Nicola Turner has 16 ways to wake up your indoor game
The indoor season is sometimes seen as the poorer relation of the outdoor season when it comes to archery, for multiple reasons: there isn’t any Olympic glory to be had at 18 metres, it’s repetitive, the facilities are more limited (and/or cramped when you get there) – we’ve heard it all and probably said most of it at one point or another, too. The winter months are busy and expensive enough as they are without having to add training time and range fees into the equation, but making the most of your indoor season can have multiple benefits.
Here are our top tips for getting the best out of the indoor season.
1. Keep shooting
We know – the days of balmy summer evenings are long gone, and getting to the range after a long day at work can feel more like a chore than something to look forward to. You haven’t seen daylight in a week, and cosying up at home can definitely be more appealing than lugging your gear to a cold and draughty sports hall. However, staying with it over the winter will mean you have far less to do to pick it up again when summer eventually rolls back around, both in terms of fitness and technique.
2. …or take a break
If you have done a lot over the outdoor season and are feeling tired, burnt out, or like you’ve fallen into a bit of an archery rut, take a couple of weeks away from archery to rest, recuperate, and come back to it with a fresh mindset. Exhaustion is going to do precisely nothing for your scores. You can shoot all winter but if you’re tired before you start you won’t get the best from your training time, so take some time off and use it to evaluate what it is you like most about shooting – and take that renewed appreciation back to the range with you.
3. Get your gear in order
If you’ve shot a full outdoor season in all weathers, this is a perfect time to go over all your kit and make sure it’s still performing at the standard it should. Give everything a clean down, tighten all the screws that should be tight, and check all your measurements. Does anything need replacing or updating? With Christmas (and the Boxing Day sales) happening at this time of year, it’s a perfect opportunity to pick up anything you need with enough time to break it in before heading outdoors again. (Check our guide to winter maintenance, too).
4. In with the new
If you’re one of those lucky people who had archery kit on your Christmas wishlist, the indoor season represents a great opportunity to incorporate new gear into your setup without it interrupting a major competition period. Add new items one at a time, and evaluate how it all feels before adding the next bit. This way, you can better identify if a particular kit addition is working for you, or if something needs further tweaks or more practice to get used to.
Indoors is a great time for tuning – when there’s no malign influences from the weather to take into account, you know your results are going to be far more reliable. Look for the angle at which your arrows are hitting the target – are they straight, or are they going in leaning one way or another? Does your bare shaft land with the fletched group? Are you shooting bullet holes through paper? There’s not the space for a full tuning guide here, but there are plenty of reputable ones out there that will take you through the process.
6. Personal overhaul
Once you’ve got your setup shooting just how you like it, why not use the indoor season to give yourself an archery MOT? Set up a session with a coach you trust to give you an honest appraisal of your form, and any areas you could work on. Even if you don’t have ready access to a coach, you can still use this time to identify any flaws in your technique. Write down your shot routine, and get a friend or shooting buddy to film you going through your shot cycle. Watch it back, and compare it to the shot routine you’ve written down – do they match? Are you doing what you think you’re doing? For example, is your release hand following the line of the arrow on your follow-through, or dropping away from your jaw? World Archery has some great short videos from the pros breaking down their shot routine on their YouTube channel – what are you doing differently?
7. Plot your groups
This is an excellent exercise to do indoors, and one that can help with both your tuning and form work. Take a fresh target face and, if you’re able, shoot at it solo for the whole session. If you’re sharing details, mark your arrow holes with a pen. Try and make sure they’re good shots; if you start to get tired and you notice your form suffering with it, take a break or call it a night and take your target face back for analysis. Look at the spread of your groups on the face. Do you have a tight central group with one or two wide strays? Is your group taller than it is wide, or stretching to the left or right? Where do your bad arrows go? While this can indicate a tuning issue, it can also point to some technique flaws you might be able to identify, for example, consistent wide arrows to one side might indicate you are canting the bow on a few shots, or have an occasional plucking release.
Keep yourself in the competitive swing of things by heading to a tournament or two over the indoor season. There’s plenty going on – and more variety available than you might think. Three-spot or even five-spot rounds are good to try and shoot if you can – the slightly different aiming points force you to pay attention to your stance and front shoulder, so if there are any weaknesses there these type of rounds will show them up so you can work on them.
