You’ve got a big tournament coming up, and you’re putting in reps on the range. Have you ever wondered how pro archers prep for competition? We have, and so we asked Mathews pro Dan McCarthy, one of the best 3-D archers in the world, how he gets his equipment, form, practice routine and mental game in check ahead of a big event.
McCarthy always has two bows set up for whatever tournament season is on. He’s earned his reputation mainly as a 3-D pro, but he’s regularly made the finals at the biggest indoor tournaments as well, including the Vegas Shoot, the NFAA Indoor Nationals and the Lancaster Archery Classic.
McCarthy’s primary bow is his go-to for competition. It’s set up exactly the way he wants, and he doesn’t mess with it in the weeks leading up to a tournament. The second bow is a backup, and one he uses for experimentation: playing with draw length, draw weight, arrow setups and more. “Anything that I think might make me a little bit better,” he said. “You’ve got to try these things because you never know what might give you that edge.”
If he finds something that works a little bit better with his backup rig, that becomes his primary bow, and the other becomes his backup. But all experimentation stops seven days before a tournament.
“Whatever I’ve got set up on my primary bow at that time, I’m just going to shoot it and build confidence in that bow,” he said. “I don’t like to make changes at the last minute, because I want to know exactly what my equipment can do heading into a tournament.”
McCarthy has been shooting professionally for 20 years and knows his form well. He’s able to diagnose issues that arise in competition, which is key. “I’m always trying to improve my form,” he said. “You might not notice something when you’re practicing, but it shows up under tournament pressure. That’s something that I will then focus on before the next tournament.”
As an example, McCarthy said he might notice in a competition that he’s not making sure his bubble is perfectly level all through his shot. That’s an issue he will focus on before the next tournament. “I’m not going to try to fix it in competition, because that can make things worse,” he said. “The time to work on that is in practice.”
McCarthy likes to focus on one or two form issues at a time. “Whatever I feel is the weakest part of my form,” he said. “Then that’s likely to become a strong part of my shot, and so then I work on something else next time. This way I have a constant stream of things to work on that I cycle through.”
McCarthy believes every archer has to figure out their own practice routine. “You have to find out what works for you,” he said. For instance, McCarthy does not need to shoot eight hours a day, every day, to stay on top of his game. In fact, he believes that too much repetition can cause him to be fatigued toward the end of the 3-D season, which is when some of the biggest tournaments are held.
Other pros, however, like to shoot a lot of arrows every day. The key, McCarthy said, is to figure out what you need to do to put yourself in the best position as you head into a tournament. When McCarthy does practice, he likes to work on something specific — such as the form issues above — as opposed to simply putting arrows downrange.
McCarthy feels this is where a lot of archers can trip themselves up before a tournament.
“I don’t believe in just hyping myself up before a tournament and creating false confidence,” he said. “I fall back on experience to create realistic expectations.”
Understanding what you’re doing well and what you’re not doing well is critical as you head into a competition, according to McCarthy.
“If there’s something I’m having trouble with, I need to recognize that and use it to my advantage to keep me from making mistakes,” he said. “I’ve won tournaments by avoiding things that I knew I wasn’t doing well, and I’ve won tournaments by being aggressive when I felt I could.
“Understand your capabilities for a tournament, do an honest self-evaluation and then develop a strategy that works for your skills and your equipment.”