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Mental Skills in Archery

Mental skills are vitally important in developing as an archer. Good technique and good equipment get you so far, but you also need the 4 Cs: Commitment; Concentration; Confidence and Control. Below are the techniques you can use to develop these qualities. Commitment the determination to do what it takes to shoot well Goal setting Refocusing Positive thinking Concentration the ability to maintain focus in the face of distraction Imagery Distraction training Routines Simulated competition training (scoring in practice, 3 arrow ends, etc) Confidence - believing in your own ability in spite of setbacks Positive self-talk Imagery Goal setting setting short term, achievable goals (steps to success!) Routines Cognitive restructuring (turning negative thoughts to positive thoughts) Simulated competition training Control - the ability to handle pressure Relaxation training Breathing exercises Cognitive restructuring Routines Simulated competition training Attitude management Contingency planning proper preparation prevents poor performance Mental/physical activation training warm ups and cue words/self talk

To be able to use mental training techniques, you need to be entirely familiar with them. This requires practice. Attempting to use a relaxation exercise for the first time at a competition is not likely to be very effective. Learn several mental skills and use them both during practice and at friendly competitions. This will give the best chance of them helping in pressured situations - e.g. a championship. It is very important to have spare skills in your mental toolbox. E.g. If you are stressed during a competition, you may find that your brain will not slow down enough for you to use imagery. Pull out a bit of relaxation! If you find that a relaxation technique works, but youre still shooting badly, try some positive self-talk.

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Goal Setting
Why bother with setting goals? What do they do? 1. Goals help you to discover what is important to you. Do you just shoot for fun and not care about the standard you reach? If the answer is yes, then you do not have any goals. If the answer is no, then you need to think about just what standard you want to reach, before its too late and youre saying if only.... 2. Goals direct your training. They keep you focused on where you are and what you should be doing. 3. Goals maintain your motivation. When practice becomes tiring, your fingers hurt or youre just not in the mood, then its easy to give up. Having short and medium-term goals helps you to realise the connection between commitment now and that medal or score (your long-term goal) later. 4. Goals increase effort. If you set a goal that is important to you, then you are more likely to put in lots of effort to achieve it. Setting goals pushes you that little bit harder in striving to improve. Performance v outcome. A performance goal focuses on your ability or improvement. An outcome goal focuses on the results of your performance, e.g. winning a competition. Performance goals are entirely under your control, whereas outcome goals are entirely outwith your control - you could shoot a world record but still lose if someone else does better. Learn to judge success and failure in terms of how you do, not only where you come in comparison with others. However, its ok to want to win! Outcome goals should be set in conjunction to performance goals to add excitement. Self goals. Focus on your own personal progress, even when practising. Bad goal - Im going to beat soand-so today. Good goal Im going to focus on getting my release technique right at least 90% of the time today. Positive goals. Phrase your goal in a positive way - Im going to do .... today as opposed to Im not going to do .... today. Have goals for training and competition. You have a lot more practice time than competition time. Goals focusing on technique and not score are much more useful in practice, where you dont have the distraction of having to score well. Different types of goal. Not all goals have to be about your score or medals. They can be as mentioned above - focusing on one part of your technique. A short-term goal could be as simple as making sure that you warm up thoroughly before every practice, so that it becomes habit; telling yourself to think only positive thoughts or to spend 10 minutes every day for a week shooting mental arrows. Goals should be SMARTER.

Specific. Is the goal stated in specific terms? Measurable. Is it something that can be measured? Acceptable. Is this the goal you want? Realistic. Not too easy, not too hard. Timed. By when should this goal be achieved? Exciting. Do you find this goal exciting? Does it challenge you enough? Recorded. Is the goal written down?
It is useful to stress the links between your short, medium and long-term goals. This way even small steps can give you a sense of accomplishment and a feeling that you are moving towards that golden chalice! Once you have set your long-term goals, see your medium and short-term goals as the stepping stones to them.

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You can make up your own goal-setting diary to be as specific as you like - split into months, weeks or even days (useful when approaching a major competition). Do not plan too far ahead in too much detail. Remember to be flexible! You can always discuss your goals and progress towards them with your coach.

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Imagery is the practice of shooting mental arrows. You use all your senses to create an internal video of yourself shooting.

Why do it?
You gain extra practice time whenever you want. It reduces skill learning time. It improves your powers of concentration. Imagery is especially useful when you are having a day when you just forget how to shoot properly. Take some time out from practice to shoot some mental arrows, or use the time the other wave is shooting during competition, to get back in the groove.

