Target Panic Drills

Copyright 2019 Stephen Williams

I have dealt with target panic in myself, and several of my students, and through dealing with it have come up with a theory of how it works, and a set of drills that deal with it. This paper presents my approach to treating target panic, along with why I think it works.

To be clear, I am talking about target panic here, and not performance anxiety. Many people confuse the two. Everybody gets performance anxiety, where the stresses and anxieties of a competition situation cause you to lose focus and execute poorly. That is not target panic as I am defining it here.

Target panic is, in my opinion, poorly named. Many people experience it as a panic getting the arrow point to the spot (barebow aiming) but the panic is secondary. The real problem here is that an uncontrolled release happens as you get your aim near the spot, or you are unable to push the arrow point to the spot to aim because you are anticipating that uncontrolled release. The panic comes from the awareness that this is happening. So what I will address is how to regain control of the shot. Retrain this reflex, and control is restored. When control is back, then the shot becomes less terrifying.

By the way, I suspect that target panic (at least the form I am talking about here) is far more common in barebow archery. Recurve shooting, with the shot cycle wrapped around the clicker, seems relatively immune to this issue.[1] Therefore, the drills I describe will be pretty barebow specific.

Drills With a Coach

Let’s start with drills you can do with a coach. The problem we have is that you (the archer) release when your arrow point hits, or brushes past the spot, even if you are not really ready for it. We want to break that reflex. So that leads us to:

Step 1 – Hold then let down on command

Have the coach watch you. Draw, and get the point onto the spot (with the correct crawl) and hold. Do not shoot. You know ahead of time that you are not going to shoot. The coach will watch you, focusing on the arrow point. The coach should see the arrow move while you draw and aim, then settle. Keep holding. No creeping or collapsing. When you start to shake (the coach should see the arrow start to shake a bit) the coach should say “Let down.” You let down. Do this for the entire end. Keep doing this until your urge to release is gone. Do not move on until you are confident and comfortable with holding on the spot (or aim point for gap shooters) without any collapse or twitching.

This can be surprisingly hard. You will probably loose a couple arrows before you can actually take control and hold it. That’s the problem right there, so don’t go on until you can hold, with the point on the spot, then let down.

Step 2 – Hold then maybe shoot on command

Once the previous step is mastered, have the coach add in a couple shots per end. Draw and get to your aim point, then the coach will mostly say “Let down” as before, except sometimes he says “Shoot!!” If he says “Let down” you let down. If he says “Shoot” you loose the arrow. Maybe 1 in three draws is shot, the rest are let down. The coach should make an effort to judge when you are steady on your aim point. Hopefully, he can see that you are holding on the aim point for a couple seconds before giving the command. Some back and forth between you and your coach to make sure that he is seeing the correct moment may help.

The point here is that with this exercise you are able to hold on your aim point, then either let down or loose. You don’t know which, so your hit-the-aim-point-must-release reflex cannot work. You are controlling the shot. Do this for a couple ends. After a couple ends, try increasing the frequency of draws that lead to a shot. But make sure you master this before moving on.

Step 3 – Shoot Every Arrow, But You’re Not the Boss

This is like the previous step, but now the coach calls “Shoot!” for every arrow. You and the coach agree that every arrow will be shot, but the coach still calls it out. You don’t make the choice, the coach does; but you now know that you are going to release the arrow.

With this step, you should be able to hold on the spot until the coach calls the shot, and you should be able to make the solid release. You are still not deciding the timing, but you know the shot is coming, and you are making the release. Do this for a couple of ends, until you are confident that you can do it under full control.

Step 4 – You’re the Boss – aim-hold-shoot

Once you have mastered all the previous steps, then you will turn off the coach, and you are the boss. Draw, aim, and release are under your own control. Draw and get to anchor, ready to go, and get the arrow to the spot. Then hold it there for a couple seconds, then loose the arrow. It is fundamentally important that you do not release until you are holding steady on the spot. Two seconds of steady hold should be about right. Then shoot.

At this point, you are shooting under control. Do this for a few ends. You are at the end goal here. Unfortunately, the effect probably won’t last more then a couple ends. When you start losing control of your release, go back to the previous step for a few ends; then when the control is back, come back to this step.

