We bring you this month’s top archery book suggestions to add to your reading list, by Emma Davis and Tom Hall
The Inner Game of Tennis
Author: W. Timothy Gallwey
Publisher: Pan, first published in 1972
Although a fairly short read, at only 134 pages, the philosophy outlined in this book really gives pause for thought.
Amongst a litany of books claiming to deliver the secret formula to becoming a winner, Timothy Gallwey encouraging us to think about why we compete and what winning should actually mean remains a breath of fresh air.
Written and published in the 1970’s, when sports psychology was still fairly new, Gallwey’s theories were revolutionary at the time.
The first half of the book is dedicated to a concept that is now well established: the distinction between the conscious and subconscious self, rooted in the simple idea that the conscious has a tendency to interfere with the abilities and performance of the subconscious.
If you’ve read any of the more recent popular science books on psychology (The Chimp Paradox, Thinking Fast and Slow) then this idea won’t be new. However, the way it’s presented here feels different.
Greater thought is given to how this relationship between the conscious and the subconscious affects how we learn, with some wonderful insights that emphasize the detriment of over-coaching – detailed explanations of what students “should” be doing prompt over-engagement of the conscious mind.
The ideas about using exploratory learning, where you encourage students to discover the best technique themselves, provide a zen approach to mastery of skill that feels incredibly intuitive.
The section on games people play within themselves is likely to ring true for a lot of archers, particularly the discussion of common traps such as the relentless perfection of form, defining one’s self worth by winning or losing, or getting caught up in how your performance affects how you’re perceived by your peers. This mental game analysis leads neatly into a discussion on competition: why do we compete and who are we really competing with?
As Gallwey says: “If I assume that I am making myself more worthy of respect by winning, then I must believe that by defeating someone, I am making him less worthy of respect.”
This is an uncomfortable perspective that exposes some inherent problems in how we might perceive victory but prompts a rich exploration of what it truly means to win.
The theory here may have the potential to improve performance dramatically, but the true message is rooted in the thrill of the challenge and discovering the depth of our own capabilities.
As the title suggests, the book is about improving your tennis game, although much of it is actually more applicable to precision sports like archery that it would be to tennis.
Some of the cultural references have dated and a number of the points are anecdotal, but there is something beautifully elegant about Gallwey’s theory. In letting go of our conscious desires for success and recognition, we could perhaps uncover the pure joy of performance without judgement.
The Art of Repetition
Author: Simon Needham
Publisher: The Crowood Press, 2006
In the opening lines of his first book Simon wonders what he might have achieved had he known at the beginning of his archery career what he knew by the end of it.
The Art of Repetition is a result of his attempt to distil the learnings of a 20-year journey. This book shows its age, in the monochrome photos and homemade illustrations, but also as a result of the extreme level of detail Needham goes into on such diverse topics as entering competitions, arrow plotting and string building. Unfortunately, many of the specific references in these sections are now obsolete.
Assuming zero prior knowledge, we begin with Needham’s take on basic shooting technique and a guide to buying your first set of equipment.
The information presented is solid but very prescriptive, and it does seem likely that those coming across this book will have already completed a beginners’ course covering the majority of this content.
Equipment is a strong theme in several detailed follow-up chapters, and in particular Needham’s guide to setting up a bow provides excellent step-by-step instructions.
However, he also provides plenty of detail on the how and the why: for example, he takes the time to illustrate exactly how the tiller bolts change the limb pocket angle and as a result the bow poundage.
This is invaluable to the archer who wants to understand, rather than regurgitate, these methods.
Some of the chapters which serve as introductions to other broader areas of sports performance aren’t as strong. The discussion on psychology starts well: discussing the role of the conscious mind in skill execution, but soon diverts into an almost encyclopaedic explanation of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and learning style preference theories that are still not fully proven to be effective today.
The chapter on fitness is also flawed, containing such instructions as to focus gym programs only on “light weights and high numbers of repetitions”. This may have been the prevailing wisdom at the time but is strongly contradicted by the practices of current elite archers.
However, it is at least nice to see the importance of exercise, rest and nutrition being emphasised, as these aspects often get passed over!
Overall then, The Art of Repetition is perhaps best considered an unusual reference text, although the book remains in print and is a familiar sight on the not-well-stocked archery section in larger bookstores.
Needham’s DIY attitude and clear guidance on aspects of equipment may well provide the inspiration needed to overcome a nagging issue. Although not a riveting page-turner, there is a lot to be learned here for the beginner to intermediate archer.
Ultimately, very few books manage to achieve the golden trinity of affordability, quality, and breadth, and Needham has managed a reasonable compromise on all three.