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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado - As summer heats up, camp and short-term introductory archery programs may already be considering retention of new archers and fall Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) programs. Nebraska Games and Parks' Carter Shank runs a regular eight-week Explore Archery program and has seen a large increase in retention rates of archers who continue in the sport in recent months.
Shank spoke with USA Archery about changes he has made to the structure of his Explore Archery program that have resulted in archers feeling more successful and moving on to the JOAD program after the eight weeks of hour-long classes. "The first week is all about safety; they get used to their bow, learn whistle commands, range lines, rules and etiquette," shared Shank.
He added: "Then we get into weeks two through five, which are the form pieces. It follows the Explore Archery curriculum, but I'm also a JOAD instructor so I do tend to also gear it towards JOAD; my goal with the program is to kind of culture these kids, get them used to the major parts of archery so that then I can transition them at the end to move up to JOAD where they get into more detailed learning."
Shank leads the archers through fundamentals of learning stance, grip, anchor, release and follow through: "Those are the main form pieces that I work on with those kids for those weeks. Each week has a different activity: one with an aim point, then the next week we change target sizes from a bigger one to one smaller ones as the day progresses. Another week is distances, so if they achieve arrow accuracy, like all arrows within the 5-ring or better, I move the bale back two meters. Little activities like that, that don't take a whole lot of effort, but give them a goal and something to keep working on each week, a good progression."
After archers have the fundamentals down, learning basics while focusing on safety and games oriented towards fun and progress, only then does Shank introduce competition. Using Explore Archery as an introduction to the world of archery, Nebraska Games and Parks focuses on all the opportunities available to kids in the sport. The sixth week focuses on World Archery target rules and scoring and Shank leads the archers through a typical pin shoot, and the next week is an introduction to bow hunting with 3-D targets and IBO rules. The last day is a fun day with balloons and other fun targets.
Shank commented: "Luckily, what I wanted to be the best part of the program is what I come to find the kids have enjoyed the most. They go through these form pieces and get to learn those and then they learn how to be a competitor. I tell them, 'If you enjoy this, our JOAD starts soon for the next quarter so you can sign up for that program.'"
The Nebraska Games and Parks facility created a "Ladder to the Olympics" poster that shows archers the rungs they need to climb to reach their goals in the sport, from Explore Archery, to JOAD, to tournaments, the high-performance programs and beyond.
Shank's program has been in place for three years, where he teaches three sessions concurrently with 10-24 students per class for an average of 30-50 students in each eight-week session. Originally, only one or two students would advance to JOAD after each session, but recently, there have been closer to twelve students per session that continue in the sport. Shank credits this increased retention rate to ensuring that his students have the tools to be successful by focusing on fundamentals and fun games and then bringing in the competitive aspect. Shank commented: "most of those kids go straight to get their USA Archery membership so they can earn the achievement pins in the JOAD program."
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