BUILDING A SUPPORT SYSTEM WITH PARALYMPIC CHAMPION DANIELLE BROWN
Nobody achieves success on their own. In my competitive career, so many people helped me achieve – from family, friends and coaches, to fellow competitors who dragged my bow case across muddy fields and collected my arrows. There were tournament officials who brought me hot drinks when it was pouring down with rain and archers who offered words of advice and support. I may have stood on the top of the podium and collected medals, but behind me was an army of people who made it possible.
Even though archery is an individual sport, anybody wanting to take it to the next level must surround themselves with the right people. On the shooting line, it’s just you and your bow, but building a strong support team around you will help you get from A to B much more quickly. Your team will help you recover from downturns faster and push you to achieve what you think is impossible. They can provide objective feedback on your progress, as well as giving you direction on how to improve further.
When deciding what kind of support you need and who the right people to provide it for you are, the first question you need to answer is: what do I want from this sport? Once you answer this, then you can start to look at the areas where you need help to achieve that goal.
If you would like to improve your national ranking or get your MB badge, for example, there are many areas you can focus on, from increasing your arrow count, developing your technique, working on your equipment or increasing your mental strength. Once you have isolated the different areas, the next thing you need to ask is: who can help me with this?
Most archers have a support team in place already. Families and friends play a huge role in most successes, whether they take an active role on the archery field, watch from the sidelines, listen about how terrible that practice session was or find a way for you to get the equipment you need. Every parent, spouse or friend wants you to succeed, but trust me, this dynamic can go wrong.
Remember that while you are learning to become a better archer, they are learning to be a better support team and they don’t have a manual to tell them what to do. Towards the end of my international career, my family were the most supportive and understanding team that I could have wished for. They put me under no additional pressure and, in the most stressful moments of my career, they gave me exactly what I needed. However, we made many mistakes before we got to this point.
It was communication, or rather the lack of it, that caused most problems. There were wellmeaning comments that got taken out of context, assumptions about my performance and unhelpful observations about my technique. When we realised that certain comments distracted me and others made me feel I was being put under more pressure, we came up with a plan. We discussed what was helpful and what was not and how I could communicate better so fewer issues would bubble to the surface.
One of the most common comments I have heard parents or club mates say to an archer who isn’t having the best day is, “Your scores are normally a lot higher than that. What went wrong?” It’s usually done with the best of intentions – they are concerned and want to help, but this clumsy way of phrasing it forces the archer to focus on the negative and feel under pressure by those who should be supporting them. I’ve seen this lead to – and experienced it myself – frustration, disenchantment and, on occasion, even anger.
There is a really quick and easy fix for this. Communication. If a club member is standing behind you on the line, avidly watching every arrow, delivering a running commentary about the score and it’s throwing you off track, then tell them. If doing a post-mortem of a below-average score on the car journey home from a tournament is downright depressing, then say something. They’re trying to help, but it’s really difficult for them to give you the support you need if they don’t know any better.
So initiate a dialogue. Let the people around you know what you find helpful and what you find distracting. Go back to the question we looked at right at the beginning. Let them know what you want out of this sport and see if together you can come up with a plan to help you achieve it.
Another key member of your support team is a training partner. If you can find somebody in your club at a similar level to you, then ask them to be your training partner. A bit of friendly competition helps focus your attention and you start to see improvements in scores quickly, as you’re pushing each other along.
It increases your commitment to turning up, as you’re not going to put off a training session if you know somebody is at the range waiting for you to turn up. It makes it more fun, which is always a massive plus. And, it helps your form to improve. Your coach can’t be stood behind you every single session, but your training partner will soon pick up on bad habits creeping into your technique. If you’re having a disaster of a day, they might notice you doing something different to normal, so you can correct it much more quickly than having to wait on your coach.
When it comes to picking the right training partner, there are a number of factors. Ideally, they should be of a similar standard and have similar goals to you. It’s also essential that you have compatible schedules – it’s never going to work if you can only train on Wednesday through to Friday and your partner is free on a Monday. More importantly, you have to like each other and they should have a good attitude.
There are other areas of support as well, such as finding people who can help you improve your strength and fitness, injury support and prevention, and raising your mental game. The great thing about the archery community is that it’s quite close-knit and coaches or club members can point you in the right direction if you feel you would benefit from this. You are only as strong as the people around you, so choose carefully and communicate well.
Double Paralympic champion Danielle Brown MBE wrote this previously published piece about support networks – including parents – for Bow back in issue 116. Since retiring from competitive archery, she now works as an author and motivational speaker.
“I STOOD ON THE PODIUM, BUT BEHIND ME WAS AN ARMY OF PEOPLE”