If you are a coach, the link at the bottom of this post is valuable reading. If you are an athlete, the lesson might be, “you want to care about the shot, but not TOO much”, but do not bother with this article unless your coach asks you to read it.
The Ventral Striatum (VS) is the part of your brain that deals with the good feeling of a reward, like ice cream, or praise, or, the feeling of success when an arrow nails the spider. (or even, scares it to death). But if the fear of losing (or missing the target) becomes too much, the VS actually shuts down and thereby inhibiting muscle performance, and at that point it can be game over.
The study is a lot of techie talk, and seems to indicate that as everyday people are given a reward, their performance grows better until the reward becomes so important, that they think more about the pain of not getting the reward than getting to the award, to the point of paralyzing fear. They forget how to perform because they’ve put their subconscious on a back burner and spend too much time actively thinking about what they are doing and the outcome of not doing well. As Frank Herbert wrote decades ago, “Fear is the mind-killer”…
Archers often fall into this trap, guilty of this same thing. If the archer tries too hard, or starts micro-managing the effort, say thinking about the pieces of the pie like elbow position, anchoring, clicker, etc., performance goes down instead of up. An archer aiming to not miss will certainly fail. Allow that kind of thought to repeat a couple of times, and a lifetime habit can be born that destroys a perfectly fun game/sport.
One trick to avoid this is to teach your archer to know when to think about something else completely. A world champion many times over repeats mentally, “green legos”, so that “how’s my back tension” doesn’t have a chance to appear on the mental tv screen. Archers that have an issue they are working on can usually get away with saying that mantra over and over, before the actual shot process begins, because even though they are thinking of one particular part of the shot cycle, they are still putting everything else on autopilot once the archer starts to shoot the arrow.
I will often have the archer DECIDE right before the cycle begins on what needs to be done and only then, begin the shot cycle. Once a decision is made there does not need to be any thinking, because the athlete has visualized the path and need only walk it. On a clear path, who really needs to think about how to walk it?
Archers: Coach Lee will tell you (quite correctly) that for the successful archer the goal of shooting an arrow can never be an outcome. You cannot get to the top step by trying to “shoot a ten” alone. You must focus on the process of performing an entire set of movements properly with your body and trust in the results to come. What happens at the target is entirely controlled by what the archer does on the line. Remember that all archers will shoot bad shots, even miss. The champion is the one that doesn’t care too much when that happens.
Coaches: During competitions an archer must be coached, trained, to recognize when to say “green lego”, when to decide. and to know how to let go of a bad “whatever”, how to get into , and then stay in, the groove of mindless automation. That keeps the Ventral Striatum reward system in balance and under control.