A little under a year and a half ago, I became a qualified archery instructor. It’s still the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me and the qualification I’m most proud of.
I did it through Girlguiding, who ran an adults-only camp at Foxlease, their Training and Activity Centre in the New Forest. It’s called Try, Inspire, Qualify, it’s a two-yearly weekend, and the idea is to try a selection of outdoors activities, be inspired by some workshops and for an extra fee, gain an optional qualification. The four choices were the Food Hygiene Certificate, British Fencing Leadership course, canoeing BCU 1 Star or Archery GB Instructor course. Actually, I initially went for the canoeing before I realised that I really wanted to do the archery and this was far and away the best price I was going to get.
I arrived at Foxlease with ten minutes to spare, having grappled with the traffic in Lyndhurst, only to find that half the group had been told the archery course started at 4pm and the other half had been told 5pm. So it was a bit of a ragged start as we waited for people and then they kept running in late.
Friday evening was three hours of theory – too much theory for those in the group who hadn’t done much archery before and we became quite bogged down in how to calculate the correct draw weight for someone, considering the limited choice of bows we’ll probably have when running sessions and the fact that calculations don’t always match what will feel comfortable.
We were then last in to dinner – late enough that we were able to get an empty table together to discuss with horror how much theory we needed and that tomorrow we’d have to prove it all with a written exam.
After two more hours of theory on Saturday morning, we were given bows – 68″ recurves and mine had a draw weight of 20lbs at 28″. I can’t draw it more than about 26″ so the actual weight on my fingers, I think, was only about 16lbs. Out of interest, when I did my beginner’s course in 2012, we got out the longbows one week. I can pull a 28lb longbow comfortably but can’t pull a 28lb recurve at all. What is the why of that?
So there we were, outside at last with bows in hand, being introduced to the art we were supposed to be teaching. We had a few people who were doubtful of their ability to hit the target but we all managed. In fact, out of the ten of us, the only trouble we had with hitting the target was that the arrows sometimes hit it and bounced back – due, according to our instructor, to the boss being damaged inside and according to the assessor who came on Sunday, to a poor release that caused the arrow to not hit the target precisely head-on.
When we were all reasonably confident we could hit the target, and we’d run away for lunch and to buy badges in the Foxlease shop, it was time for the written test. This was a multiple choice test, open-book, and involved much arguing over whether we go with what the book says or what the instructor says, and whether what the instructor says is his opinion or an official amendment to the book. We weren’t given the results until Sunday morning, much to the distress of half the group. For the record, I got 24/24. I’m very proud of that too.
Once we’d finished the test, we rushed outside to start to learn our spiel for teaching. We had to learn to check our students for suitable clothing, footwear and hair, explain the rules of the range, demonstrate how to shoot and guide them through their first few arrows. It’s supposed to be over and done in under ten minutes but by the time we’d mumbled our way through it, with much “what bit have I forgotten?” it took forever. When we’d all had a go at our first spiel, we were put in groups of threes and fours to criticise each other’s shooting technique, using an eighteen point checklist. That’s a lot of things to watch out for. What we established was that one person in our group hyperextended her bow elbow, one hunched her bow shoulder, one was pretty much perfect and I absolutely cannot get the release right and tend to throw the arrow down the range.
That evening, some of the archery group decided to escape the intensity of a weekend-long course by going to the pub but as this was a Girlguiding thing and there was a campfire, I decided to stay at Foxlease. I like a campfire, and I find it really interesting that although most of us don’t know each other and most of us don’t move around that much in Guiding, we all know the same songs. There are variations in the words and the tunes, especially where units have made up their own extra verses but on the whole, yes, we can all sing together.
On Sunday we were back to the archery again. Test results first, then outside to practice more or less unsupervised on the range. I would rather have worked on my actual archery but it seemed we were going to keep practising our spiel. And after a quick coffee break, we had our first students – the people at Try, Inspire, Qualify who’d signed up for an archery session around Sunday lunchtime.
We did pretty well. I forgot to tell my guinea pig to tie up her hair but luckily, she already knew that and was the one to tell me what I’d forgotten. We got them shooting, we got most of them hitting the target and then we played a couple of games before we were called out to lunch. The only trouble with the session was that we had too many instructors – all ten of us there, trying to be useful and all trying to run the same session.
After lunch was the moment of truth. An assessor came out and we were put in two groups to demonstrate the beginning and end of a session. We all passed! We all messed up in one way or another – my big crime was to get so caught up in the arrow test I nearly forgot that I actually forgot my demo arrow. The assessor said I didn’t do the commands but I definitely covered stop, definitely. But we all demonstrated that we knew what we were doing and that we were competent to run a beginner archery session and so we all passed.
And so I’m now a qualified archery instructor – although no range in their right mind should let me run my first session until the certificate actually arrives in the post to prove it.