Preparing for competition goes well beyond physical exercise, working on your form, and fine-tuning your bow. For 99% of archers on the shooting line, knowing how to manage the mind in competition will make a big difference. However, you must practice and rehearse this as much as you practice shooting your bow.
The first step to implementing an effective mental strategy is accepting that you need to improve your current one (as cliché as that sounds). Being forced to follow a certain mental strategy can lead to a little pushback from the archer, however, and may not be very effective. Recognizing that this can help you be successful during competition will drive you to improve your mental game.
Not everyone can afford a sport psychologist or mental management professional, so a lot of people must refer to self-help books that can range from very general (on everyday life) to sport specific. Most of these books are written by accomplished psychologists, and the sport-specific ones are usually by someone who has extensive knowledge in their sport.
In general, these self-help books will guide you toward forms of visualization and positive self-talk. Visualization can be broken down into first person and third person styles. In the former, the archer re-creates the feel of the shot; in the latter, the archer visualizes a “video” of the shot as if they were watching themselves. Positive self-talk refers to how the archer speaks to themselves internally. Being mean or saying angry things to yourself can cause anxiety. Talking kindly to yourself has many more positive effects.
Once you’ve found a mental strategy that you trust and believe in, practice it during your training sessions so that it isn’t too foreign when you use it in competition. Trying it first when you’re basically alone will help you become more comfortable with it, and then you can progress to times when there are more people on the range. This will help you gain confidence in yourself when using your mental strategy. One of the best things you could ask for is to be able to run your mental program during league night at your local archery club — this way you can test it out in a competition setting without the pressure of a big tournament on the line.
When the real competition day comes, you must be mentally strong and trust the program you’ve been practicing during your training sessions. It’s not wise to try something new on competition day. Coming into the competition with a firm mental plan is also your best bet for success. Knowing what your mental strategy will be before, during and after competition will guide you in what you’ll be doing at each stage of shooting. This will help you deal with the results of your shooting, regardless of whether they are good or bad.
Your pregame mental routine should include thoughts about what you plan on implementing that day and how you plan on doing so. Have a plan for what you will do if your shooting goes well or badly, and for how you will manage your actions — both mentally and physically — on the shooting line. Some archers even write out this plan and keep it in their quiver.
Besides thinking about your technical execution (your form) while shooting, you should be thinking about your mental strategy and putting your pregame plan in action. Constantly check in with yourself and ask, “Am I sticking to the plan?” and “Is there anything I should be thinking or doing differently?” etc. Occasionally having this nonconfrontational conversation with yourself is a healthy way of executing your plan.
After competition is completed, having another check-in with yourself to debrief the day will lead you to what you should be doing next time. Was there anything that worked particularly well? Were there things that didn’t work very well? Being honest with yourself is the best way to grow in the mental strategy side of archery.
Remembering everything that happens during practice and competition can be difficult, so make sure to keep an archery journal to make things easier. This can be in the form of a book you keep in your bow case, or you can have a notepad on your cellphone. Plenty of top archers do this so that they don’t get caught relearning the same lesson repeatedly. With this diligence added to your mental game, along with lots of practice, you’ll be ready to dominate on the archery field.