Archery Could Use a Little Less Insider Critique, A Little More Empathy

Posted by Amy Hatfield on August 13, 2014 in Archery Growth
Archery Insiders Smugness "We don’t want (beginners) to feel daunted by archery or bowhunting, and we don’t want them to feel they must be perfect or know everything before walking into an archery shop."

I believe superiority is the human way. I really do. Even if you’re generous and empathetic, smugness can slip into some corner of your persona and show itself.

Granted, my theory isn’t based on data; just my own experiences. But consider the ATA’s new venture, Archery 360. It’s a website designed to be lighthearted and not too technical. The idea is to reach out to the uninitiated and get them a step closer to picking up a bow and trying archery.

We don’t want this group to feel daunted by archery or bowhunting, or to feel they must be perfect or know everything before walking into an archery shop. Archery 360’s content should show empathy for the user’s needs and uncertainties. And, yes, the images we use often depict idealistic versions of people and places, but all of these seemingly superficial things appeal to each person’s aspirations, not necessarily their reality.

Yet every time we post photos of someone like Katniss Everdeen — “The Hunger Games” heroine — and her shooting form isn’t just right, archery “experts” and “insiders” take aim and defile the actress via Facebook. “Take your finger off the arrow!” “Get your elbow down!”

And so on and so on.

These comments advance little and distract from a much larger goal. And this larger goal might be best explained through role-play:

Imagine you’re 15 years old.

Imagine you’ve never touched a bow in your life. All you know is you love “The Hunger Games” movies. The movie’s main character — or maybe some other Hollywood archer — has you thinking, “I want to shoot a bow.” Problem is, you don’t know a soul with a bow and arrow. No one you know hunts, and no one you know shoots competitively or even for backyard fun.

OK. So where do you go and how do you start? Beginners with no clear “on ramp” to archery need special care. We want to entertain and engage them first, and then offer enough information to draw them to places where they can pick up and shoot a bow for the first time. We must get them shooting. That’s our conversion point.

Archery insiders may want to criticize imperfections in photos, movies and TV shows. In most cases, their criticisms are so obscure to the type of beginner described above that they neither help nor hurt the conversion point. Yet, their piling on makes them archery’s most visible ambassadors, simply because they’re the loudest.

And the thing is, there’s no measurable downside if the sport’s experts stand down and choose to forgo critiquing the nuances of shooting technique, form and the overall accurate portrayal of archery in media (movies, images, online content, etc.). If the archery community — through projects like Archery 360 —can usher beginners into archery shops and/or get them enrolled in a youth program, they’ll find their way to certified instructors. It’s then — and only then — that they’ll discover their imperfections, and work to fix them.

Beginners are not as motivated to receive instruction, as they are to take instruction. That motivation is part of a larger process that happens about the time new archers fling enough bad arrows to go looking for a fix. Dedication to proper form only comes when realizing poor form leads to poor performance. Everyone wants to hit the target.

This isn’t only about a few Facebook comments. It’s bigger than that.

Superiority can be a virtue if used constructively, but when it shows itself as a vice, it’s often a byproduct of wanting exclusivity. It’s a desire penetrating not just the archery community, but also the bowhunting crowd. In fact, it’s unique to no one or no single group, because everyone wants to count. We want to be recognized as valuable and as someone who is good at something.

Take for instance Congressman Paul Ryan, who allowed Time magazine to photograph him in his office drawing down on a bow. In a highly visible way, he owned his passion for bowhunting and put a mainstream spotlight on bows and arrows. Yet, some detractors chose to focus on the largely understood and trivial safety violation of drawing a bow indoors. This stark blindness to the larger picture — namely, a big win for bowhunting — isn’t really about blindness. It’s about being overtly dedicated to one’s own self-importance, rather than the importance of the larger movement that includes you, but doesn’t elevate you.  

So, yes, elitism is alive at the archery range and it’s alive at hunt camp. Hunters who hunt deer over corn are judged by those who don’t, traditional bowhunters look down their noses at compound bowhunters, and everybody looks down their noses at crossbow hunters … except other crossbow hunters.

And around and ’round we go.

And, you know what? I’m not a flower child or a bohemian peace warrior. I believe people squabble, and I think debates cause friction that shapes and polishes end results. But archery and bowhunting are not in that moment right now. We need numbers and we need outside help.

When most Americans are bowhunting to source their own food or when archery gets the same ESPN coverage that football, basketball and baseball enjoy, I’ll encourage our internal debates and maybe promote a little snobbery. We’ll have earned it. But until then, let’s open doors and stand down when tempted to argue frivolous matters that only detract from our larger goal: growth, a sort of wild and crazy growth.