Eliana Claps and Jack Williams of Team USA are successful archers who have benefited from the encouragement of coaches and mentors to advance and pursue their archery careers. They note the importance of having multiple perspectives: someone who coaches you frequently, someone for emotional support and someone who focuses on specific aspects of your form. The support from their families, mentors and coaches has helped them rise to the challenge of becoming professional archers, and they’re already achieving great things. Maybe that will soon include a spot on the Olympic stage in Tokyo.
A360: How were you introduced to archery?
EC: By my family. My dad started bowhunting and got my sister and me cheap bows from Walmart. My sister and I did target archery and never really thought about hunting. We ended up trying an archery range by our house, where we met my current coach. He helped us find target archery and encouraged us to pursue nationals and other world tournaments.
JW: I was introduced to archery by a Groupon at the fencing studio I used to fence at. I was a young, competitive fencer working my way through the competitive fencing scene, and then I tried archery and fell in love with that. One of the things I learned through fencing and then applied to archery was how important it is to have a private coach as opposed to just doing group practices and then having that coach with you at tournaments.
A360: Has anyone mentored you in the sport?
EC: My coach, Mike Wichser, and my dad. My coach has definitely inspired me to pursue a spot on the Olympic team, and my dad has always supported the emotional part of competing. My coach helps me more with the technical and physical parts of archery.
JW: I had many coaches during my development. I started off with just group classes and having fun at JOAD classes (USA Archery’s Junior Olympic Archery Development program for 8-year-old to 20-year-old archers) and as I got better and better, I realized I needed a more serious coach to improve instead of just having fun. I started working with Eric Tollefson and then he brought me to the Joy Lee Academy and eventually Coach Kisik Lee.
A360: How did you connect with your mentors?
EC: I was 7 and didn’t think that far ahead. I thought, “Oh cool, this is something fun that I can do.” The more that I practiced at the range, the more (the people there) became like a family. It always felt like another home. I moved around a bit and had other coaches, but none of them really compared to that feeling of “This person can support me the way that I need as a friend, mentor and coach.” When I moved back to Washington it was natural to go back to (Mike Wichser). The most valuable thing is that he knows me so well. He’s seen me grow up and knows how I think, how I act. He knows how to talk to me and how to coach me, which makes me more comfortable talking to him.
JW: In Joy Lee classes. Eric was one of the coaches there. I was told that he would be a very good coach to do the in-between transition form instead of just going full NTS right away. He was really good at doing a mixture of form and improving, showing you what works, and introducing you to the NTS style of shooting.
A360: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your mentors? How valuable was having a mentor?
EC: What sort of attitude I need to have when I compete. My coach and dad have both been proponents of learning mental strategies. “How do I stay in my zone and focus?” Neither one of them are perfect. I’m not perfect, but to have someone who recognizes the importance of that, who knows how I need to think to compete, is valuable. I’m at the point in my career where I’ve learned most of the technical aspects of the sport. It’s important to have someone help me think the way I need to, to help me let go of what I can’t control and focus on what I can, especially in a tournament where there are distractions. Having both of them there has been helpful. My coach does the everyday work, I guess, but my dad always comes to different tournaments. He’s the emotional support. Both of them have been there for my mental game, which is really important for any archer.
JW: I definitely learned that having a coach at practice is important, so that you don’t learn and fall into bad habits. That’s how I did so well and got to where I was at so quickly. I’ve only been shooting a bow for seven years, and I’ve been on the world cup team for four years now. I was not shooting for very long before I started competing.
A360: How would you suggest a new archer find a mentor?
EC: I got lucky that I happened to live in a place where I had a coach who was experienced in the sport, and he had mentored many other archers before me. That happened by chance, but I do think that it’s important for archers who don’t have a coach to ask other archers at tournaments who’s coaching them, and how they found those coaches. Ask if they know anybody that lives in your area. It’s hard to look up a good archery coach on the internet. Archery is a very niche community. Most people can coach you in technique and can get you to a certain level. When you’re moving on to tournaments, like state tournaments, that’s when you want to ask around. Who knows, maybe another archer could mentor you. That happens a lot from what I’ve seen. Sometimes you need people for different aspects: how to tune, how to think. Sometimes they’re “all in one” and sometimes they’re different people. Nobody’s path is the same, but we can learn from each other’s journeys.
JW: I would definitely suggest that you find somebody close who has a good reputation. That way, you can work with them more frequently. Also possibly have a second coach that might be more advanced and can give extra input. Working together with the two coaches makes the best situation for the archer. For example, I was working with Eric at the club two or three times a week and Coach Lee two or three times a month. Coach Lee, who is a higher-level coach, gave me input that Eric and I could work on throughout the week.
A360: Have you mentored anyone?
EC: Other people in my club who are younger than I am ask me for advice and I’m happy to give it. I like to be in that mentor role. You learn more as you try to teach someone else. My coach tries to encourage the younger archers to ask the older archers what they do to help them along the way, but it’s also good for us to be in those positions. Don’t be afraid to ask any and every question. I enjoy that. One girl in particular at my range started out asking me questions and I answered them, and we’ve become friends. I hope it’s helped her on her archery journey.
Mentoring helps me gain perspective on what I’m doing. Sometimes you get into a sport and you feel like you’re not improving by the leaps and bounds that you’re supposed to. It’s nice to see where (less experienced archers) are, where they’re going, and how far you’ve come along the way. There are mutual benefits.
JW: If I see somebody who needs help, or if somebody asks me for help, I’ll definitely give my advice. I give a lot of input with tuning, but I haven’t directly coached anybody yet.
A360: What advice do you have to new archers looking to get into the sport?
EC: The most important thing is to be determined. This sport is a marathon. Sometimes you get lucky and you find a coach and you are naturally gifted, but in order to really succeed you need to be in it for the long haul. Put in the hours mentally and physically. Be patient. See the progress the hard way. I’ve had to learn patience and determination, and that’s helped me get to where I am today.
JW: I say definitely have fun and always focus on fun. Don’t work too hard at it and make it not fun. I think you really have to mix it up a lot, have a lot of different things you can do with archery. I was receiving coaching for my form and continuing to learn, and I was still doing the group classes at JOAD once a week. I went to JOAD classes knowing I was going to have fun. It wasn’t just me at the range every day, by myself. You shoot for your score or JOAD pins, then afterwards you go have dinner and have good friendships.
Trying for Tokyo
Claps and Williams have each gone from mentees to Olympic hopefuls in a relatively short amount of time. They’re currently vying for a spot on the Olympic team to represent Team USA at the Tokyo Games. Tune in to USA Archery’s social media pages or Between Ends for updates, results and rankings after the Olympic trials conclude on June 1.
The Olympic archery competition will be held July 23 to July 31 at Yumenoshima Park Archery Field in Tokyo. Visit the NBC Olympics website and the Olympic Channel website for more information on how to watch the competitions live.