Most Extreme Elimination Challenge
by Tom Barker
There is a popular cult television show on Spike TV called Most Extreme Elimination Challenge or MXC for short. In this tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek program a series of contestants work their way through some bizarre obstacle courses with the background commentary of the hosts Kenny Blankenship and Vic Romano. The purpose of this article is to share what I think are the most extreme elimination challenges to youth archery.

At last year’s Texas State Archery Association state field championships one of my JOAD kids, Tyler Janota, shot with Master Archers George Jarvis and Jerry Hendrickson. It is to the credit of the tournament director, Rick Stonebraker, that on the first day of competition he pairs the kids with more experienced archers. Well, Tyler commented to his father after shooting and watching George and Jerry, “This is something I can do for a lifetime.” Unfortunately there are some "most extreme elimination challenges" that might prevent Tyler and other youth archers from being able to do this for a lifetime.

Youth Archer Interest Challenge
The first major elimination challenge is the interest of the youth archer. The youngsters really have to want to take up the discipline of archery to make it a life long activity, and it is not for everyone. As Jack Milchanowski said at one of the TSAA youth archery camps, “If this is not fun, don’t do it.” Many parents will format experiences for their children in many different activities and some will be fun and some will not. Frequently these parents find archery and the life skills they learn with archery are beneficial and the kids show a strong interest in participating. But, if it is not fun for the youngster, it is time to move on. I love the line that Ron Howard, Texas 4H shooting sports coordinator uses in his workshops. To paraphrase Ron, “The best way to expose a youngster to archery is to have one kid shoot one arrow at a target. Before the youngster can get the second arrow downrange there will have magically appeared two more kids to see what is happening.” I frequently tell folks that our 4H practices and tournaments are just big parties occasionally interrupted by the shooting of arrows.

Parental Support System Challenge
The second major challenge for the youth archer is parental support. There are several facets of this challenge that eliminate a lot of youth archers. Equipment cost is one facet. It is fairly easy to get into the beginner stages of youth archery especially with many of the clubs purchasing starter equipment that is available for loan. Most archery pro-shops will help youngsters get into the game. But, as the child progresses in skill and interest there is the point that the youngster can take advantage of better equipment, and it can be expensive.

We have a new effort in Texas around equipment that is evolving. I call it the Legacy Program. It was started by TSAA vice president Mike Hojnacki, who sent out an email that said he had some older equipment that he wasn’t using any more and wondered if any of the JOAD kids could use it. The conditions were they could use it until they got their own or stopped using it so that he could loan it to some other youngster. Well, Tyler Janota jumped on the opportunity and has shot his best scores with Mike’s loaned Hoyt Radian. (Mike and Tyler with the Radian.)

Staten Holmes made a similar Legacy donation of some of his old arrows. He asked me if some of my kids could use some of his old arrows that he had grown out of. I said sure. What I got was a gold mine of arrows that after I sorted them provided quality arrows for 8 of my JOAD kids who also are shooting their best scores with them. All the kids chipped in and bought Staten some new hunting arrows that he harvested a nice Illinois doe with.

I recently purchased a used bow sight from Rick Stonebraker at a tremendously reduced price and resold to an up and coming youth archer that was ready for an equipment upgrade. Rick let it go to me even though he knew he could get more for it from an adult when he found out it was for a kid.

The interesting thing is the equipment loan or gift itself has a tremendous value, but there is a side benefit of where it came from. The kids comment that they want to make the person who loaned or gave them the equipment proud so there is a an expectation of excellence that they impose on themselves. The archers with Staten’s arrows know that those arrows have won many tournaments. Those that make Legacy donations, or gifts or reduced price sales should understand the karma that goes with their assistance to these kids.

The second facet of the parental support challenge is transportation. In order for these youth archers to excel they have to be able to compete. There is no substitute for tournament line experience which means the parents must take them to the tournaments, and sometimes that means vacation time and travel expenses.

The final facet of the parental support challenge is the emotional support. If Mom and Dad are not there for the good and bad times then the youth archer will quickly lose interest and leave the sport. Accentuating the positives and mitigating the negatives is a critical role for parents to play in assisting their youngster reach their archery potential.

Mentor Challenge
So we have arrived at the final challenge, the youngster is enthusiastic about shooting, they have the best equipment money can buy, the parents take them to all the tournaments, and the parents are super supportive of their youngster’s efforts. All this will be for naught if the youngster cannot find a mentor. I am careful in the use of the word “mentor” because it has many connotations. The mentor might be a true coach, or it might be a more experienced archer who has taken the youngster under their wing. Sometimes it can even be a parent that takes the time and energy to learn how to provide additional assistance to their child. But whatever it is, the is no such thing as a self taught youth archer. With the tremendous increase in youth archery, one can see there must therefore be a tremendous increase in the demand for youth archery mentors. For those that have enjoyed archery for such a large part of their lives it is imperative that somehow they find some way to help a youth archer. It might be through a Legacy equipment loan or gift, or even helping out with a JOAD or 4H club by getting your level 1 certification and volunteering. Or you might find that your shooting and shooting enjoyment actually improve when you are coaching a youngster. Whatever you do remember “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”

We are very fortunate here in Texas to have so many adult archers willing to share the line with a youngster, whether it be in College Station at the Aggie Invitational, or the TSAA field event where the kids get to shoot with their archery heroes on day one, or the Lone Star FITA in Austin where they include kid’s distances in the tournament. The youth archer’s interest, parental support, and mentor challenges are the key things that can eliminate youth archers from the sport. So as host Kenny and Vic exhort everyone at the close of their show, MXC, “Don’t get eliminated!”

editor's note:
Chelsea Barker has recently joined father Tom Barker in his mission:  Getting kids to shoot. They have coached a number of youth archers over the years (and continue to do so today).  Tom has been instrumental in bringing together the HUGE 4-H archery movement in District 11, South Texas and the NAA's JOAD program, with the result being a synergistic effect of getting more kids into archery and learning to love archery.  His many tips, suggestions, observations, and perceptions have made the TSAA website a much better resource. 

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