Many archers cannot hold their sight-pin in the middle of the target while aiming. This malady is called “target panic,” but the term overstates things because many archers aren’t actually panicking as they aim.
It’s more accurate to say they’re experiencing anxiety. That’s good, because anxiety is more fixable than panicking. Our brain can usually do simple “calculations” like placing a dot in the middle of concentric circles. It can also align and superimpose lots of circles, such as when archers use an open ring.
For many archers, however, simple aiming proves more challenging than it should be. When that happens, they can take steps in practice to shed this “brain miscalculation” and get their sight-pin back in the middle.
Remove the Dot
One easy step in overcoming “aiming anxiety” is to remove the dot in your sight-pin. That lets you see the gold without any distractions in front of its center. You can then take your focus off aiming, and put it back on shot execution.
Enlarge the Ring
Once you’ve removed the dot from your sight-pin, enlarge the ring you’re looking through to get a bigger picture of the target before you. Trying to center a small ring on the middle might become “too accurate,” causing your brain to take over and put you back on Square 1. Seeing more of the target lets your eyes relax more, and gives you a general sense of the target instead of aiming too hard and struggling to hold in the middle.
American compound archer Paige Pearce learned how to train her brain to aim in the middle. She often shoots a smaller target at 5 yards so it looks the same through her scope as a regular target does at 20 or 50 meters.
“I just work on aiming in the middle up close so my mind can get used to it,” Pearce said. “When I used to shoot the normal (sized) target close, (stepping) back (made) it look like it’s getting harder and harder, because it is.”
Consistent sight pictures while training help your brain get used to the way your sight looks on the target, which makes it easier to hold in the center.
Shoot with No Sight
This exercise might be scarier than others, but it helps train your brain to stare at the gold. Bethany Phillips is a recurve archer who trained at the Easton Archery Center of Excellence (formerly an Olympic Training Center) in Chula Vista, California. She had aiming anxiety that made her aim off-center.
Instructors at the OTC made Phillips remove her sight and shoot at blank bales for a few weeks. “I think it untrains your brain,” she said. “I would stick a tack in the target to give my eyes a place to focus without aiming. I started at blank-bale distance and moved back to 18 meters. Then I shot at 30 meters with the 80-centimeter face with an aperture. That process also helped my eye-dominance issues. After training like that, I no longer have to wear a blinder.”
Using these exercises in practice over long time periods helps archers aim in the middle. However, the habit of aiming off-center can creep back in during competition. That’s when archers should not fight that urge to aim off-center. The extra tension caused by fighting the habit can hurt your shot execution.
If Pearce feels the urge to aim off-center, she lets her scope’s dot settle wherever her brain wants. She then adjusts her sight so her arrows still hit gold. “I’m a firm believer in doing what you have to do to get through the competition, and then putting in the work at home,” she said.
Lots of practice and time behind the bow will help most archers get back to aiming in the middle. Be patient. Results won’t come instantly, but the eventual rewards will be worth the work.