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While archery is an extremely technical sport, practice doesn’t have to be boring! How do you keep things fun and engaging while keeping athletes coming back hungry to learn more? Many sports are changing their approach when teaching youth.
It’s no secret the monotony of shooting arrows can become a dull experience for many young archers. Play Practice Play is a philosophy that we can adapt to archery to help increase participation, engagement, and improve our young athletes’ opportunity to learn. The philosophy is based on the concept of player-centered coaching and providing the athlete what they need (age specific) while providing more competition-like opportunities to be successful and learn in the moment. This philosophy does not mean that coaches do not try to develop technique or skill but does encourage coaches to develop those skills through a variety of means.
The shift in philosophy not only makes practice more fun, but also increases the athlete’s engagement, adds challenges and provides a better learning environment through game-like scenarios. Let’s take a look at this concept and see how we can apply it to archery.
Stage 1: Play
Consider starting practice with a short game-like competition. These game-like competitions should be short in duration and provide plenty of competitive opportunities. Some things to consider here are having short scoring rounds of 3-6 arrows each, 1-arrow shoot offs, or Explore Archery activities adjusted to the archer’s skill level. Coaches can even create their own games and/or target faces for the games. The important thing is that the activities are fun and safe. Coaches should do more facilitating, observing and keeping the game-like play safe than instructing. This allows the archers to learn in the moment and find their own solutions. However, for beginner archers, coaches will need to provide more feedback to keep the activity safe and productive.
This second stage is where the meat of the coaching takes place. Practice activities should be structured to provide guided learning activities for the athletes. It’s important to keep the age, skill level and goal of the session in mind when designing these activities. This can be a real challenge with archery because the sport is so reliant on having good technique. A coach can help make these learning activities more exciting and fun in a variety of ways.
One suggestion is first and foremost to have an enthusiastic attitude. That does not mean that the coach needs to be over enthusiastic, but attitude goes a long way. Enthusiasm is contagious and is a good way to get the other archers to really buy in to what you are saying. Along with that, creating fun and engaging names for the activities will help. Especially if those names are catchy. Think for a moment, would you rather do work on Stance and Posture or “Candy Shoot”? Chances are, even without explaining how to play either those, most kids are going to say, “Candy Shoot”, which focuses on developing the proper stance and posture.
Increasing the challenge level so that it is just beyond the capabilities of the archer is a good way to increase the fun in this second stage of practice. Think about the carrot that you can dangle in front of your athletes and when they get close to getting that carrot, move it a little further away.
Starting with the objective of the session can also help keep thing interesting in a technically driven sport like archery. Ask yourself to complete this sentence before designing the practice activities, “At the end of the session, the archers should be able to do__________________.” Once you can fill in that blank, then designing the actual activities becomes much easier. It gives you as a coach the power and freedom to be creative and come up with interesting activities. For example, a coach may determine that at the end of the session, the archers should be able to execute (expand, release, and follow through) correctly 80% of the time. To do that, the coach decides the activities that will help the archer accomplish that are practice with a shot trainer, Flexibility SPTs, and shooting with their eyes closed up close at 3 meters.
Stage 3: Play
Like the first stage, these activities should be more competition-like. Again, coaches can be creative here. Think: what activities can I design that increase all athletes’ opportunity to experience specific competition-like scenarios? These activities should incorporate all athletes and not exclude anyone based on performance. Avoid games and activities that limit opportunities or eliminate archers. The coach’s role here is, again, that of a facilitator and observer while maintaining a safe range. Coaches should be sure to take notes on how archers can continue to improve, situations in which they do well and areas of future growth.
Clubs and coaches should resist the urge to shoot the same scoring round and/or schedule every week. Every practice session should be different. Yes, they can follow the same pattern and flow, but the objectives should change constantly. Those objectives drive the activities which should also change week to week, or at the very least, progress and be slightly more challenging. Variation is the key to keeping things interesting. It is also instrumental in developing adaptability which is a key skill for archers.
Through the three stages of practice, coaches can make the practice session even more effective by having the three stages complimentary. Each stage is related and focused on developing the same skills or complimentary skills that work together. Ideally, coaches want to develop one or two skills during practice, and with this philosophy of development, they are doing this through a variety of activities and methods. Above all, remember that bringing more fun into practice starts with the coach’s attitude, mindset and understanding of the athletes’ needs. The end result of utilizing this framework for practice will provide a fun, fast paced experience for the archer that will increase engagement and learning.