BY DEER & DEER HUNTING’S STEVE FLORES
As an avid bow-hunter and a father, there is a burning desire inside me to pass along my passion for archery and the outdoors to my children. As much as any parent, I want them to be successful, not only in life but behind the bowstring as well. This requires a certain amount of knowledge, patience and commitment from all parties involved.
While some life lessons can’t be taught but rather must be learned by your children, teaching them the basics of archery and how to be successful at it, is something you can do the moment they pick up a bow and arrow.
All it takes are good fundamentals, the right equipment and an environment conducive to success. Combine these three elements and you are well on your way to teaching your children a skill they will enjoy for the rest of their lives.
Before you head down to the pro-shop to pick out the “perfect” bow for your young ones, you first need to conduct a very important, yet often overlooked, test. The purpose of this test is to determine your child’s most dominant eye. This is a vital step for accurate shooting since the bowstring should be directly in front of the dominant eye.
Most parents mistakenly assume that children’s dominant eyes will coincide with their dominant hands. But that isn’t always the case. Therefore, eye dominance should be established before any decisions are made regarding equipment. The easiest way to do that is with the following method:
• Have the child extend both hands forward, placing them together to form a small triangle between the thumbs and the first knuckle on the index fingers.
• With both eyes open, have the child look through the triangle and center on a particular object, such as a doorknob, light bulb or rock.
• Next, have the child close his left eye. If the object stays centered in the triangle, the youngster is right-eye dominant. If the triangle appears to move off of the object, making it no longer visible, then the child is left-eye dominant.
• To further validate your findings, have the child perform the test again. Only this time have him close his right eye first. If the object remains in view, he is left-eye dominant. If the object is no longer visible, he is right-eye dominant.
This test can also be performed in a similar fashion by having the child point his index fingers at an object before closing his left eye. If the finger stays on the object, then he is right-eye dominant.
STEP TWO: PROPER DRAW LENGTH AND DRAW WEIGHT
One of the most important aspects to consider when setting up children with their first bows is to make sure they are comfortable. Remember, the act of shooting a bow is completely new to them, so it is important that the bow itself doesn’t hinder their enjoyment. This usually occurs by forcing them to shoot a bow that is either too long for them (draw length) or too difficult to pull back comfortably (draw weight); sometimes even both.
The wingspan method is a simple procedure used in order to establish a starting point for a child’s proper draw length measurement. Of course, some fine tuning might be needed, but this method will put you very close to the actual number.
to begin, have the child stand with his back against a wall, arms extended to the side. Then, measure his “wingspan” from fingertip to fingertip. Take that measurement and divide it by 2 1/2. This will give you a rough draw length. For example, a 45-inch wingspan divided by 2 1/2 equals an 18-inch draw length. Remember, correct draw length is an important component in proper shooting form. Without proper form, accuracy will suffer and enthusiasm to participate will be stifled.
Likewise, when it comes to correct draw weight, focus on comfort. If your child struggles to reach full draw, or if he must use erratic drawing motions to do so, then the poundage is too high.
Another simple test to determine if draw weight is too great is to have the shooter sit in a chair with his legs open and the bow straight out in front of him. While in this position, have the child attempt to come to full draw. If he can’t draw the bow back without raising it 4 to 6 inches above his line of sight, he is likely shooting too much weight. Lowering the poundage will allow the child to draw the bow back in a more smooth, relaxed manner.
STEP THREE: SETTING THE STAGE FOR SUCCESS
It is always important that children be successful whenever they are learning a new skill. Archery is no different. After all, failure does not foster repeated efforts, especially in children. In order to set the stage for success, begin with the proper bow accessories and end with an emphasis on fun — not results.
SIMPLE ACCESSORIES EQUAL SUCCESSFUL SHOOTING
Now that you have established eye dominance and the correct draw length and bow weight, it is time to outfit the bow. Do new shooters need a seven-pin sight with third-axis adjustment, or a high-tech drop away arrow rest in order to shoot accurately? No. In fact, too much technology will only lead to confusion and uncomfortable shooting. For the first-timer, draw, aim and shoot should be as complicated as it gets. Therefore, it is important to attach the simplest accessories possible to children’s bows.
Start with a bright, single-pin sight. This will clear up the sight picture and reduce the child’s anxiety over choosing the wrong pin. When it comes to arrow rests, it’s hard to beat the “just load the arrow and shoot” whisker style rests. Not only are they simple to use, but it is impossible for the arrow to fall out; giving beginners one less thing to worry about.
