Game of X’s

Berlin – December 2011. Women’s scratch. Round of 16. Shoot-off. Me against Maja Jaeger (Denmark). We were tied at 5-5 so it came down to one arrow to see who would progress to next round. I was super cool because I actually did not know she was former World Junior Champion and ranked Top 10 World and an Olympian too. The buzzer sounded. She shot fast. I did not look (I never do) but I heard the crowd cheer… then I shot my arrow and the crowd gasped! It was not until I saw her 9 and my 10 that I realised I won and could move to the next round… where I also beat her compatriot Louise Laursen.  The Berlin Open stills remains my favourite competition on the international archery circuit… although for some reason I think it is better for me to avoid Denmark.

This duel was a prime example of what an athlete must do at crunch time…


It was not about winning which made the match special. It was about doing my best.

So how do you do your best at crunch time? Rehearse your best over and over until it becomes your norm. There is no big secret. You just need to consistently work your ass off and promise yourself to do your best no matter who you come up against.


– for archery duels, basketball free throws, baseball strikes, blue line hockey shots, football field goals, soccer penalty kicks, tennis aces, golf putts on the green…

  • Start with 6 arrows (adapt this number for your sport), 2 tri-spot targets, and a bright orange road cone
  • Goal is to shoot the X because even if the 10 ring is used for competition, the X ring means I need to shoot better than perfect so it adds to the challenge. Plus at my level now I hit the 10 ring at 85% so this pushes me even harder. 
  • After 6 shots, inspect the results. Each arrow in the X now goes in the orange cone… so if 2 X’s of 6 then next round shoot only the 4 arrows remaining in the quiver.
  • This repeats until only 1 arrow is left. Once it goes into the X then claim victory.
  • To keep quality high and prevent any boredom setting in, the extra rule is that if I leave the yellow zone X-10-9 and hit an 8 in the red zone… I have to takeaway one of my X arrows already in the orange cone and  put it back in my quiver and shoot another X.

This game keeps me in the mind-set of competition where I am really fighting to make each and every arrow perfect.

When coaching other archers at different levels, we decide their goal zone and takeaway zones. We can all then shoot on the same 18 metre line at the same time with everyone going for their best. Even the Compound and Longbow archers can do it too. Remember to time it from start to finish so you can track your progress by reaching victory faster and/or reducing the goal and takeaway zones.

As explained earlier, the pressure to perform at exactly a precise moment can stress out some athletes, so this game encourages best level performance under self pressure with a visual takeaway for errors. The archers see that everyone else on the line is sharing in the joy and laughter of hitting the targets, they check out who has the most arrows in their orange cone, and each archer is really trying to be successful in their individual zone. Because some archers will experience stress, it is a great opportunity to use techniques like belly breathing and entering the “private bubble”. When competition day comes around, the goal zone can be the same but there are no takeaways… so shooting 3 arrows feels easier than during the game. Plus when the arrows do go in the zone it feels normal because the archer has done it already and expects the result. If the arrow goes out of the zone, the archer knows to re-FOCUS and go for the next one.

So try it with your arrows, free throws or aces. Challenge yourself by choosing a zone which pushes just beyond your current level. Then promise yourself to fight with all your skill and energy and most of all your love of the game to make it happen.