SerahRose and I traveled to Westfield Indiana this month to coach four Amherst Archery athletes at Outdoor Nationals. David Weaver (Recurve, NH), Zach Dutton (Recurve, NH), Ethan Callihan (Compound, NH) and Dan Roney (Compound, MA) all strapped their quivers on and put their many practice hours to work. This is the first year that Amherst Archery has attended Outdoor Nationals. It was a fantastic experience and I would love to see more athletes from Amherst Archery strap on their quivers next year.
In reflecting back on the overall experience, two memories continually surface as defining my experience. One memory is made up of observations I made of my athletes and their families. The second memory is of conversations I had with different athletes about what I call, the “archery garden” – a metaphor for tending to our mental game. Both memories have a common thread having to do with growth that happens when coaches, athletes and family members actively work to cultivate environments in which athletes feel safe, even encouraged, to experience short-term “struggle”.
On Observing Athletes
I am guessing that many people feel comfortable succeeding. However, real growth takes place when we experience temporary struggle and are challenged in an environment where we can learn from the struggle because we are not afraid of the outcome of the struggle. Daniel Coyle states in the Talent Code, as he recounts his travels around the World researching “talent hotbeds”, only half the time did he witness athletes actually looking “exceptional” during practice. “During the other half I witnessed something very different: moments of slow, fitful struggle. . .It was if the herd of deer suddenly encountered a hillside coated with ice. They slammed to a halt; they stopped, looked, and thought carefully before taking each step. Making progress became a matter of small failures, a rhythmic pattern of botches . . .”. This is how we get better.
In order to confidently engage in these “small failures and rhythmic pattern of botches”, athletes must embody resilience and have support from their coach and family. I want to impress one piece about resilience: when the going gets tough, resilience is a moment to moment inner intention. If an athlete is really going to be that deer trying to climb up an icy hill (falling, getting back up, falling, getting back up, moving forward one step) then the athlete must be resilient a thousand times. That means there are a thousand opportunities in any given practice or tournament to fail at being resilient. It is exhausting, and beautiful, and the epitome of “strong”. Struggle does not only happen during practice. It can frequently happen during tournaments as well.
When AAA athletes started struggling, I witnessed them bounce back. I watched them reach out for support. I watched them find center again. I observed parents who care deeply about their growing teens, cultivate an environment for their growing athletes that allowed for struggle to be accepted and not rejected. I watched athletes demonstrate tenacity in pursuit of “hello yellow” during high wind or when their scores were sinking. I saw athletes in a variety of states from joyful and hopeful, to nervous and digging oh so deep to be resilient. I experienced incredible support from my wife. I worked with families as we problem solved to fix broken equipment. I heard our athletes sharing with each other tips for off-aiming in the 25mph wind. I heard tones of respect and kindness even in moments of frustration. We collaborated with other coaches.
We didn’t bring home any medals, yet, from Outdoor Nationals. We will, some day soon. What we did take home was a broader sense of the “garden” that we are all helping to grow at Amherst Archery. In our garden: Resilience. Respect. Struggle in an environment of support. Tenacity. Camaraderie. Team work. Problem solving. What do you see in the AAA garden?
On Archery Gardens
Speaking of gardens, I think of an athlete’s mental game like the process of maintaining a garden. I shared this metaphor with several athletes at Nationals who had reached out to me and wanted connection. When striving to grow a healthy garden, one typically attends to two tasks: 1) nourish the plants that will produce fruit and; 2) engage in a persistent process to keep weeds from negatively affecting the ability for fruit to grow. Consistent effort must be made to keep weeds from crowding out the plants we want to thrive. Water the vegetables, limit the weeds – not the other way around. Your (mental) garden can only support you and contribute to your growth if you focus on the process of maintaining its health. The more you attend to the health of the vegetables in your garden, the more your garden will grow.
Perhaps, in this metaphor, the fruits and vegetables represent whatever positive outcomes an athlete aims for. Weeds are synonymous with negative self-talk, doubt, fear, living in the past, overly inflated ego, denial, too much confidence, lack of trust or support – the list goes on. Weeds are anything that limits an athlete’s ability to achieve a desired outcome.
Part of being a good caretaker of your own mental landscape requires attending to process. A high yield of healthy fruits and vegetables are the outcome of a process-focused performance in which a gardner invests the most time on what is most important to keeping their garden healthy. Identify the weeds. Remove them. Water the fruits. Weeds will likely pop up again – maybe moments later – and your attention to process and maintenance of your mental garden will once again remove them.
I am proud and inspired by the athletes and families that attended. I’m eager to get back to the range and get training again with everyone. I’m eager to work on form and help you tackle your struggles face on so that you can each better your best through full awareness of what you are working on. I even look forward to helping you be a deer on ice.