The Mental Game in Archery

Don’t look to me for answers. Still, I am offering what I’m going through.

All my life I have been an endurance athlete. Without doubt it was my mental toughness that got me through runs and triathlons. During every run and every triathlon I hurt. My legs hurt, my arms hurt, it hurt to breathe, and my heart was pounding. I never quit a race I’d started. Once, I didn’t show up for a race that I felt prepared for because I was sick. But, I never quit.

During any race when I really started to hurt I go through phases of anger and frustration. There was never doubt. I’d trained and I trusted my training. I could turn anger and frustration into the generation of effort. That led to calm energy and forward momentum.

Archery simply does not work that way. Scoring nines when I’m aiming for tens is amazingly frustrating. Hitting an eight makes me down right angry. I cannot channel those emotions into a calmness needed to shoot well. There’s no conduit to pound it out. The best I’ve come up with is blowing it off and restarting everything anew on the next shot.

For example, say I hit a nine a bit above the ten. Before the next arrow I pause and think about what I did that caused me to land in the nine-ring (aside from the ten ring being the size of a penny). I don’t think, “Don’t do that again.” What I think is, “Okay, your follow though was off, now follow though on this next shot.” Many times, that next shot remains a nine.  Often in the exact same hole was the prior arrow.  Sometimes, the next shot is a ten.

Let’s say, I know from a miss that I screwed up the follow though on a  shot. I know I need to remain calm and have a good follow though on the next shot. On the subsequent arrow, I slow down, and go though each of my shooting steps in my head, then I repeat them as I perform them. Sometimes it works.

It does not work 100% of the time. That well thought out next shot might be another missed ten. If so, I repeat the mental exercise and shoot the next arrow.

If I hit too many nines or an eight frustration becomes anger. Unlike a triathlon where I could channel anger into power I can’t exactly grab my bow harder, squeeze the grip tighter, and draw an arrow more viciously. What works for me is a quiet, under my breath bit of profanity. Then, I blow off the shot (after I figure out what I did wrong.).

During either the frustration or the anger moments I work to not let those emotions turn negative. I also don’t deny the emotional impulse. I feel it, experience it, and let it pass in seconds. That ability comes from shooting a lot.(I am still learning.)

If you shoot a lot you will have the opportunity to miss a lot. You’ll experience the good and bad shots and learn how to best deal with them in your own manner.

With every shot, I go through a process of setting my body to shoot.  Once, I’ve got the dot in the center, I try to go blank (hoping for brain ‘alpha wave’ clarity) and let the shot happen. Thus far, I’ll say my brain gives out before my arms and back during practice.

Certainly, a year from now I could have a different point of view. For the moment, this is pretty much how I try to keep a mental focus on the next shot.