Target Panic

I’ve read from many archers that they get target panic. Panic is a dramatic word. When I was in clinical practice panic was never an option. I’ve never experienced panic. I literally grew up in a clinical environment beginning a long medical career at age 15. So, panic is blunted for me.

I think an archer’s target panic is similar to stage fright. Stage fright is another problem from which I don’t suffer. During my medical career I gave 121 invited lectures. Many of them based on my research. Believe me, you don’t just stand up and talk. At the end of a presentation the audience fires questions at you. The more confident you appear the more questions you get. Medical audiences are attuned to a nervous presenter and often let them off easy. I was so confident in my research I invited question to be shot at me at any point during a presentation. But, before I stood up in front of an audience, I’d had decades of preparation.

At one lecture I did in Augusta, Georgia, the night of the presentation a tropical storm hit. The weather was bad with pounding rain and wind. The venue for the lecture was in a hall above a restaurant and bar, B.F. Hippplewhite’s.

The sponsor of the lecture, the talk provided Continuing Educational Units, supplied refreshments that included light food, beer and wine. The lecture started at 7:00 PM. By 7:10 only five people had braved the storm. At 7:20 everyone assumed that was going to be the total audience, all of whom knew my talk and had come for the free beer. So, we all started doing our best to put a dent in beer supplied for 50 people.

At 7:50 PM there were 30 people and six of them, including the speaker, were half lit. Well, the show must go on, so I started the talk. I can’t say if it was one of my best, it was up there, but it was without compare the most fun. My now drunk friends were firing question, debating, and yelling counterpoints. During my talk I took a bio-break to deposit some of the beer I’d consumed and returned in time to calm two PhD’s from what appeared to be a Nerd fight stemming from the use of inverse ratio ventilation treatment for iatrogenic lung injury. It was splendid and totally panic-free. Still, I do not recommend the combination of alcoholic libation and archery.

I’d never heard of any kind of panic in sports until I began shooting a bow. The first time I heard the term target panic I was surprised, but I didn’t panic. I don’t believe I have ever experienced panic in any form, much less panicking while shooting an arrow.

Shooting an arrow is easy. Shooting it and hitting the X less easy. Either way, there’s no reason to panic.

Getting nervous is another matter. My first archery competition I was real nervous. Not over shooting the target as much as not being clear on tournament protocol. That was the Virginia State 18-Meter Indoor tournament in February of 2014. I’d only had a bow for a few months and had taken three lessons. But, the coach I had at that time felt I could be competitive and encouraged me to go. Like a fool, I listened.

I went and explained to the folks at the registration desk, the judges, and the archers around me that I was truly a novice. I was so unfamiliar with the sport I shot a bow set-up with a short stabilizer and pins. I couldn’t see the pins because the lighting was so bad. But, I never missed the target. I finished 4th and remained panic-free. There was no room for panic or even the thought of it – I was too busy watching everyone else trying to figure out what to do. It was also the first time I’d seen a long stabilizer.

While I don’t panic I do get lazy and sloppy. I’ll sometimes rush a shot rather than let down. Letting down is under-rated. I’ll sometimes hope to get lucky rather than letting down and starting over – the purest form of lazy. I seldom get lucky. Sadly, I sometimes do get lucky and hit an X when I should have let down, which makes this bad habit harder to kick.

I think the best way to avoid nervous energy before a competition is to recognize you are going to be nervous for the first few shots. Then remind yourself that you’ve practice this shot thousands of times. And, of course, you’ll hit the X because you’ve done so thousands of times before. In my case, I’ve hit the X 3579 times since 2014 excluding 3D.  I know this because I record my practice and competitive scores. For 3D I don’t keep an X count. It’s too much data to work through with 11 or 12 as an X, depending on ASA or IBO scoring, the variance in yardage and the occasional 14.

So, now when I go to a tournament, I know I‘ll hit the X. Maybe not as often as I want but as often as my current level of training supports.  It is not such a big deal.

No, I don’t hit the X 100% of the time. Right now, more like 40% of the time on a 3-spot and 83% of the time on a 5-spot (on average). As such, there is no reason to panic or even get nervous. Seriously, my greatest competitive anxiety comes from: how long is this tournament going to last and where’s the bath room. I mean to say, how can these folks, the judges, competitors that can’t add scores properly (myself included), or can’t pull arrows between ends, slow this event to a pace that makes my ears want to bleed and why is the bathroom a kilometer away. In any circumstance – there’s no need to panic.

“Just put the dot in the middle and shoot the dot,” as suggested by Reo Wilde.