How to Get Started in Archery

The easiest way to get started in archery is to take a lesson with a qualified instruction program, such as Golden Gate JOAD (we teach kids and adults 8 and up). An instruction program initially takes care of everything for you, provides the right equipment to start on and gives you an introduction to archery that will get you started on the right foot. You’ll be able to try out different bows and arrows, get individualized advice on your shooting, get information on the various archery activities available in your area and insight on which equipment would be right for you if you decide to buy a bow. Even if there isn’t a program close to you it is still worth it to drive a little out of the way for your first lesson to get a sound start in archery.

What makes a good archery instruction program? Well, first off, the instructors should have positive attitudes, listen to you and use methods and equipment that make learning easy and fun. Good instructors emphasize what to do rather than criticize you for doing something wrong. A good instruction program should have people you like. There is no point taking archery in an environment that doesn’t make you feel good about what you are doing. And the program should have the kind of instruction you are looking for. Some programs are supportive and non-competitive and others can be more formal and emphasize preparation for competitions. You’ll be able to decide for yourself if you like the people in an instruction program. As to the rest, here is a short list:

Things many good beginning archery programs have in common.

  • Certified Instructors
    • The two main US archery organizations, USA Archery and the NFAA, both offer certification programs. The “Basic” or “Level 1” certifications are typically for summer camp instructors or as assistants in a year round program. “Intermediate” or “Level 2” and above with experience are more what you’ll be looking for (for reference, Golden Gate JOAD is headed by Level 4 head coach, David Chan, and has level 1 and 2 assistants.)
    • Higher certification than Level 2 is not always better for teaching beginners. Although our Level 4 head coach has advanced skills, he also teaches lots of beginners and intermediate students. Some advanced coaches don’t have much experience teaching new archers—and experience counts. Also, higher is not always superior to Level 2 certification because not all good coaches seek out higher certifications than are needed to run a JOAD or other instructional program. I know of one advanced coach who only had Level 2 certification for years, in spite of being one of the best instructors I know. So, the levels are helpful indicators, but higher levels are not always a 1:1 correspondence with a coach being better for you as a beginning archer.
  • Light Draw Weight Bows
    • The number one issue for most new archers who try to learn archery on their own is being “over bowed,” which is having a bow that is too hard to draw back. A bow that has too high a draw weight can make it hard to use good form, and can lead to frustration or even injury–causing some people to give up archery before they’ve even had a chance to truly learn and enjoy it. Most people buying their first bow wind up with a bow that is heavier than optimal for learning. When you are first learning archery you should be able to concentrate on learning new motions. All good instructional programs have some light draw weight bows for new students. If a program doesn’t have adult bows of 20 pound draw weight or under then there is a good chance it isn’t an optimal program for new archers. At Golden Gate JOAD, we start adults off on bows between 10 and 20 pounds so they can concentrate on learning archery rather than exercise during their first lessons.
  • Good Quality Bows and Matched Arrows.
    • Archery is more satisfying with decent quality equipment, even when you are just learning. Good bows draw smoothly and are more fun to shoot. And good quality, matched arrows are required in order to hit the same spot on a target. (Arrows are like little airplanes. If they don’t all match in all respects, they won’t all fly the same. If an archery instruction program gives you an improperly mixed set of arrows to learn on, you’ll never be able to get them to group properly, or all hit together in the bulls eye, no matter how much you work at it.). All equipment should be well maintained and free of cracks. Arm guards should be provided, and finger tabs to protect your string fingers should be available, as needed.

You can Google for archery programs in your area. You can also check with the national archery associations, USA Archery and the NFAA, for instruction near you, though neither organization has really stepped up to the plate to offer one stop service to aid prospective archers find local instruction. USA Archery has a list of JOAD and Adult Achievement clubs you can contact to see if they may be right for you, though the list is not always up to date, nor does it tell you what age range the clubs teach, or anything else except contact info ( :-0 ) . (JOAD stands for Junior Archery Development, and JOAD clubs vary widely in their scope and size. Some, like ours, teach both kids (JOAD) and adults (“Adult Achievement Programs“) in a non-competitive environment. Others are highly competitive programs specifically for training kids and teens to compete at the national level.) Phone or email programs to find out if they might be right for you. Ask them about what age ranges they teach, what kind of certifications they have, if they have light bows for beginners, and so forth. Their responses, and their attitude in their responses, should help you tell more about their program.

BTW, if this post sounds a bit like an ad for Golden Gate JOAD, of course it is! I really like the way Golden Gate JOAD works, and I was a satisfied customer before becoming an instructor. But this post it is also an endorsement of other programs like Golden Gate JOAD, programs that seek to make learning archery a fun, easy and positive experience. I want people to find a program that is right for them. Different people have different styles and interests. Depending on where you live, you’ll hopefully have a number of archery programs to choose from. For most new shooters, I think Golden Gate JOAD is one of the best ways to get started in archery.

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