Imagery helps stamp the right movement pattern into the brain. It is vital to imagine hitting the gold - conditioning your subconscious in the right way.
How to do it...
Make a detailed list on paper of how you shoot your arrows. Learn the list until you are familiar with the sequence of events. Practice by playing your internal video sitting in a comfortable chair. Imagine that you see the image from behind your own eyes, just as you would when shooting. When you are comfortable with that, switch between seeing the image from inside yourself to looking at yourself, and back again. Use part-whole-part routines where you break down the shot into various parts, always finishing with the whole shot and seeing the arrow in the gold. Practice in slow motion and in real time. Use visual and auditory senses as well as body feeling. Always imagine successful outcomes, i.e. the arrow landing in the gold. Practice as often as possible in short moments, e.g. sitting on a bus, walking home. Use imagery in practice sessions - both off and on the line. Use imagery to formulate disaster-recovery situations, e.g. a string break or a bouncer. Think of what if... situations, formulate a plan to deal with it then imagine yourself carrying it out successfully. Imagine yourself shooting outdoors as well as indoors. It is important to be mentally prepared to shoot in rain and wind as well as good weather. Visualise competitions if you know the venue you will be going to, imagine what it will feel like shooting there. See yourself coping with the pressure calmly and hitting that 10 ring every time!

Remember, you can only use imagery to get back in the groove if youve already worn the correct path through your mind. This takes time and practice!

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Self Talk (Mental Attitude)

Whether you think you can, or whether you think you cant - you are right. Henry Ford

Attitude governs thoughts Thoughts govern actions Actions govern results

How many times do you call yourself names or swear after a bad arrow (mentally or audibly!)? Do you find yourself thinking how badly you are doing, or getting angry at yourself for not shooting the way you think you should? STOP!!!!! A bad attitude gets you bad arrows. This doesnt mean that you cant analyse what went wrong with a shot, but you have to then give yourself something positive to work with before you shoot the next arrow. Self-talk is just that; the archer literally talks to themselves. Some speak internally while others talk out loud causing more than one person to take a second look at a potential lunatic! Rick McKinney - The Simple Art of Winning. Rick goes on to explain that self-image is linked to performance. If self image improves, performance generally improves, and vice versa. As most archers are negative in their self-talk expressions, their self image (confidence) drops, then performance does, then they are even more negative, causing a further deterioration of performance.... This is a vicious cycle that has to be broken by developing self-talk skills in a positive way. Begin statements with words like I can... or I will.... Negative self-talk Idiot! Im shooting so badly. I need a 10 10 9 to get the score I want, Ill never do it, Ill choke. I cant be bothered shooting much today. The weather forecast is for wind and rain, Im going to do badly today. Positive self-talk This arrow will go in the gold. Calm and control. I can do this. If I persevere today, Im improving my stamina. No-one likes shooting in bad weather and the more people quit, the further up the rankings I will be.

What negative things do you tend to think? Do you give up, get angry at yourself, get stressed? Think of the most common negative thoughts you have, then think of a countering statement. When you find yourself thinking bad things in future, tell yourself to STOP, or SWITCH, and then concentrate on your good thought. Negative thought Positive counter-thought

Dont go for half measures. If you find yourself thinking well, Ill try in a half hearted way, then give yourself a damn good shake and JUST DO IT. Do, or do not. There is no try. Yoda

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Cue words / positive instructions

Self talk can also focus you on the here and now, and what you should be doing. Cue words can help you concentrate, positive instructions can help you correct mistakes. Situation The odd arrow goes low because you are dropping your bow arm. Nearing the end of a FITA (144 arrows), getting tired. Loosing focus and feeling apathetic during practice. Failing to be steady at full draw. Response Positive instruction keep arm up, or cue word pose. Cue word: strong Positive self talk I am good; This will be a ten. Personal cue words to fit the situation, e.g in line; energy; smooth. Positive self talk I am strong, I can do this. Positive instruction keep pulling. Cue words at full draw in the gold.