Retraining That Reflex

The previous steps are a process for retraining your release reflex. When you get the arrow point to the spot, you do not want to reflexively release, but if you are target panicking, you are reflexively releasing. Unfortunately, a reflex is tough to get rid of. It has been my experience that steps 1-4 above can kill that reflex for maybe 15 minutes; when the reflex comes back (and it will) go back to previous steps, master them, and work your way back to aim-hold-shoot. Over time (measured in weeks, not minutes) the reflex will gradually fade. Be aware that it will never completely go away, so you must be diligent.

Aim-Hold-Shoot To Prevent Target Panic

This reflex that we are trying to kill comes from (barebow) archers not giving sufficient attention to the hold after aiming. If you aim then shoot, then you are training the reflex to shoot when you hit your aim point. You are practically training in the target panic. So it is important to not do that; you must decouple the aim from the shot.

Barebow archers must consciously hold after aim and before release. If there is always a conscious hold between the aim and the release, then you don’t feed the release reflex, and thus you don’t feed the target panic. If you are teaching barebow shooting, then impress on your students the importance of  releasing only after they are holding steady on the spot (or aim point.) If you are learning barebow shooting, do not release until you are steady on the spot. If you are recovering from target panic, really work on decoupling the aim from the release. Try counting out a hold (a count of 2, for example) in your head as part of your shot cycle. Be diligent about this.

[1]Recurve shooters have a thing called clicker panic, which seems to be pretty similar to the target panic that barebow archers get. Again, this is different from performance anxiety.

10 Rules for Shooting at an Outdoor Archery Range

If you are new to using an outdoor archery range, please read this. Here is a link to ALL of the outdoor ranges available to you here in Northern California:

Northern California Ranges and Shops

I took the pictures at my “home” outdoor range, the Redwood Bowmen Club in Oakland, CA. If you would like an expert personal coaching session at this range, contact Stephen Williams:
(510) 686-3392

1. Donate the requested range use fee

All outdoor ranges whether public or private have very limited income streams. They survive on member dues, income from “novelty” tournaments, and day use donations. All have some form of “honor system” donation receptacle like the one pictured below.

Please think ahead and make sure you bring at least $5.00 cash with you when you come to use the range.

2. Read and follow the rules

Rules keep people safe and establish etiquette that promotes an enjoyable experience for all. Regardless of how fun and easy social media and Hollywood make archery appear, bows and arrows are weapons that can hurt people. Read the rules. Follow them. If you don’t know what they mean, ASK SOMEONE. Please keep archery safe and enjoyable for all of us for a long time to come.

ALWAYS follow the directional markers on the course; NEVER walk backward. Depending on the range, you will probably need to walk about 1 to 2 miles up and down hills before a safe exit presents itself. Plan accordingly – plan on it taking about an hour to safely get through the course (as much as twice that if it is crowded). My advice: make your first pass at the course exploratory – maybe only shoot one arrow at each target. This way you’ll know better how to plan your trip the next time you return, and how courses are laid out in general. And to repeat: ALWAYS follow these markers and NEVER walk backward:

3. Prepare for what you are about to do

Most outdoor ranges provide the opportunity to hike in the woods and shoot a bow at targets in a variety of conditions. How cool is that?! But think about it before you go: Hiking. Outdoors. Temperature. Bugs (mosquitoes & tics!). Poison Oak. A short prep list before you go is: hiking boots or shoes; appropriate cold or hot weather clothing; sunscreen; water; snacks; bug repellent; how to identify and avoid poison oak.

4. Exercise a back packers garbage code – pack it in, pack it out

On the day that I roved the course and took these photos I was hoping I would not find anything to show you, but here they are:

Yep, two people apparently thought it was OK to leave plastic drink bottles laying about, even though there are trash receptacles within 10 feet of each of these bottles. C’MON MAN – seriously!? OK maybe it’s asking too much to ask you to pack your own garbage out, I get that, but please at least put it in the trash buckets that the volunteer members empty as part of their volunteer donated hours to maintain the range. Please show some respect. Oh, and by the way:

Please pack out your own damaged arrows. Clubs, ranges, and archery shops do not have a super secret recycling program for damaged arrows; they are just as much of a pain for us to dispose of as they are for you – so be responsible for your own arrows.

