Better 3D Archery Scores Through Mental Preparation – Some people take 3D archery more seriously than others. Some are happy to simply get out and shoot their bows and socialize with friends so just don’t get too concerned about scores. Many shooters don’t even keep score, an attitude I find puzzling, as it precludes accurately gaging improvement. Others take 3D quite seriously, competing for that $7 trophy as if a big-money payday were on the line. I’d guess the vast majority are like me. I thoroughly enjoy the time outside with friends, relating hunting tales and retelling jokes between targets, while also striving to shoot the best scores possible. I usually—not always—don’t care how I stack up against other shooters, competing only with myself in the quest to improve overall skills and eliminate as many bad shots as possible. The sport of 3D archery, after all, was originally conceived to serve as realistic off-season practice in preparation for serious bowhunting—before target-heads, as they do with everything archery related, took it over and turned it into something else. My overriding attitude is that if I can’t cut it on the 3D range, I have no business shooting at live animals.
Better 3D Archery Scores Through Mental Preparation – Cultivating Positivity
A good showing on the weekend 3D course starts with smart practice at home or on the range. After the mechanics of establishing solid shooting form and building muscle tone that allows a solid hold at full draw, everything remaining is mental in nature. Every archer’s goal should be to ingrain a mindset that makes executing a technically perfect shot more important than everything else. This is NOT accomplished by the usual approach and seeing how many arrows you can send downrange during a given shooting session. Every single shot must stand alone, and every single shot must be executed perfectly.
If you have been shooting a while you likely understand where your shortcomings lay. Maybe you’re dealing with midrange target panic, where holding steadily on target becomes a challenge or you rush each shot. Maybe you tend to punch the trigger each shot. Perhaps you’re a “peeker,” jerking the bow arm away each shot in an attempt to watch your arrow hit the target.
You may even be dealing with several of these problem simultaneously—not so uncommon with self-taught archers.
If you have no idea what your real problem is but sense that you should be shooting better, it might be time to admit this aloud and seek the help of a professional archery coach. A good number of pro shop owners are accredited in some way to teach others the fundamentals of shooting a bow. Seeking help should not be cause for embarrassment. I’ve been shooting a bow for more than 40 years and still find a professional session helpful for working through problems. Sometimes a detached, critical eye is just what an archer needs to cure a reoccurring shooting ailment.
If you’re going this on your own, don’t attempt to solve all of your shooting issues at once. Tackle them on an individual basis before moving on. For instance, spend a couple weeks working on only a thorough follow-through, standing close to the target if needed and striving to continue aiming with complete focus on each shot until the arrow sinks into the target. It might help to pretend that by intensely concentrating on follow-through, burning a hole through the aiming point and holding your aim until the arrow strikes, you can mentally guide your arrow true. This will cure most shooting slumps.
The release is another common problem. Many archers poise their index finger over the trigger like a coiled snake, striking as the correct pin slides across the aiming point. In theory the release cut-away should come as a complete surprise, first allowing the proper pin to settle in solidly before gently squeezing the release trigger. Target panic, the inability to aim or settle in or anchor solidly requires more work, and time, moving close to a large, blank target butt and working on shot mechanics with no results-driven feedback that causes shooting anxiety.
There is a lot of information out there today, via books, magazine articles and the internet. Study, heed that advice and use the discipline necessary to work through shooting problems.
Better 3D Archery Scores Through Mental Preparation – The Concentration Switch
One of the most common problems I witness, and experience personally, during 3D tournaments is lack of serious concentration while shooting in a social setting. You get into the middle of a hunting story, are told it’s your turn to shoot, so step up and quickly fling an arrow in order to get back to the story. Archery, as already hinted, is intensely cerebral. A multitude of moving parts requires intense concentration to execute correctly. I’ve always contended that great archers like Howard Hill, Byron Ferguson or Levi Morgan likely have a greater ability to flip intense concentration on and off like a light switch.
To reach your full shooting potential you’ll need to develop the ability to flip that switch on and off at will. To this end I’ve long engaged in intense mental visualization exercises. This requires quiet alone time to develop initially, visualizing yourself executing the perfect shot in an all-sensory experience. This means you’re not only envisioning yourself making a perfect shot, but feeling it, hearing it, even smelling it. There are real emotions involved, including the performance anxiety that can hinder shooting your best. By striving to make visualizations as real as possible you can trick your brain into believing it has actually executed a perfect shot, which instills confidence. During these exercises you should also learn to willingly conjure an aiming spot—whether a glowing laser dot (my approach), or a lucky object carried in your pocket daily.
With practice this approach allows cutting away from socializing, stepping up to the stake, taking a moment to switch on that all-important concentration, estimating range, creating an aiming spot and slipping into a Zen-like mode. Take your time. Avoid obsessing about score, or how your friend’s score compares to yours. All that is important is executing a technically perfect shot—nothing else matters, not even where your arrow lands. Of course, after willing yourself into this state, and pulling off that technically perfect shot, odds are good your arrow WILL impact in the spot.
I used to be pretty antisocial during 3D tournaments, especially back in the day when I was the person to beat in regional traditional-only class. I talked to no one and did not socialize while shooting. I was boring and likely viewed as a snob. After learning to better control my concentration switch I was able to fully enjoy the social experience while still shooting my best.
Even more importantly to me, this healthy mental training followed me into the hunting field. The importance of executing technically perfect shots superseded the anxiety of filling a tag or collecting high-scoring antlers and helped me reach beyond buck fever and general jitters that make bowhunting so addicting. After making a perfect shot on game I’d have all the time needed to revel in that adrenaline rush that comes to every thinking hunter after a hard-won kill.
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Better 3D Archery Scores Through Mental Preparation