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Paralympic Spotlight: Eric Bennett, Part 4

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We recently spoke with Eric Bennett, para archer for Team USA, ahead of the 2024 Paralympic Games. He and the other members of the USA Archery Paralympic Team will be vying for gold in Paris from Aug. 29 to Sept. 5. In this final installment of a four-part series, Bennett shares how he prepares for the Games, how he practices visualization, and what he’s most excited to see in Paris and at the Games.

 

A360: How are you preparing mentally and physically for the Olympics?

 

EB: I think the mental aspect of it is by far and away the most important. I think anyone that’s competitive in archery will tell you that while the physical part is important, none of that works unless your head’s working. As someone who’s competed for a long time and competed at a lot of different high-level tournaments and low-level tournaments, I can tell you that the way your mind thinks of things and works through things is, is a function of how you train your brain to do that. So, you’ve got to put in the work, just like standing in front of a blank bale perfecting your physical form, you’ve got to put in the mental work too. That, right now, includes visualization techniques before I practice, visualization techniques after I practice some mental prep and some [song] tracks and things that I listen to prior to a tournament. There’s lots of good books out there that I’ve read over the years and things like that. Ultimately, it’s making time to actually put that work in because I think most people will skip that and just go to the range and shoot 203 hundred arrows and call it good, but you’ve got to put the mental part of it in or else the physical part of it doesn’t even matter.

A360: For somebody that’s not familiar with what visualization means in archery, could you go into a little bit of detail of what exactly you do?

 

EB: I would say the easiest and the best way to get started is just to set a timer on your phone for like 5 minutes. Find a place that’s quiet and comfortable and just sit and relax. Take some deep breaths and kind of just blank your mind out as best you can and turn the timer on. One of the main things I do, especially before practice, is to go step-by-step and in my mind see myself going through my shot process from pulling my arrow out of the quiver, nocking it on the string, setting my clicker, setting my bow hand, grabbing onto my mouth tab, visualizing my aperture and the target and getting that where I need it to be.

When I draw, all the steps that go with set up and alignment of my head, alignment of my shoulders, aiming at the target, looking through the sight, I go through those in my head visually and I do it over and over and over again. As soon as I visually see a shot leave my bow and I watch it hit the target, I visualize myself grabbing the next arrow, nocking the arrow, setting the clicker. I’m going to visualize what that looks like and feels like to make good shots and to visualize [the arrows] going in the middle before I even pick my bow up and start actually shooting it for practice.

Then, after practice or even between tournaments or between practice sessions, I’ll visualize my past successes. For new, beginning archers, that might be a little harder to do, but you can still visualize what it would be like to win a tournament and what it feels like to shoot a good shot. I’ll replay those moments in my mind, what I was thinking of at the time and how it worked and visualize making those shots and putting them in the middle. There’s a lot of different techniques and there’s a lot of good literature out there. I have a mental coach too that that I work with occasionally to help me plan out some of those things.

 

A360: What are you most looking forward to seeing in Paris or at the Games?

 

EB: That’s hard to narrow down. I will start by saying that my goal ultimately with this was for my wife and kids to be there and be a part of it and to see me shoot live. When I started, my youngest wasn’t even born and my oldest was 2 and 1/2 years old. They’ve been with me through this whole journey, but really haven’t had a chance to be a part of it. Tokyo was going to be that first opportunity and then COVID ruined that. So, that’s probably the biggest thing I’m looking forward to is being at the Games, but knowing that my wife and my kids are there also and they’re going to get to take part in that.

And then, selfishly, I’ve been all over the world. I’ve seen the Great Wall of China, I’ve been to Rio, I’ve been to the Christus statue. I’ve been to London and seen Big Ben, I’ve been to Stonehenge, I’ve done some really cool stuff, all because of archery, but one I haven’t knocked out is the Eiffel Tower. So, kind of looking forward to that. Hopefully a picture with me holding my gold medal in front of it.

Stay Tuned

We’re excited to see Eric Bennett and the rest of Team USA go for gold at the Paralympics starting Aug. 29. Tune in to NBC and their affiliate channels, keep an eye on World Archery and USA Archery’s social media, and sign up for their Archery+ streaming service for access to all of the action on the Big Stage this summer starting with the Olympic Games on July 26.

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