5. Found arrows are not subject to the “finders keepers” rule

There is an unspoken rule among the members of the archery community: when you find an arrow, take it to the club house or shack or whatever. All outdoor ranges have a “lost arrow” bucket that you can look through when you come to the range. We all know when you look for your own lost arrow, you’ll never find it, but you WILL find someone else’s. If the club house or shack is not open, if there are no club members about, lay the arrow on the alter, er, doorstep, and they’ll know what to do with it. Find out when members will be around if you want to retrieve your own lost arrow.

6. Appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity to use the range

As already mentioned, outdoor archery ranges are run and maintained by people just like you with full time jobs and families and obligations. They donate time to making the range available for public use. Maybe you donate your time elsewhere – cool. Maybe you don’t have time to donate to causes – that’s cool too. There are people at these ranges who take time-consuming positions of leadership, and people who simply do stuff that needs to be done. Every aspect of the range is attended to by a giving human being – every single detail. So please, think twice before you complain about the targets being shot up, the foliage not being trimmed to your liking, or the target butts being in bad condition. If it matters to you, join the club and make a difference. Otherwise, simply appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity to hike in the woods and shoot your bow at a place that other people donate their time to maintain.

7. Shoot only a distance that you can handle; avoid the temptation to do stupid stuff

With one local exception, outdoor ranges have a “static” practice range where everyone stands on the same shooting line but shoots targets at varying distances to that line. This makes it easy for you to learn how to hit targets at increasingly longer distances as you build your skills, which is something you should do. The outdoor range walking courses are set up like golf courses – you hike on trail and shoot at targets uphill, downhill, across ravines, between trees, etc. VERY FUN AND COOL. These courses are set up according to a structured international scoring system, click HERE if you want to know about that. To learn about it first hand, ask to be a “guest” at your local range’s “Club Shoot” on the 2nd Sunday of every month. If you are in the Oakland, CA area, contact Stephen Williams for a personal introduction (see intro paragraph above).

The courses are set up with “shooting stakes” (positions) at distances from 10 yards to 80 yards. Here is a picture of what you will typically see when you walk the course:

This is target no. 1 on the “Upper Course” of the Redwood Bowmen range. You’ll notice different colored markers (red, yellow, blue, white) they all mean something different – but you don’t care about these. Keep walking toward the target and you will always find a marker like these:

These are obviously 15 and 20 yard stakes. These are called “Cub Stakes”, meaning they are the stakes that young folks shoot from when they formally compete. It’s an unfortunate name – I like to call them beginner or recreational stakes. They will never be more than 30 yards from the target. Shoot these and only these if you want to avoid losing and breaking arrows, and if you want to build your confidence. Remember, an arrow sailing over the top of the target butt on an outdoor range will end up in the bushes or under the loose top layer of ground foliage, and, very likely in a poison oak bush that you might not recognize. Shoot only the distance at which you can get your arrow to hit a 4′ x 4′ square. Enjoy the hike and the joy of shooting your bow while doing so, but be smart about it – you don’t HAVE to shoot the longer stakes. It’s super duper tempting to “see if I can hit the 50 yard target” – so be it, just be prepared for the consequences.

Which leads us to “don’t do stupid stuff.” I’m grateful that Hollywood keeps stoking the archery fire by depicting archers in just about every single super hero film and many action films. I REALLY do. But, the stuff that those archers do in those movies is HOLLYWOOD, it’s NOT real life and it’s not anything you could ever do or would be allowed to do for example in MY range. And you shouldn’t try any of those stunts at an outdoor range simply because you’re alone out there and no one is watching. Here’s why. Trying to do stunt archery ALWAYS results in stray arrows. Stray arrows leave the safe haven area that has been established for you to shoot in. Most if not all ranges are on park land, and some are within an arrow’s flight of the general public. DO NOT JEOPARDIZE OUR ABILITY TO ENJOY THIS WONDERFUL PAST TIME BY DOING STUPID STUFF. Arrows stuck high in trees, in telephone poles, on hiking trails in close proximity is NOT FUNNY. IT’S NOT. If you want to do that stuff do so on private property – find someone with a ranch in a rural area and make friends with them and go do it there, but DON’T MESS AROUND ON PUBLIC ARCHERY RANGES.

