Aiming at the Centre Again

Steve Clifton Commonwealth Games

Hi, my name is Steve, and I am a puncher.

Throughout my shooting career I have spent the majority of the time shooting with my Carter Target 3 thumb trigger release. I found early on that if I point my dot in the middle and ‘punch’ the trigger, it would go there. Over 12+ years of using this ‘point and punch’ style, I had won 3 World championship medals, broken many New Zealand records and shot multiple 1400s. My method was simple: draw up on the target, aim just under the gold for 3-5 seconds, move the dot into the 10 and punch the release.

Around the time of the Commonwealth Games (2010) I began to notice that I was having trouble getting the dot into the gold without freaking out and punching the trigger early, causing me to many low 8s or 7s. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t want to even think the words ‘Target panic’ or ‘Gold shyness’ as I knew it would destroy my confidence going into the Commonwealth Games. I continued to ignore the signs until finally realising in early 2012 that I had developed a bad case of target panic and gold shyness.

Performances in 2 events (Las Vegas and Australian Outdoor Nationals) really opened my eyes to the fact that I either needed to change something with my style of shooting, or continue ignoring it and end up quitting the sport that has dominated my whole life. Choosing the former, I knew I had a lot of work to do. I spent a lot of time researching different methods others have used to cure their gold shyness and developed a training plan to help me aim at the centre of the gold again.

Curing My Gold Shyness

I knew one of my main issues was aiming the dot at the center, and after speaking with Bruce Johnson in Brisbane, he suggested trying his ‘clear lens’ method to get me comfortable seeing the yellow in my scope again. At first I wasn’t sure how taking my dot out could help me as I knew that I wouldn’t be using this style of aiming in a competition. But I knew Bruce had helped others through some of their issues with gold shyness, so I replaced my Beiter fibre dot lens with a clear one. I also added an orange restrictor inside the scope to bring my scope view down from the entire target at 50m, to seeing only the blue inwards.

Initially I found that I was using the edges of the restrictor to line up the target rings with and use this as an aiming point. Bruce gave me the task to forget where the rings were, and just focus on looking at the centre of the gold. As I spent more time looking into the centre of the gold, I found my arrows were once again landing where I was ‘aiming’. I believe this is an important beginning step for those with gold shyness, as you are getting comfortable seeing the yellow in your scope, but have no aiming point to cause any anxiety around executing the shot.

Once I was comfortable with the gold back in the middle of my scope, I swapped the clear 6x lens out for Beiters 4x lens with a drilled hole for fibre dots. One of the best features of this Beiter lens is the fibre dot kit which has a range of dots sizes that can be swapped out with ease. I choose to drop my lens power down from a 6x to a 4x so that the movement of my dot on the target would seem a lot less. Something I came to learn was that my target panic was in part caused by me seeing the dot moving too quickly across the target and that caused me to become afraid to use a surprise release. If you find that you are starting and stopping while your dot travels across the gold, I would suggest beginning here and changing your lens strength.

As well as dropping my lens to a 4x, I then increased my dot size to one that covered the almost all of the 9 (on a Fita 80cm face) at 50m. When you have most of the gold covered with a big dot, you are then not able to see such a great movement in and out of the scoring zones. This is another solution I have found to helping my release process be a continuous flow from start to execution.

Lastly, I changed my peep size from a Small to a Medium. My theory was that by increasing the amount of light going into my eye I would blur my sight picture slightly. This is exactly what happened, and from here I could no longer see holes or other arrows in the target, nor could I see the lines of scoring zones. This gave me a consistent sight picture that allowed me to keep my mind focused on the same image time and time again. I found that by cutting out these distractions I was able to let my dot float in the gold and focus completely on using my back to correctly execute the shot.

How I gained 60 points on my FITA scores in 3 weeks!

For those who may have shot with me in the 2012 Australian Outdoor Nationals in Canberra, they would have seen my shooting at one of the lowest points in my career. In perfect conditions, I only managed to shoot mid 1340’s. This really made me mad. I was sick of shooting so poorly, and I knew the cause: punching. I once could punch my thumb trigger with such control I barely missed the 10. Now, I could barely hit a 9.

The reason I had avoided using a back tension hinge release was that I worried how I would perform when I was under pressure. But since my release had become so bad, I figured that using a hinge release could only make it better. I can tell you now, it was the best decision I ever made…

After returning from the Australian Nationals, I had a new mission, and that was get myself confidently using the Carter Only hinge release before our championship FITA event in 3 weeks’ time. I had always used my Carter hinge in practise, but my experiences with shooting hinges in competition had never been so good, so they very rarely made any appearances on the shooting line.

I spent the whole 3 weeks shooting with the hinge release and the above mentioned sight changes. I focused not on what my dot was doing, but on the movement in my back. One of the key things I came to terms with during that 3 weeks was that in order to shoot a 10, my dot DID NOT need to be there when the shot went off. I realised that I spent too much time worrying that if the dot wasn’t in the 10 that I would not score one, but I found that most of the time my subconscious would move the shot into the 10 for me.

At the FITA star 3 weeks later, I managed to shoot my first 1400 (1405) since mid-2009. I will tell you now, shooting that 1405 was one of the easiest things I have ever done. I spent all my time focusing on keeping my form correct and using my hinge release correctly that I didn’t have time to think about the score.

Now, I am a person who is always counting points as I drop them, knowing how far ahead or behind my competition I am, and what my maximum score is that I can get. As these distracting thoughts occur, it is important to have a good set of mental processes and contingencies that can aid in lowering your anxiety levels back to where you can perform at your peak again. One key thing I have found to really help me while standing on the line is focusing on movement of muscles during my shot process.

When I get stressed in competition, one of the key things I have found that helps me lower my anxiety levels and focus on performing is to focus on the movement of muscles while at full draw. If you start thinking about the score (a future based event) you are adding an uncertain outcome to an already difficult situation which does not need to be made any harder. I like to consciously focus on a particular muscle movement to help distract my thought processes and keep me in the present. It has been well documented in many sports journals that athletes who perform at the highest levels in their sports are completely focused on the process of their routine, not on the result. Keeping your focus on the process of your shot keeps your conscious mind in the present, and will help dispel any anxious thoughts or worries about score.

The steps I take are:

  • Draw the bow back, focus on the loading of the muscles as I draw
  • Anchor the bow, and focus on the string and trigger hand touching my face
  • Put my dot in the middle of the target, focus on my back moving around as I pull through the shot
  • Forget about the movement of the dot in the middle, focus on the movement of my back muscles
  • Shot goes off, focus on the follow through

As you will see above, my whole shot process is focused on feeling the movements of my muscles. By focusing on the movements, it is impossible for me to thinking about other things such as score or worrying about where I am on the leader board. This process keeps me in the present, and helps to lower any anxiety I might have while at full draw.

Hopefully this has can give those having any issues with gold shyness or target panic recover from this depressing situation. I spent a lot of time feeling very angry at archery and myself for shooting so bad, but taking small steps in the right direction can really help get back to the top of your game.


(First published issue 512, September/October 2012)