Discussing form and shooting technique has little appeal to me.
This statement may seem a bit arrogant, but I don’t want to think about the details of my shooting. I just want the arrow to end up where I’m looking and find that constantly analyzing the process does anything but. If I’m drawing with my back and my bow arm is steady, I’m good to go.
I know many archers who are the opposite and are quite particular when it comes to their form. They are always making adjustments; always looking for the next tip to make their groups a little bit tighter. They watch videos, attend seminars, create “check my form” posts on social media, and even pay significant sums of money to attend clinics and learn the methods of other archers.
I have no issues with this. The passion we have chosen to pursue is full of nuances and half the fun is finding that particular thing that appeals to you the most. Whether its the pursuit of gear, hunting methods, or form, discovering what keeps you passionate is half the fun.
I applaud those who want to squeeze every last ounce of potential from themselves and respect those who are willing to help them do it. I am also very grateful for those who have developed methods to cure target panic. That is serious business and usually requires more than the story I’m about to tell you. Still, I’m going to tell it anyway. Why? Because whatever it is you are pursuing, I don’t want you to forget the bottom line.
I approach shooting like hitting a softball or a baseball. I’ve heard many use the baseball analogy as it applies to throwing a baseball, but think hitting one is the better of the two. It takes hours of daily practice to develop a good swing and years of playing to perfect it. In the beginning, you acquire muscle memory through repetition. You develop a powerful stance, a good eye, hip rotation, hand speed, and the habit of swinging through the ball. Once those elements are in place, it becomes a mental game. This is where it gets challenging. This is where players get tripped up and slumps happen.
Slumps require no explanation for those who have played the game. You probably shuddered at the mention of the word, in fact. Those who haven’t are blessed, but I will summarize the experience so we’re on the same page. Imagine you are good at something. Maybe even great. You do it every day and it is a crucial part of your life. You do it so well and so often, some even associate you with it. Now imagine not being able to do it anymore. It might not be noticeable to anyone else at first, but something isn’t quite right. You chalk it up to a bad day and move on. No big deal. Then the day becomes a week. Maybe two. You realize it isn’t just bad luck and grow frustrated. People start to notice. You notice that they notice and make excuses. Another week passes and it gets worse. You are out of excuses and are frantically searching for the problem. People question you. You question yourself. Your confidence begins to unravel.
This is how a slump feels. It is terrifying. Eerily similar to target panic, but I’m not going to jump down that rabbit hole right now. I’m focusing on slumps for the sake of this story.
I’ve always been a fair ballplayer and a good hitter. I’ve prided myself on the latter and have experienced more than my share of the dreaded “s” word. I powered through a terrible one my Senior year of high school. The season wasn’t very long, but I couldn’t hit anything for two weeks. I think I was two for twelve, which isn’t where you want to be when you bat in the heart of the order. I can think of few instances in my life when I was as frustrated as I was those two weeks. I couldn’t make solid contact and would just hit dribblers down the first base line. It escalated and I started asking Coach to watch me hit and tell me what I was doing wrong. I’d ask him every at bat, but he couldn’t help me. He was as befuddled as I was. My swing looked fine. I wasn’t chasing bad pitches. I wasn’t dropping my hands. The best he could come up with was speculation.
“I think you’re pulling your foot.”
“You might be opening your hips too soon.”
“Maybe you should try a lighter bat.”
“Maybe you should try a heavier bat.”
“Try moving up in the box.”
“Try moving back in the box.”
I was tied in knots. Nothing worked. My average was plummeting and I was hurting the team. I didn’t think I was ever going to get my swing back. Hitting was my favorite thing in the world and I was dreading every at bat. Let that sink in a minute.
Our next game was in Cadillac (Michigan). They were a rival and I remember it well. We played double-headers to make scheduling easier and there would be ample opportunity to hit (or not hit, which is where my head was at). I was still batting clean-up and can only assume it was because Coach didn’t want me to have a total meltdown. He needed me to snap out of it.
My first at bat went as expected. I asked him to watch me hit and promptly grounded out to first base. I didn’t feel right in the box. I was uncomfortable – focused on the worse case scenario. The following at bat was headed that direction, only this time Coach wasn’t having it. We took the field together. I was leading off the inning and he was trotting to third. I began to ask the question he’d grown accustomed to and, without breaking stride, he interrupted me with five words I’ll never forget:
“Just hit the ball Nick.”
Thats it. No more. No less. He continued on to third and I peeled off to the on-deck circle, while the pitcher warmed up. I watched every pitch, hand-to-mitt, for the next several minutes, taking cuts and repeating the words in my head like a mantra. The rock-and-fire motion of the pitcher combined with the “thwack” of the ball hitting the mitt put me in a trance of sorts. I was calm by the time the umpire called me to the plate. I crossed the chalky white lines of the box with a confidence I hadn’t had in weeks. When I dug in, every muscle in my body coiled with purpose. And when I looked at the pitcher, all I could see was the ball. I felt different. I felt powerful.
The first pitch was a lefty’s dream – over the plate and just a bit inside. I gave it hell. I could tell it was a good one by the way the aluminum flexed on contact. The ball left the bat and shot into right field, taking all of my doubt and anxiety with it. The ball didn’t stop until it hit the top of the fence. I think I ended up with a double, but it felt like so much more. I might have been standing on second, but I was on top of the world. I followed that up with a handful of others and my confidence grew with every swing. I didn’t make another out that evening. The slump was over.
I realize this is an archery blog and I’ve spent significant time babbling on about baseball, but if you swap the bat for the longbow and the ball for the arrow, you’ll find a lesson as clear as spring water. While the details are important, sometimes you need to get out of your head and just shoot the damn target.
TIP: If you are having an unsalvageable session, try putting the bow down and walking away. I’ve found this to be a better solution than breaking down the elements of your shooting and powering through. Doing so might just stretch a bad day into two or could form a bad habit that takes years to break.