With bow-wielding heroes like Katniss Everdeen from "The Hunger Games" dominating the box office, more and more local kids are showing an interest in learning archery. But mastering the ancient skill is not as easy as it looks, says Maria Sabin, volunteer leader of Hamilton County's 4-H Archery Club.
"When they first start out, a lot of the kids aren't even hitting the target," she says.
That doesn't mean they can't become fantastic archers like Merida from "Brave."
Over the last six years, Sabin has seen local kids — like her own son — go from experiencing the joy of finally hitting a target to bringing home trophies from archery competitions. Anyone can do it, she says. It just takes the right instruction, a lot of patience and a reminder that even heroes like The Avengers and Wonder Woman need to practice.
Here are a few tips to help get your young archer started.
POSTURE: One of the fastest ways for beginners to improve their accuracy is to improve posture, Sabin says. "Frankly that's a lot of what we do at practices, go around and tell the kids, 'OK keep your backs straight,'" she says. Though it can take months to perfect your form, keeping your body aligned will strengthen your body's core, allowing for more consistent, powerful shots. When shooting, make sure to keep your shoulders squarely above your hips, tuck in your stomach and, of course, keep that back straight.
PUSH-UPS: Another way to increase power when shooting is to increase upper-body strength, though there's no need to bust out dumbbells just yet. Sabin recommends her students simply do 10 push-ups a day, which can make a difference over time, she says. The additional strength will eventually allow them to start using bows whose strings have heavier draw weights as they progress in the sport.
PRACTICE: It doesn't need to be for hours or even an hour each day, but Sabin says regularly practicing is the key to success. "That's the best thing, bar none," she says. Sabin recommends short periods of at least 20 minutes of shooting each day to build muscle memory and body awareness, as well as accuracy.
Keep yourself and others safe by:
1. Keeping your arrows pointed downrange or at the target at all times.
2. Making sure there's nothing behind the target, like buildings or roads — even if you don't think you could shoot that far.
3. Wearing close-toed shoes to prevent injury should an arrow fall.
4. Investing in a full-length arm guard to prevent the string from slapping your skin upon release.
5. Making sure it's legal to shoot arrows within your city before setting up a target in the backyard. This can be done by reviewing your city's codes or calling local authorities.
If you’re ready to invest in a bow, Sabin recommends a model from Genesis. Each bow has an adjustable draw weight so it can stay in use as the child grows.
Tip: Sabin says it’s best to start kids off with an 11-pound draw weight and keep the target close (about 5 meters away). This will allow them to focus on learning accuracy, and once they’re ready, the weight can be increased so they can shoot targets from farther away.