I have seen some really good archers develop target panic and watched them struggle with it, change equipment, practice and try everything to try and kick this bad habit. I am of the mind set that most of us can't "shoot through" target panic. In other words I don't feel most people can just keep shooting and kick it. In my opinion, and remember this is an opinion, target panic is best dealt with on the sidelines and not the shooting line.
Here's why. If you develop target panic and then start changing everything you do to try kick it--you change the way you anchor, the way you draw, the way you release, your basic form, the way you aim, etc. then pretty soon your shooting style is a mess. You have changed everything and your pal target panic is still hanging around. So now you have a bunch of new bad habits besides target panic. This in my mind is a no-no.
So my advice is deal with it on the mental side of archery, which is where it developed in the first place. I wish I could tell you the things to avoid to stay away from target panic. For some of us it develops because of pressure... you have someone watching you and you want to make a good shot. Perhaps it is anxiety about competition. Sometimes it may just be you and the bow in the backyard, but you develop it. I don't think we'll ever fully understand it or why certain people are plagued by it. One thing is for sure, it can wreck havoc with your accuracy whether you are a hunter, 3-D shooter, target shooter, or backyard archer. Target panic is real and it can be hard to get rid of. One archer recently told me he had literally struggled with it for decades.
Here are my thoughts on this subject. First of all let me give some credit to people who showed me the importance of the mental side of archery. The first to do so was the late, great Al Henderson. He was an Olympic coach and wrote a column in an ARCHERY magazine when I was a kid. Al was big on getting his shooters prepared mentally. He would work with them to get their mental game strong. Years ago I read his "Understanding Winning Archery" and advise any archer to get and read it. You can find it at Glenn Heldgeland's "Target Communication" website. It's not expensive and is still good reading. Although I have not had occasion to read Al's book lately, it had a big influence on my shooting and I advise anyone to have a copy in their library.
The second person to help my mental game was Dr. Wyatt Woodsmall, a "mind coach" who specializes in NLP. What in the world is that you ask? Nuero Linguistic Programing. Woodsmall specializes in getting inside a master athelete's head, finding out what his/her mental processes are, and then helps teach that athlete how to best utilize the mind in competition and performances. He can also pattern a champion's mindset and then have a novice performing very well just by using the champion's mental processes. It sounds difficult to understand and since I am no expert I hope I can explain it for you. I will try.
Lets say Joe is a professional archer. He is a champion. He obviously has a mental process he goes through each shot, even if he is not aware of it, and that process is what produces championship shooting. If we could take that process and insert a tape into Joe's brain, record it, and then put that same tape in a novice's head, chances are they would perform at a much accelerated rate and at a higher level than they would have otherwise. Also, if Joe gets in a slump, by using NLP, Joe can go back to championship mode. Woodsmall teaches "anchors" that allow an athlete to be able to go to their peak performance no matter what the situation.
That paragraph was difficult for me to write. I want to do NLP and Woodsmall justice and without being a coach myself, I simply had to try and explain it the best way I could. I hope it helped. Anyway, using the mental aspects of shooting is how you can kick target panic. I first met Dr Wyatt Woodsmall in 1990. I was in a slump and was having difficulty shooting well at my shows. I had just did a lousy performance a few weeks earlier and was in a real slump. So I get a phone call from a friend, Dr. John MacCallum who mentioned he had someone he wanted to bring by to meet me and shoot a few times. So a few hours later we were in my parent's retail archery store in the indoor range. They asked me to shoot a few shots for Wyatt. I did and was no where near the aspirin. I missed by six inches.
Wyatt stopped me and asked me to take a walk with him. We walked back to a quiet bench with no one around. Wyatt talked with me and little did I know it but he was using a method of NLP on me. He taught me a "mental anchor" , in other words a time when I was shooting good. Then he asked me to shoot an aspirin for him. I hit the pill the first shot, and my friend Dr. MacCallum still has that pill. Amazing huh? More amazing is that 19 years later I continue to use NLP.
A few years ago a household name, celebrity of the sport called me after a miserable hunting trip to Africa. He had a tough time and had developed target panic. Needless to say he wanted to kick the target panic. I explained NLP and what I do when I am on stage to perform at my peak. I hope it helped him. We have talked several times since then and he's never again mentioned target panic so I hope it did.
For you, here's my advice. Let's talk about you and this target panic. Was there a time when you didn't have it? Can you remember what it was like to draw the bow back, look at your target and put your arrow in the center? Think of very specific shots that you did this way. Think of when it was, where you were, what the event was, and be as specific as you can. Are you mentally there? See yourself shooting... really concentrate on it. You are shooting with good form, everything is smooth, and you are shooting great. Can you "see" that mentally? Good. Have an exact event, place and time in mind. What you wore, and as many details as you can to really "see" it.
That is your "anchor." This is what you want to mentally concentrate on and you will want to focus on this. Next time you are practicing with your bow, after you set up your gear, have a seat for a minute and think about that time when you were shooting and didn't have target panic. Then step up to the line, take a deep breath, and make your shot. I think you will be amazed.
Stay tuned for Part II
Until Next Time, Adios & God Bless.
Frank Addington, Jr.
The Aspirin Buster