USA Archery Logo

March 18, 2020

Go With the Flow - High Performance Newsletter InSight

By Guy Krueger, USA Archery Education and Training Manager


As much as we would like to be in total control, often times we aren’t. This past week and the weeks to come are prime examples of that and create an opportunity for us to talk about one of the greatest skills an archer needs to have: the ability to adapt to the unexpected.

Reflecting on my past competitive archery career, I know I usually struggled when things did not go as expected. As a perfectionist, that was always difficult for me to accept. When I went on to be a national coach, this is something I saw a lot of archers struggle with. I also saw a lot of archers who would adapt and go with the flow regardless of what happened.

Of those two temperaments, those that were more adaptable and easy-going under pressure, often performed better when it really mattered, IF they were disciplined in their preparation and training. For some of them, this ability was natural, for others it was a learned skill. These individuals usually thrived in situations where the unexpected happened and were even energized by idea of things not going to plan. Often times these same archers would perform better in competition than they did during practice. This really got me thinking “Why?”. Let’s dive into this.


Adaptability is such an important skill in this sport (and really any sport) because there are so many variables that are out of our control. Competition is never the same as practice. The distance and target face may be the same from practice to competition, but everything else is constantly changing including the lighting, the weather, how our body feels, what our competitors say or do, and the list can go on and on. The point is that there are so many things out of our control, regardless of what happens with those variables, we still have to be able to perform when it matters the most.

To be able to develop this ability, you have to create opportunities to adapt for yourself or your archer. Most archers try to do the same thing every practice session under the best conditions. For example, maybe an archer only scores when the weather is right and there is no wind or rain. Or maybe they only practice when it’s not too hot or cold outside. These archers are not comfortable being uncomfortable. They don’t have to like being uncomfortable, but they need to create more opportunities to be uncomfortable in practice. For example, maybe this means having a group of people watch you shoot in practice as you score or allowing only two minutes an end for shooting a group of six arrows.

The discomfort of shooting in front of a group of people or with a shorter time frame has an effect on the mind and ultimately the body responds. Sometimes we see that as perspiration,

increased heart rate, or even sweaty palms. This is similar to how many people feel in competition embracing and accepting the uncomfortableness is the first step to increasing adaptability.

Archers that adapt easily, often see obstacles as challenges. This is a fundamental part of learning in that these people allow themselves to make mistakes. This doesn’t mean that they like making mistakes, but they do understand that making mistakes provides an opportunity to learn something valuable. They also realize that by pushing themselves to the edge of their abilities or just beyond their abilities they will grow. That is the risk they are willing to take and ultimately it is a risk that pays off. They know that either they will succeed or they will grow.

Creating real opportunities gives us freedom to think out of the box and do something fun and exciting that benefits performance. With a little thought and creativity, athletes and coaches can come up a number of fun, exciting, and extremely beneficial activities to do in practice to develop adaptability and performance. Some examples of real situations where athletes have to adapt:

  • Tournament is postponed
  • Different wind/weather/lighting condition from practice venue
  • Equipment did not arrive when flying to an event
  • Equipment malfunction (broken limb, broken center serving)
  • Tired and unable to sleep the night prior
  • Distractions such as someone asking if you are about to shoot a World, National, State, Personal Record
  • Competitor playing mind games

Athletes and coaches can use these scenarios to develop training activities and games. Advanced and elite athletes should consider making practice even harder than competition to provide additional challenge and opportunities to adapt.

Athletes should go through new training games and scenarios multiple times in various progressions. After each progression it is good to reflect and debrief on what the archer did really well and what they can do better next try. These activities need to have an element of challenge to them which means the archer may not always be 100% successful. Coaches should strive to design activities and scenarios that athletes are successful approximately 60- 80% of the time.

Next Steps

Although some athletes are naturally adaptable, adaptability can be developed. Archers should reflect on specific unexpected scenarios that have happened in the past as a starting point. Athletes who are naturally adaptable and easy going should consider partnering with another athlete, coach, or mentor who is more disciplined and structured and vice versa. For those of you with extra time on your hands, consider reading Upstream by Dan Heath or Mindset by Carol Dweck to learn more about adaptability and growing.

The following article is from USA Archery's High Performance Newsletter. If you are not a subscribed USA Archery member but would like to receive this newsletter, contact [email protected]


< Back to All News

A thank you to our proud sponsors

View All Sponsors

Connect With Us