With his Spyder Man bucket hat and the crew of Lancaster JOAD around him, you too may have encountered archery coach, Bryan Brady. It was great to find out more about how he manages the team and his roots at archery college powerhouse, JMU.
You attended JMU and participated in their archery program. What would you tell someone looking to shoot archery in college?
For anybody that is looking to shoot archery in college, there are a lot of opportunities out there. In answering this question, you’ve got two types of people: those who have never shot, but are looking to start, and those who competed before college, and are looking to continue. In both cases, if they are already going to a school that has an established team (JMU, Texas A&M, UCLA, etc.) then it may be as simple as emailing the coach or club President and asking to attend a meeting. There are dozens of colleges with archery sport clubs or official teams, and most are constantly on the look out for fresh talent. At the same time, there are many more universities that don’t have an archery team but would likely be receptive to a group of students starting one! Just because the school of your dreams doesn’t also have an archery program doesn’t mean that your archery goals have to be put on hold.
How did you get started in coaching?
I started coaching during my sophomore year of college in 2009. I was already attending JMU with the idea of going through their secondary education program to become a teacher, but I was not expecting to start teaching quite so quickly. Jacob Wukie was finishing up his senior year when I first started college. Along with Bob Ryder—our Head Coach—he was in charge of teaching inexperienced freshman archers how to shoot, and he is largely responsible for getting me hooked on archery in general. I remember that during a practice some point early on during my sophomore year, Wukie mentioned to me that I should shadow him during those initial freshman practices, so I could get a better idea how to teach incoming students what to do. He would be graduating that semester, after all, and someone was going to have to take over his informal role of instructional assistant. I’m pretty sure my eyes got pretty large, but I did what he asked. Each year after that until my graduation, I continued helping new archers learn to shoot, eventually getting my Level 2 Coaching certification in the process.
What do you think it takes to be successful as a coach? What does it take to build a cohesive team?
Being successful as a coach is a surprisingly difficult thing to quantify. Is it based off of how many students you reach, how successful they are, how happy they are? Maybe it is based on how many titles your team garners, or whether you can support yourself through your coaching career alone. I think the definition of ‘success’ will vary depending on each coach’s individual vision, but there are some requirements that I think every successful coach has to meet. First and foremost, I believe that to be an effective coach you need to know how to shoot. If you have never shot a bow in a regular capacity, you do not know what your students are feeling, and you will always lack the ability to describe how motions feel. Along the same lines, if you want to be a coach that can help people succeed at a competitive level, you also need to have experience competing. This experience does not necessarily have to be with archery, though that is certainly a bonus. If you do not have competitive experience in archery or a sport with similar structure, you will never completely understand the emotions, goals, successes, and disappointments that your students are going through, and that will hold you back as a teacher.
Building a cohesive team is probably the most difficult task of any sport. Most coaches can teach the technical skills of archery to one degree or another, but there are comparatively very few that can forge an effective, tight-knit team in what is a very individual sport. I think there are a lot of different ways to create an effective team, but the one requirement I would lay out is trust. You have to be able to connect with your athletes, which requires trust going both ways. If they are going to be talking to you about how they feel about their shooting (and any coach of a competitive athlete knows that there are few things more emotionally charged than an athlete’s performance), then you have to be willing to show trust by talking to them about how you feel as well. A lot of people have this vision of the ‘brilliant coach’ as this nigh-unassailable, inaccessible pillar of authority whose word is law. That works in the movies but generally not in real life. It can be uncomfortable to be honest with your athletes about your own personal struggles and successes, but if you are not willing to be honest with them, they will never be honest with you, and honest communication between athletes and coaches is a must. If there is no trust, then you don’t have a team. You have a group of people with a chaperone.
How do balance your own archery goals with coaching?
What a question to end with! For me, balancing my own goals in archery with my coaching has always been an immense struggle. I love teaching people how to shoot, and I love shooting my bow. It would have been easier years ago to stop shooting competitively and focus more of my attention on coaching, but that would have meant giving up on my own dreams. If I give up on those, I would feel hypocritical teaching others to follow theirs. Archery will always be a balance for me, and my students know this. I will help my athletes chase their dreams and goals, and I will never give up on chasing mine.
The Archers Association of America negotiates discounts for the archery community for travel, archery gear, and other merchandise for a $20 per year membership fee. To sign up or learn more, visit www.archersassociation.org.