If you want to, you can even take competing indoors all the way to the international level, with the World Archery Indoor World Series open to everyone who wants to take part, as are events like Kings of Archery and the Vegas Shoot, giving you experience of mixing it with the pros for the prize money.
9. Team up
Lots of counties, regions and clubs run winter leagues, offering you the chance to compete with other clubs and archers in your area from the convenience of your home range. Check with your club records officer to see if your club is signed up to one, and put your scores in. This is also a good way of tracking your scores over the winter months, and attempting to beat your score from the previous month is a fun challenge you can set yourself. If your club isn’t involved in one, rally some team mates and get in touch with the league organiser to submit your scores.
10. Game on
If you’re looking for a break from score-chasing, indoors is a perfect opportunity to organise some fun nights with your club mates. With a smaller range and shorter shooting line than outdoors, it’s far easier to co-ordinate archery games indoors than outdoors, and engages the social side of the sport for those that are less competitive. Balloon-popping is popular with juniors (and adults too, to be fair), noughts-and-crosses-style game faces can easily be drawn up on a blank boss with some masking tape, and ‘shoot down’ games with the whole line shooting at a target face decreasing in size until there’s one person left in are an easy way to get everyone involved.
Why not take a step back from the shooting line yourself, and get involved with beginner’s courses? If your club runs beginner sessions over the winter, volunteering to help out at these is an alternative way of keeping your hand in over the indoor season. Nothing sharpens your understanding of good technique like having to explain it from scratch to someone who’s never done it before!
Always wanted to try shooting with angled twin rods, or some new sight pins? Now is a good time to do it. If you try it and don’t like it, it’s easy to swap back to your regular setup, but, if a change is going to work for you, you have plenty of time to adjust to it before going back to long distances again. Make sure you record what you’ve changed and how it feels, so you can change it back if it’s not working for you. This is a good time to experiment with clothing, too.
If the indoor season has you nostalgic for the summer just gone, why not use it to properly evaluate your outdoor performance this year? It can be as basic or as detailed as you like, but an easy way to get started is to fill in a calendar of the summer months – start with the main archery events you did, and fill in your results, then add any significant other events, such as work trips. If you can remember, estimate how much training you got in the weeks between your events, and where you made any alterations to your equipment or technique. Did a significant rise or drop in your results correspond with an increase or decrease in the amount of practice time you had before them? Did a change in equipment or a new bit of technique have a significant impact? It sounds simple, but it’s easy for things like that to get lost in the middle of all the preparation, travelling, and competing, so using some down time to evaluate what worked for you, and when, can help you go into the next season with a better idea of how to manage it.
Following on from that, spending some time over the winter months to plan your next outdoor season is also worthwhile. Look back at the evaluation of last year you did: what events do you want to do again? Are there any you want to swap for something else? Fill those in on a calendar, and add any personal events you know are coming that will need to be scheduled for – perhaps a big work project is going to fall due, or you have a family birthday to plan. Look round those for your practice time, and see how much you have in the run-up to each event. Is there enough? Do you need to remove anything from your calendar in order to get the right amount of rest you need?
15. Mental Game
The indoor season is great for honing your mental focus and discipline. It’s much closer than outdoors – in terms of physical space as well as score – and with hardly any time elapsing between a shot being loosed and the arrow hitting the target, and being able to see the arrow when it lands, means it can easily get stressful and have you thinking about your score instead of your shot process.
One of the things you can try is to shoot with an off-set sight. This forces you to aim off in order to get your arrows into the gold, and is great practice not just for getting comfortable with holding over another area on the target, but for learning to trust that your arrows will group if the shot is good even if they’re not where you’re looking. Another thing that is great for sharpening your focus is to go head-to-head with one of your club mates. This is a quick and easy way to add more pressure to your shot and is great for simulating tournament nerves in a practice environment so you can learn to handle them better.
Just because the rounds are shorter and the walking distances lesser, doesn’t mean fitness is any less important when it comes to getting the most out of your archery. It is, however, harder to maintain if your arrow numbers are limited by hall hire times, but you can add reversals and bow drills to the end of your session for an added benefit. You can also do these at home, and maintain your bow fitness year-round, but make sure you’re setting up and drawing with proper form as it’s no good practicing bad technique.