Sharon on the range

Target Panic and the archer part 3

So in the second post on target panic I wrote at length about shot sequence and tried to set some foundation of ideas for you to build on. In this post I am going to describe some techniques, but first I want to discuss confidence.

Confidence and it’s role in Target Panic

I have always felt that confidence is hard won and easy knocked.  Remembering this it’s my view confidence and target panic go hand in hand, with a lack of confidence in your own ability often sparking some form of anxiety. Think of this cycle for a moment.
A lack or loss of confidence can spark anxiety, which in turn may cause a loss in performance due to nerves. The loss in performance then results in a loss of confidence in ability. It’s not hard to see how this can quickly become self perpetuating.
The possible result is an archer can develop a variety symptoms, not knowing where or how to aim, unable to reach anchor before releasing etc. Bearing this in mind we can look at elements of your shooting process and how we can identify the separate steps in your shot cycle. This was why in the last article I spoke at length about shot sequence.
As for building confidence, well that is a huge element of archery so I’ll come back to that later in this series of articles. To start let’s look at what I think of as our mindset.

How your mindset plays a vital part

I feel you can be your own worse enemy at times or rather your mindset and memories can help weaken your resolve. How you perceive or approach a target can have a huge impact on how you shoot. Ask yourself this, have you either thought any of these when you see a target?
“I always miss this shot.” ,
“I never hit this face.” ,
” I don’t like long shots.”
The best I think I have heard is “I hate things standing on legs like 3D deer as I always go between the legs.”
Statements like these have an effect on your mindset long before you nock the arrow on the string. Effectively you are starting preparing for your shot by talking yourself out of making the shot successfully, before you even start! Almost as though these are the excuses you can use for when you miss. You might not realise it but I believe this mentality adds stress and starts pre-programming your brain into a negative mindset. So please stop doing it.
You want to avoid trying to use these descriptions when effectively talking to yourself about a shot. So much or archery is in your mind and how you approach or talk to yourself about shots, that talking in negative terms starts a downhill spiral.
I think it was Nelson Mandela who said “I never lose. Either I win or I learn.” I think this could be modified for archers to “I miss and I learn, I hit and I learn more.”
Why do I believe this? When you shoot and miss you might realise you judged the distance wrong or performed a poor release. When you shoot well and hit, you remind yourself you can judge the distance, execute the release, you help to remind yourself you are a capable archer. This helps to build individual confidence it also helps build a reservoir of successful shots.

Remember the good shots

Too often we recall the shots that we perceive as failure or target faces we hate to shoot. This can make us over analyse the shots we take,  going over them again and again in the virtual world of our mind. This can also re-enforces a negative cycle in our brains. I will admit this is something I have struggled with for years. I have a good memory a d remember shots and courses, sometimes for years. The problem was I often recall the poor shots or the ones I felt I should have done better, rather than celebrating the good shots, the successes. It has taken a lot of work to retrain my brain and shift it’s focus, but if I can do it so can you.
For this reason I started to actively remind myself of the good shots, whether this was at the range or at a competition. Changing the terms I would describe events in my own head. I shifted  my focus to remember the actions that made them good shots and I found I could then repeat them more easily. I stopped looking at what I was doing wrong and reminding myself what I was doing or capable  of doing right. I can trace how that change in mindset helped me back to a couple of instances one of which I will recall now.

This is what helped me?

Starting to remember the good shots and learning from them, rather than constantly re-analysing the misses. Knowing why and how I missed is important, but you can overdo things. I would finish a competition shoot feeling down and when asked how I did I’d reply not well. It wasn’t until a mate said your bad days are better than most people good days, I realised I needed to change how I saw my results. (By the way, thanks Jim as it made me think)
There is one specific shot at a NFAS 3D championships a couple of years ago that helped me and was a turning point. I had started a few weeks before the event focusing on the positive, trying to remember the good shots and not to be so negative. I knew this tournament would be the testing ground for my new outlook. The target that brought it home for me was a standing 3D stag, about 60 yards or more. My shooting group was waiting to shoot the target as the groups in front appeared to  pepper the undergrowth. None were hitting it from the first peg and most were taking 3 arrows to score or come close. I think it was fair to say that this wasn’t filling any of us in the group along with others with a sense of confidence. By the time it was my groups turn to shoot there were others groups waiting behind us. Each member of the group took it in turn to shoot before me and only one hit with their third arrow. By the time it was my go the viewing audience of other archers had grown to several groups. I’m not a big fan of being watched when I shoot, so have a couple of dozen people watching me wasn’t high on my list of things to enjoy.
I remember feeling the anxiety build, long before I was on the shooting peg. I took my place at the peg and breathed out, forcing my shoulders down and to relax. I nocked the arrow and slowly breathed in and out a couple more times, smiling to myself while thinking I must be mad to do this to myself.  I remember the conversation in my head ” Come on you’ve shot this distance before over harder terrain. Any doubts then just focus on form and smile.
I focused my concentration on my form, my balance on my feet, my grip on the bow and how my fingers felt on the string. All the time looking at the target. I breathed in and drew up in one fluid motion, bending at the waste for the distance. I reached anchor and when I was ready I released the string, letting the arrow fly towards the target.
I then heard the thud of an impact, not a sound of arrow burying into the ground but the dull thud of an arrow in a 3D.
Lowering my bow arm I could see my arrow central in the body. A good shot, a first arrow hit scoring me 20 points. More importantly it told my doubting head I could do this archery lark.
Now when faced with shots that make me nervous I think back to that shot. How I focused on form, my shot sequence and most important remembering the positive outcome it gave me then and since. I would go on to come second in my class at that national tournament.
So start today to focus on the elements you are doing right and build on them. It will take a bit of time and you’ll probably catch yourself more than once being negative but believe me it’s worth it.
Sharon forcing me to pose for my shot on elk

Sharon forcing me to pose for my shot on elk

With Christmas round the corner I want to share a top tip that many retailers will hate me for. Please don’t spend lots of money on new equipment or upgrades believing this will help with your shot anxiety. IT WON’T. All it will result in is you potentially missing faster, getting more frustrated after spending money, sometimes a lot of money and being back at square one.
Your objective is not to hit the target but to gain control over your target panic / shot anxiety – remember this. 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.
Thanks for reading and as I have said previously feel free to drop me a line with any questions or thoughts you might have.
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.