Tag Archives: Focus

What Does A Bronze Medal Require?

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.

Turnaround Tunnel - Beijing(This is the tunnel between the B side and the Main Stadium from Beijing )

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.

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

You practice, practice, practice…goes the old joke.  If all your archer does is practice flinging arrows, you’ll never get her to Carnegie Hall, though, because it takes more than just practice.

It is a fairly well-accepted rule that in order to be the best at “something”, you have to put in a lot of work, and a general rule of thumb popularized over the last few years is 10,000 hours.

That’s right, they say – Michael Phelps spent 10,000 hours swimming laps, Michael Jordan playing pickup on the neighborhood basketball courts for 10k hours .  There is a lot of evidence when you look at various successful olympic athletes, that something similar about “time invested” applies.  Another argument is that there really aren’t any “child prodigies” for sports, that the overnight sensations are usually people that labored (practiced) anonymously for years until they were discovered (or had honed their skills till they were “good enough”.

I fell in love with this whole concept when I first was told about it during an olympic coaching seminar held for all sports disciplines in Colorado, and I took it to heart since it merged with what through personal experience I felt I already knew.  I also came home with the understanding that it is not merely “doing it everyday” instead of once every four years, but that it had to be purposeful practice.

This concept struck a deep chord, for I had unwittingly performed much this same concept in working with my athlete that ultimately medaled in Beijing. Coach Tom Parrish had told me as early as 2001 that Korean archers (then as now renowned as some of the world’s best) always practiced with a coach so that no bad habits were allowed to creep in.  Therefore, I had resolved to coach my daughter this same way.

For my archer, it was that nearly every arrow, of nearly every single practice day during more than 8 years of dedication, was done with me coaching – analyzing, assessing, judging, providing instant feedback and reinforcement.  The archer was incredibly adept at receiving the observations and adjusting continually.  I would guess this applied for 80% of her practice time – the rest of the time she diligently worked on her skills by herself, almost always with a set of particular element(s) to improve.   She rarely met the “4 to 6 hours per day” workload due to physical limitations.  However, when she was training she put 100% of herself into it, a higher commitment than most athletes can manage for such an extended time.  She was deeply invested in “purposeful practice”, and though I estimate she put in “only” 8,000 hours, it proved enough.  Which brings me to ….

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence , by Daniel Goleman

This book confirms in many ways the need for the “whatever-the-heck-number-of-hours-you-can-get-out-of-your-athlete” are, to be purposeful, innovative, challenging, stimulating, non-boring, enjoyable, well….you get the idea.  I know it is a fact that in at least one medalist’s case, that if done with the right technique, you don’t need 10,000 hours and that is part of Goleman’s argument.  It can be done with far less, (as well as require far more) – the 10k rule makes the assumption that the individual actually has the core strength in all the elements that define “elite” to rise to the top step.  In reality few will, but I do believe the investment of hours will lead that athlete to be the best that she or he “can” be.

This book should be on your shelf, coach, with ample highlights, underlines, quotes identified, and with the understanding that like the other books in my bibliography up here, it’s both completely right and maybe all wrong.  Take the parts that work best for your coaching philosophy and own them.   If you are fortunate enough to encounter an athlete dedicated enough to attempt 10,000 hours of purposeful practice, you must be prepared to contribute your part to making those hours to be….purposeful enough, useful enough, effective enough, RIGHT enough, to enable that athlete to rise to his or her full potential.  Will it be on the medal stand?

Only the gods of sport will decide upon which head the laurel wreath will rest.