Instruction, self-talk and cue words must always be positive. If you tell yourself not to drop your bow arm, you are actually thinking of how it feels to have your bow arm drop (like imagery, this reinforces the mental pathway and makes this action easier). If you tell yourself to keep your arm up, your subconscious is only concerned with the correct action. Think of your subconscious as a small child. If you tell the child leave the cookie jar alone and leave the room, what do you think is going to happen? If you tell them, go and play with your trucks, do you think that theres a better chance of having any cookies when you get back? It is much easier to think of something, than to not think of something. Sit quietly for a moment, close your eyes and fill your mind with the colour red. Then banish red from your mind and dont think of it at all. Could you do it? For those of you that could, how did you do it? Probably by thinking of another colour, blue, green, etc. Working on your shot is the same thing concentrating on what you want to do is the best way of not doing what you dont want to!

An archer competing for a clay vessel shoots effortlessly, his skill and concentration unimpeded. If the prize is changed to a brass ornament, his hands begin to shake. If it is changed to gold, he squints as if he were going blind. His abilities do not deteriorate, but his belief in them does, as he allows the supposed value of an external reward to cloud his vision. Chuang-tse Do you find that you choke during a competition? Does your anxiety level increase if you do well? Does your anxiety level increase if you do badly? Everyone has a perfect level of arousal (no sniggers please!). Think of how you feel when you shoot your best. Are you perfectly relaxed? Are you keyed up? Your perfect arousal level may not be absolute relaxation. Many performers need to feel pumped up or high in order to put in their best scores. The problem arises when the archer is in a state of either too high or too low a state of arousal. State Too high Mental aids Short-term goal setting Self-talk Cue words (relax, strong) Imagery Physical aids Progressive muscle relaxation Physical warm-ups and stretching exercises Breathing control Vigorous physical warm-up

Too low

Positive self-talk Affirmations (I am good) Imagery

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Relaxation Skills
Relaxation is synonymous with concentration; they both involve the elimination of the unwanted aspects of the whole body (and mind) at a particular moment. Roy Matthews: Archery in Earnest Relaxation in archery means not tensing up. Yes, if you relax completely your whole shot will collapse. You need to keep the pressure where it is meant to be, but eliminate unneeded tension. Progressive muscle relaxation Relaxing your body helps to relax your mind. Starting with the toes, alternatively tense and relax your muscles, working your way up to your head. (E.g. toes, calves, thighs, bum, stomach, chest, hands, upper arms, shoulders, neck, head.) Contract a muscle group, hold that contraction for a few moments and then release it, using relaxing self-talk upon release. Re-check feelings of relaxation by moving up through the same muscle groups, but instead of contracting them, think heavy thoughts, e.g. let go or heavier and heavier still. Visualise a good shot. Count to three, open your eyes and have a good stretch. Breathing control Usually breathing during the shot is automatic and we are unaware of it. Under pressure, however, you can often choke and lose control of your breathing. In situations like this, or if you find that your breathing and heart rate have increased before you go up to shoot, you need to regain conscious control of your breathing. Breath in and hold for a few seconds. Breath out thinking words like easy, relax, flowing. Continue until under control. Practice this at any time for a couple of seconds. It may also be a good technique to include in your preshooting warm up, along with your physical exercises. Practice is essential for this technique to work for you at any time. It isnt difficult and it is a very good thing to have in your mental toolbox. Centring (this section is taken from Handling Pressure by the National Coaching Foundation) Centring is about gathering yourself together, ready to focus your attention on the task at hand. Although there are many different ways to centre, the technique described here requires you to change your centre of consciousness from your head to your centre of gravity a point just below your navel. This lowering of your centre of consciousness makes you feel much more stable and balanced. It is this feeling of stability, balance and control when centred that prompts you to relax. When you do relax, you also sink a little and lower your centre of gravity (and therefore consciousness) still further, thereby creating a spiral effect on stability and control. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent (as when shooting). Relax your neck, arms and shoulder muscles. Direct your thoughts inward to check and adjust your muscle tension and breathing. This is best done if you focus your mind on your abdominal muscles and how they tighten and relax as you breathe. Feel the heaviness in your muscles. Take a deep, slow breath using the diaphragm (a point just behind your navel) with minimal movement of the chest. Continue to focus consciously on your breathing and the heaviness of your muscles, clear your mind. Visualise a good shot. Open your eyes. There are other relaxation techniques available, use whatever works, but remember not to chill out too much if you need that edge in order to shoot your best.

