Don’t let guilt about not practising ruin the holidays for you. John Dudley shares his tips for staying sharp when you’re away from your bow
From time to time I ponder what kind of a subject I want to write about forBow International. I try to continue to give you things that I feel bring something new to the table each time. Sometimes that is tough because lots of the topics you read about are ones that can be talked about over and over. Most of my articles are on subjects that are recent hurdles of mine, or ones that a student has faced and I helped them overcome. This feature references back to the month my boy is off on school holidays, I had a horrendous travel schedule for seminars, and its was the best time of the year to enjoy the summer weather with my wife. With that in mind, the subject for this article is; “How to maintain your archery during travel or holiday season.”
R&R is good
Years ago I would feel guilty if I didn’t shoot my bow nearly every day. Some archers around me had schedules from coaches where they would shoot a certain amount of arrows every day. I was never a fan of that. My thoughts were that on certain days I would shoot well, but other days I wouldn’t. My opinion was that on days where things just weren’t going my way, why would I stand there and continue to enforce bad habits by instituting bad shots arrow after arrow? Life involves stress and lack of sleep at times. Days like those never seemed to be days where I was mentally all there to really focus on practising with perfect shot execution.
These are the days where it feels like you are just “going through the motions”. Experience has shown me that during these times we are all vulnerable to creating bad habits, for example target panic. I have been on a lot of archery teams where my colleagues didn’t perform well at an important event simply because they were just burned out from shooting too much. The reason I think it is important to be telling you this is so that you can come to the understanding that rest and recuperation are a good thing every now and then. Instead of feeling guilt about an obligation to always be shooting your bow, you should freely look forward to having your times away from the range. You can also follow in my footsteps and use these times of year to strengthen other important aspects of your game.
Strengthen your mind
I have found the best time to strengthen my mind game is during the times I’m not shooting my bow. For example, as I write this, I am sitting waiting to head to Dublin for a coaching clinic I have with Archery Ireland. Two days before this I was with a few UK shooters, and the week before I was with some French shooters. In two weeks I will be in Canada for a week-long tour doing the same. Point is, I knew two weeks ago that I was about to have nearly a month where I wouldn’t be able to shoot my bow much. It simply isn’t in the schedule. However, instead of worrying about not practising my shooting, I use times like this to do something much more important. I work on my head. These are the times of year that I invest in new mental improvement books and DVDs. I read, instead of shoot.
I think we all know the importance of having a strong head during competition. The mental side of competing is something that really separates the good from the great. Everyone wants to know how to improve his or her mental strength; I am here to tell you that during your down time is the best time. Long flights, long train rides or long days by the pool are the absolute perfect time for reading a new book. Books on sports psychology and gaining mental strength! I believe that as competitors we have three distinct things that we need to be well balanced. Our physical side, technical side, and mental side.
I enjoy working through books like this while lying poolside on a holiday much more than during a time where I am also trying to compete. It is best to have a clear head on things like that and let them soak in. I learned a lot about being a strong competitor by standing on a shooting line and facing people in the moment of truth. However, I have equally prepared for those moments when lying poolside on my March holidays in Mexico, where I would always take a new book on sport psychology. It kills two birds with one stone. I can build on my archery, without feeling the guilt of not practising, and I can get the benefits of a little R&R.
Time away from your bow should sometimes be looked at as a good thing, not a bad thing
Go for a run
I enjoy exercise all year long. That’s just me. Once again, I believe in balance. Balance of your gear, your mind and your body! Summer holidays are a great time to enjoy the benefits of a run on a beach. Going for a run through a new park while on a work trip is a great way to maintain your shooting skills when you can’t have your bow along with you. To some, that may sound like work, but for me it is a great time to build my mind and body. You heart rate is critical to your shooting performance. Many people overlook this. However, a healthy heart is related to healthy shooting. When your heart rate is low then your sight movement is low too. Building good cardio is a great way to steady your shot.
Some people just find easy excuses not to be active in their daily lives around home. However, when you are away on a work trip or away on a holiday you are going to have much more time on your hands. Why not take 30 minutes for a run? Start a new lifestyle and get used to stretching out your legs in the morning and waking yourself up physically and mentally. One thing that you may learn if you are reading your mind books is the importance of visualisation and positive imagery. These are things that help build a strong self-image that will certainly boost your performance during competition. Both visualisation and positive imagery are things that you can do while running.
Make it a goal to run with a purpose. Once again, don’t just do things to go through the motions. Do them with intent. I run to exercise my body, but also my mind. It’s a great time to breathe new life into your archery game. Build confidence by beating your old time and build a better self-image by improving in another area. I know it is sometimes hard to get motivated to start something like this if you aren’t doing it already, but let this be your motivation. A long, beautiful beach on a holiday is the perfect motivation. Tell yourself “I’m going to enjoy the entire length of this each day”. An important thing to remember is that motivation is what gets us going. Commitment is what keeps us going.
String it up
One of my best years as a competitor was 2005. I was committed to travelling to tournaments and shooting everything that I could. The problem was it was also my most busy time at work. I was averaging about 60-70 hours a week at work. I was at my desk hours before sunrise and got home hours after sunset. It was hard to find time to shoot. However, it was my best year and my shots were super solid and very crisp. The secret to that whole season was a simply piece of string and my trusty Carter release aid. I write a lot about shot execution: I believe this is the secret to archery. I practised perfect shot execution for hours and hours a day while I was on the phone at work. The customers on the phone may have heard a “click” every so often, but they never seemed to mind. I mastered my release aid by using my downtime to perfect my anchor, hand and thumb position, then learnt to pull continually until the shot fired with a surprise. I did this while using a string set to my draw length. It may sound like something I made up, but its not. I learned shot execution from shooting while on the phone.
All you have to do is take a piece of release rope and tie it off so that you have proper form at full draw. It is important that the length is correct because you need proper alignment to be able to pull through your shot. You want to be able to practise back tension as well as the release position. It is a great way to learn what I call the “pre-load”, which is the amount of pressure you apply to the trigger prior to starting your pull. Thumb position and pre-load are things that make each shot feel exactly the same or completely different. You can do it easily with the string. This also lets you gets lots of repetition without having to pull the bow back all day long. Pulling your bow eventually wears you down, and this system is a great training aid that doesn’t require wear and tear on the whole body.
Putting it into action
I’ve given you a few things to work on again. If you put them to use, they will work! Best-case scenario is that you have a holiday still ahead before the year is over. Worst-case scenario is that you have a lot of travel ahead for work. Either way, you can enjoy some archery during it without having to take your bow along for the ride.
Some important things to remember are that time away from your bow should sometimes be looked at as a good thing, not a bad thing. Don’t force yourself to shoot when your schedule is packed with other things. Use it as a time to free your mind, and also strengthen it. Also remember that “Motivation is what gets you going but commitment is what keeps you going.” You need to commit to yourself, lace up your trainers and breathe new life into your archery game. Lastly, remember you can practise your execution anywhere that you can take your release and a piece of string. No bow required! Be sure to enjoy the holiday season, and also your travel time for work as well my friends.