Shot trainer is a drill in which you can shoot with no arrows. It is commonly used to help with target panic. (Photo Courtesy of Cailyn Kim)

Creative Writing

Poem: To My Target Panic

Target panic is a sports performance anxiety or block specific to archery. It's a condition that affects an archer's ability to shoot consistently and accurately. Sports performance anxiety is common yet hard to diagnose, and treat. The following is a glimpse of my personal journey fighting target panic as a competitive archer.
<a href="" target="_self">Cailyn Kim</a>

Cailyn Kim

March 8, 2023
I remember the first time I met you, the first Sunday of September. Before we met, archery was predictable; my routine was reliable. The weight of my quiver, the resistance of my string, the curve of my limbs, and Sunday morning practice, it was always the same.

But that Sunday, barely a few arrows in, I encountered you for the first time. Even after five years of archery, I had never seen anything like you before. You introduced yourself subtly. I barely registered you were there, but the more I shot, the bolder you got.

You’ve been stalking me since – following, tracking, interfering with my shooting. You disappear then promptly return as if you can manipulate my thoughts and dictate my body. You disregard my plans; you deny me placidity.

It would be easier if you were real.

It would be easier if I could peel back my scalp and pull you out of my head. It would be easier if I could mend my broken fingers with bandages, if I could tune you out of my bow or if archery had a masterclass on how to kill target panic.

Instead, you hide between my knuckles, you diffuse throughout my body, you grasp and won’t let go. You watched as I stepped onto the line; my fingertips hooked around the string. You waited as I raised my bow and drew back, as I felt the pressure of my string through my leather tab, felt my fingers brush my anchor point, and my fingers release too early.

I paused but tried again. I focused on my elbow moving parallel to the ground, my hand pushing back, and my feet planting into the ground. Again, I let go too early. Arrow after arrow, my form deteriorated, missing the target. An unusual disconnect formed, creating a distance between my conscious mind and your subconscious forces inclining my fingers to prematurely let go. You had severed the wires; you blocked me out.

You ravaged through my season. My shots spoke for themselves, effectively rendered speechless by your hand. You shattered my scores and severed my security. So, I researched you, called several coaches, a sports psychologist, and a hypnotist. I meditated, journaled and listened to other archers whom you obsessed over. I just wanted to shoot again.

And then I did – Outdoor Nationals in Alabama was the one tournament that year without you. I even broke my personal best score, hastily labeling myself “target panic free.” You left me alone for a few months, but like clockwork, you returned.

Somewhere in the struggle, “target panic” turned into “my target panic” and the lines where you ended and I started blurred. You started to look like me, and I started to mistake myself for you, but I can spot the differences and I still shoot. I know it’s hard to leave after thousands of shots together, but we can’t continue. I’ve slowly developed notions on how to keep you out now. You’re not welcome to my body; you’re not welcome to my mind.

I’m leaving you and that Sunday in September.


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