A World Champion Talks About Winning

By Paul Fender

Paul Awards

OK, right off the bat here, I need to dispense with any false modesty for a minute. I win. Not every time. But let’s just say I win… A lot. At least for the sake of argument, OK?

A while back Nico shared some ideas with me from a book titled Why You Suck at Archery by Steve Ruis. From that book came the idea that one of the reasons why a shooter may suck at archery is because they just don’t know HOW to score well. This really bothered me. You see, I am able to shoot top scores. How I was doing it was a mystery to me though. Well, just a few weeks ago I had something of an epiphany, and came to understand what I was doing and how it enabled me to set myself up to win, to even occasionally shoot record scores.

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First off I’m going to go a little mystical here, but it is important to me. I don’t pretend to be some sort of Zen master or anything, but many years ago I was introduced to the concept of the Dao. One possible definition of the Dao is that it means the path, or flow of life.

In Western cultures, when seeking to achieve a goal or a state of being, our Dao runs something like this:

Have – We have the things that make us what we want to be. In archery that would of course mean having the latest, greatest, bestest, equipment that we can afford.

Do – Once we have the stuff we think we need, then we do what we think we need to do. For us that means practicing, and getting a coach, and going to tournaments, and most importantly, becoming stressed and worrying about working harder when we don’t do well.

Be – Finally, after we have bought the stuff, and done the things that Archers do, then, and only then do we get to BE Archers.

Actually following the Dao in the pursuit of a goal was explained differently to me, from an Eastern perspective. It runs rather more like this:

Be – Simply be that which we want to BE. Would you like to be an Archer? Fine! BE one! Its OK!

Do – What do Archers do? Well silly, they shoot bows and arrows! Why don’t we just work on that for a while at first, OK? Take some matched arrows, a shootable bow, look at some plain basic form, and go shoot some arrows.

Have – Now, after a while we get have that which Archers have. Maybe it’s a sense of accomplishment, or recognition from others, or a successful hunt, or just plain fun from a cool hobby. It can be whatever you were seeking to begin with.

So how is this concept relevant to me and to scoring well? It’s just that for me, I knew years ago, before I ever even picked up my first bow, that shooting Archery was something that I wanted to try. Somehow I just knew that I would like it. When I picked up that first bow, I knew that I was an Archer, finally, at last, shooting bows and arrows. I was lucky, I happened to follow the Dao, without even thinking about it. Be – Do – Have.

OK, enough of the airy-fairy, mind in the clouds stuff. Sure, it’s nice and warm and fuzzy, and makes us feel good about ourselves, but it will take a person only so far. I think now it’s time for something a little more practical.

One thing that I had realized about myself is that when I shoot a tournament, once I get into the swing of things, I pretty much just tromp along. I work hard at just shooting my own game. Good shots, bad shots, good weather or bad, stiff competition or weak, distractions from other people, whatever. I just trudge along. It doesn’t sound particularly glamorous does it? Of course I am not always successful at it. Sometimes things get to me.

What does this rather boring approach amount to though? It means that actually I am relentless in my pursuit of a goal. At a tournament that goal is simple, just come out on the other side with the best score I can shoot that day.

There is more to it than just that, though. (I hope nobody is particularly surprised to hear that.) I am relentless in another important aspect. I am relentless in how I seek to be prepared. Some may consider me to be a little nuts in this respect. For example, for me take an IFAA world record, it took over two years of preparation, and even included building my own bow. (OK, so I’m a LOT nuts.) For each of us, the details of what it takes to be prepared will vary. It may include being certain of our aiming points, or having lots of extra arrows, or spare equipment like an extra rest, or bowstring, etc. etc. The list may be kind of long. One thing is certain though. Be relentless in ensuring that you are prepared. It just can’t be blown off. It’s important because it serves two purposes. For one thing it keeps you prepared. Perhaps even more important than that though is what it does to boost your confidence to know that what ever comes your way, you can handle it.

OK, after all that, can we just cut to the meat of the matter? Sure. Would you like to score well, or have a successful hunt? First off, know that you can go ahead and BE that shooter. Once you have your head around that, move forward relentlessly. I know that there may be no one single cookie cutter answer, but I do now know that this has worked very well for me.

Your Equipment: Some Things to Consider

By Paul Fender

Proper equipment selection and tuning is fundamental. In this post Paul Fender shares his wisdom and beliefs concerning equipment choices and experimentation (shown here teaching his grandson Ezra the art of arrow building) – I am grateful for his contributions to our growing body of knowledge!

Building arrows

Concerning Equipment

Here are just a few thoughts about equipment for those who are serious about Archery and their shooting.

“Good enough” isn’t. That’s just something to keep in mind when making equipment choices, or dealing with bow tuning, or whatever. You always, always, ALWAYS, want to have equipment that you know for an unquestionable fact will shoot better than you are able to. Reduce the variables and remove all doubts so that when you encounter difficulties, you know where to look in order to address them. You will know that it is something within yourself that needs attention.

I think that it is important for a number of reasons that a shooter makes at least some of their own equipment. Often when we make something for ourselves it REALLY is the best it can possibly be. If you’re making your own tabs or armguards, then it can truly be customized to fit absolutely perfectly. Or what about strings? You get to find that perfect nock fit, and know that you can perfectly match it every time. Or if you shoot Longbow and wood arrows, well then there you go. It may take a while to learn how to do it, but you just can’t buy woodies that are as good as you can make them

Obviously that all relates to having good equipment that always enables you to shoot your best, that enables you to always push your limits. But there is even more to making your own gear than just that. When you make something, you “own” that thing in a way that is deeper and more meaningful than if you had simply bought it. Looking to up your game? Then OWN it!

