I’ve been wanting to write a post about my USA Archery Level 2 Instructor course, but every time I go to write it, I get hung up on this topic. A nice and knowledgeable gentleman introduced himself to the class by saying ” So many women are getting into archery and hunting these days. I feel like I have a lot to offer and I want to be able to teach them and help them ” (paraphrased).
And…I started to scoff. I didn’t know him well yet, and I figured he was seeing dollar signs in the influx of new archers and the girls influenced by Brave and Hunger Games. I didn’t think he was genuine, and that was partly due to my beginnings in archery and partly due to the thought that kept creeping into my head. Does he even know what a woman wants or needs in an archery instructor?
Don't we all want to be Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games?
My first archery instructor was a guy who had been shooting compound for decades. I was shooting barebow recurve, and pretty set in the mindset that I wanted to stay barebow recurve at that point in time. That was the first mismatch. He didn’t know enough to help me beyond the very, very basics. And I didn’t know enough to know he didn’t know enough to help me. Never once was the “what do you want to get out of archery” question asked. And that question is a really, really important one. Even if the answer is “I want to have fun or blow off steam”.
I didn’t want to pretend I was Katniss while never shooting farther than 8 meters. I wanted other things. I wanted more. Which meant I needed someone who had slightly more knowledge with recurves than how to pick one up and hold it.
Speaking of. During those first three or four lessons I bow slapped myself constantly. I turned my left arm black, blue, purple, green, and yellow for weeks on end. People at work became alarmed if I wore short sleeves.
This was not the worst I did to myself in the beginning
And because of who I am and what I wanted out of archery, I wouldn’t stop shooting even when the pain was pretty severe. I distinctly remember a lesson where Instructor #1 said I was shooting well. I was grouping pretty nicely! And I didn’t want to stop shooting because I was doing so well! But every time I shot, I bow slapped myself with 28 pounds of draw weight. I didn’t break skin, but I came close. And this was after he knew I was having this problem. At the very end he asked if I had slapped myself. I told him yes, every shot.
I think that scared him, honestly.
Look. Women can be tough. Driven. And those of us participating in traditionally men’s sports, like hunting, don’t want men to think we are somehow less up to the task. Which means, unless you the man who is an archery instructor make damn clear that archery isn’t supposed to be painful, we may not tell you when something is going wrong.
So. It’s important for you to know enough about a particular style of archery to be able to teach the basics. And it’s important for you as a coach to know when your student has outstripped that knowledge. Pass them on to someone who knows more. Or, talk to archers in other disciplines and expand your knowledge so that you can help your student grow. Take some lessons of your own! But don’t pretend like you know what you’re doing when you don’t. You’ll only wind up hurting your student.
I made Instructor #1 nervous. He was uneasy around me. It showed in the way he stuttered or stumbled over words. It became even more apparent when he couldn’t discuss parts of my anatomy and how they impacted my archery practice. Dudes, women have breasts. Women who are well endowed have breasts large enough to impact how they move their arms or hold their bow. Women may have trauma in their past that make them react differently to the bow string touching the side of their breast. I’m a 38G. Let’s just get the uncomfortable stuff out of the way. I had to learn how to maneuver my arms around my boobs. I also had to spend a week or more of conscious effort to not move away from or hold the bow string away from my chest. My current coach has, from the beginning, been very good about this. She’s been good about pointing out ahead of time where the string would touch. How it might be uncomfortable. She never let the string catch me off guard. But more importantly, she never made it out to be a big thing. Anatomy is anatomy. Archers are part of their weapon. Our bodies make up a large piece of the weapon we are shooting. So if you’re not comfortable with bodies, fat ones, slim ones, well endowed ones and tiny ones, then maybe you should stick with coaching guys.
If you wind up with a female student who gets even somewhat serious about her sport, and you are her male coach, you will eventually have to have an uncomfortable discussion regarding two things. Chest guards and sports bras. Chest guards fit women very differently than men. Go to Artebo chest guard measurements. See all the different measurements they take for a custom chest guard for women? Are you comfortable talking about those measurements with your student? Even if they don’t want a custom chest guard, you’ll need to be aware that whatever you choose together will fit her differently that it does a man. It may ride up more, or shift. She may need a larger size to accommodate her cup size, but then have to shorten the strap that goes around her chest or over her shoulder, or both. Remember my measurement from earlier? I don’t currently wear a chest guard even though I’ve gotten to the point that I need one. Because I refuse to wear one that doesn’t fit me well. The last thing I need at a tournament is to be yanking my chest guard back into place constantly.
And yes. You’ll need to talk sports bras. As in, the right one makes archery a lot easier. The wrong one makes it harder. Or at least less comfortable. A good sports bra, like Enell, can help immensely with posture. And good posture is imperative for good form. An ill fitting or poor supporting sports bra just doesn’t help.
These are probably the most uncomfortable topics you’ll have to face as a male instructor coaching female archers. If you are serious about targeting this demographic. My demographic. Then I hope you’ll take seriously addressing these topics. Please, don’t pretend they don’t exist. We know better.