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.