8. Put something in front of the target butt if looking for stray arrows

It’s really hard not to try and hit those far away targets. It’s just too tempting. So knowing that you can’t stop yourself, come prepared to keep yourself safe when you end up searching for arrows behind or around the 4′ X 4′ target butt. Bring a brightly colored jacket with you. Drape it over the front of the target butt while you rummage in the poison oak, and most importantly, NEVER DO THIS IF YOU ARE OUT THERE ALONE. LET THAT ARROW GO. In addition to having a brightly colored jacket draped over the target, there should always be ANOTHER PERSON standing there watching and ready in a heart beat to yell “NOT CLEAR!” to anyone who might walk up TO the shooting stake for the target that you missed. If you go out on the course alone, let that arrow go. Hopefully the person who finds it 2 months later read this blog post and gets the “no finders keepers” rule.

9. Respect other archers desire for focus and meditation

Archery is meditative for many people. For others, outdoor ranges provide the opportunity to more seriously practice and prepare for upcoming tournaments. And of course it can be very social too. Many folks new to archery are excited and can’t wait to talk with others about it, ask questions and learn. However, be mindful about approaching people at outdoor ranges; those people may be there to do their zen thing or want to really focus on something. A good rule of thumb: if you see someone and they don’t make eye contact or immediately jump at the chance to start a conversation, leave them be.

10. Properly Supervise Children

Archery programs for kids are few and far between – it takes a special kind of person to teach kids, and the student/teacher ratio needs to be very high (like 1:1) to keep kids (and others!) safe while learning or participating in archery. If you go buy a bow from Big 5 and haul your kids to an outdoor range without you or them having first had a lesson, you are creating some bad circumstances. Archery is not something you should just turn kids loose to do. If you bring young ones to an outdoor range, follow the 1:1 student/teacher ratio rule – that means you should not expect to shoot while a young one is getting up to speed, ESPECIALLY if you bring more than one little person. As kids get older and develop the proper focus and maturity less supervision is required.

Overcoming Target Think

By Aaron Buchanan

For the past couple of years I’ve had the privilege of helping Nico teach some beginning archery classes, and I’ve watched many of those students pursue it ardently as a hobby.  In some of those archers, including myself, I’ve noticed some things.

All beginners start at 7 yards on the blue 40cm targets.  Those that come back, and I’m happy to say that many do, shoot the same blue targets at 10 yards.  Many become pretty good at 10 yards, with tight groups and good scores.  I’ve seen several of these archers post record scores and earn 1st place ribbons.  However, a small percentage of those skilled archers do terribly at 15 or 20 yards, and never seem to do as well at longer distance.  More than one person has given up archery completely because 20 yards was too far out of their comfort zone they had built for themselves at 10 yards.

I had issues myself when I first started shooting on the 40cm colored FITA target.  It felt like the colors were messing with my head, making it difficult to group, and I’ve had conversations with other archers who had similar problems during their transition to the color target.  My first practices for the Flint round were difficult because of the changes from black-on-white field target to the almost completely black hunter target.

I have seen archers who are very good at paper targets, but can’t seem to do well at all on a 3D target.  Many persevere and get better, while some stop shooting 3D.

I’ve seen indoor archers who don’t do well outdoors, either at the practice range or on field courses.  The longer distances, uneven terrain, uneven lighting, uneven footing, and the general exertion of field archery can be invigorating to some folks, and just too much for others to deal with. If I’m practicing intently for a specific match like the State Indoor, I notice that my ability to shoot any other kind of target diminishes significantly.

This unwillingness or inability to adapt to other types of targets is a kind of rigid mental mindset that I’ve been calling Target Think.