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Concentration is being in the here and now. Your awareness of the whole of yourself puts aside anything which is not relevant to the here and now. For us archers, the shot already in the target is not part of the here, likewise the final score at the end of the day is not part of the now .... When you are shooting well, and feeling on top form, it is possible to build an almost impregnable cocoon of concentration. It is a very good feeling. The concept of concentration being the here and now includes within itself the concept of not trying to make the shot, but simply doing it. There is no concern for success or failure; these two are products of setting a goal for the shot. There is just the awareness of doing the whole thing in the way which you set out to do it, in the way which you planned to do it. Roy Matthews External Distractions Archers talking loudly or on the line Wind, rain, a hall too hot or cold Noise from an adjacent hall or field Internal Distractions Thinking about the last arrow Calculating what score you need from this end for a pb Paralysis by analysis thinking too much about your style (should only use a +ve instruction or cue word when on the line)

You cannot concentrate on concentrating! Everyone is different - you have to find the exercise which works for you in different situations. Eye control. In between arrows (or whenever you get distracted) focus on some piece of your equipment. The key is to find something that you can focus your eyes on for those moments when youre most vulnerable. One arrow at a time. The only arrow that is important is the one you are about to shoot. Noise. Practice in a noisy atmosphere - get people to make as much noise as possible to try to (verbally!) put you off. Cue words. Use words that have an instructional component (e.g. draw, steady) or an emotional component (e.g. strong, calm, easy). Practice your cue words in quiet moments - call up the feeling you want (calm, strength, the way you feel when youre on top form), say the cue word and squeeze your dominant hand. Next time you are feeling unable to focus, squeeze your hand and call up the feeling with your cue word. Commitment. Once you decide to go for a shot - DO IT! Routine. Do everything exactly the same before each shot. Imagery. Call up the image of yourself shooting well. Zooming. In 10 seconds focus on the 10 rings of the target. Start with the 1 and work your way inwards to the 10 in as many seconds. This will also help your time awareness - useful when shooting on amber with 30 seconds to go. Confine yourself to the present. Marcus Aurelius I get distracted by... Archers facing me on the same boss (a mix of left and right handed archers) To stop this I... Deliberately practice facing another archer. Develop a routine for eye control so that I am not looking beyond my bow and the target.

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Life is not the way its supposed to be. Its the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference. Virginia Satir Control emotions. Keep calm and dont over-react. Organise input. Set about repairing the damage. Seek help. Plan. Carry spares, energy foods, water. Proper preparation prevents poor performance! Execute actions. Recover, mend the gear, erase disaster from mind, carry on shooting.

Putting it all together

It is unlikely that you will find every single technique suits you. Try them all and practice the ones that work for you. Remember to always have a spare skill in case your main ones dont work for you that day. How can these things help you on the day? Below is one way to incorporate mental training into your competition routine:

Imagery after physical warm up (about 3 arrows). Progressive muscle relaxation and breathing control just before starting, and in between ends when necessary. On the line. Long breath out with cue word (calm/control/strong) and relax shoulders before the first shot. Routine! Every end is the same! (I tend to tighten things.) Eye control - having a routine even in where you look before and through every shot. Problems when shooting - personal mantra when the string is released, the speeding arrow cannot be brought back/ this is the only arrow. Focuses the mind on the here and now, not the last shot. Problems with technique - snapshot imagery on the line. Close eyes, feel and see the correct action (need to practice regularly for best effect). Open eyes, get on with it. Loss of confidence. Personal cue words and positive self talk. Tensing up. Quick muscle relaxation of affected part with feeling of heaviness. (Needs practice to be able to do effectively in a few seconds.)

Your mental training programme

Only you can decide how motivated you are, how much effort you are willing to put in and how good you want to be. Investing in your own equipment can give you a boost, as can the social side of archery, but in the end, it comes down to how much you actually enjoy shooting, and how much satisfaction you get from hitting that gold. You can incorporate mental training into your daily routine without too much trouble, it just takes an initial effort before it becomes habit. Imagery could be practised for two 5 minute sessions walking down the road, sitting on the bus, brushing your teeth, etc (NOT whilst driving!). Relaxation exercises could be used when you go to bed or are waiting for a lecture to begin. Goal setting merely takes a thought about what you are going to work on for this practice session, or what score you want to reach. Like so many things, the more you put in, the better the results. Its up to you! References and further reading
GNAS coaching manual - Section 21: Sports Psychology. Archery in Earnest - Roy Matthews. The Simple Art of Winning - Rick McKinney. The Tao of Pooh & The Te of Piglet - Benjamin Hoff. Zen and the Art of Archery - Eugen Herrigel Motivation and Mental Toughness, Mind over Matter - National Coaching Foundation (NCF) booklets. Building Self-confidence; Improving Concentration; Handling Pressure; Imagery Training NCF books.