MAPLE RIDGE – When it comes to high school sports, it’s safe to say that archery most likely isn’t the first one that comes to mind.
In fact, most people will probably conjure up images of either Robin Hood or some epic battle scene from a Hollywood blockbuster set in medieval times, but for Kathleen Millar, who was recently honoured for more than two decades of dedication to coaching archery at North Dundas District High School (NDDHS), it’s about sharing her love of a sport that marches to the beat of its own drum.
The fine motor skill sport not only requires countless hours of repetition, but it also usually attracts a very specific type of athlete.
“The mental side of archery will attract certain people with certain personality traits. Usually they’re slightly introverted. They’re very much thinking people. If they’re going to be successful they listen to the biofeedback loop, the connection and conversation between the mind and the muscles to make it happen the same every time. Because the optimum is that you’re a human being trying to turn yourself into a machine really,” said Millar.
The small team practices twice a week under the supervision of teacher Ray Bougie and with the careful guidance of Millar. Much like many of the other extra-curricular activities at NDDHS, archery has seen a decline in numbers with the shrinking school population, but that is nothing new for the niche sport.
The province of Ontario is the only one that offers a competitive tournament in Canada and because of that the attrition rate after high school is tremendous. Quite simply, there is little to no infrastructure in place for the sport.
“There’s no support infrastructure in many universities or colleges, and in most cases in Canada they’re not even allowed to keep their equipment in their dorms, never mind finding a place to train. It’s highly specialized. It’s very individual, especially compound equipment. So it’s not like you can just walk into some place and say can I borrow your equipment and then get that performance so they have to be able to train with it and that’s a big hole in the sport right now when people leave high school,” said Millar.
But for those interested in pursuing their passion, Millar offers a beacon of light and support both at the high school and at her shop South Nation Archery. It is there that she met several of her current students, but it’s their willingness to learn and dedication that allows Millar to help them progress with her thoughtful instruction.
“In this age demographic there are many hurdles. There’s after-school work, there’s a lack of independent transportation, there’s commitment of other kinds of things, whether it’s on the farm or whatever. So when I see someone making a real effort despite those hurdles to come to practice every week, there’s not only the attendance but the attentiveness to listen to what I’m saying, then it lets me progress more with them,” she said.
This year’s group is a little more advanced so they’ve zeroed in on more of the psychological training required to perform well at the tournament level.
The focus paid off with Bradley Larmour earning a gold medal in the male compound limited category and Payton Halpenny had a personal best score of 560, which earned her a silver medal in the female recurve class. The team of Jason Larmour, Taylor Bazinet, Jared Wicks and Matthew Irven had a bronze medal finish in the male compound unlimited team of four competition.
While the medals and recognition are nice, the motivation behind a two-decade commitment as a coach is a passion for the details and eliminating the common obstacles that can derail the passion for archery.
“Because of the technical nature of the sport, a lot of times you can ruin people by having poor instruction or inappropriate equipment. These kinds of things are important not only for the student, but for the sport as a whole. The reputation that it’s difficult or you have to be some kind of Hercules in your upper body and all of those fallacies, you have to work hard to overcome. But it really can damage somebody if you don’t have the proper instruction,” said Millar. “It’s an opportunity that is non-existent in any other province. There is no other province in the country that offers a high school archery tournament. So I felt that it was an opportunity not to be missed and I still feel that way.”
With a fine motor sport like archery, the learning never ends, but for those that are curious to see what it offers them, Millar has a few very simple tips.
“You need to find a program with instructional equipment that you can use in order to learn the activity before you invest in any kind of equipment. You may find that your interest lies solely in target or you may be like several of the people here that hunt as well as do target archery. But the big thing is the opportunity to learn the 10 basic steps to good archery in a safe environment with equipment that’s appropriate, then take it from there. Always instruction first before commitment to equipment,” said Millar.