A couple of additional add-ons to consider are the kisser button and wrist sling. The kisser button gives the shooter a second point of reference when aiming and also ensures that his head isn’t tilted differently every time he shoots. This will help establish repeatable anchor points, which will lead to greater accuracy and overall enjoyment.
The purpose of the wrist sling is to promote a relaxed shooting hand; one that encourages the fingers to simply fall around the front of the riser. Because muscle tension will erode accuracy, especially if a “white-knuckle” grip is present, it is important to eliminate this bad habit in the beginning stages of shooting. The wrist sling will do this by assuring the child will not drop the bow.
SHORT ON ATTENTION
When you or I get a new bow, we can’t spend enough time shooting it. Children however, are completely different. The duration of their shooting sessions should not be based on our own enthusiasm, but rather it should revolve around their attention spans. For kids, it turns out, that is exceptionally shorter than ours.
Understand that some days your children might want to shoot five arrows, while other days they might feel like shooting 25. Either way, limit arrows or time spent shooting to their own needs and wants, and the process of shooting the bow will likely remain fresh and exciting to them.
Also, don’t try to teach your children everything you know at once. It took years for you to acquire your knowledge up to this point. Don’t expect a beginner to absorb all of your wisdom in a few short outings. Instead, be patient and cover the basics such as proper form, relaxed bow hand, picking a spot and a smooth release. Save the advanced shooting techniques for later; and after a good foundation has been built.
THE NAME OF THE GAME
Like any children, your new shooters want to have fun. If shooting the bow isn’t fun, they won’t want to do it … no matter how badly you might want them to. To keep the fun level high, you must first set them up for success with the proper bow and accessories (as discussed). Then you must create a shooting environment that focuses more on having fun, rather than cutting X’s. Luckily, there are a number of archery games that can help you accomplish this.
Such activities include tic-tac-toe, Pin the tail on the deer, water balloons, Candy shoot and the list goes on. The rules and procedures for these, and a host of others can easily be researched online. Remember that archery activities are only limited by your own mind. As long as they are safe and your child enjoys them, you can make up your own games. You can even get your kids involved in the creation process. This will expose them to critical thinking as well as problem-solving activities; building confidence in an entirely different area of their lives.
Archery is a wonderful sport. It teaches and encourages hand-eye coordination, discipline, patience, confidence and focus. When taken to the next level as a bow-hunter, your children will learn to respect the outdoors and all of God’s creatures that inhabit it. They will also understand the meaning of hard work, conservationism, humility and the overwhelming sense of pride felt by setting goals and accomplishing them.
what better life-skill is there to pass down to the next generation? Give a youngster the gift of archery and you will know the answer to that question.
Steve Flores is a father, physical education teacher, NASP instructor and experienced bow-hunter from West Virginia.
COMMITTED TO THE CAUSE
Since its humble beginnings in 1992, Mathews Inc. (parent company of Mission Archery) has been responsible for producing innovative, cutting-edge products that have unquestionably changed the face of archery. But did you know that Mathews Inc. is also changing lives? As the founding sponsor of the National Archery in the Schools Program, Mathews understands the importance of teaching children archery and the impact it can have. In fact, they believe in it so strongly that they are the No. 1 financial sponsor for the NASP. They have also shown their commitment to the program in other ways as well.
In recent years, Mathews Inc. & Mission Archery has been a “no-show” at the annual Archery Trade Association show, which allows manufacturers the opportunity to showcase their new products for the coming year. Everyone in the archery industry attends … except Mathews. What is the reasoning behind the absence? It’s simple. They have decided to take the money expended at the show and invest it in the NASP program. This choice hasn’t come without its fair share of criticism. Nonetheless, Mathews & Mission Archery believes in the importance of teaching archery to children so much that they are willing to take the disapproval that some have shown toward the decision.
Let’s be honest. Not every kid is born to be a home-run hitter, score the game winning touchdown or hit three-point shots at will. The NASP is a magnificent program that provides these children (or any child for that matter) the opportunity to participate in a life sport with friends and peers and be highly successful at it. The benefits of the program are hard to ignore.
In a recent survey, the NASP evaluated its own effectiveness and found that archery is very engaging to students. In addition, students who participated saw an improvement in learning skills and attitudes, as well as attendance and performance in school. In addition, self-confidence increased, motivation grew and classroom behavior changed. They also discovered that interest in archery sparked interest in other sports.
Thanks to sponsors like Mathews & Mission Archery, the NASP program will continue to grow and change lives for many years to come.
— Steve Flores