Overcoming Target Think is an individual journey for each archer, but I’ve suggested a few exercises to some students depending on their needs:

An indoor shooter that hasn’t moved beyond 10 yards can be encouraged to try 15 yards.  Nico’s Group Therapy is a great way to transition to 15 and 20 yards.  A 9 inch cardboard disk is pinned to a bale at the upper position 15 yards away.  The goal is group consistently in a smaller, and smaller group, without the added pressure of scoring.  Once an archer is able to group all five arrows on the disk several times, the disk is moved to the lower position.  After that is mastered, the exercise is repeated with a 6 inch disk.  After confidence is built at 15 yards, the same Group Therapy can be done at 20 yards.  Transitioning from Group Therapy to a scoring target at 20 yards is much easier than going directly from 10 yards to 20 yards.

Group Therapy is also useful for an indoor shooter who has fixated on scoring targets and is uncomfortable shooting anything else.  An archer who hasn’t tried the Ohlone 3D League, or is frustrated by their 3D scores, can benefit from some Group Therapy work.

An intensification of Group Therapy is using the gold replacement stickers (for FITA targets) on the cardboard disks.  This adds a “aim small, miss small” element to help tighten shooting form and group even tighter.

After the different distances are confidently achieved, varying the distance between arrows is something I like to do when the shop isn’t crowded.  I place the small cardboard disks at 10, 15, and 20 yards and ‘string walk’ between stations, placing an arrow on each disk.  The changing distances help keep my mental targeting computer from becoming rigidly set on a specific setting.

For outdoor shooting I use the Redwood Bowmen range as an excellent example.

The practice area has target bales at 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 35 yards in the regular area.  This is an outstanding place to overcome any uneasiness about shooting longer than 10 yards, learn the proper aim points for those distances, and gain confidence.  Longer distances of 40, 50, 60, 70, and 80 yards can be shot at the other practice range right next to it.

After gaining experience at longer ranges, archers should try the 14 target Open Course, and the 14 target Lower Course.  Distances can vary from 10 yards to 101 yards, with different distance stakes for different tastes and abilities.  Nico has a terrific write up about them in his post 10 Rules For Shooting At An Outdoor Archery Range.  Shooting these courses will give an archer experience in varying distances, terrain, and footing.  Shooting the Hill Course adds more challenges: shooting uphill, downhill, and between trees.

For added challenge, and to avoid Target Think, some of the targets on these courses have a “fan” or a “walkup” set of stakes.  A “fan” has three or four red stakes at the same distance from the target.  The goal is to shoot one arrow from each stake, yet still group your arrows on the target.  A “walkup” has several red stakes, each at a different distance from the target.  The goal is the same, shoot one arrow from each stake.

The Western Roundup, a 3D match put on by Redwood Bowmen every June, uses the same courses but with 3D foam animals in front of the target bales.  This is a great introduction to outdoor 3D shooting.

The Winter Hunt, a 3D match put on by Diablo Bowmen, is much more challenging.  The 3D targets can be obscured by trees, rocks, or bushes, and the shooting stakes are often placed in a way that causes the archer to kneel or stretch a bit to shoot around an obstacle.  This year the weather added even more challenge.

I’ve listed all of these matches and exercises as ways to overcome Target Think, but they can also be used increase an archers skill set, and even more importantly to add variety.  Shooting the same paper target at the same distance all the time can get a little boring.​

Practice Like a Pro

By Nico Gallegos, Owner & Chief Fletching Officer, Ohlone Archery

There is a very small percentage of people in any endeavor who are naturally gifted and able to excel at that endeavor without much practice. For the rest of us, how good we want to be will depend on how much we practice and how we perform that practice.

Archery looks easy but anyone who takes it up seriously enough to try and improve learns quickly that it is not. There is a learning curve and practitioners experience plateaus of competence.

Practicing once per week is barely enough to develop subconscious familiarity of basic motor skills. Once per week means you will not practice for 3 or 4 weeks when you go on vacation, get sick, get bogged down at work, or go through a period of intense competing obligations. If you shoot any less than once per week you should consider yourself a recreational archer should expect improvement to come very slowly if at all.

