic failure.
Like wooden arrows, aluminium shafts can become damaged and dented over time; resulting in less than ideal flight trajectory, so it’s worth keeping track of them too. Sharon used to find the Easton X7 a great arrow when shooting barebow as they could take a hit or two without deforming. Which provided her with confidence in their performance.

Thanks for reading and as I have said previously, feel free to drop me a line with any questions or thoughts you might have on topics I am covering.

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