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May 01, 2015

Spencer Yee Learning Life Skills Through Archery

Like so many kids, Spencer Yee started shooting a bow because "it looked cool." He was just seven years old at the time, but he knew right away what kind of bow he wanted: a compound bow, like his dad.

That was six and a half years ago. Now age 13, Spencer's still at least two years younger than most of the kids in the division he's competing in - the cadet division, age 15 to 17 - but that doesn't bother him.

"I thought it would be a good point to see where I was placed versus people my age," Spencer says when asked why he started trying archery tournaments. "It puts a different spin on things. It's more fun, and I like to have a challenge. I'm shooting with my friends, because I know all of them."

For such a young archer, Spencer is pretty accomplished: he's competed at several national tournaments, most recently winning the AAE Arizona Cup, and even competed at the Pan Am Championships in El Salvador three years ago.

Not bad for a 10 year old, who got to see a different country and shoot alongside some of his heroes in the sport, like World Cup Final champion Rodger Willett, Jr. In fact, the chance to travel is just one of the things Yee likes about shooting archery tournaments. He's also pretty thoughtful about competing: "When you don't do well, you can't blame anybody but yourself," he explains.

Good coaching is key for any athlete, and Spencer's got solid resources there. Locally, he works with Coach Eric Bennett, who's also a 2012 Paralympian. Having a coach who's a teacher by trade, and a world-class competitor by choice, is a big plus for Spencer: "It's exciting because I know he's been in similar situations, so he knows how to handle it."

He's also received coaching through the Compound Junior Dream Team, a national program that identifies talented young archers and gives them access to coaching and training camps.

At the time of our interview, Spencer had been chosen as a team Alternate, and was excited about that, saying he enjoyed the social aspect of the Junior Dream Team. This week, he got the news that he'd been selected to the team as a Member. 

As for his family, Spencer has strong support in pursuing his goals. His dad, Steve, is not only his number one fan, but also a coach himself. "For kids that are wanting to try something new and different, try archery out and see if you like it," Steve says. "Find what you're good at and stick with it."

When asked how he feels about his son competing at a high level, Steve says it's been a positive experience: "The big thing is the fun element has to be there. Even the pros have to fun. If you don't have fun, it's not worth doing. As a parent, making sure that it remains fun for the archer is very, very important."

Like any sport, kids get super excited about archery competition, but Spencer's dad says balance is key: "Keeping him grounded to where archery is important, but there are other things that he has to do. School is very important. Going to college. Hanging around with other people your age, you have to have the social element as part of it, too."

Now that Spencer has clinched his spot on the Compound Junior Dream Team, he'll have to set new long-term goals. One of them: "I want to go to the World Championships and I want to do well."

In order to accomplish that, he'll need to keep having fun when competing, and stay cool under pressure. But thanks to archery, Spencer is learning life skills that will serve him on and off the competition field: "When I'm competing, I try and keep my thoughts just about my shot cycle. Sometimes there are other thoughts that sneak in, and you just have to regulate that." 

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