In mid-April of 2017 I posted a video on Facebook that someone shared with me titled “How to Practice Effectively.”

This is a very straightforward and informative video, so I am summarizing the key points here and embellishing on them a bit for archery.

One of the technical points made at the outset is that “muscles don’t have memory.” I can’t confirm or dispute that statement but, here is a link to a Wikipedia post defining muscle memory – you should read it and decide for yourself. The video authors instead explain that there is a brain/muscle connection resulting in the myelination of axons. It is very compelling. I’m not qualified to verify this either, but it establishes the basis for what follows.

Effective practice is:

  1. Consistent
  2. Intensely focused
  3. Targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities

When you cross that threshold to practicing twice or more per week you are making a commitment to improve and excel. You open space for more thoughtful and deliberate practice – you have a plan. Archery can still be fun and recreational for you, but there is a serious side too. Your practice has become consistent and intensely focused.

In  order to target content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of your current abilities, you need to know what your weaknesses are. When you make a bad shot you need to know why. You’ll notice I did not say, “when you do poorly at a tournament.” Unless a qualified professional has identified a problem with your “mental game,” doing poorly at a tournament is simply the result of a whole bunch of bad shots. You need to be able to know when you’ve made a bad shot and how not to repeat that bad shot in a tournament. Self assessment is one of the most important skills to develop. The bridge to self assessment is coaching. Get enough coaching from a qualified person to help you identify your weaknesses and then learn how to notice what kinds of bad shots those weaknesses create and what to do to correct them.

In fact I want to clarify something. You’ll see here references to shooting at a blank bale. I’m not saying shooting at a target face is bad. What I AM saying is that if the majority of your practice time is done shooting at a target face, it is imperative to know why you shot a bad shot when you miss. If you miss and don’t know why, you can’t make any progress. Shoot at a target face to practice your aiming skills and to familiarize yourself with a specific face that you will shoot at an upcoming tournament. In fact, you may be at a level when shooting at a target face is the ONLY thing that gives you the shot feedback you need – people at this level know why they shot a bad shot and more often than not don’t shoot a bad one on the next arrow.

To practice effectively one should:

  1. Focus on a specific task
  2. Minimize distractions
  3. Start out slowly or in slow motion; gradually increase the speed of quality repetitions
  4. Perform frequent repetitions with allotted time breaks
  5. Divide time into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration
  6. Practice in your mind in vivid detail

The why and reasoning behind these suggestions are given in the video – watch it if you want that background. Here are my archery-specific embellishments.

Focus on a specific task

You or your coach have identified one or more things you need to work on. Maybe your follow through is bad; maybe you pluck; maybe you don’t have a consistent anchor. FOCUS ON ONE THING AT A TIME. Focus on form components shooting at a blank bale from close range – 15 – 30 feet. Most of us have that in our garage. Buy a bag or block target, set it up on a table high enough to allow you to shoot straight ahead without making much elevation adjustment, and fire away without any concern for aiming beyond making sure you hit the bag/block. Set a goal; for example commit to shooting “100 arrows with perfect follow through.” That’s ALL you focus on is the follow through.

For those of us with Target Panic, our goal might be to train ourselves to aim at a spot without flinching or freezing. AIMING WITH CONTROL might be your specific task. So be it – do that. This might mean leaving the garage and practicing your ability to shoot good shots at the distance that starts to mess with you. Be one with the target panic. React to it like you would a sore muscle or a cold: “Well that’s annoying, but I’m gonna push through it.”

A top archer and coach inspired me to track my shot counts with a mechanical “tally counter.” I like this one available from most sporting goods stores:

The one pictured here allows me to tally what I consider “good shots” on one side (home!), and “bad shots” on the other (road!), allowing me to track percentages, etc. When you set a practice session process goal of “50 shots with a good release”, that doesn’t mean each shot will be with a good release – it might take 75 shots to get the 50 you want!

