Korean Olympic Archery
By Ronald McCormick
What a week, I just returned from the very first Win & Win International Archery Academy Coach Certification and Shooters School held Aug 23rd to 26th 2002. The venue was Archery USA in Boston. I will write a separate article about this place soon.
The Coaching School introduced the Korean coaching and training methods to those in attendance. We learned in great detail about how the Korean training system evolved and how it works. We were coached in shooting techniques and form as practiced by archers in Korea. I will take care in this report not to infringe upon any copyright material of Win&Win Archery Co. so I will not report on specific coaching or shooting techniques taught by Coach Park. In addition I do not feel it is good practice to pay to be coached by any coach and then go out and make the information public. I know what can be said and I have said it also, but I must respect the "author" in this case. I will only say what I learned will change the way I teach and shoot archery. I will try to give an overview of tournament archery the way it is practiced in Korea, as this is public information.
The Shooter School was two-hours of instruction on Korean shooting form, techniques and training. Korean Olympic Team Coach and Olympian Kyung Rae Park conducted both the shooting course and the coaching certification sessions. Coach Park is also the President of Win & Win Archery Co. His qualifications to teach both subjects are beyond reproach.
Several two hour shooter school sessions were offered on the day prior to the two days of the coaching session and on the day following the coaching session. I elected to take the shooter school prior to the coaching session on the belief that the lectures would be more meaningful if I had an understanding of the shooting concepts first. I was right, I could sense some confusion by some during the lectures. Having an understanding of the methods helped me a lot. If you have a choice I would suggest taking the shooting school first.
Lets talk about the training system in Korea. One word describes the training system and should be kept in mind at all times focused. Remember this if nothing else, the system has but one interest and that is to produce Olympic Gold Medalist in the sport of archery. Notice I said Gold Medalist, in their system nothing else counts. From the beginning kids are attracted to archery because they want to win Olympic Gold like their idols. All coaching is done by coaches trained and certified by the system. Archers are trained in much the same way as Doctors or other professionals. It does not matter which school or coach a kid goes to he will be required to learn the same skills. Kids start archery at the elementary school level. Everything is provided by the system, all equipment and training expenses are provided for. Kids practice 2-3 hours everyday under the coach. They go through several steps to prepare to shoot a bow with arrows. First as much as 2 months with empty hands, drawing as if they had a bow. Stretch bands are used for another month or so. A bow with out arrows is used to do drawing exercises and finally they get to use arrows with clicker. Its easy to see why boredom is a big problem. At the end of this 4 to 6 month period they get to shoot targets at 20 meters. Many shoot over 300 points out of 360 right away! Half of the kids entering at this level drop out due to the performance demands. These kids cannot continue with archery because no private coaches and facilities exist! The distances shot by school kids are, elementary = 20 to 30 meters, Jr High = 30 to 50 meters, High school FITA distances and OR rounds with one arrow shoot off at the end of every day of practice. In Grade School and Jr.High School the training intensifies with 4-5 and 5-6 hours practice required respectively with roughly the same drop out rate. At the High school level things start to heat up quite a lot. The practice goes to 10 hours a day! A few hours prior to school and the balance after school, going to 9 and 10:pm each day! At first glance this seems excessive but two issues must be understood to appreciate this, one is (remember this?) the system is focused on one thing, Olympic Gold. The other issue is that these archers are all at the 1300 FITA level, and that is the rub. Coach Park correctly pointed out that at this level in order to break through the 1300 barrier a person must shoot a lot of arrows, even more arrows than the 1340 archer! This is reflected in the fact that High School kids practice the most of all the levels, more than even the National Teams. College archery teams try to get the best high school kids for their teams. Company teams are the next level, companies hire individuals as archery team members and their only job is to train and compete for the company. National Teams are at the highest level a person can reach, They are fully funded professionals who train and prepare for one thing (do you remember what that is?). What do all these archers do when training? Nothing surprising at all, just lots of it. Lots of focus on improving scores. One interesting thing they do is shoot a round with empty hands and just visualize the shot. During this round they keep score just as if they were shooting arrows. They score themselves based on how they feel the shot would score. When finished they will shoot and score a round with arrows. Very often the two scores will have just a few points difference. The object is to learn what a 10 feels like. Prior to major tournaments the team does demonstration tournaments at major sporting events such as Baseball. The spectators are encouraged to cheer and shout to simulate tournament conditions. Speaking of spectators, archery is not a big spectator sport in Korea, the same as in the USA. Conditioning is emphasized and the level of this conditioning is reflected by the following fact. The National Sports Organization (I donít know their correct name) similar to our USOC tested all athletes for lower body strength. Of all the sports tested, archers came in 2nd to only the weight lifters! Think about that the next time you wonder what the Korean secret is. How then does a 17 year old Korean lady end up on the Olympic team? The system of team selection is very democratic. Open team trials are held 6 times through the year to select the best archers for competition in international tournaments. These selection tournaments are the most difficult tournaments the Korean archer will ever face. The qualifying score at these tournaments is 1310 in the last year. These qualification tournaments are held in very high regard and require the highest performance from the competitors. The best must prove them selves over and over, which explains why the team members keep changing. The total number of archers in this system is 1500. The total number of coaches is around 200. Remember I said the system is focused. If you are not on one of these teams you are not shooting FITA style archery. No private coaches or clubs or facilities exist.
Are the Koreans archery gods? Only in the sense that they lead the way for modern tournament archery. Is there something about the people that make them better at archery than others? Korean people have very good hand skills compared to the rest of the world. This has been demonstrated in every sport that requires very high hand skills. Coach Park pointed out that even in competition like the Industrial Olympics (companies send employees to compete in activities such assembling components) Koreans excel. For whatever reason, nations pick the areas they want to excel in, and when the might of a nation is brought to bear on any task the results can seem beyond normal human abilities. History is filled with many great accomplishments that would never have happened had not the nation directed its resources to the task. We committed our nation to "put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth" -JFK . It could just as well have been "Win Olympic gold medals In archery"
One thing to consider is this story shared with us by Coach Park. "When we formed our first team of five or six archers we had nothing. We funded ourselves and practiced on our own. The first year we were shooting at world record levels in practice. We approached the Sports Federation (again I apologize for not knowing the name of the organization) for recognition and they refused to consider our request because they could not believe our scores!" So right from the start they were on the right track. Coach Park said, " When we first started we had no coaches at all, we went to the Korean Traditional Archers and ask for information on how to shoot. They instructed us on stance, form and technique. We used this as a base to build and develop." What a base to build on, with over 2000 years of development in archery.
Can the US and other countries compete with the Koreans on an equal footing? Not today, perhaps in the future with a stronger system. Can the US build a stronger system? No doubt about it, we can do it. Everything we need is in place it just takes a change of will and direction. One thing that would be a big mistake would be to model our system after the Korean system. They built what works best for them, we have to design a system that fits in with our society and takes advantage of our strengths.
This was a great experience for all in attendance. Win&Win plans to host more of these in the future. If you get an opportunity to attend one don't miss it! A video tape was produced and a copy will be mailed to each person in attendance. Also Coach Park has a book that has been available for some time in the east that is being translated to English. Each person will receive a copy of this book also. Along with our certificates we all received a nice commemorative watch. To top it off I had the best bowl of Clam Chowder I have ever eaten at one of the local restaurants and spent the weekend with good friends Bill and Julia Body.
Copyright 2002 Ronald McCormick