How Do Archery Competitions and Leagues Work? – Beginners Guide

There is a huge difference between practicing archery as a hobby, and practising archery for competitions. It is a physical and mental preparation.

When I started practising archery, I wasn’t looking to compete. I just wanted to practice and learn how to shoot like in medieval movies. As I learned, months passed and my coaches invited me to join the club. I bought my own recurve bow and all the necessary equipment for competitions, although I wasn’t planning on competing, they just gave me a list of things to buy and I did.

After 4 months training with my own bow, my coaches asked me if I wanted to participate in the National Competition at the entry level, 20 meters away. That’s when I learned the how different hobby is from competition. I found the hardest part was getting ready mentally, to forget about a bad shot and clear your head for the next. But the experience was awesome, the excitement from competing is something you’ll never forget.

What is an archery league?

An archery league, is a series of (usually) weekly competitions that can last for some months. In which archers from different experience levels and styles compete with each other. In a league, unlike a single competition, the score from each week is add to the total of each archer. These are then tallied up across the league week by week to keep a running total. This gives archers the chance to compete against people with a lot more experience, and not necessarily to have the match style of play. You just go out there to shoot, and register your scores each competition day.

A lot of people describe Archery leagues as a relaxed environment, which allows archers to meet other archers from different clubs, and socialize. I’ve found that it’s a good place to take advices from more experienced archers, and a great opportunity to make new friends in the sport. Take it from me, I haven’t had a chance to make a friend who likes archery, from outside of the archery club and competitions. I’ve met a lot of people that like basketball like me, but never someone in love with archery. Use these leagues as a chance to expand your archery network and knowledge.

What’s the difference between a league style of archery vs a match?

In a league, archers only do the first part of any competition. It is like the first elimination rounds where all archers shoot and sum up their scores. You don’t face yourself against any one specific archer, you just try to make as many points as you can with the number of shots they gave you. That same mechanic from the first round of a competition, it is what leagues do for several months.

On the other hand, a match is when you face against one specific archer and each of you have 3 shots per round. The winner of the round takes 2 points while the other 0, and the first one to get to 6 points advances to the next match. This is the second phase of any Olympic type competition. Each round in each match resets the score, putting a lot more pressure on every archer since they face elimination with almost every shot, but it also gives you a chance to amend for any bad strikes by getting some good shots and winning the next round.

I’ve got to say, although I have never been in an archery league. In my first competition, I only survived through elimination round number 1! In my case, it wasn’t that relaxing because it was my first competition, but it wasn’t as stressful as my second time in a competition. The second time around, I got to the best of eight round. I was getting scared for every shot and piling pressure on myself when I should have been having fun!

How do archery competitions work?

It depends, different competitions tend to change little things. I’m going to talk about a regular Olympic competition, and one competition I participated in during the pandemic; an online competition so you see how things may vary when an independent organization runs a competition.

First, let’s talk about how a competition works. Normally, in an Olympic competition, all archers begin with one or two elimination rounds. This part is similar to the archery League, archers have several shots to accumulate points. Typically, they have 36 shots spread in 12 rounds of 3 shots. Depending on the number of archers, they might do one or two elimination rounds until they only have 16 archers with the best cumulative scores. After the elimination rounds, unlike in archery leagues, archers are separated into brackets where they play matches. One on one, archers take on each other and the cumulative score of the elimination round is no longer a factor.

Now let’s talk about an independent competition. Every competition may vary a little bit depending on the organizing association. Although, they normally tend to be as close as possible to the Olympic archery competitions so that archers don’t feel like it is a whole new system. During the pandemic, I got lucky and my team was invited to participate in a competition organized by a Colombian archery club. People from all over the world participated online in their homes. So it was different from what we were used to.

In this competition, we shot at just 10 meters away, and targets were sent through by e-mail so that we printed our own target. They were meant to fit several targets into one single A4 paper sheet and the rules where simple, each participant had one week to finish his round and submit it to the Colombian club. After 3 rounds, 3 weeks, the two best scorers faced off in an online, live competition match to determine who was the winner of the whole competition.