It’s especially helpful for me as sometimes I try to work on my weekly shot count (min. 500 arrows) during slow periods at the shop. Sometimes I’ll start shooting and it suddenly gets busy – Yay! – not to worry – I’ve logged my shots on the tally counter and get back to it when I can. This is in alignment with no. 5 above – dividing time into multiple daily practice sessions. Picture yourself doing this at home in your garage: you shoot 20 arrows, then start laundry; shoot 30 more arrows, then make a few phone calls; shoot 15 arrows then get interrupted by something. This “broken up” practice is actually good for you according to the video. And here’s a helpful perspective. When you shoot tournaments you NEED to learn how to “shoot cold.” At tournaments you NEVER sit there and shoot arrow after arrow. You shoot a 3-arrow end, wait for other archers to shoot if shooting multiple lines, walk to the target, record your score and retrieve arrows, walk back to the shooting line, wait for everyone slower than you for whatever reason to do the same. If you are at a Field Archery tournament, you might have 10-20 minutes between ends. I’ve waited as long as an hour to shoot a target at a big tournament!

Minimize distractions

This might be hard for a lot of us. The fact that most places you can shoot a bow are public, it’s kind of hard to minimize distractions. If you can set up a short range bale in your garage, or even your home, do it – just make sure the people you live with are cool with it, that you establish safety protocols, and that you know how to protect against property damage. It is illegal to shoot your bow in your back yard in most if not all urban areas. However, if your neighbors are cool with it and won’t call the police when they see you do it, you’re fine. If your only option is to shoot at a public range (indoor or out) you could wear head phones. Or, get into a day/time routine at the range where you practice, get to know people, and for lack of a better term, “set boundaries” – “When I’m here on Tuesdays I’m really focusing, so probably won’t be too chatty.” The bottom line is, you can’t control the environment at a public range, so do the best you can. And, here’s the rub: one thing all competitive archers NEED to become skilled at is shooting with distractions!

One top archer friend of mine was working through some things in preparation for a big tournament and actually considered isolating himself for a period of time and shooting ONLY by himself at home – for something like 3-6 months. He deliberated on the pros and cons of this and came to the conclusion that it was not the right move – he enjoyed shooting with friends and other archers in general way too much and decided he needed to come up with another way to focus when he needed to.

Start out slowly . . .

This is probably THE most important aspect of this whole thing. SLOW. THE HECK. DOWN. Most people shoot way too fast, at a target, and sometimes get annoyed when others don’t shoot as fast as them. This is not practice as we are describing here. I would liken this to weight lifting or running; it’s exercise repetitions with a little bit of focus sprinkled in. Watch any archery competition video and you’ll notice that there is a time limit of 2 to 2-1/2 minutes per round of 1-3 arrows. What does this tell you? These archers are struggling to get their shots off in that amount of time; if there was not a time limit, the tournament would probably never end. This doesn’t mean that YOU have to always shoot this slow or that you intend to compete – but there is clearly much to be gained by taking your time and focusing on each and every shot – at least when you set out to practice with intention and focus as described here. In fact I want to clarify something here.

As the video explains, when trying something new there will always be a period of awkwardness, so you will naturally be slower. Watch any beginner archery class and you’ll see newbies struggle mightily with things as simple as nocking the arrow. After 15-20 minutes of practice most do it subconsciously with ease. So this is another reason to start out slowly. Slow repetitions help you get familiar and more comfortable with the task – at some point you will naturally be quicker at it, and because of the speed will do more repetitions. As described in the paragraph above though, don’t speed up too much at the cost of quality. I also see many people overreact to the awkwardness of a new task and give up on it too quickly, and/or give up on it when they don’t see IMMEDIATE results. Their expectations for results are very unrealistic. They can’t for example consistently group at a distance of 10 yards, but get disappointed when the suggested grip change does not result in 5 bulls eyes. It is important to establish a performance baseline from which to assess the helpfulness of a change. If you or a coach has decided a change in your form or shot process is worth doing, STICK WITH IT until you can confirm it does not help. And, be very clear about what it is you are basing that conclusion on – what is your “baseline” performance that you are judging it against?

One final note: we are talking about form and shot process here, we are not talking about equipment changes. I see way too many people who can’t yet group buy new stuff and fiddle with their setup constantly. Try not to fall into this trap.

