The role of the central nervous system (CNS) in enhancing sports performance needs special attention as it may hold the key to improved speed and power production, for example. Coaches and athletes need to realize the importance of the CNS and implement strategies in training and competition to maximize its contribution to sports performance.1
The above paragraph is from an article that considers how athletes can train to gain peak performance and apply the impact of their central nervous system. It is a good piece of work, especially if you run, jump, ride a bike, or perform in many sports aside from archery and shooting.
When I prepare for a race I mentally channel my excitement so that I remain somewhat calm. I don’t want to nervously waste energy – I want to apply it to force whether that force is on the road as my foot impacts its surface or on the pedals of my bike. Shooting an arrow is a different condition where nervous energy is not always a good thing.
In the excitement of lining up for a shot, either on the line standing next to other archers or at a stake in 3D remaining calm is important. Shaky arms aren’t beneficial for archers.
In the first archery tournament where I competed, the Virginia State Indoor Championship in 2014, during the first several shots, my heart was pounding, and I was very nervous. In fact, I was far more jittery at that State Championship than I was at the 2008 Ironman World Championship in Kona, HI. Why the difference?
One obvious reason, no one was looking at me in Kona – I was bobbing in the water, waiting for the cannon fire that would signal the start of a long day along with 1800 other triathletes. I wasn’t worried about “looking” bad or “stupid”. I knew what to expect from of my performance. I knew I would get a boost from adrenaline and I knew I’d do as well as I’d trained. I totally trusted my plan. Another reason, it wasn’t my first ‘rodeo’ – in fact outside of archery I have competed in over 415 competitive events (including 6 World Championship in cycling, triathlon, duathlon, and archery). What I have learned since 2014, in archery as well as triathlons, is no one is really looking at me. Most shooters are focused on their performance – not mine.
Learning to control and handle the excitement of an archery event is vastly different than that of a race, yet with a lot of similarities. Running a marathon you can rest assured there will be a point where the race becomes increasingly mental. In an Ironman (140.6 miles of swimming, cycling and running) if you are not mentally tough, you will not complete the distance. In archery, mental toughness is a lot about control.
You can’t control what is going on around you in a tournament. You can control how you react to conditions and unforeseen developments. How you handle them will impact your shooting and you can control your performance.
There are days when I practice and I am in a zone. Thus far, I have only been in a zone once during an archery tournament. It was a 3D shoot, I didn’t shoot a perfect score, but there was a smooth relaxed feeling to the shots. During another tournamnet I was nearly that zone where mentally I was on my game. I say nearly since I didn’t feel ‘it’ until I’d shot several targets for 10’s and an 8, before I started hitting mostly 12s. That’s not imply I am smokin’ it at tournaments, at least not yet. I’ve screwed up at major events, missed targets at 3D shoots*, and smacked 8’s at 18 meters in competition after not hitting one in practice for weeks.
I expect I’ll shoot more tournaments like those in a few more months. Some will be better than others. It takes experience and confidence to improve. Practice helps. Pressure during practice also helps. It helps build confidence, which later will aid in support of control.
When I trained for bicycle racing, I nearly always trained in a group. There was always pressure. There was always someone trying to break away or someone trying to be the best during any given training exercise. We used to say our training was harder than racing.
In archery, I try to have days where I am not alone on the range. I want the ‘pressure’ of other eyes watching. That’s, in part, why I have a coach – I need him observing and providing feedback. There is an amount of ‘pressure’ exerted as I work to execute perfect shots under critical eyes. (I am still working at it)
In learning to shoot a bow, I have applied, where possible, training techniques taught to me by my former coaches. These coaches were from: running, swimming, cycling, and football. I’ve applied parts of what I know as a sports scientist / physiologist / sleep specialist and respiratory therapist. Every little bit has helped.
However, there’s the element that can only come with experience. During the past two years, since I began this archery adventure, I’ve competed in 43 events in eight states. The experience of those events has improved my confidence.
But, I also now know what I can expect to score from each competition. I don’t go into any competition blind as to how I will perform then hoping for the best. I can’t control how others shoot, but I can control how I shoot. With each competition, I aim to shoot a personal best. In order to do that I must be able to control the reaction of my central nervous system, and without that explosive outlet I get from racing. And at each event, I like to know my starting point, that is what are my average scores for this type of event. Then, I set a goal, each time, to walk away with an improved score. Afterwards, I head home and relax for a while.
Notes: * Out of 410 3D targets I shot at in 2015 I missed three. A coyote at 35 yard (undershot), a mountain lion at 42 yards (undershot) and another mountain lion steep downhill at 37 yards (shot it in the spine and the arrow did not stick.). Each time, I was embarrassed and each time the guys in my shooting group did their best to outwardly show that silent support. I expect inside they were either laughing or thinking “What an idiot.” But, hey – I can’t control that.