Imagine for a moment, you’re at the National Archery in the School’s Program (NASP) after-school archery practice, and you’re handed a blindfold.
You put the blindfold on where you experience total darkness.
You listen for two whistle signals to “get bow” and your partner tells you how many paces to take to arrive at the shooting line.
Then you hear one whistle signal and your partner provides verbal cues to perform the 11 Steps to Archery Success.
These initial steps include stance, nock, pre-draw, draw, and anchor.
Finally comes the final steps to aim, release, follow-through and reflect.
This was reality a few years back for several 10th graders who attended Gus Wetter School in Alberta, Canada.
It was an exercise called ‘Through Jocelyn’s Eyes’, named after an extraordinary student whose everyday reality involves 100 per cent blindness.
Now if you’re an archer in NASP, you know that learning the “11 Steps to Archery Success” is a task that takes dedication and constant practice to achieve.
So, imagine trying to learn the steps all while not having your eyesight; challenging is an understatement, but Jocelyn Wilson, an alum of Gus Wetter School but now a third year student at Red Deer College, didn’t shrink to the challenge.
“We started archery in gym class and I realized I enjoyed it, so I decided to stick with it,” she said. “I remember the rush I felt when releasing the arrow and it hit the target.”
Nancy Tamblyn, NASP coach and educator, had many inspiring words to say about Jocelyn and the experiences that followed.
Tamblyn said, “I could write a book…Reader’s Digest version would be that Jocelyn was more than willing to try archery as her lack of vision had shrunk her whole world down to a small fraction of what it had been when she still had her sight.”
Tamblyn further explains, “When she attended her first practice, it was clear that nobody knew the work, experimentation, and tweaking, along with the trust and commitment it would take to get Jocelyn to the point where she was confident enough to enter her first tournament.”
“One challenge I had to overcome,” said Jocelyn, “was learning how to keep my elbow steady when preparing to release the bowstring and learning not to move my arm just before releasing.”
After trying out different positioning aids for the “draw” and “anchor” steps, Tamblyn and the other coaches realized all she really needed to shoot safely and successfully were verbal cues as she was learning her positioning with each step.
Finally, muscle memory would take over, and from that point on, all Jocelyn needed was someone directing her to the proper stance on the shooting line and verbally guiding her to the “aim” step.
Jocelyn’s teammates watched and observed Jocelyn’s archery challenges and they thought it was “cool” to see her shoot completely blind.
“They never considered how frustrating or difficult it actually was for Jocelyn to shoot,” said Tamblyn, “so we decided to have them all try a few practices of blind shooting.”
This exercise became known as “Through Jocelyn’s Eyes.”
The practice involved pairing students up with other kids who didn’t normally “hang out” with one another, giving them blindfolds, and having them clearly verbalizing each step so the shooter would know what to do.
On top of the students gaining respect and empathy for the struggles that Jocelyn endured at every practice and tournament, the coaches noticed many other benefits to this unique exercise.
Archers learned the value of clear, concise communication. Trust was formed which developed a solid teamwork base in an otherwise individual sport.
Student empathy increased by leaps and bounds by making archers aware of others handicaps and struggles.
They reacted more caringly and thoughtfully.
Muscle memory was developed by all archers, so this exercise became a regular event at practices.
By having students’ “coach” other blindfolded shooters to achieve correct positioning at every step, coaches and teachers spent less time correcting improper positioning in subsequent practices or classroom sessions.
Everyone learned how to control their frustration and nerves while “on the line”.
Also, Jocelyn developed a ton of self-confidence and self-respect while gaining many new friends and fans!
When Jocelyn was asked what it was like to observe (by listening) all of her fellow archers participate in this one of a kind activity she said, “The fact that all of my classmates were blindfolded at one point was nice.”
She humorously added, “Pardon my language, but I think it was really “eye-opening” for them. They got to experience how I shoot and maybe feel the rush in a different way than normal.”
Jocelyn is currently not involved in any archery programs, but she said if the opportunity ever presented itself she would definitely jump on board!
by Brittany Jones