Perform frequent repetitions with allotted time breaks

If you are serious about improving your archery this is something you can do at home without your bow. Doing work at home with something like this will advance your archery skill better than doing noting at all:

The third and fourth photos show people using a simple resistance stretch band you can get at any drug store or sporting goods store. The person in the 4th photo is shown observing herself in the mirror – A+!

You can create a regimen for yourself using these devices at home, at the office, in the hotel room when you travel, etc. You can achieve numbers 4 and 5 on the list even if you can’t get to an archery range.

Practice in your mind in vivid detail

The video cites some great research stats on the effectiveness of this. It is referred to as visualization, imagery, guided imagery, hypnosis, and self-hypnosis. I worked with a hypnotherapist to learn this skill; we did just a few sessions that concluded with me learning self-hypnosis. I’ve found this very valuable in my own training and highly recommend it.

If getting trained by a professional is not in the cards for you, I like this particular “how to” article because it acknowledges that not all people are “visual” and discusses how to benefit from this even if you are not:

There is a lot on the Internet about this, you could also use the above article as a “breadcrumb” for further exploration.

So there you have it. Practice with a plan and intention and you’ll make quicker progress. If you practice like a pro, you’ll get closer to being able to shoot like one!


NTS Step 1 – Stance

By Level 3 NTS Coach Woody Walters

This month, we’re going to dig into Step #1: Stance.

The stance is the foundation of the shot.  Your foundation must be stable and consistent if you want to hit your target with any regularity and precision, therefore, your bio mechanical efficiency starts right here.

The NTS prescribes an open stance rather than the square or closed stance taught to most beginners.  This means that if we draw a line from where you are shooting to the target, rather than placing your feet parallel to that line, the toes of the front foot are slightly behind the line while the rear foot’s toes are right on it.

This is a more stable position, especially when shooting on uneven ground or in wind.  The feet should be about shoulder width apart with your weight evenly distributed on both feet.  Most archers don’t realize that they shoot with their weight planted on their heels as if they are standing at attention.  If you’ve ever played another sport, it would be unfathomable to consider yourself as standing in an athletic position with your weight on your heels.  The same goes for archery: you should have 60-70% of your weight on the balls of the feet.  Just like if you were about to shoot a free-throw in basketball, this places your center of gravity approximately between the insteps of your feet.  Placing your weight on your heels will cause you to sway back and forth during the aiming process.  How are you supposed to hit the bullseye when your sight pin or arrow tip is swaying back and forth with you?

In addition to foot position, Stance addressees posture.  You may have noticed that high performing archers do not stand straight up with the curved spine/chest forward stance you see in a person standing at attention. Instead we stand with a flat spine and the chest turned down slightly.

This position is acquired by tilting your hips back slightly. Tighten your lower abdomen and squeeze your butt muscles.  You’ll notice your hips tilt back causing your lower spine to flatten out as shown in the diagram above. This position lowers your center of gravity, further improving balance, and reduces the load on lower back muscles, reducing soreness or potential for injury.  This posture also has the benefit of making it easier to generate power in your draw/transfer/hold.  You want to shoot the highest draw weight possible to reduce the potential for external factors to impact the flight of your arrow.  You don’t do that by simply getting stronger – proper posture is a major factor.

This chest down stance is different than leaning forward during the shot.  Again, refer to the pictures above.  You’ll notice the archer is not leaning forward from the hips.  Her spine is on a vertical line top to bottom.  I cannot discourage you enough from leaning forward during your shot.  A lot of new archers make this mistake and if you think you are not doing it, go grab your bow and stand in front of a mirror.  You may have a slight lean that you are not aware of.  This posture cancels the benefits of proper spine shape and places a lot of unnecessary stress on your lower back muscles.  You are not generating any more power or balance while leaning forward, so let’s get rid of it!

Remember, trying something new is always difficult.  You are going to get confused, feel sore in new places, and have to change your aiming point or sight alignment.  These are all good signs because they mean that you are challenging yourself mentally and physically.  If you get lost or have questions, feel free to send me questions or talk to Nico and myself at the range.  We love to help.  Healthy and accurate archers are happy archers!