Differences between league and competition

A league is a group of competitions, or in my own words, a long competition with several rounds of shots. The main difference is the length and the fact that there are no matches at the end. In fact, a regular competition is so fast that archers don’t really have the time to talk a lot. While a league format allows people to help each other out, chat and share some knowledge. I was lucky to meet some people while waiting for our groups turn in the national competition, but this is not always the case. During the indoor competitions, I’ve only had time to talk once I was eliminated.

How are archery tournaments scored?

Either you’re participating in a League, a 3D archery tournament, an Olympic style indoor or outdoor competition, they are all archery tournaments. The base for an archery tournament is that there are scoring rings within the target, with a scale of scores from the lowest to the highest at the center of the target. Most tournaments have a scale from 1 in the outer ring, and 10 in the smallest ring.

Talking about archery leagues and competitions as we’ve been talking through this article; in archery leagues, they have the regular archery target most of the time. They’re a colorful target with rings from 1 to 10. Evert day of the league there is an allocated number of shots to take, some leagues may have a shooting day once a week or once every two weeks, that varies. The organizers determine dates and a starting and ending date. At the end of the league, each archer sums up all his/hers scores and the one with the highest score is the champion of the league.

On the other hand, competitions have two types of scoring systems, one is the elimination round which is like the league. Every archer sums up the scores made and that is the final score. 12 archers or 16 with the highest scores move up to the match round where each archer faces another until they reach 6 points, the winner of the match moves on to the next round.

How do I start competitive archery?

To get started, you should first join an archery team or league. In the case of an archery league, you just have to start shooting and learning from your fellow archers. Read the rules and follow them as if they were your bible. In the case of an archery competition at a competitive level like an Olympic, or pre-olympic competition; you need to join a registered and official archery team.

Once you join a team, you must either show your skills or start practicing with them. No team will send you to a competition that they have not seen shooting before. Go to the practice facility, train with the team coach, show your skills and improvement. Make new friends and prepare for the upcoming competitions. On the other hand, take the time to read the competition distances and try to participate in events best suited to you. Don’t participate in a distance you’re not comfortable with.

What else do professionals archers do?

There are two other things to consider if you want to begin in competitive archery, two things several professional archers do. First of all, your training is not only in the shooting range. This means that you must spend time at the gym, or train at home. Do physical training to prepare your body and muscles for demanding competitions.

My second advice is: use social media. It’s a great way to improve your exposure as a competitive archer. Tape yourself with your phone while shooting, or ask a friend to take some pictures of you to post on a regular basis on your professional account on Instagram. For archery accounts it is not that easy to gain followers, but it is a good thing to get starting earlier. Have fun crating content, showing off your skills and how the life of an archer starts from scratch. Also, by recording yourself, there’s another positive outcome, you’ll have a chance to check your form and standing. This is something we practice every once in a while not only at my archery training, but at my basketball training.

How different are Leagues to Olympic Archery?

They are extremely different. Olympic competitions last for just a couple of days, depending on the schedule. The elimination round similar to a league format but just in one or two days, depending on the number of archers in the competition; followed up immediately by the match phase.

As explained before, matches are one on one rounds between archers until the event reaches the match for the gold and silver medal. On the other hand, Leagues follow a long lasting schedule with several dates for archers to shoot. All archers participate through the entire league. Only two archers will compete for the first place in an Olympic Competition; while everyone has a chance at an archery league. This style gives archers a chance to learn during the entire process in an archery league while keeping the score in mind.

Another difference between both is that archery leagues rules may be different depending on the people organizing the event. On the other hand, Olympic Archery is always the same. Rules have been the same for years and whilst they get slight modifications with time you’ll still recognize the format in 20 years time.

Although there are differences between competitions and leagues, I truly believe that at their core, in their bases, they are all the same. They are all archery. No matter what you choose, it will help you develop your archery skills and increase your network. My personal recommendation, do both. If there is a league near your home, check the dates and if you’re available, register. It will be a great time and experience. If there is a competition near you, with the ranges you have been practicing, go and register. Every experience is a good experience for your background and training.

Some people have never been put in the pressure situation of a competition, it’s a good thing to try even if you don’t think you’re good enough, the more your practise with those better than you, the better archer you’ll become

Keep practicing and stay on the look for events.

Happy shooting!