Practice Should Be a Challenge

“Are you practicing to practice or are you practicing to win?”

I do not know who originally asked that question. It is one that I think about a lot. I consider it before nearly every practice. I consider it when I am working on training plans. It makes a difference to ask the question before training.

Training and practice should not be easy. Whether you are preparing for a bicycle race or an archery tournament the question applies.

Archers often practice by shooting arrow after arrow. That can work. But, does shooting a bunch of arrows in practice prepare an archer to win?

Coaching Tip

There’s an excellent archer. In practice he typically out shoots everyone on the range. The practice is calm, controlled and comfortable. He stands in his favorite lane at 18 meters. He’s surrounded by his friends all of them not yet at his level. His confidence is high. He’s been here countless times and like the many times before he does better in practice than his peers in the room.

He practices a lot. He claims to shoot two hundred arrows a day. That’s a lot of practice. Yet, his performance during a tournament, while good, is only good. He’s not alone.

Watching archers I see mistakes that I’ve seen in other sports particularly in cycling. When I raced bicycles I expected to win every race I entered. I didn’t; no one ever does win every race they enter. If I didn’t win it was not because I wasn’t prepared to win.

My coach, Nester Gernay, trained members of our team to win races. We used to joke we were looking forward to a race to have an easy day. See, our training schedules were grueling. We rarely raced where the event was more difficult that our tough days of training.

Those years of training were not day in and day out ride as hard and fast as possible. Coach Gernay broke up practice. He created cycles of training that were decades ahead of what is now common cycling knowledge. (This was the early 70’s)

In archery, there are also excellent training plans to us in practice. I image there are coaches that have it figured out how to create practice to teach an archer to win. That sort of practice is not simply shooting arrow after arrow. It is hard.

The archer that piqued my interest in writing this practices to practice. I don’t see him practicing to win. Practice is where you learn to improve. To do this you must find ways to make flinging arrows a period outside of your comfort zone. Here are a few examples:

In a tournament you are going to be crowded (unless it is a 3D or other event where the archer is alone at the stake). In practice there aren’t always people to your right and left. What I’ve done on a range when possible and on my range is to place stools closer to me than people stand. It is awkward. During a tournament, the archers next to me aren’t even noticed.

This is a situation where you don’t want to be outside the box

On my range I’ll often practice with a timer – the timer sitting on one of the stools. I record the time left over after I’ve finished an end. If I find I have too much time left over I practice slowing down. This can really help if for some reason you get out of rhythm. I’ve also practiced after the timer has started and run for 30 seconds to create an end where for some unknown reason I am late to the line or can’t shoot immediately. This has been helpful outdoors when during a 4-minute end I have to wait for wind gusts to slow or stop.

Looking for another stool

At USA Archery tournaments there is going to be music playing non-stop. At first that really bothered me so I now practice with music in the background on my range.

I also do things that make me uncomfortable, like changing my release from a thumb to a hinge. I am more comfortable with a thumb but the hinge really makes me focus on form.

Look for different places to practice. Go to various league competitions where you know no one. I promise, at first you will feel uncomfortable. There will be little groups of buddies that eyeball you. There’s the “hot dog” fellow that usually wins the league. You’ll probably spot him as he struts around. After a while you will become comfortable walking in and taking their money.

Another thing is to have a coach. Listen to what she says; be coachable. Know that you cannot see yourself shooting. Believe me, if you already ‘know’ everything you can’t be coached.

These are only a few steps that can be beneficial. Finding ways to create challenging practice can make tournaments feel easy.

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