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Setting new archery goals

By Claudia Stevenson and Steve Ruis

Effective goal setting increases focus, motivation, direction, feelings of success, and self-confidence. All of that equals more fun! Helpful goals also have certain characteristics that Gould (1993) discusses in detail. They are as follow:

• Realistic yet challenging
• Specific
• Stated in the positive
• Stated actively, not passively
• Written down
• Evaluated periodically
• Individual commitment to reach goal
• Supported by significant others

Goals should be set for each season (both indoor and outdoor), reviewed each month, and changed to be more realistic or challenging when necessary. Goals should also be set for each day in practice, as well as each tournament. Daily goals depend on what you need to do at that time to reach your season goals. Using a daily training log, organized in a notebook with an attached pen, helps assure that you will develop this productive habit.

A very common mistake is to set only outcome goals and to forget about process goals. Outcome goals tend to focus on your place or score in a competition. Process goals focus more on immediate, here-and-now behaviors performed with each shot, or even between shots. They also include mental goals such as, I will take a deep breath before every shot in the elimination rounds. Process goals give you specific here-and-now things to focus on, whereas outcome goals are just things we hope to accomplish.

To be sure you are setting process goals, ask yourself, How will I accomplish that? For example, let’s say that one of your goals is to win your state championship. How will you accomplish that? Add another goal to answer this, such as, Place in the top three in all tournaments leading up to the state championship. How will you accomplish that? Goal: Increase my focus by 30 percent. How will you accomplish that? Goal: Focus on back tension and a relaxed bow hand. Take a deep breath before every shot. And so forth. Another common mistake is to neglect evaluating your progress toward your goals. Figure 6.5 is an example of a postcompetition evaluation. Evaluate your performance, physically and psychologically, after every tournament.

Part of goal setting is developing a mental program or a planned and specific way of incorporating mental skills training into practice and competition. If you forget this step, it is easy to forget about mind tuning altogether! Devote days of practice specifically to mind tuning. Make a refocusing plan to use at times in competition when you have lost your focus or when things are not going the way you had hoped. Write the plan down on index cards. Have it in your bow case or in your quiver for quick reference. Visualize yourself effectively using your plan. The refocus plan can be part of a precompetition mental plan that many archers have used to assure that they are physically and psychologically ready for a tournament.

Creating an Environment for Success

In addition to developing the mental skills just discussed, your practice environment is key in creating mind-tuning opportunities. Always practicing in “perfect” conditions is not adequate preparation for the pressures and distractions of competition. You should be shooting in the rain; in intense heat and freezing cold; in swirling, gusty winds blowing from the left, the right, behind, and head on. Shoot elimination rounds with lights, timers, and whistles. Be creative with other shooters and create pressures similar to competition, such as shooting for score with exaggerated distractions.

What about those days when you really, really don’t want to practice or it feels as though you’ve completely forgotten how to shoot? These are the best mental training days you’ll ever find. Stay positive, regardless of the scores. Don’t whine or blame. Shoot with enthusiasm and “fake it” if you must. Pretend to be confident. Attempt to be amused and entertained. Accept that some days are not how we’d like them to be. Practicing having this positive frame of mind will make it easier in challenging competitions.

One area to assess is your relationships (Coppel 1995; Hellstedt 1995 ). Are your parents or spouse putting too much pressure on you to win? Is your spouse upset at how much time you are spending away? Is your coach giving all of his attention to another student? Are the other kids in the JOAD program unjustly picking on, or ignoring, you? Another area to assess is the demands from other parts of your life, such as work deadlines, final exams, child-rearing responsibilities, potential divorce or the recent death of a loved one, medical complications, financial strain, the effects of drug abuse, depression, and other stressors.

If something in the environment is interfering, then it’s time to give it attention. It is also helpful to remember that you cannot control what occurs externally; you can only control your reaction to it. Not giving it your direct attention too often leads to reactions (e.g., frustration, anger, fatigue, burnout, loss of focus) that exacerbate the problem. Rather than be reactive, you can be proactive. You can take responsibility for what is yours to change and work to let go of what you cannot change.

Even though a problem lies outside of you, you must look at what you can do to address it. Blaming something or someone else does nothing to change it and only serves to make you see yourself as a victim. If you cannot change the situation, you can ask for help in coping with it, adopt a new perspective to change your reaction to it and thus your behavior, set more realistic goals that take into account the whole picture, or take time off.

