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.

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.