Archery has come a long way over the last few years, with professional archery booming and more archers dedicating 100 per cent of their careers to shooting. This is great for the sport and I am glad to see it grow. However, sometimes this makes it seem more difficult for the archers that are not able to commit that much time to the sport. For some of us, archery is and always will be our fun hobby but not our profession. The reality is we have jobs, families and other commitments that limit the amount of time and money we can put towards it. There were times in my life when I had most of the day to dedicate to shooting my bow but now that I have a wife, a boy and more grey hairs on my head it seems life has put limitations on my shooting. Despite other things consuming my time I have still found ways to stay fit and still see improvements in my archery. I want to assure all of you out there that your best archery could still be inside you. This article is dedicated to the archers that love to shoot, want to improve, but just don’t have the time and space to get it done.
The older I get the more I see the importance of setting a schedule. I’ve never been fond of making plans because I always thought that plans were made just to be broken. However with archery, or any other sport for that matter, a schedule is the only thing that will keep you doing it. I know it’s hard but you need to find the days in the week or the time of the day when you have the least on your plate. That is where you need to schedule your archery practice. During my best years as a competitor and champion I shot less than 400 arrows a week. This number may still seem high, but really it is extremely low for the level that I was shooting at.
During those years I worked an average of 60 hours a week and the only time I could find to practise was during my lunch break. I could punch out for lunch, grab my bow and target, and shoot for about 45 minutes. I ate my lunch between ends and while I pulled arrows. During the winter months my boss let me shoot inside in the back of the building, and during the summer I shot out by my car. I put into practice something that I have written about in the past, which is shooting more arrows per end than you need to for competition. For example, when I shot outdoors for FITA I shot 12 arrows per end, and indoors I shot six arrows per end. When I practised for field I would shoot six arrows instead of three. This helped me get more reps in less time, and spend less time walking to and from the target. This is also why many of the photos of my groups you have seen over the years were 12 arrow groups.
For some of you it may be difficult to do this the same way that I did, but maybe you can apply the same principle during a time of day that you can squeeze in a session. Maybe if you have a place to shoot in the garden it is early in the morning before the family is up and moving, or possibly later in the evening. That is up to you, but either way you need to pick a time and make that your archery time. It doesn’t matter if it is just for 30 minutes, just make the time. This honestly worked for me and although it wasn’t near the commitment many of the other top-level professionals were showing, it was still plenty of time for me because I was consistent in doing it. It was part of my daily schedule and ultimately became part of my routine. Another important part of this limited practice time wasn’t just the scheduling part, it was also about the focus during it.
Finding your focus
When it comes to maximising your practice time there is one very key ingredient: undistracted focus. Since time is of the essence, the last thing you need during your archery time is a distraction. The best thing to do is to pretend you are in a movie theatre and just disconnect from the world. The #1 rule is to turn off your mobile phone. Believe me, this will help tremendously. During the years that I was practising during my lunchtime I left my phone in my office and just walked away from it. You would do it for a movie, so why not do it for archery? Your quantity of arrows may not be all that high but the quality of arrows will be if you are focused. I look at this the same way as any sports training. How often do you see football players practicing with their mobile phones on their hips? How often do you see the coaches letting their best friends come into the stadium to hang out and socialise during the practice? Never. Coaches set practice locations and times so that the athletes can focus on just the sport for that allotted time. It is an absolute, and if you are serious about being your best then you need to make this rule an unbreakable one.
Another big part of my competitive shooting is my overall fitness and health. When my fitness is at its best then my shooting
has been as well. Over the years, I have given a lot of credit to fitness being part of my success and I am glad to see our sport is really starting to take that seriously. I apply the same kinds of rules to my fitness and I have seen a lot of progress over the years because of it. I wear headphones during my runs or weight lifting when other people are at the gym simply because it prevents me getting into conversations. My fitness time is as limited as my shooting time, so I have to make a little bit of time go a long way. I disconnect from everyone, and focus to make the most of a minimal amount of time. One thing I will say is that being in shape has helped me power though tournaments with limited practice. Overall health plays a huge part in archery.
I was fortunate to spend a lot of time in England for a few years. One of the reasons I’m glad I did was because my stays there gave me a whole new perspective on limitations in practice. I learned to make the most of limited time in a limited space. Not only did I struggle to find time but the space was also difficult to come by. I was lucky to find a club and thankful they let me join in, but the club was only able to shoot in the hall once per week. That was really tough. At times I felt anti-social because I wasn’t talking with everyone, as I was trying my best to focus during that one day.
The once a week practice just couldn’t cut it for me, so I learned to be creative. I found several different options so that I could practise while staying in the UK. First was the archery club, and then I found a fencing club down the road that had an indoor building about 18 metres long. Fencing lessons were really cheap so I booked the fencing instructor a few days a week for an hour. When I got there I brought my bow and my portable target in and told him I just wanted to shoot and he could take a rest. It cost me a few pounds an hour but it worked. I had a place to practise, and every now and then I would take a few fencing pointers for a mental rest from shooting my bow and to keep the instructor happy.
Other times of the year I would have to move my practice locations depending on what was happening with the fencing and archery club. Again, I had to be creative to find a place to shoot. My wife found a customer at her bank that had a community centre for children. She struck a deal for me to trade some community service for an awesome place to shoot outdoors. This was where I did most of my training for field competition. The bottom line is, if you look hard enough you can find a place to practise even where when space seems extremely limited. If all else fails, you can shoot in the house from the TV room into the dining room on a portable target. *Important note – the wife may not be too keen on this one so you may want to keep it on the down low.
Lastly, you should never overlook practising at close range when time and space are limited. It is a great way to work on form and repetition. There is nothing that says you need to shoot at longer distances to be a good archer. Good form is the key to shooting well and for many people close-range shooting is really the best way to keep them from getting target panic. I have spent many hours shooting inside a small room in the house at a close target. This is a great time to focus on posture, the release and shot rhythm. Don’t fall back on the excuse of you don’t have a place to practice because if all else fails, find a room in the house where you can shoot up close.
I was lucky to have several years of my life dedicated to shooting competitively and travelling around the world with different archery teams. I cherish those years and really feel that without them I wouldn’t be able to share so many articles and experiences that my readers can relate to. I thoroughly enjoyed being a professional and liked to be able to shoot at a competitive level where only perfect scores could advance you. What I feel most proud of is that I did it on a schedule that I think many people can make possible if they put some effort and committment in to it. Years back, when I was trying to find places to practise, I trained a young archer in the UK, and in return for the coaching I could use his outdoor shooting area. One thing that I noticed was that because he had unlimited access to his outdoor range he spent way too much time there. I felt he was overtraining, and his quality of practice was low. I really tried to convince him that high volumes of arrows weren’t what it took to be a great archer. Really, it isn’t about how much your can practise. It’s about how well you practise. Practise well my friends, no matter how much time you have, and you will surprise yourself.