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Olympic Archery and becoming an Olympian

Q

Hello!

I am thinking of getting into Olympic Archery and competing. What steps should I go through in order to compete?

Curious,
Mark G.

A

Hello Mark!

A good question and my apologies if my answer is very long and actively dissuades you from competing. Olympic Archery is not for everyone and you will understand why as I go through the steps.

Step One - Learn how to shoot the old fashioned way using a recurve bow without using sights or gadgets. I think this is a problem for many new archers who want to jump straight into the Olympic style of shooting that they don't first learn how to shoot the old fashioned way. Traditional shooting requires the new archer to rely entirely on form and consistency. No gadgets and no sights. Perfect form. Gadgets are crutches for propping up archers who suffer from weak form.

Step Two - Determine whether you have any natural talent. This will become self evident during Step One. It is my opinion that archers should never go the Olympic route if they are doing it purely out of ego and have no natural talent. Don't judge yourself either, let other more experienced archers be the judge. If they are complimenting you on your skill and asking questions like "Do you compete?", "Have you ever competed?", "You have Robin Hood hidden in the trunk of your car right?" then you know what your next step is.

Step Three - Compete. There are plenty of traditional archery competitions out there. Pick a handful and go to maybe 5 of the competitions to start with.

Step Four - Take your winnings and buy Olympic equipment. Note that if you didn't win that much maybe you should repeat Step Three over again until you have enough winnings to pay for your expenditures plus the cost of buying Olympic equipment. Please note that when buying your equipment you don't need to buy the best. You just need all the basic Olympic gadgets and some cheap Olympic style arrows. The reason is simple - you will only end up losing or breaking a bunch of them anyway.

Step Five - Learn humility, perseverance and understanding. I am putting humility first because this is a big problem with Olympic archers who get into the sport out of ego and often lack skill, break under pressure and are easily distracted / overthink their shots. If you take the top 50 archers in the world and compare them the thing you will notice about the winners is that they are often very humble, came from humble beginnings, and they didn't break under the pressure of competition, media attention, nationalistic pride, etc. In Canada we are very guilty of putting too much pressure on our Olympic athletes and it is often the unknowns who win gold unexpectedly - and never repeat the feat because of all the media attention the 2nd time around. You are also going to need perseverance for all the practices and sacrifices you are going to be making. Practice, exercise, diet, strained or lost relationships, work complications, health complications, repetitive strain/sports injuries (eg. Archer's Elbow), etc. Lastly understanding - this is really about knowing yourself. Knowing when you are too excited to shoot properly, learning to control your emotions/adrenaline, etc. Becoming agitated can take a professional shooter and turn them into someone who starts shooting like a semi-pro.

Step Six - Diet. There is no easy way to say this. If you don't have the willpower to cut out the junk food from your diet then you are going to be at a physical and mental disadvantage when shooting. Think of this as one part mental conditioning and one part perfecting your physical body. You need to eat healthy to have a well oiled machine. This means lots of veggies, lots of protein, some carbs for extra energy since you are training, and vitamins / supplements. If you smoke or drink you also need to quit those cold turkey. You can drink after you win.

Step Seven - Exercise. This will many different exercises including possibly jogging, yoga, yogic breathing, weightlifting, body weight exercises, stretching for flexibility, swimming, cross-training with similar form oriented sports (golf, tennis, javelin, etc).

Step Eight - Expanded Competition. During steps 4, 5, 6 + 7 you should have continued competing in traditional archery competitions. The goal of continuing to compete in those competitions is to prepare yourself mentally for the challenges that await you when you start entering your first Olympic style competitions. Chances are likely you won't win anything during the first 5 competitions you attend. Not to be redundant, but they are very competitive and you are likely facing a mix of people better than you, mediocre, and even egotists who broke under pressure.

Step Nine - Dealing with Failure. How a person deals with their failures is often a sign of their character. Do they give up and sell their equipment, possibly never doing archery ever again? Or do they practice, exercise, diet and keep trying. The road to success if marked by failures, so how you deal with failure is equally as important as how you deal with success (don't let winning go to your head either - winning one competition doesn't make you Robin Hood).

Step Ten - Coaching. At some point you will be approached by a coach asking if you are looking for an archery coach. This is when you know you are ready for the next stage in your training. However a word of caution. Don't sign up with the first coach you meet. Browse around first. Find a coach who fits your needs, is conveniently located and has lots of time to be training / mentoring you. And to follow the theme I have going here, don't choose a coach who is all about winning and ego. Instead consider the person who had an illustrious Olympic career and is now retired and doesn't even coach. If you can coax them out of retirement to take up coaching you won't just be finding an excellent coach, you will be making a lifelong friend you will guide you all the way. Plus having a coach who has zero other students means you will have their undivided attention and a coach who has more time for training you. (Some of the archery coaches out there - including myself I admit - follow the mantra of teaching many students in the hopes of fostering new generations of archers and they don't really have time to be dedicating to coaching one student 3 - 4 times per week. I am not against limiting myself to one student or only a few students, but at present I quite enjoy introducing new people to the sport of archery.)

Note - Some people may follow a different order of events than what I have listed above. The exact order is not too big of an issue (eg. Step Nine might easily come after Step Three), but I do actively discourage people from getting into Olympic archery too quickly. Learn to shoot first, learn the basics of competition, don't rush into a huge time/money investment just because of your ego.

I know it may seem like I am beating a dead horse here, but Olympic archery is rife with egotists who break under pressure - or worse, barely know what they are doing because they never learned the basics or skipped over several steps I outlined above (eg. You can always spot the archers who don't exercise or diet because they get tired easily and botch their shots).

For example South Korean archers going through rigorous mental conditioning to prepare them for the Olympic games - activities like mountain climbing, sitting under a freezing cold waterfalls, etc. The kind of stuff you might imagine heroic warriors doing while training during a quest. The goal of the mental conditioning is to teach the archers humility, concentration skills and to prepare them for the rigors of competition - a place where having an over-inflated ego will be an Achilles Heel.

And their training appears to be working. South Korea currently holds 75% of the world's Olympic archery records for highest scores for men's, women's, men's team and women's team archer.

So my advice is to stay humble. Keep training with both traditional and Olympic. Don't let the gadgets in Olympic archery become the crutch which holds you back. Quality archer form and mental conditioning trumps gadgets.

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