I’ll speak to archery. Other sports, no.
In world-class competition these days, two archers shoot head-to-head in front of screaming, noise-making crowds numbering at times in thousands seated only a few meters away from the shooting line.
It is a bit ironic, in that during 90% of all archery competitions most archers will experience, “quiet” is the rule on the line, as in golf or serving for tennis. NOT SO at the world cups, the world champs, the paras and the olys. Crowds, extremely noisy and partisan crowds, cheer, bang noise makers, and are HEARD, during the shot process. It’s important for the coach to recognize this, and to teach the archer, prepare her, so that s/he can still focus, can Clear The Mechanism and FOCUS, when her 20 seconds are running down.
As it works, each archer shoots alternately with a 20 second countdown timer RIGHT in front of them. The moment the opponents arrow lands in the target, the counter switches and immediately starts down. 20. 19. 18 . 17. and regardless of the conditions and the winds, the sun, in particular the ROAR of the crowds cheering their archer’s just made shot, the other archer must produce a shot cycle and deliver before that countdown ends.
With match-play divided into sets, it often is not over until (no, not the fat lady singing), but the last arrow wobbling in the bale 70 meters away. There is this moment of realization of either success, or failure to succeed. In the Semi-final matches today in Mexico, TWO Texans, both recurve, one male and one female, each competed in the semi-final matches, to determine which archer got to play for the gold/silver medal, and which (the loser) got to recover for a possible bronze or 4th place.
The striking difference is that after the semi results are tallied, the loser must THEN, within a few moments, conduct another match, in the same main-stage venue as if for gold/silver. S/He has just been defeated. Lost. Failed to score the right arrow at the right time. And the tournament director is telling them, “NO, you cannot just set there and weep and dwell on what you did wrong”…You must RIGHT NOW take your bows, and the arrows they are just returning to you from the target, and go to the main arena, sometimes mere steps away through a tunnel.
And fight for the “consolation” of the bronze. As my Outward Bound leader often told me, while hanging by a rope, or traversing a knife-edge at 14,000 feet summitting Capitol Peak while roped to 6 other climbers, “you have to get your sh*t together”. Crude but erudite. As it is for our two Texan recurves today who BOTH found themselves thrown into a fight for the bronze. They had to get it together. Why?
Bronze is the only medal where to have a chance to win it, you must first lose. First, have your goal snatched away and your heart broken – your hopes of the glorious golden top step wiped out, destroyed. That goal that perhaps you’ve spent 8 or 10 years working towards, 6 days (or more) out of every week!
You may naturally want to collapse, to cry, to retreat. You will most certainly know inside yourself, that one arrow you faltered with, that lost the set, that lost the match, that took away your chance for the gold. (or silver). If coach has done his/her job right, that will not happen.
Having witnessed first-hand the mental disruption to my student this caused, and watched the turnaround in attitude within 50 feet and 10 seconds, from devastation to determination, I know what defines a champion.
To win a gold is unique – in each tournament, only one person will do this per gender/bow – only one person will not lose a single match in the event. Every other archer WILL lose, and how they respond defines their self-worth and self-esteem.
One archer will lose, and then be asked, be afforded, the chance to then win. I’d say it is harder to win the bronze, mentally, than the gold. Perhaps not. But with a bronze winner, s/he has just gotten DOUBLE the competitive experience and education. And every match played is experience that affords the opportunity to learn – I’m sure our Texans learned a lot today. Congratulations to these relative newcomers on getting as far as they did, and they both know that on any given day, they can make that top step. Today will help them on that path – they both got double the experience! Congratulations to them, again. And also, to their parents, team mates, friends, and coaches.