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.

How can a six sided dice help with your archery practice? 

It may sound a little strange, even a bit far fetched to many, but I have found that using a six sided dice can prove very helpful and no I’m not talking about gambling.
Firstly though I have to say that I can’t claim this was entirely my own idea though, as it was spawned from a book I’ve been reading on archery. Many of you know I enjoy reading on all topics of archery and am slowly building a decent library of material, which I share with my students and fellow coaches.
The book in question which generated this idea is “Instinctive archery insights” by Jay Kidwell.

This was a book recommend to me by another coach and I’ll type up a full literature review on it shortly, but for now I’m going to focus on one aspect, that of practice to overcome target panic. There you go I have said it “Target Panic

I really hate that phrase, as I personally prefer describing target panic as “shot anxiety”, since I see it manifest in so many different ways in archers, often long before the archer ever gets to draw up on the target. Anyway back to how a six sided die can help along your with archery practice.

In the exercises described the archer practices drawing up on the target but not shooting. Rather than immediately releasing, they move on and off the gold or centre spot a random number of times. Jay suggests having a coach or buddy saying a number to denote the number of times but you might be practicing on your own so I came up with the idea of using a die.
I modified the dice so there was no 1,5 or 6. This was easily done by sticking a blank label over the numbers. I wanted the die to show 1 four, 3 two’s and 2 threes. This may sound strange but you don’t want too many higher numbers when performing the exercise as you would get fatigued.

I then housed the die in a small clear plastic tub large enough to allow the die to roll and clear enough to see the result.

Dice in a box

There are three exercises in the book, the key thing to remember with all of them is using a light poundage bow rather than your competition bow. I use a 16lb-18lb draw weight recurve with my students.

I’ll briefly describe the way I use this. The archer rolls the die and obtains a random number, say 3.

They draw up and when they get to full draw on the gold they pass to the right and then left, whilst not releasing. In this case they would pass over the gold 3 times before coming down. When I am coaching this technique I recommend the student does this for 15- 20 minutes. Anymore and it can become tedious and the students tend to lose concentration.

The theory behind this is best described int he book but to put it simply it helps to train the brain into not releasing the arrow and being able to move on and off the target.

Further exercises work on the same principle but having you hold on the target for a second and then move off.
I’ve found the exercise works well as I have used them with people and die gives you a random number so you are not always doing 2 or 3 each time.
I hope this helps. I’m going to try and write up some target anxiety material.
Thanks for reading.