Traditional archery can do a lot of things for a lot of people. It can perk you up when things are at their darkest, it can give life to those who feel the opposite, and it can give purpose to those who feel useless. It can also work wonders for the quiet and shy.
I’ve worked with a variety of kids and have noticed time and again that it is the tentative, awkward kids that benefit the most from the experience. While it is fun to watch an athletic, confident youth swagger to the line and break every balloon he looks at, it is the underdogs that keep my passion for archery education burning in my chest. They might get one arrow off in five minutes of instruction and miss every target, but it makes no difference. When they do connect, the result is nothing short of magic.
The youths I am referring to are easy to spot. The younger ones are usually very quiet – stuck to their parents legs like velcro until their time comes to take the line. Some of them never do. For whatever reason, that first step is too hard. In situations like this, I am thankful for the parents who are patient enough to accompany them to the line and their respective coach. Many don’t. They have things to do and having “Junior” act up in public is too embarrassing to deal with in a crowd. I can’t really blame them, I’ve been in trying situations myself with a two and four year old, but I applaud those who ignore the urge to evacuate and stick out the humility for a chance to see “Junior” put himself out there.
This applies to little “Jodi” as well.
The older versions are similar, clinging to the edges of the crowd and shuffling forward while other kids clamor to the front to take their second or third turn. Their reasoning is a bit different than their younger counterparts. It is the fear of looking foolish in front of their peers that keeps them at bay. The “cool” factor has infected them…and the only thing less “cool” than a bow and arrow is missing with one in front of people.
There is hope for these kids, but a greater effort is needed. One of my Michigan Longbow Association colleagues is excellent at this. He prowls the parameter of the range, engaging the masses like a carnival barker. Does he make a fool of himself? Absolutely, but it works. I’ve seen it work time-and-time again. He makes himself look foolish in front of everyone so “Too Cool” isn’t afraid to. Once he’s onto a potential shooter, he doesn’t let up, and it almost always pays off. It is this selfishness and persistence that is necessary to reach a complicated kid and construct an archer out of the unlikeliest of candidates.
I’m convinced that every kid wants to shoot a bow, but the obstacles of youth get in their way. All you have to do is identify these obstacles and remove them. Any coach, parent, grandparent, or sibling can do that if they genuinely try. It gets easier with practice, I can tell you that much.
I’ll never forget an interaction I had with a young lady (we’ll call her Christine) at Kelloggsville Elementary School. She was in 3rd grade, skinny as a rail, and extremely shy. I could tell by looking at her she wanted absolutely nothing to do with the bow and arrow, the “archery award day” we’d been asked to coordinate for her class, or yours truly. You can trust me on the latter, I know when a female doesn’t want me around!
We had only five minutes to work together, so after a minute of awkwardly staring at each other, I put a bow in her hand, nocked an arrow to the string, turned her towards the targets, and proceeded to try to pop a balloon. She looked at me like I was nuts, so I asked her to be a “puppet”, while I guided her through the shot. After a minute of awkward fumbling, the arrow flopped off the bow and bounced harmlessly to the ground a mere five yards down range. My pupil was annoyed with the result, so with only a minute or so to spare I turned her loose and simply asked her to look at one of the balloons and pop it.
Nothing could’ve prepared me for what happened next. She lined up how I showed her, nocked the arrow to the string, brought her bow arm up and cast the most perfect arrow I’d seen all morning into the center of a large green balloon, which evaporated with the most triumphant of “POPS”. She peered at me over her round, wire-rimmed glasses and grinned mischievously. I was stunned.
“Did you just do that?” I laughed, handing her another arrow. She nodded. “Well I’ve got to see that again! Pop that pink one.”
She took the arrow as if on a mission, brought the bow to a shooting position, and popped the pink balloon. She looked up at me, eager to see my reaction, and wasn’t disappointed. I was whooping around like an idiot, and her smirk turned into a wide toothy grin.
I handed her a third arrow, as a crowd of classmates began to form behind us. “Wow…Christine is really good at this!” One boy said. “Get another one Steen!” A little girl yelled. With all the attention and encouragement fueling her fire, she popped a third balloon, then a fourth, and then a fifth. When her sixth balloon exploded we were out of arrows, balloons, and time, and this girl was no longer a caterpillar. She’d transformed before our very eyes from the quiet, insecure little girl to a confident archer ready to show the world her new found skill.
She was destined for big things and I was proud to have been a part of it, even if that part was getting out of her way. I’d awakened something in her. Something truly special and I did it with a bow and arrow.
If that isn’t “powerful”, I don’t know the definition of the word.
Do you work with kids and have an experience you’d like to share? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments below. I would love to hear about them, and as always, check out www.michiganlongbow.org, because stuff like this is what we do!