"I’ve learnt loads and felt supported all the way though" - Saffron Knowles shares her experience of the National Talent Development Programme, and explains why juniors should consider signing up for the 2023/24 programme.
My parents and I first heard about NTDP from another archer whose daughter had attended previously and really enjoyed it. They were aware that I wanted to improve my archery but, because of where I live, we were struggling to find coaching. I was so excited to hear about the programme that I kept asking my parents until they got sick of my nagging and arranged for me to go.
As it got closer to the first NTDP coaching day, I became nervous. We received an email from Archery GB with directions, a list of items to bring and a timetable of what would be happening, which included physical training, and I started having visions of everyone running laps in a muddy field!
As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, four days before that first weekend, my thumb was hit by a hockey stick during PE at school and I had to have it X-rayed. Fortunately it wasn’t broken but it hurt, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to shoot.
Because we live so far from Lilleshall, the night before we stayed in a hotel and I didn’t sleep very well. I was so nervous that I couldn’t eat anything at breakfast the next morning. We were early so my dad and I went for a walk around the grounds, and it was great to finally see the Orangery, which I had seen many times before in photos and videos but never in person.
Within no time at all other people started to arrive, all carrying archery equipment and I knew I was in the right place. After we had registered, we were split into two groups (this seemed to be the older and younger half of the group) and told who our coach was going to be.
While we were waiting for things to get started, I noticed another girl, Olivia, that I sort of knew – I had shot on the same target as her at the 2022 Grand Western Archery Society Junior Championships (although on rival teams). We're now good friends, thanks to the NTDP.
Our group started with physical development, which was taken by Rob Francis, the Pathway Physical Development Lead at AGB. All my worries were soon gone as we were not made to run laps in the mud and instead played some games. These helped to bring the group together, had everyone mixing and talking with each other, and got us moving.
Later we went inside to do some benchmarking tests and again Rob managed to make it fun and not at all as bad as I’d imagined. We also went into the classroom and had a talk on goal setting.
After lunch another girl about my age called Nuha and I were shooting with our assigned coach, Nick. He had coached Nuha before and already knew how good she was, so he spent a bit more time finding out what I was capable of. Nick soon got to know where my problems were and, more importantly, knew how to start fixing them!
When I left after that first day I was tired and had lots to work on but I was buzzing and looking forward to the next one.
Again, we stayed at a hotel the night before this session, but during the night it had snowed. Olivia had stayed at the same hotel and after having breakfast together we had a snowball fight before making the short trip over to Lilleshall. The dusting of snow made everywhere look like a scene from a Christmas card, but as you can imagine some people couldn’t make the journey.
Thankfully, we stayed indoors for the physical development session. We were in the gym with Rob who was teaching us some exercises to do at home. In the classroom, we learned about the mind, something that often gets forgotten but can make a big difference to our shooting.
At lunchtime a lot of us went outside to have fun in the snow and some of the GB Squad who had been training in a separate building were also out there too. It was nice to see Penny Healey (who had just shot another world record) building a snowman, and I realised that the top archers are no different to everyone else and perhaps in a few years I could be achieving what Penny is now.
I think my coach Nick was pleased with the progress I had made since the previous session, and we were able to move onto more improvements, including using a clicker for the first time.
I left with more to work on and even more to think about, but very happy.
This session started as it should: with no snow.
Rob had us in the gym first thing, working hard but having fun while we were doing it. The classroom work was on healthy eating alongside sports and supplements, and what’s best to eat before and after training or competitions, which was very interesting.
I think Nick was pleased with my progress – I’ve definitely seen an improvement in my scores and how I’m starting to feel about my shooting. Again, Nick gave me more to work on and think about. I’m really happy that I was matched to Nick.
It was a good day. I felt that everybody, including parents, coaches and staff, have now bonded together and coming up to Lilleshall has become something that I really look forward to.
The final day. I was a little bit sad that it was the last training session until the NTDP starts again after the summer.
Rob had some new games for us and although we had fun and everyone worked hard, I found the bear crawl and duck walk a killer! But we all laughed so much that it made the challenges fun and the pain bearable.
The classroom work was on doping and performance enhancing drugs in sport, what to do if you suspect someone is doping and how to handle the situation. It was a very interesting discussion and gave everyone something that perhaps they hadn’t thought about before.
After lunch Rob took us into the gym for our final benchmarking tests. These showed how much we had improved since our first session, and I was pleased by how much more I could do. It showed me that the exercises we had been asked to do at home were working for me. Finally, Nick marked me on my shooting performance – something he had been doing after each session – and I could see that I had improved a lot with the help of the NTDP.
A big thank you to all the coaches, especially Nick. Thanks to Rob for doing the impossible and making PT enjoyable, to Cait for organising everything and supporting us all, and everybody else that made the NTDP events run. You will be sure to see me again.
For those of you thinking of signing up in October 2023, do it! I’ve had the best time. I’ve made loads of new archery friends who, like me, love our sport, and I’ve learnt loads and felt supported all the way though. It’s been a brilliant experience and even though I was nervous at first, I’ve come away with a huge smile and I’m looking forward to the outdoor season.
To find out more and sign up for the 2023/24 National Talent Development Programme, click on the link below