How Much Should Your Child Practice?

This is not an easy question. There is a spectrum that stretches from “too little” all the way to “too much,” with the problem being it is very hard to describe what these phrases mean. If your child attends an archery session or class once a week at an archery club or shop but does not practice in between sessions, then they are at the lower end of our scale, aka “almost no practice.” If in every spare moment they have they are either working on their equipment or are shooting arrows, or studying the mental game, or . . . then they are at the upper end. But where should your child be on this scale?

We address this with reference to their goals as an archer.

Goals and Practice
If they want to make an Olympic Team, they are going to be practicing … a lot. Plus they have to learn how to compete, so they are going to have to compete … a lot. This is obvious, we suspect.

If archery is just a fun activity for them, then they needn’t practice at all, they can just shoot when it moves you to do so.

So, how much they need to practice depends on what moves them. The word “motivation” basically refers to what moves someone, motor-vates them. So, are they happy with the groups they are shooting now? Are you happy with their scores . . . if they even keep score? Are they happy with your placements at competitions . . . if they compete? If not, the only way to improve is to practice. If the practice they are doing now does not seem to be getting them where they want to be, it might be the case that they are not practicing enough. (They may also not be practicing correctly.)

This comes up often when archers are looking for individual lessons. During the “let’s get started” interview, the question “Why do you want to be coached?” is asked. The most common answer archers give is “I want to get better.” We follow up on that answer with “What does “getting better” look like to you?”

So, play along, what does “getting better” look like to them? Are they standing on a medal stand at a local tournament? Are they standing at the shooting line of the practice range at your club shooting respectable groups at all of the distances offered? Are they standing in your backyard, having just shot a new personal best in their favorite round … with no one watching? Are they a state or national champion? Only they can answer these questions.

And, honestly, they may come up with nothing better than the phrase “I just want to get better.” (When we hear this a second time in the “let’s get started” interview, it is usually accompanied with a shrug, which adds “I dunno. . . .”)

This is okay. It does take time and effort to find out what you want to get out of archery. We like to think there is a transition point between being a recreational archer (“I shoot for fun.”) to being a competitive archer (”I want to win.”) and that point usually comes in one of their first competitions in which they do maybe a little better than they thought they would, so they think “If I tried, I could probably be pretty good.”

But all questions are answered when they get the results of “trying.” Those who “try” to get better by “practicing” more and do not get the results they were looking for, often quit or change their goals at that point. If they do see progress forward, they are usually encouraged to “try even harder.”

It looks like the key is to “try it and see.” So, the only answer to whether practicing more will make them “better” is to give it a try . . . and see, but. . . . (There is always a “but,’ no?)

Trying to Get Better
When most archers think about “more practice,” they almost automatically think “I gotta shoot more arrows.” This is almost certainly true, but the cruel hard fact is that just shooting more arrows will make them more fit as an archer but that, by itself, will not make them any better. To think that just shooting more would make your scores better is the equivalent of thinking that driving to work or school everyday is getting you closer to your dream of driving in NASCAR races.

If they want to get better, what they do is vastly more important than shooting vast quantities of arrows. This means that if they can get help, aka good coaching, they can find out what the weak points are in their archery and they can learn about specific drills they can do to strengthen them. These things may, or may not, involve shooting lots of arrows.

To get better they need to know what you need to work on, how they need to work on it, and how often they need to work on it. If too much time occurs between learning something new and practicing that thing, the odds on them practicing it right are smaller. If they train too hard, too often, they can injure themselves, which prevents them from practicing. Good advice can steer them to the middle ground, where new things are tackled the easiest possible way and learned as quickly as possible. A word of warning, though, when trying to change doing something they have already learned, like tying your shoes a new way or learning a new archery form element, the “old way” never really goes away. It just drops down to a lower priority. These “old ways” often pop up when they are under stress, such as during a competition and an “old habit” reasserts itself. This is why when practicing to get better, archers need to focus intensely on what they are trying to do and commit to doing it that way . . . or else. Any shot that does not include the “new bit” has to be let down and started over. If they do not do this, then they are teaching their subconscious mind that it is okay to dredge up the “old ways” whenever it thinks it appropriate.

So, For Now?
The best thing they can do for now, is to learn how to practice effectively. No matter their goals, if they involve practice, they do not want to put in extra practice time only to find out “It didn’t work.”

Practicing the right way is effective practice, practice that will make them better. Whether the progress they are making is fast enough, only they can tell.

Special Note for Very Young Archers (Ages 8-12)
Youthful enthusiasm aside, we do not advocate young archers do archery and nothing but archery. Specialization at this age is neither required or desirable. Kids should explore all of the sports they have interests in. Archery is something that can be done alongside soccer, baseball, basketball, etc. or dropped for a while and picked up again later. This is a matter of physical and psychological development.

Once a teenager, we have no objections for kids going “whole hog” on archery. It is fun, an outdoor sport (at least during the middle of each year), and it doesn’t require batteries!

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About Steve Ruis

Being born in the first half of the previous century gives one a certain perspective.
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