Longtime followers of GeekDad know that I’m “the archery guy” here; my weekends are taken up with archery lessons, which are mostly classes for children. I expect that my experiences as a coach over the last 15 years will be familiar to those who coach other sports such as soccer, baseball, gymnastics, and so on. In a discussion with other GeekDad contributors, it was suggested that I should share some of my thoughts here.
First off, it’s never about the sport. At least not for me. It’s about the athletes; where they are, where they want to go, and what they need to get there. Like any other sport, archery can be hyper-competitive, and there are those who are driven to succeed, devoting all their time and energy to the perfection of their skill. Most coaches hope fervently to get one of those, because they are willing to do what it takes to get to the gold medal, but the reality is that most participants are less ambitious; many are purely recreational, just looking to have some fun on a Saturday morning. Whether competitive or casual, more often than not, we’re just trying to give them what they need. Some time ago, I had a young archer who would turn around and look at me after every arrow, checking to see if I was looking, needing to hear some encouragement and validation. How he scored wasn’t nearly as important to him as hearing “nice follow-through” or “good release.”
When we go to the state championships in Tulare, or the California Games in Chula Vista, the time spent hanging around the hotel lobby with the archers singing karaoke, eating pizza, goofing, and joking, is almost as important as the time spent on the shooting line earning medals. Awards are nice, but the lifelong friendships being formed will be more important, and the sense of achievement from having competed can alter the course of a student’s life.
Since archery is primarily an individual sport (there are team rounds, which consist of aggregating archers’ scores, but the performance, as in track, gymnastics and swimming, is individual), the focus is always on achieving one’s “personal best” rather than beating the crosstown rivals. When working with beginners, especially the ones with a competitive streak, that involves a lot of encouragement and personal attention. Usually the encouragement is the part that matters. Like any sport, practicing archery stresses discipline and perseverance; it also teaches and builds positive traits like focus, patience, and overcoming frustration. As they get good at it, it builds self-confidence. We have a saying, “competence builds confidence.”
*All names have been changed.