It is often said, “Fear the man with one bow.” The idea there is of course that he is the one who knows his equipment to the finest degree possible. He will therefore be nearly unbeatable. I guess that perhaps there is some degree of truth to this. Personally I’m not a real believer in that idea though.

I myself am always trying a different bow, or different arrows, or some other different piece of equipment or equipment set up. Why? Well, sure part of it is because of how I am. I am always curious about, “What if I tried this or that?” But it also carries a benefit. By always investigating the new and different, a shooter learns a LOT! Things like bow style, grip shape, type of tab or glove to use, which aspect of form needs beefing up, etc. The list just goes on and on.

By trying new stuff we get to learn and practice something that is very important to stepping up our competitive game. We get to learn to, “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.” We learn that when faced with a problem, we CAN figure out what we need to do to solve it.

I have noticed something over the years. Often people try something new, and their shooting seems to improve. For like a minute. But then they return to their own regular level. Or maybe they try that new thing, and just either accept it or reject it for no real reason. This is all what I call, “New Toy Syndrome.” When trying something new I recommend that you give it an honest chance. Try it for a week or so. Not only that though. Apply a little objectivity. Take videos of yourself shooting both with and without the change. Shoot at actual target faces and keep track of your scores with and without the change. Apply a little methodology and get some objective data on whether or not a change is good, bad or indifferent. After all, we should never forget that all too often, the easiest person in the world to fool is ourselves.

On Being Brave – A Method for Overcoming Tournament Nerves

By Paul Fender

Working on your mental game is important if you compete, and should be incorporated into your training program. My good friend Paul Fender & I have shot many tournaments together at the local “Novelty” level and more competitive State and National levels. I’ve always been amazed by his nerves of steel, so was quite amused to hear the story behind the skill. Paul graciously offered to write the story up for the blog – I hope his method is helpful to you – it recently helped him become a World Champion!

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Nico and I have frequently talked about Target Panic (TP). We’ve also talked about something that can become related to TP. Let’s call it Tournament Nerves (TN?) or a case of the jitters. Many new shooters will stay basically recreational. Others will go on to hunting and competing.

I myself don’t seem to have TP. Sure, once in a while I’ll have a shot that I should have let down, but I’ll flinch, or pluck, or even get stuck with a sight picture that I just can’t get on target, but no big deal. There is one thing though that I can talk about from my own experiences and that is having a case of the jitters at the start of a tournament.

I have competed at many levels, from local events to the International level.  Sometimes, for whatever reasons I may have, a particular event will be exceptionally important to me. I’ll find myself all jumpy, and itchy and irritated. My head will be full of crazy thoughts. “What if I screw up? I sure hope I don’t drop too many points! What am I even doing here? This sucks!” Maybe it only works for me, but I actually have a “method” for dealing with the negative feelings and the negative self talk. What’s interesting is that how I handle it actually grew out of a specific event in my life many years ago, and it wasn’t even archery related.

One evening I came home from work very tired. Ate dinner, went to bed early. Next thing I know, I’m shaken awake by my wife Annette and daughter Ashley. In hoarse stage whispers they were telling me, “Paul! Paul! Get up! There’s somebody in the side yard!” Naturally my first reaction was “Huh? Er…ah. What?” Once it penetrated what was going on I jumped out of bed, and yelled at everybody to call the cops, turn on all the lights, and make as much noise as possible doing it. At that point, not knowing what else to do, I grabbed a decorative Katana sword that I have hanging on the wall, and went charging outside, yelling the whole way. Rounded the corner of the house just in time to see where a bunch of bushes in the hedge were shaking and heard somebody running down the street.

Now, I don’t know if you noticed, but there is a step missing from that whole sequence of events. Yep. You got it! Picture this, crazed, over weight white guy running around the yard waving a Samurai sword and yelling. As Annette later pointed out, I was really kind of lucky. Good thing it took a while for the police to show up. They might have arrested me!

By now of course you’re wondering what on Earth could this possibly have to do with Archery, or having a bad case of Tournament Nerves? Just bear with me, I’m getting there.

During that whole little episode, I was honestly truly terrified. If I had had my way about the whole thing, I would have locked myself in the closet with my wife and daughter. Although what I did was rash, foolhardy, yes, even stupid, I none the less did what I needed to do, despite being scared out of my pants. Literally. It redefined what the word “bravery” meant to me. Being brave does not mean being without fear. It means being afraid, but still doing what needs to be done anyway.

The first time I had a bad case of Tournament Nerves, I realized that I was afraid of looking foolish. I was afraid of failing. I realized that it came down to the fact that in reality I had only 2 choices. Step up, put my reputation on the line, and shoot, or go home. So, knowing that it would be a cold day in Hades before I just packed up and went home, I stepped up. I thought of what my understanding of bravery means. I just had my fears, didn’t try to ignore them, or stuff them deep down, or pretend that I didn’t have them. I just had them. I went on to do what needed to be done anyway. Funny things happened. Following my shot sequence, thinking about what I was really doing there, shooting a bow, nothing more, nothing less than that, and a few targets in, my fears had given up on torturing me, and had left me. It was so weird in that I actually didn’t even consciously notice the transition.

So what is there to say about Tournament Nerves?  Have the fear. Don’t try to “handle” it. Be brave. Cut through the confusing babble and realize that you, just like every other one of us has only two choices. Once reduced to its bare essentials, it becomes easy. Shoot or go home. And once you get to that point, I’m willing to bet that you too will choose to step up and shoot.