Watch out for arrows

Pax Arcana

As if you needed another reason to refrain from judging archery competitions, the New York Times says anybody standing within a two-mile radius of a top archer is in mortal danger of being skewered by an arrow fired by a psychologically fragile marksperson.

In baseball and golf, there’s the yips. In archery, there’s “target panic.”

Mysteriously, sufferers start releasing the bow the instant they see the target, sabotaging any chance of a gold-medal shot. Others freeze up and cannot release at all. Target panic is akin to the yips in baseball and golf, when accomplished athletes can no longer make a simple throw to first base or stroke an easy putt.

The results can be mortifying, and archery is filled with tales of those who have caught the curse, never to shoot again. The problem has spawned a cottage industry of coaches, books and specialized accessories that claim to cure target panic.

Of course, target panic is all psychological. Except when it’s not:

While nearly everyone agrees that the problem is primarily psychological, the latest research suggests that, in some cases, the problem might also be neurological. Sufferers might actually have a disorder known as focal dystonia, a common affliction of musicians caused when the neurons that guide a particular movement — be it aiming a bow or sinking a putt — become worn from overuse.

“It’s like a hiccup in the wrist,” said Aynsley M. Smith, research director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, which has conducted three studies on the yips in golf since 2000. Her research, as well as that of a team from New Zealand, has concluded that there are two types of yips — one that is purely psychological and another that is primarily neurological. In both cases, two opposing muscle groups contract at the same time, leading to what Smith and other sport scientists call a “double pull.”

Interesting. In my book, the double pull is something entirely different. Anyway…

Believe it or not, I have some experience with the yips or the panic or whatever you want to call it. In the 1997 finals of the America’s Cup, I hoisted the jib instead of trimming the hull during a crucial reefing run off New Zealand. Those jokers at the yacht club still let me have it about that one, I tell you. So I’ve been killing them one by one.

The Secret Curse of Expert Archers [New York Times]


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