Today I shot a Portsmouth score of 577, setting a new personal best by a big margin. I’m absolutely chuffed with that. Sure, I shot it in my garden rather than at the club, so it’s not official – but I did it and I’m pleased. And I did it by thinking. Ultimately, archery is not about equipment (though I’ve got a lot of that) or even technique (which I spend hours and hours refining through reading, watching and practice). Archery is a mental game.
The Portsmouth is a rigorous test of an archer’s technique, and in the indoor winter season we spend hours and hours trying to improve our scores. The round consists of 60 arrows shot from a distance of 20 yards at a 60cm target divided up into 10 concentric circles. The smallest circle, in the middle, is 6cm in diameter (just under 2.4 inches). Hit that, and you score 10 points. The next ring out scores 9, the next 8 and so on. You shoot 10 ‘ends’ of six arrows. If you get 6 arrows in that little golden spot, then you score 60 points. Like this:
For more than a year, I’ve been getting scores in the 550s, sometimes in the 560s. My normal pattern is to shoot two or three really good ends of say 56 or 57. Then I think – ‘I’m onto something here – maybe I’ll get a great score!’ – and from that point onwards my scores take a nosedive. I start paying attention to the numbers and that’s fatal. A good shot needs a good technique, and a key part of that technique is rhythm. Lose that rhythm, and the groups begin to spread and the scores to drop. I have felt for some time that my basic technique is ok. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to get scores of 57 or 58. My problem was that I was inconsistent in the way I used it. I needed to find a strategy to take my attention away from the scores whilst simultaneously keeping my technique consistent.
So how did I fix the problem? Before shooting every arrow, whilst settling my mind and preparing my body, I spoke out loud to myself. ‘Archery is not about scores. Archery is about only one thing, and that is moving my right elbow backwards’. Then I took the shot. Having shot it, I went through my shot cycle again. Once again, as I settled my mind and body, I said out loud ‘Archery is not about scores. Archery is about only one thing, and that is moving my right elbow backwards’. Then I took another shot. Arrow after arrow went into the gold. 41/60 hit that 6cm centre circle, 17 went into the outer gold ring to score 9, and 2 went into the red. The result of this simple process was to improve my PB of 566 (a score I had only managed to hit once in my life) by 11 points to 577.
There are technical reasons why ‘moving my right elbow backwards’ makes sense in the context of archery technique. Its all to do with how you use your back muscles, and how you release the string. And my strategy of talking to myself only worked because my technique is basically sound and repeatable. But the main point is that I gave my mind something simple to think about – the movement of my right elbow – with the effect that my body could then get on with the task of using the technique I have worked so hard to teach it. My body doesn’t need to be supervised by my mind. It needs to be trusted.
So there we are. The next challenge of course, is this. Can I do it again? Can I do it under stressful competition conditions? If I can, then I’ll be scoring well enough to win competitions the next time the indoor season comes around. And if I can’t? Well, I’ll just keep right on trying!