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The life of an elite international archer. Years of perfecting the art and hours of toil on the range can come down to moments on the line, standing in the spotlight, holding your nerve and delivering that decisive arrow.
USA archers have enjoyed their fair share of success in 2023, including the compound mixed team gold for Alexis Ruiz and Kris Schaff in Paris, to recurve ace Jennifer Mucino-Fernandez bagging bronze in Medellin. From Casey Kaufhold’s tremendous triumph in Paris to Sawyer Sullivan’s silver in Antalya.
On each of the aforementioned occasions, among the emotional chaos of competition, there has been one constant. One man has been stood, often motionless and emotionless but for the occasional well-chosen words of encouragement or supportive nod of the head. That man is assistant head coach, Chris Webster, who is among the nominees for Coach of the Year in the 2023 World Archery Awards.
“People trust you,” Webster said. “They believe that you can help them and that’s a cool feeling.”
And he was there in Santiago, Chile for the Pan American Games, from which the USA team returned with a record-breaking 10 medals.
“Pan Ams was insane this year,” he added. “Just medal after medal after medal. The quality of shooting. The way the men’s team handled themselves. The way the women’s team handled themselves. Absolutely firing on all cylinders.
“Jackson (Mirich) winning Pan Ams, and he was just stoic, just calm, cool, collected. It was a level of archery that you rarely get to see.
“There’s not one thing I could point to. It’s been a phenomenal season and everybody’s progressed.”
It’s fair to say, Webster has archery running through his veins. Born in Springfield, Ohio in the same hospital as his father, Webster moved to Phoenix, Ariz. with his family when just six months old and it was here that is lifelong love for the sport took root.
“There’s pictures of me in diapers next to a full-size compound bow before I could even walk,” he said with a smile. “When you’re younger you obviously want to emulate father figures and my dad was a big influence in archery for me. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in right now.”
For Webster, his journey has been far from straightforward. He went from taking part in local shoots, to walking away from the competitive side of archery for almost nine years.
He then spent seven years in the U.S. Army, where his competitive side remerged in 2009 on discovering the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), an initiative which allowed soldiers to serve while also competing in sporting events around the world.
“I found out that WCAP was an option and started training again,” Webster commented. “My whole goal was to make that (WCAP) team and be able to shoot a bow professionally for the United States Army, which is a cool and unique thing.
“I was able to do that and that’s what led me on the trajectory that I’m on right now.”
From being the athlete for the best part of a decade, Webster moved into coaching, beginning with the Resident Athlete Program, which offered a fresh outlook on the sport.
He added, “That allowed me to nail down a lot of what I thought I knew about archery and gave me some really unique perspectives. Without those experiences, and without the people I got to interact with – Coach Lee and Brady (Ellison) – a ton of people that have been so supportive, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”
Webster’s drive to succeed began at an early age, when he would shoot in divisions above his age category.
“Obviously a younger kid, shooting up a division against more advanced shooters and still being competitive – I really enjoyed that as a kid,” he said.
“That’s what drove me a lot was that constant pursuit of being better, even to the point of when I was 10, 12 years of age, I would shoot what was the Arizona Cup - an international event back then – and I would shoot in the adult division … because they didn’t offer a kids’ division, though even if they did, I still would’ve shot the adult division.”
That eagerness to compete blossomed in those formative years. It lay dormant for a while, until the WCAP reignited that competitive fire. Add to that an emotional discipline and calm which comes from serving in the military, and Webster is a coach many want in their corner.
“At the end of the day, I’m there to support the athletes, plain and simple,” he explained. “Whatever they need to be successful. I’m not the one shooting the bow.
“I ask them, ‘what do you want to be told, why do you want to be told that?’. I want to understand. In the moment of the most intense thing they do I want to be seen as a support structure.
“I think back to what I wish I would’ve heard when I was competing, just the reassurance piece. There are athletes I don’t say anything to, or it’s very minimal.
“There are other athletes where I’m being constant, or rhythmic in what I’m saying because you have stands full of people, you have announcers, and a 20-foot TV with you on it. You can see yourself at full draw, so how do you keep that individual focused on that one task of one arrow at a time?”
When not traveling the world supporting the USA’s international archers, Webster finds himself based in North Carolina overseeing USA Archery’s National Elite Program, allowing him to monitor and mentor the next generation.
With Coach Lee and Coach Webster, the USA has two of the best archery coaches in the world. For Webster, where he now finds himself is something he refuses to take for granted.
From the young kid in diapers alongside a compound bow, to competing against the grown-ups as a teenager, to rediscovering his passion for the sport while serving his country, Webster is where he wants to be, yet asked what his younger self would think, he admitted, “He would be very surprised, though even at my point right now I’m very surprised.
“It’s not something I ever thought I would be doing professionally at the level that I’m doing. It’s humbling to come into an experience like this and have a level of success … I just would never have guessed it.”< Back to All News