Young Archer Self-Coaching His Way to Success


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If you need expert advice on archery equipment, head to Scheel’s All Sports in Des Moines, Iowa. This is not a plug for the archery pro shop, but rather part of Bridger Deaton’s story. Whether at work or play, the 18-year-old always seems to be around bows. Even if the work takes away from his practice time, Deaton enjoys working on the different bow setups.

“I do wish I was I able to practice a little bit more, but with as many tournaments as I am going to this year versus years passed, it’s nice to get away from my tournament bow setup and work on the more typical archery and bowhunting setups most people use,” said Deaton. “It keeps me from losing my edge.”

After all, it was his passion for bowhunting that led him to become a competitive target archer. Ever since his dad bought him his first compound bow at age 5, Deaton, of Pella, Iowa, has been filling the offseason with target practice.

“In the summer, there is really nothing to hunt with a bow,” said Deaton. “I started participating in 3D-target tournaments and placed second in my very first tournament and have been shooting ever since.”

After being persuaded by friends to attend a spot target tournament, Deaton found out the format where archers shoot at circular targets, which are fixed at specific marked distances, was more to his liking.

The 2010 National Indoor Championship at Louisville, Ky., was a revealing experience for Deaton. He tied his personal best score of 58 “X’s” on day one and beat it with 59 “X’s” on day two, capturing the Young Adult Male Freestyle title. At this point of his career, it was the most pressure he felt shooting at an event, and the self-coached archer was proud of the way he handled the stress.

“For me, it was an eye-opener showing I could be halfway decent at this sport,” said Deaton. “After winning, I knew I could make the shots when it counted. It was a confidence booster and that is a huge part of archery.”

Soon after the event, Deaton proved that he could do better than “halfway decent.” Some of his archery career highlights since 2010 include two gold medals at the World Archery Youth Championships held in Poland, a gold medal in the team competition at the World Indoor Archery Championships in Las Vegas, and earning a spot on the U.S. Archery Team as a Junior Compound Archer. These are just some of the awards adorning his resume that paved the way to Deaton becoming a pro in 2012.

It didn’t take him long to seal his first victory as a pro. In February of this year, Deaton posted a 300 30x to win the men’s pro division at the Southeast Shootout.

“I was happy my first professional win came as quickly as it did and that I won in the fashion that I did,” said Deaton. “It is not many times you can say you won a tournament by shooting a 30X. That was also a high score for me. Most of my personal bests have been in tournaments and high pressure situations.”

Being self-coached is one quality Deaton credits for his success in handling the pressure, and excelling at archery.

“There’s no one I am depending on,” said Deaton. “I notice when others shoot, sometimes the first thing they do is turn around to look at their coach to see whether they are doing something right or wrong. I may shoot a round and sit there after to think about my shot. I learn more that way, and I feel it is a big advantage.”

One example showing how this advantage helped Deaton occurred recently at the Texas Shootout, USA Archery’s second USAT Qualifier Series Event of 2013. After doing poorly in the qualifying round, Deaton came out swinging in the elimination round to eventually face Rodger Willett, Jr. in the bronze medal match, but Willett was a point stronger than Deaton, locking up the bronze with a 139-138 win.

“The night after the qualifying round, I was able to think about how I shot and what was going on,” said Deaton. “I was able to correct it, and come out strong next day to make a good finish.”

Deaton hopes his knowledge-based, self-coaching style continues to serve him as he works to achieve his goals. He wants to finish this season in a position to make next year’s USA Archery’s Senior Team. In addition to this short-term goal, Deaton aims to participate in more international events where the pressure may be greater than what he is used to.

“Even though I have been shooting for 14 years, I never felt I’ve been in high-pressure situations,” said Deaton. “I definitely feel the pressure at the national and world championship events, but there’s a little more leeway in making shots at those tournaments. I need to build experience in situations where a single shot can affect my career – like if I make a certain shot I will be on the team or will win an event, and if I miss I won’t be or won’t win. I am trying to get myself in those high-pressure situations and hoping to come out on top.”

Whether or not he meets these goals is still up in the air, but one thing is for sure: A self-coached 18-year-old archer who was ushered into competitive target archery by a love of hunting and 3D-target shooting can be a major talent on the archery trail. Deaton’s story stresses the fact that anyone who wants to take up archery, can.

“Always have fun with it, is my advice,” said Deaton. “Whether you are in high school or college, treat archery like any other sport. Practice when you can and get involved with the many clubs and teams out there. I know plenty of people who do it for fun, and are excellent shots. You can take it up as a fun activity, or you can set goals around it like I do. How serious you make it is up to you.”