Tom Major - A County Coach with 50 years of archery experience, including Coaching and Archery Development Programmes
Here we go again……..
At the last Essex/Suffolk Guild Meeting the speaker for the evening was a Sports Psychologist, Allan Bignell. During his talk, he explained how, through generations, the human race had developed in their genes the ability to sense danger of heights and other senses, such as sound. He explained an example of primeval family dwellings in caves and on central raised areas, where the family assembled in times of danger.
“Where is this going” you may ask, and what has it got to do with coaching? I have to admit that the same thoughts were going through my mind at first. However, I recalled that the speaker also explained that the female had a larger ribcage than the male which meant that females had the ability to project their voice at quite some volume. This could stop the children in their tracks and, in many cases, saved the child’s life and kept them from danger.
Now I will get to the point of my article and its title. A few days after the Guild Meeting I was talking at an indoor venue to a few archers about competition pressure, such as knowing from the leader board that you are in, or near, first place, and the affect this usually has on the shooting process. Many archers will admit (and perhaps some will not) that they try that bit harder to stay in the lead. This is always a mistake because if an archer has been shooting well, and consistently enough to get in the lead, any attempt to change focus introduces an inconsistency which would, inevitably, adversely affect performance.
One archer mentioned an occasion when a coach deliberately dropped a pen on the floor in front of him when he was at full draw, obviously in a deliberate attempt to distract the archer. However, for the purposes of training an archer to cope with distractions, such as the media and the general public, I prefer the method used at Squad Training events in the past. Having forewarned the archers of their intentions, coaches would stand close behind an archer whilst they were shooting and talk about any unrelated subject; like the weather, about what they would be having for dinner, or any other subjects.
When I thought about it later in more depth, I realised how the talk on cave dwellers and the females’ loud voices might be applied to our sport, and many other sports. As our speaker at the Guild Meeting had suggested, if we had inherited within our genes these aspects of protection such as the female’s loud warning voice, then it would be logical to assume that any loud sound would interfere with our ability to concentrate on the process of the shot. However, a continuous sound, such as background noise, would not, or should not, interfere with the shot process. Contrary to that, of course, because of the inbuilt “fight or flight” syndrome, we would “come down” from a shot if an unexpected warning sound is heard, like a whistle, alarm bell, etc and, indeed, we have been taught to do so.
I know of some clubs who shoot in silence and others who are accustomed to shooting with background noise. This is obviously their choice, although those who shoot in silence would have no control over the environment when they shoot at an open tournament, where there is usually background noise. So which club policy is preferable when it comes to controlling or not controlling sounds? In my opinion, provided it is a democratic club decision of the majority of its members, each club has the right to adopt whichever environment they prefer.
If any archers do find their concentration is affected by background noise then it is important that they address the problem if they want to improve their performance. Perhaps one of the following suggestions might be of some help:
1) An archer could train whilst shooting in an environment with background noise, in order to learn just how to disregard it! Background noise can be looked upon by archers in different ways; some might be irritated by it, in which case it is certainly likely to affect their performance. However, if it is accepted as a normal sound of people enjoying themselves then the mind can start accepting it, without distraction. In fact, it could be described as a “beautiful noise”.
2) During practice sessions, another method of training oneself to be unaffected by sound, is to wear a small set of earphones, playing whilst you shoot. The sound on your earphones could either be music or people talking. It is best to choose whichever sound would normally distract you the most and shoot with complete disregard of the sound coming through into your ears. This method helps with your coping skills because it heightens your focus just where it needs to be. Of course, we cannot use earphones when on the shooting line in a competition, but they can be worn off the line, between ends. We cannot blame others for our own weakness, but it is in our own hands to turn that weakness into our strength.
3) Some archers find an effective method is to think of key stages within the shot process to concentrate on, without affecting the automatic sequence of the shot such as; feet position, hand position on bow, finger position on string, string alignment, thinking “Power and line” throughout the shot and taking notice of body position after the shot. Normally about three or four of these stages are used to keep the mind focussed when distractions are around. I am sure most archers are well aware that if the body (in the automatic mode) gives a signal that something is not quite right it is always essential to “come down” and re-run your shooting programme.
I must say that I was pleased at last to have related the speaker’s reference to cave dwellers and our sport in the nicest sense; I would say Troglodytes to Toxophilites!
As most of you probably know, the title of this article is from Neil Diamond’s song “What a beautiful noise”. I was going to write about one of the most successful talks I had attended on the subject of “RELAXATION”, but I fell asleep and missed most of it!
Tom Major / November, 2011