Archery books

The essential archery library you need – and why
By Emma Davis and Tom Hall

With Winning in Mind

Author: Lanny Bassham
Publisher: Mental Management Systems, first published 1988


With Winning in Mind is a manual for the Mental Management System developed by Lanny Bassham, who used it to great effect for a number of years whilst dominating the international world of rifle shooting, including winning Olympic gold in 1976.

In shooting sports and golf, the resulting philosophy and mental training techniques have generally been positively received, and it is a popular book amongst serious archers – but we believe it deserves a particularly thorough discussion because it is definitely not a method that will suit everyone.

Early on in the book Lanny lays out key principles, making the methods clear and easy to follow. However, the aggressive ‘my way or the highway’ approach implies this method is the only one worth considering.

When introducing the Mental Management System, he goes as far as to suggest his principles “govern how the mind works” with as much certainty as the laws of gravity.

He also claims explicitly that these principles “work for all people, all the time,” seemingly expecting his work with highly successful sporting individuals to stand as anecdotal evidence.

The Bassham method is particularly dominant in American recurve archery. Brady Ellison, USA Archery team shooter and three-time Olympian, is one of the higher profile advocates of the system within our sport.

In an interview in the run up to the 2012 Olympics, where he won a silver team medal, Ellison said: “I work religiously on my mental game. I think that alone makes me stronger than anyone else.”

Here Ellison is affirming, publicly, that he is “stronger than anyone else.” This level of confidence and self-belief, particularly when dealing in absolutes, is central to the With Winning In Mind philosophy. 

The section on positive affirmations reflects the importance of a belief so strong that it is basically faith.

A positive affirmation is a statement where you take something you want to be true (e.g. a goal to be national champion) and write it as though it has already happened: “I am a national champion.” The basic theory is that you then read this affirmation daily until it comes true.

Lanny boldly claims that one of two things will happen: you will stop repeating it or it will come true. 

The perceived positive impact of this is mainly because if you repeat something enough times you will begin to believe it. Believing you have already achieved a goal can take some pressure off; if you’ve already done it then doing it again is easy, right?

If your self-image is strong then it is easier to allow your subconscious to take over, leading to better results. By the time Lanny got to the Olympics in 1976 he had already won the gold medal hundreds of times in his mind. 

However, this argument isn’t without flaws. Imagine a scenario: you have spent the previous 12 months affirming daily that you are the winner of XYZ championships, but on the day an early-round opponent shoots an astonishing match and knocks you out.

Can you detach yourself and restart the process? How many times can you maintain 100% certainty that you will win without actually winning? This method can be used to great effect, especially if you are at, or close to, the pinnacle of your chosen sport and win fairly regularly, but an underdog may find the methods less beneficial. 

The idea of building a mental program is a concept frequently used in archery. As a key element of our sport is being able to find consistency between shots, it makes sense that we should aim for consistency in our thoughts.

The concept here is reasonably sound, but the execution is once again rigid, splitting the program up into defined chunks. However, this style of guidance may be good for the archer who wants an off-the-shelf routine they can implement straight away, and Lanny does encourage personal reflection on the content.

While a lot of the theories behind this book do have scientific basis, the specific methods outlined are mostly based on anecdotal evidence.

The Mental Management System and its strict rules appear to have worked very well for a number of international athletes, including Ellison, but it is impossible to say how reduced their achievements would have been otherwise.

It is also important to consider whether the same methods will make sense for World Champions, emerging athletes and club archers. It seems unlikely.

The key message here is that reading one sports psychology book does not a consistent winning mindset make, even if you learn every word by heart.

This book is a valuable contribution to shooting psychology; by all means read it, discuss it, use it, but make sure it’s not the only book you read. Research around the topic and find a method that works for you, not just for famous faces.

It’s possible that this system is a perfect fit, but it’s worth taking time to try different approaches and see what feels right. 

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