Heightening Your Mental Toughness

Beyond practicing basic mental skills you may be interested in advanced mind tuning. This is suitable if you are competing at a high level, in a slump or experiencing a psychological condition such as target panic, experiencing a plateau but want to continue to improve, bored with just shooting arrows and feel no direction, or just interested or more psychologically minded by nature.

Great archers are extremely consistent in performance regardless of external circumstances. Whether shooting alone in their backyards or in front of thousands at the Olympics, they remain focused and repeatedly shoot the same shot over and over, one at a time. To do this requires precision of mental control practiced diligently over the years and a deep commitment to use all of the challenges that arise as opportunities to retrain the mind. Without some type of mind tuning, good archers cannot become great.

Just as awareness builds on what a good shot feels like and how to change a bad shot back to a good shot, a mentally tough archer builds awareness of a positive frame of mind and how to change a negative frame back to a positive one. For example, a good shooter knows almost immediately when something has changed in the execution of a shot: I dropped my bow hand, My string hand is tense, My back tension wasn’t right, and so on. Likewise, a mentally tough archer recognizes distraction and knows when to take a deep, slow breath, let go of frustration, and refocus on the cue word.

The following are what I call “perspectives of excellence” and are sure to help you pave your way to reaching your potential. Each addresses one critical aspect of the mental landscape of competition.

1. Redefine Winning and Embrace True Success

In a sport-crazed and competitive society such as the United States, it is difficult to get away from attitudes shown in expressions such as, First place is the only place, or, Second place is the first place loser. When you hear, How did you do? you assume the person is asking if you won, what place you got, or what your score was. This obsession with outcome is exactly what keeps many athletes from reaching their potential.

What does it really mean to win? A new definition is in order. Winning is personal. It happens when you overcome an obstacle within yourself. It is beating the very obstacles you often put in front of yourself. It is focusing on the process when all else says to focus on the outcome. It is persevering beyond where most are willing. It is continuing to love yourself despite being in “last place.”

In line with winning, society too often labels the winners as successful and the “losers” as, well, losers--unsuccessful failures who are looked down on as “not having what it takes.” We recognize true success, however, not by looking at how an archer shoots when the going is easy, but when it is challenging. Success is the ability to have fun no matter how seriously the sport is being taken. Success is learning from failure and adversity rather than allowing it to make you feel inferior or making excuses for it.

2. Change Your Perspective

Human beings like to be right, and that includes being right about their perspectives or their interpretations of why things are the way they are. Perspectives can keep us from moving forward, however, and are often worth changing. Seeing something in a new way has the power to change or shift what seemed impossible.

To take an example, if you have hit a performance plateau, are currently in a slump, or are experiencing target panic, then you are most likely frustrated, feeling a little helpless to change it, and wondering why in the world this is happening to you. What purpose does it have? Consider another perspective. Without eventually incorporating mental awareness into your game, you are not likely to reach your true potential. And, like most human beings, you aren’t going to do something until you have to. Thus, your plateau or slump or target panic is the very thing that can finally motivate you to explore the role of the mind. Perhaps your current frustration is less a frustration and more a gift. With this new perspective, your “problem” will probably still be frustrating, but there is purpose in it and you are no longer a victim of it. That perspective alone can make a huge difference and move you out of your problem more quickly.

3. Go With and Not Against Adversity

As aikido and many other martial arts teach us, we are much more likely to reach the results we want when we go with difficult situations and not against them. This attitude encompasses a gentle, forgiving approach to learning and making mistakes, rather than an aggressive, critical one. It emphasizes not taking anything personally, not anyone, any situation, or even ourselves. It underscores the importance of detaching ourselves from our emotions, good or bad, so we can remain objective, clear, and precise. Going with adversity means accepting ourselves for where we are (in this case, how we’re performing) while continuing to strive for excellence.

Good luck with your mental tuning. As Rick McKinney said in chapter 1, “competition . . . involves taking chances and learning, learning about your sport, but more important, learning about yourself.” If you take to heart some of the ideas in this chapter and incorporate them into your training, you may reach the next level!

This is an excerpt from Precision Archery.

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