by Brandi Granett
Michelle Simpson-Pitts of Tallahassee, Florida, is a wife, mother, writer and veterans-affairs advocate. When she was a single mom, she knew her children – Emma, Tristan and Zoe – would have to embrace new partners in her life for the family to be truly whole. When she reconnected about four years ago with Kevin Pitts, a wounded warrior and former sweetheart, the sport of archery became a bridge between Kevin and Michelle’s children, especially then 8-year-old Emma, who took to the sport and is now pursuing an Olympic archery dream.
Archery is at the root of your family. How did you and your children enter the sport?
Kevin is a longtime bowhunter and compound-bow competitor. Kevin and I started dating when Emma was 8, and almost immediately she expressed interest in shooting. She started with a Pink Lemonade Mini-Genesis, and she has been shooting ever since. When she was 11, Emma began working with archery coaches M.J. Rogers and Bill Hewes when we lived in South Dakota. When she tried a recurve bow, it was over. She has competed in state and national competitions ever since.
How did Emma and Kevin’s relationship grow?
Kevin is a combat-disabled veteran. He didn’t get much help dealing with his injuries’ physical and mental realities. When he met Emma, he started getting outside to coach her, which helped him engage in life. It was a large factor in helping him seek treatment for various issues, and to become a certified USA Archery coach.
Emma, meanwhile, was shy and seldom engaged with anyone outside of the house before she took up archery. Now she’s the opposite. She seldom stops talking! She and Kevin could not be closer. It’s tremendously gratifying to see two people I love become such a great team.
Why does archery help build strong relationships?
Emma helped answer this question because she has benefited tremendously from archery. She said the process helped her learn to talk about experiences and learn from others. The only way you succeed is by seeking knowledge that improves your techniques and mental game. You get more information through teammates and coaches, so communication is important. Archers rely on the person who’s teaching them, and trust that person to give them correct information.
Archery helped Emma bloom. How has she changed? Why do you think archery builds confidence?
Once Emma’s hands were engaged in shooting, it got her out of her head. Shy kids tend to talk themselves down internally. When she started putting arrows in the red and yellow (target rings), she immediately felt a confidence boost. Success feels great! She is so much more talkative, and much more willing to be exactly who she is. She’s more than a mother could ever hope for. It’s been really cool to watch.
One big thing that contributes to confidence is that you can’t blame others. Archery is a personal journey and singular task. Your own work and discipline puts the arrows where they’re supposed to go. Once archers figure out it’s all in their hands – and heads – they want to see the success repeatedly.
As the mother of a junior Olympic hopeful, what advice do you have for other parents?
Emma hasn’t made the Junior Dream Team yet, but she’s working on it. She has been invited to camps at both U.S. Olympic Training Center locations, and it’s probably her favorite event of the year. She has made great friends with team members, and several coaches come by to check on her at every shoot.
One reason Emma started to blog about her experiences was because we had no idea what to do when she came to us at age 12 and said, “I want to make the U.S. Archery team and go to the Olympics.” As a parent, how do you figure out what that means? Thank goodness for the Internet! We put Emma in charge of researching, and made a plan of what we could (and couldn’t) do. I asked her to commit to writing about each tournament or event to help her reflect on what she learned. We didn’t anticipate how many people, especially on Tumblr, would have questions about the process. Now that archery is so much more popular, it’s easier to learn what you need about the process.
My best advice is to manage expectations and know your limitations. Are these archers doing this for fun, or do they repeatedly ask you to help them figure out how to reach the Olympics? There’s a big difference. Also, know what you CAN’T do. Several archery organizations hold competitions all year. It’s not usually realistic to attend every single one. Fees can be expensive, and competitions always start during the week. There will be a ton of missed school, so competitive young archers often must be home-schooled.
Kevin’s advice is to remember to support archery, not the score. It’s easy to overwhelm archers by focusing on a number. Anything that someone is passionate about should be fun. Taking that fun element away from a kid is always detrimental.
About the author
Brandi Granett is a published author, writing coach and competitive archer. Visit her website at http://www.brandigranett.com.