There is a common theme among archers that causes much frustration and anxiety...
"Why can't I shoot well in competitions....!?"
This question addles the brains of many archers, and has caused many talented archers unquantifiable frustration, stress, anxiety, confusion and self-torment, none of which are productive for your journey in the sport of archery!
"The answer is obvious!" I hear you say. "It's simply the pressure of performing in a competition that throws me off my game..." You may even admit to yourself that you always practice in near-perfect conditions...
Undoubtedly, you are right, at least partially. But from my experience there is also a much simpler contributor to this phenomenon. What if, it's your intrinsic optimism during practice that's letting you down?
Photo credit: Michael Genrich
Let's start by asking yourself a question. When scoring a practice round, have you ever taken a questionable line-call and rounded it up? I know that I am guilty of this little trick. I’ll let myself off the hook by thinking things like:
“It’s close enough...” or, “It’s only one point...”
Whilst this seems very innocent, you are in fact fooling yourself into a sense of false accomplishment, but more on that later.
There are three common ways in which archers “round up” their scores in practice:
The “Optimistic line call” – Archers will round-up line calls for that extra 1 point because “it’s close enough!”
The “I’ll start scoring next end” – When practicing, archers will often wait until they’ve shot a really good end before starting to score the round. This can work both ways i.e. you can shoot a good end during your self-appointed practice and decide to start scoring early, or you can shoot a bad end and decide that “I’ll start scoring next end.”
The “7th arrow” – Have you ever done a catastrophic flinch in practice, shot a low scoring arrow and thought to yourself “I’ll just shoot another one...” Guess what, they DO happen in competition, and it happens with more people than you think! Letting yourself off the hook in practice is not going to help you out in a world cup! This do-over is not only limited to archers, in fact it is so common in golf that they have a name for it – “A Mulligan!”
Depending on the severity of your optimism, it’s not a stretch to imagine that you award yourself an extra 5, 10 or even 20 imaginary points in a 720 round! And if you string all of these fudge factors together, it’s easy to see why you never meet your expectations in competitions!
So what’s the harm? A little bit of optimism never hurt anyone, and it’s only practice...
Awarding yourself imaginary points is the archery equivalent of binge eating after a workout – It doesn’t help you get results, but you feel like you deserve it.
The biggest problem with round-ups is that it sets you up for failure. If you want to succeed, then set yourself up for success! I always invent challenges and shooting games for my students that are challenging, but achievable. When an archer hits their goal they will feel a sense of accomplishment and motivation towards their next challenge. On the flip side, when an archer fails to hit their goal over and over again, it shatters their confidence, and has a demotivating effect. The archer will withdraw into their shell and protect themselves from disappointment by learning to expect failure. Things to avoid are:
Challenges that are unrealistic or too difficult
Technique elements that are too complicated for the archers skill level e.g. teaching back-tension to a beginner before they have mastered stance, posture, alignment and anchor
Scores that are too high. It’s good to aim for high scores, but if it is so high that you continually fail, how long before you resign yourself to failure? Consistent progress should be valued over huge jumps in score.
In this context, if you set yourself up to shoot lower scores than you are accustomed to in competitions, you are also setting yourself up to be in a poor frame of mind for the tournament.
With the right mental preparation, you can set yourself up to shoot well, if not your best in competitions!
Cheating Yourself - The fudge factor
To gain a better understanding of why we torture ourselves in this way, Prof. Dan Ariely, author of “The (honest) truth about dishonesty” conducted a series of experiments designed to provoke people to cheat. He found that as a general rule, we all cheat. That’s right, it has nothing to do with whether you are an “Honest” person or not, rather, if the conditions are right, we will all take the opportunity to cheat!
The theory is, that there is a level to which each one of us can cheat, and still maintain a view of ourselves as relatively honest, trustworthy individuals. This was coined “The fudge factor”. The fudge factor explains why we will only cheat ourselves by a little bit, rather than a lot.
So how can you overcome this compulsion to fudge your score?
The good news is, there are a couple of simple strategies that you can implement to keep your hand out of that cookie jar full of imaginary points. Firstly, you should inform yourself that rounding-up is detrimental to your performance when it really counts in competitions (if you’re this far through the article, check). If you still struggle with self-discipline, the second thing you can do is give yourself little morality reminders. These are the equivalent of a sign above the cookie jar saying “Please don’t steal my cookies”. Surprisingly, these little cues are often enough for us to recognise our own dishonest ways, and set us right back on the path to self-honesty! Before shooting, try writing on the top of your score sheet “This score is a honest representation of my ability” (or something to that effect).
There are some other strategies that can help you out in practice:
- Ensure that the arrow "fully" cuts the line to make a line call in practice.
- Shoot 9 arrow ends, and score the lowest 6. This will put a focus on consistency and avoiding mistakes rather than ignoring them.