Worried about organising beginners' courses as we look to return to the range? Despite the challenges, welcoming new starters is still possible - and a great opportunity to showcase the socially-distanced nature of archery.
With a little pre-planning, you can be ready to welcome new archers to your club! We asked a number of clubs that successfully ran beginners' courses last year to share their experiences. Here's a round-up of their key points - thanks to Woking Archery Club, Deer Park Archers, Bowbrook Archers and Wymondham Archers for their contributions.
Course joining instructions were adapted to include details of the Covid security measures in place, meaning that beginners were aware of what to do before attending the course. This enabled them to make an informed decision on whether to attend or not. No-one declined to attend on Covid security grounds and indeed throughout all the courses, beginners repeatedly expressed great satisfaction at the precautions in place. The club provided anti-viral wipes, sanitiser gels and sprays.
Candidates were requested to wear gloves whilst opening and closing field gates on arrival and departure. They were instructed to bring face masks and it was made clear that a no-mask-no-training' rule was in place. Spare masks were available for beginners to purchase in the event they arrived without one. Prior to the course being called to order, candidates were advised to gather with full social distancing but without wearing a face mask. This was to ensure that they could properly socialise and come together as a group. It also enabled the coaching staff to see them clearly and form initial assessments about them prior to handing out kit.
Candidates and coaches donned fabric face masks and all used anti-viral hand sanitiser gel once the course was called to order and people gathered round. Masks were worn during the initial briefings and especially during the issue of kit, where people were operating on '1m plus extra protection' social distancing rules. Bows and arrows were issued along with an anti-viral wipe and candidates cleaned all their own kit. Smaller items like tabs, bracers, stringing loops and target face pegs, in addition to being wiped or spray sanitised, were also packaged into group bundles and quarantined between courses. Target faces were also subject to quarantine, which was fixed at 48 hours for all items. Fabric quivers were dispensed with and metal ground quivers used instead. Candidates did not share bosses.
The shooting line and the range markings placed on the field by the armourer, in accordance with AGB guidelines, were used to ensure correct social distancing. The tripod and straw boss system had been taken out of use prior to the resumption of courses and the beginners used the all-weather foam bosses kept outside on our field permanently. This reduced the number of bosses available to the rest of the membership, but with a total of 12 bosses to use, even a five-person beginners' course left plenty of space for up to 14 other members to shoot concurrently with a course, under AGB guidelines.
On the line
On the shooting line, candidates removed their face masks to facilitate good technique, especially for anchoring. This facilitated good coaching observations and ensured non-verbal facial contact, which is an essential element in the coach / candidate relationship and communication process.
Coaches remained (as much as possible) at least 2m from candidates during shooting EXCEPT at the outset or during specific individual coaching. At those times when a coach was less than 2m from a candidate, the coach flipped down a clear plastic visor fitted onto a skeleton safety helmet, to ensure there was a viral safety barrier in place.
At the beginning, whilst candidates were shooting their first few arrows, they shot singly, with a coach standing at the usual close proximity, for safety reasons. However, as soon as the new starters had demonstrated that they could operate the bow and shoot their arrows safely, the coach moved back, and a more usual style of group operation was employed. Coaches moved up and down the back of the shooting line to observe each candidate closely in turn during each shooting end.
On those occasions when the coaches needed to close in to teach a specific element of technique, the plastic facial barrier came into use again. There was none of the more usual categories of physical contact between coach and candidate such as handshakes, fist bumps, high fives or holding/prodding a candidate into the correct body posture. Instead, a pair of pointers (converted arrow shafts) were used to make the contacts which might have previously been made with fingertips. Candidates consented verbally to this in group session in advance.
Candidates retained possession of their anti-viral wipes throughout shooting so that any kit touched by anyone else could be immediately sanitised before its use continued. Both the traditional pre-Covid and the newer Covid-secure methods for pulling arrows were taught and used during the courses to maximise safety for novices on unshared targets, and to prepare them for shooting as a member on shared targets in club settings.
At the end of the session, candidates and coaches returned to wearing cloth face masks whilst all kit was resanitised by the candidates themselves, before being replaced into store by the coaches. Once all kit was away, non-mask social distancing was resumed and masks were removed, to facilitate non-verbal facial communication during the plenary, feedback and closing Q&A sessions.
The main challenge was to ensure that training was conducted and seen to be conducted, safely. This included protection for the candidates, the coaches, the kit being used and for any other archers or passers-by concurrently on the field. Sessions were extended by up to 30 minutes to ensure beginners received both adequate training and good value for money.
The last great challenge was to present the candidates with their certificates at the end of the course, and take appropriate photos too, whilst still maintaining unmasked social distancing - but we coped with it!