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Sports Profile: Youth Archery

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Archer drawing bow, photo by Vladimir Pcholkin
Vladimir Pcholkin

This sport can trace its origins back thousands of years and is one that players can enjoy participating in for years, too. Some Olympian archers compete at 50 years old and up! Bow-and-arrow sports can encompass several different kinds of target shooting as well as bowhunting, but the focus here will be on target and field disciplines of youth archery.

The basics: There are several types of bows, archery disciplines, and tournament events. First, a few of the bows:

  • Longbow: This is the oldest kind of bow and the most basic; it is made from a single piece of wood and does not have a sight.
  • Recurve: Similar to a longbow, except the bow curves away from the archer at each end and the bow usually includes a sight.
  • Crossbow: Includes a mechanism to help draw and hold the arrow before it is shot.
  • Compound bow: Includes gears, cables, cams, or pulleys that help the archer draw the string.
  • Barebow: Different tournaments have different rules, but generally a barebow doesn't have any sights or marks that could help the archer aim, nor any gears or pulleys.

Next, some of the disciplines and events:

  • Target: Archers aim at a fixed target (the classic bullseye of concentric rings) at a certain distance, and score points for hitting closest to the center. In the Olympics, the target distance is always 70 meters and archers use only recurve bows. In other tournaments, archers can use longbows, barebows, recurve, or compound bows, and choose from several target distances.
  • Field: If target archery is track and field, field archery is cross-country running. In field archery events, archers shoot at targets arranged on a rural or wooded course. The targets are set at varying, marked distances.
  • 3D: Similar to field archery, but instead of paper targets, archers aim at life-size, three-dimensional targets, made of foam to look like animals, and distances are not marked. Bow hunters may enter 3D tournaments to sharpen their skills, but some archers compete in 3D events just to earn points.

Age kids can start: Kids usually need to be at least 8 years old to have the patience and strength to start learning archery. They also need to be willing and able to understand and follow safety guidelines.

Skills needed/used: Strength, focus, precision, and muscle memory.

Best for kids who: Are calm and determined; can handle pressure and long hours of training.

Season/when played: Year-round, depending on climate or availability of an indoor range.

Team or individual? Both. Archers can compete individually, or, in some tournaments (including in the Olympic Games), teams of three shoot consecutively and their scores are pooled together. But archery isn't something you can do in your backyard (it's illegal to shoot in most residential areas), so you need to visit a range in order to practice or compete. Joining a club or team reduces costs.

Levels: USA Archery has a youth development program called Junior Olympic Archery Development, commonly known as JOAD. In this program, levels start at yeoman (9 and under), then move up to bowman (10 to 12 years old), cub (13 to 14), cadet (15 to 16), and junior (17 and under). Kids in the JOAD program use recurve or compound bows and earn a series of star pins for scoring achievements.

At field archery tournaments, kids can compete in three divisions: cub (under 12), youth (12 to 14), and young adult (15 to 17).

If your child continues with archery, she can compete in college and in masters or seniors tournaments well into adulthood.

Appropriate for kids with special needs: Yes. Some adaptive sports programs and camps offer archery, and it is a Paralympic sport. USA Archery has programs for archers with disabilities too. Archery is not recommended for kids and teens with seizure disorders, unless their condition is well controlled with medication.

Fitness factor: Medium. While it takes a good deal of strength to shoot with a bow, archery does not burn as many calories as sports that require cardiovascular fitness (swimming, running, and so on).

Equipment: As a beginner, your child does not need his own bow and arrows; equipment is typically included in lessons, and ranges will rent equipment along with the use of a shooting lane. Important protective equipment includes arm and finger guards, and often parents will need to purchase these for their kids if they take lessons or compete with a team. If you do buy a bow, the options are dizzying (one of the reasons why archery can appeal to kids who love technology). You will need professional guidance to choose the bow and then tune it—customizing it to your child's body and needs.

Costs: A year-long club or range membership may cost $100 to $300 for an individual, or $300 to $500 for a family. A 60- to 90-minute lesson (usually including equipment rental), once a week, can run from $85 to $200 for a 6- to 12-week session. Individual or small group lessons range from $20 to $80 each. Tournament fees are relatively low, usually under $50. Practicing at a range is also fairly inexpensive, often under $10 an hour with discounts for youth.

Time commitment required: Young archers usually spend 1 to 2 hours a week in lessons and practice, adding more time as they get more serious about competing.

Potential for injury: Low. With arrows flying, there is always a risk that a child could be struck by one. But reputable ranges, clubs, and coaches take precautions to make sure that archers are safe. There is also a risk of overuse injury in the shoulder. Strength training and proper technique reduce the risk of this kind of injury.

How to find archery clubs, lessons, events, and teams:

Associations and governing bodies:

If your child likes archery, also try: Other target shooting sports; fencing, golf.

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