I was shooting with one of the top archers in the world. On this day, it was the second time less than 6 weeks (in two states) I ended up on the range with him. Between the two tournments I met a coach that said to me, “Archery is all mental.” That comment had me reflecting and thinking.
Those thoughts and reflections ended in a post at this site, “It Takes Practice.” (1) In that writing I examined other physical development aspects of shooting. Wanting to learn more about science behind the coach’s claim I turned to research.
After reading an article in a peer-reviewed journal the top archer I’d recently shot with came to mind. In particular, the second tournament is what I most clearly recalled. It was an event where we had 40 3D targets to shoot during two sessions of 20 targets each.
During the first half of the event the popular pro was shooting good. He was leading but not by an amazing margin. The first shoot had been early morning and the targets were dark and hard to see. By my estimate, I felt he was struggling just a little. During the second half of the event things began to change, then things really changed.
In the same group was another archer, a two-time world champion. He was obviously struggling.(He actually commented about his struggling) He was consistently shooting high. (Just high enough to lose a couple of points here and there – he still beat me.) There was a noticeable difference: the first elite archer began to appear more confident than the second elite archer.
In a study by Kim, et al, they examined 11 elements of archery that archers determined were needed for top-level performance. These elements where isolated though meetings with 20 elite archers. Then, the scientists confirmed those elements with 463 different archers and created an analytic hierarchy process that was verified by addition 36 archery experts.
The results of this revealed three sets of performance factors: mental, skill and fitness categories. Fitness factors affecting performance included “drawing a bow without an arrow,” “lower-body weight training,” and “upper-body weight training.” Skill factors affecting performance included “extending by maintaining left and right shoulder balance during aiming,” “shooting skill over a regular clicker time,” “maintaining pace and direction at release,” and “drawing skill by maintaining left and right shoulder balance.” Mental factors affecting performance were “confidence,” “concentration,” “emotion control,” and “positive thinking.” (The 11 elements are in quotes from reference 2.)
What is clear from the athletes, archery is not all mental. What is paramount is what the archers selected as the most important of the 11 elements of importance to performance: confidence – that is mental.
Recall the elite archer I’ve competed against twice who I mentioned the opening? During the last shoot with him I noticed a change in what I perceived as his level of confidence. There was a clear change in his demeanor. His final score for the day reflected the change: one 8, ten 10s, and nine 12s for a score of 216.
Regarding the comment, “Archery is all mental” – well it’s not, at least according to archers. Archery is part mental, part skill and part fitness. The trio of performance factors developing together and not necessary at the same pace. I believe, after the skill and fitness performance factors of the sport have been satisfied, then the mental aspects of the sport are primed to take control. Confidence, built on practice and fitness, was the most important, according to this study, mental category – as judged by the athletes.
2.) Kim HB1, Kim SH, So WY. The relative importance of performance factors in Korean archery. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 May;29(5):1211-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000687.