The Mental Arrow
Archery is a great sport, hobby and pastime. So what does an outsider see? Well, they see a physical sport, a person picking up a bow, drawing back the string and letting an arrow fly. Is it that simple? Like many sports, there is an element that is very difficult to see, understand and importantly master.
The mental game is something that for me is often overlooked.On a beginners course the first thing you are taught is how to shoot safely. Getting the right technique is built up over time and can be hard to learn. In time you are taught how to shoot various distances. All of these are needed to become a good archer. Yet there are some countries who understand that the mental part is the core to pushing further. In archery, you are competing against very few things; yourself, the conditions and target.
I have started to understand a little about what is needed to make me a ‘better’ archer. It takes time and patience, of which the latter I seem to lack some days. You know you want to do well every time and sometimes feel disappointed when you don’t. So how do you progress? What makes a top archer?
For me, you have to master elements that are not always taught. The mental arrow. The moment you put the little bit of doubt into your own mind, your body reacts. If you think – ‘I can’t beat Fred’ then you wont beat Fred, because your body will find someway of hitting a 5 instead of a 10.
So what then can you do to stop that. When should the mental attitude start?
As you arrive at the venue?
As you walk to the line?
As you draw the bow?
As you settle on the target?
As you release the arrow?
To me it has to be in all of those situations. It should be something you have deep inside you so that it starts the moment you set off to either practice or competitions. Again that could sound very high handed and conceited. But it’s what the top coaches teach.
The Koreans, we are led to believe, don’t pick a bow up for the first few weeks or even longer. So what do they do? They are taught to focus the mind first. Visualisation. It is something you can do anywhere. In your office, at home, having a drink. It is simple and builds a strong mind. It is one way to teach the your subconscious how to shoot. It has been said by writing down what you do and reading it time and time again, you push it into your subconscious. There are also negative thoughts and sayings which distract you from the shot. How many people have learned to drive? Millions. After you have learnt, do you consciously remember what to do? I would say no. You let your subconscious mind do certain things, like all the elements when changing gear. The same needs to be with archery. You need to learn how to clear your mind and just think gold rather than the technique.
If you start saying to yourself ‘I need to a score 10′ or getting close to a personal best, your mind can start thinking of problems. This will add pressure. So how do you avoid that? That is the time you have to be mentally strong. Wipe away the doubts. Don’t think a bad shot or bad posture. Shield yourself. You have to be able to stand on a line and think you are the only one there. Only you are shooting. Each arrow is the only one to shoot. The ‘money’ shot so to speak.
In practice you can test out remembering the steps you have written down, you can have people standing around you talking trying to put you off. You have to think, you, the bow, the arrow and the shot are the only things there. However like driving or walking, you soon learn to ‘forget’. It sounds odd however it is true. If you keep thinking you will bring in doubt. So at some point, like driving or walking, it needs to become something you don’t think about. You just shoot.
Basically it comes down to four main elements;
Each element has more to it of course, goal setting, positive self talk, relaxation training, practice competitions and faith. Self belief is key. You can hit the target, you can hit the gold, you can score well. The mental game is the hardest part to master. The top archers, in fact top sports people, push themselves to that highest level. Technique is important but understand the mental arrow and each shot should be golden.
To be one with the bow, you need to be at one with yourself, mind, body and soul.