Staying calm during competition can be a challenge for archers who are dipping their feet into competitive shooting. For some people, keeping their cool comes naturally, but for most of us mortals, we must implement different skills and tactics to ensure a nerve-free tournament shooting experience.
Being comfortable and maintaining a calm attitude in competition begins to come simply because you’ve gone through the process many times before. Shooting the exact competition format during practice will help you become more accustomed to how you’ll feel during certain parts of the round. Figuring out your honest reaction when you’re shooting really well, or extremely subpar, will give you direction on which areas you need to work on.
One of the fundamentals of staying calm is being able to control your heart rate. This is important because, in general, when the archer has a lower heart rate while shooting, he or she will see better results. Athletes in the pistol and rifle shooting disciplines, as well as the biathlon, can attest to this fact. For archers, training yourself to have a lower resting heart rate will only benefit your heart rate during shooting: A lower resting heart rate will translate into a lower heart rate while exerting yourself.
Training to be physically fit, either by going to the gym or exercising at home, typically will help you lower your resting heart rate. The best way to do it is through cardio and enlisting the help of a personal trainer, or searching for an app on your phone that has a progressive cardio program (such as training to run your first 5K). And because running isn’t always an option for everyone, cardio can also be done with biking, swimming, hiking or even brisk walks.
Once you’ve gotten your cardio routine going and have lowered your resting heart rate, the next step would be to start being able to reduce your heart rate on command — or at least keep it from rising while under stress. There are many ways to do this, but overall, you need to practice relaxation techniques — first outside of shooting, and then incorporate them into your shooting routine. You can learn to actively relax through many different methods. Two common approaches are reading sport psychology books or downloading apps that teach relaxation and meditation.
Actively engaging relaxation techniques (such as visualization, controlled breathing, active tension and release, etc.) while shooting doesn’t come easily. Practicing them off the field first is the easiest way to learn and begin to implement these routines. Once they become a little more second nature, you can start to incorporate these into your practice sessions, and when shooting at smaller local competitions.
The “big test” of your relaxation techniques will come when you implement them to help you stay calm during a much bigger competition. The Vegas Shoot comes to mind since that’s one of the biggest indoor competitions in North America. During this shoot, or another big tournament, you’ll feel anxiety and nervousness that is almost impossible to replicate at your local club, especially if you decide to shoot in the championship division.
Shooting as many competitions as you can to perfect your relaxation routine is especially important as you try to better yourself and your competition results. Sometimes a routine will work perfectly for you, and sometimes you’ll have to abandon a routine because you know right away that it will not be effective when you start to feel the pressure. Figuring out what works best for YOU is the key to being successful at keeping calm, cool, and collected.