The majority of our time shooting will be spent practicing, so it makes sense that we would want to optimize this time to make ourselves better when it is time to perform. Sounds simple right? You go out, shoot some arrows, write down some scores, or just look at how each shot did. You do this all the time, but you never seem to get any better….What gives? You’re shooting more. You’re shooting frequently. But, are you actually practicing correctly? When I was in middle school I had a coach tell me that practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. To me, that couldn’t be more true. In this article I am going to go over what I call, Next Level Practicing.
To go back to what I was told from my coach, let’s first talk about what is perfect practicing. Perfect practicing goes deeper than what most would think. It’s not just going out and shooting perfect scores and having perfect shots. It can be many different things actually. It can be setting up an environment that is closer to what you’ll have in your tournament or where you’ll be hunting, it can be putting yourself through shots that you might not normally take to see the outcome, and many other factors as well. But throughout all of this, if you are not analyzing and thinking about the little details that are going on, you’re only shooting arrows and not living up to your true potential. So, what do you analyze and what details do you look for?
This can be the tricky part, and in my opinion is what separates the good from the great. You can hear in several interviews from top level shooters where they will say the difference between winning the tournament and just being in the tournament is your ability to see what you did wrong and correct it quickly. The thing about archery is that it’s a human input based sport, and with anything involving human input there is the chance for human error. The goal with your practicing is not to be perfect, we’re human and we are naturally imperfect, but to figure out why we weren’t perfect when a mistake happened and correct that for the next shot. That means that you will need to be in tune with your body and your mental side throughout your shooting sessions. You’ll often hear you need to let down when something feels off. And a response I get to that very often is, “Well I didn’t know anything was wrong until right when the shot went off.” That’s okay actually. You need to have a checklist and a shot routine, yes. Those two constants will help you rule out a lot of variables while you shoot. But, you’re still going to have shots where you’ve gone through each little bail out point in your shot routine and an error slips up on you as the shot breaks. So let’s go back to what I’ve heard. I felt something off as the shot broke. The key phrase there is you knew something was off. Now you need to decipher what that was.
The first thing that many people will do is looking at where the arrow landed. This is a good starting point a lot of times because, as an example, if the arrow landed to the left of the x then you know something caused it to go there. Now think back through your shot. What were you feeling when the shot went bad. Had you been holding too long and pushed the shot off? Did you get too relaxed with your shot and the release hand come away from your face? Are your misaligned throughout your feet, hips, and shoulders causing your body to twist at release? These little things can cause you fits when you don’t detect them right away. The main part here to remember is to be in tune with your body and keep your mind in the shot while focusing on the feel of the shot more than what you are wanting the outcome to be. This can actually help you with nerves, over aiming, and other perfectionist habits that we can put into our shooting too.
What I do is keep a notebook of goods and bads. On the good side I will write down what felt good about my shots. What was working. This can be different from day to day when I’m shooting, but it’s always very good to look back on when I have a bad day and use it to help me pick out what was missing. On the bad side of things, I will write down what felt bad on my shots and the outcomes at the target. This becomes my cheat sheet over time to look back on when I am having a problem that I can’t detect at the time. A lot of the errors you have, you will find repeat themselves. So as you find solutions to the problems you will be able to pin point them easier as you go on. Keep in mind too, it’s not always possible to see what is going wrong with something at the time. If it’s became a persistent issue, try filming yourself to see if you can watch your shot and pick anything out that is going on. Also, get a second set of eyes to look things over or to talk things out with. Everyone can lend a different perspective on the situation and sometimes that’s exactly what you need to find a solution.
I’ll be the first person to say that you can over think archery and make things more difficult on yourself. But, there’s a time and place for deep thought and when you are practicing that’s the time and place. That’s what will give you a next level shooting ability. It won’t be a mentality of hoping to make perfect shots anymore. It will be a mentality that when you do not make a perfect shot you know you are going to be able to find out why and fix that error so the next shots aren’t suffering. It’s a different way of thinking. A different way of attacking the situation.