Patrick Huston, 18, won two gold medals at the World Youth Archery Championships in Wuxi, China in 2013. I caught up with him after the close of play in Telford last Sunday, and he was kind enough to give me an interview.
So how do you feel it went this weekend?
I was really pleased with how I got on. I had a terrible first half of the qualification at 283, things just didn’t settle in right and I just generally wasn’t happy, but then I found what I was doing wrong, set my shoulder right, relaxed my bow hand a bit, did really well in the second half at 294 to finish on 577, and ended up qualifying 14th. I shot well in my first match (against Ivan Gonzalez), got to 5-3 I think it was. Then my arrow fell off my rest which was a bit crap, but I got to a one-arrow shoot off and beat him on that. Unfortunately, I then came up against Jean-Charles Valladont, who then shot a 90 against me. Hard to beat! In the end he won, so it’s not too bad losing to the man who won the whole thing. It’s my first international competition competing with the seniors, so I was really pleased with how I got on.
You won the World Youth Championships.
I have a terrible pattern of doing fine in my first international of a specific type of archery and then very well in my second. In the World Field Championship in 2012 I came eighth, and the Europeans I got team bronze and individual gold. My first international target champs in Korea I got knocked out fairly early on, and the second one I came home with individual and mixed team gold. I was trying to take the British indoors as my first international, because this thought did come into my head, but I thought “no, it’s my second, because I’ve done internationals before so this will be fine” but seemingly this is following the same pattern! So the next big international indoor event I’ll do far better.
You say you made an adjustment in the second half of qualification this weekend. What did you change?
I noticed that the aiming felt the same as it always did. It was fairly still, fairly solid, everything felt fine there, but when I shot my bow would jerk across to one side or the other. I found what I was doing was letting my front shoulder rise up, when I was setting my front shoulder at the start of the shot I was just sort of setting it there and then drawing back, rather than setting it down and into the socket. Once I started to do that, it meant that the bones were supplying the force, taking the poundage from the bow and not the muscles, so when I shot it just stayed there rather than the muscles saying ‘there’s the force gone’ – they stayed relaxed and the force went down one straight line and didn’t affect it one way or the other. Recently I have developed quite a lot of tension in my front hand, which I’m trying to work out of, but in a competition you sort of leave it and go with what’s happening at the moment. But I decided that as well as my front arm twitching, I was making it worse by trying to correct it because my hand was this tight, so I let that relax. I was watching Rick van der Ven, and Sjef van den Berg when they were shooting, because they were only two targets down from me; and when they shot their bow it just came out of their hand, straight into the finger sling and rolled, whereas with mine things were happening that shouldn’t. So I decided to really focus on keeping the pressure the same way it used to be, but just keeping the fingers and everything more relaxed, so the front shoulder’s right, it just pushes everything forward and the bow just flew out of my hand and left the hand nice and relaxed. Once I started doing that I think I shot 120 in a row, so it worked.
How do you control nerves?
In some respects I do it by taking the piss out of it. I didn’t do it so much here, but in China, because it was the world championships, you had all the teams screaming at you, screaming at the other teams, encouraging them. When we were standing in the line waiting to go up, a couple of times Becky (Martin) and the men’s team turned round to me and were like “what are you doing?” because everyone was just like “go France, allez la France!” and I was just going “agh, woof woof!”. I was just taking the piss out of them making all that noise, and it adds that slight amount of humour that it takes the intimidation out of it. Also, you will see in the Youtube videos of me shooting that there’s music playing in the background and I’m just dancing along with it. I just don’t think about it. In the actual finals themselves, I was really pleased with how little pressure I actually felt. When I was on the practice field before I went in, I was still thinking about each shot, still thinking about how all the muscles were moving. Once I got into the finals, firstly it was really interesting to see that I’ve watched archery TV so much that I know what a finals venue looks like, so it’s really interesting to be in one looking out. Once I got there I was just absorbing the moment and once I drew up there was no thinking about backs rotating or anything like that. It just went off and they went in the middle.
Isn’t that exactly what you want? When the unconscious controls the muscles…
Oh yes. I deal with nerves just by – you can try and not think about it, this isn’t important or whatever, but that doesn’t work, because the fact that you’re having to think about that means that you’re registering the fact that it’s important. If you just ignore it and then shoot the way you normally would, then that’s just what I do.
So what drives you to do archery? I mean, you’re in Telford, it’s raining…
Well, when I started off shooting at any sort of competitive level, I was just starting off, I was just starting off my schooling. There was a guy in the school who I think was on the Ireland team at this point, but he was at most of the indoor competitions that I would go, and my air was, the first time I’d won my trophy, he had won it the three years before me, and my aim was that I would do better than him. I think I have.
I think you probably have, yes!
Since then I’ve just moved up the range and levels of competition: Northern Irish champion, Irish champion, British champion. I always want that next level above. I’ve always said that when I’ve won the Olympics twice, I’ll go to compound.
I understand you can make some money in compound…
There’s more funding available for recurve at the lower levels of the scale, but if you get to the top level there’s more money in compound. I just like winning. I don’t like not winning and I’m incredibly competitive in anything I do. I’m a perfectionist, and if I like doing something I will do it right.
What else do you do? Is there something else that you do that you like to perfect outside of archery?
The closest to that would be ice skating. When I was in my early teenage years I would have gone ice skating every Friday or Saturday night. I remember when I started off there were three or four guys there who were incredible. They played ice hockey, they were able to do all these tricks on the ice; they were able to jump feet into the air, spray ice all over the place… After two and a half years of ice skating however many times a week, I became that good and I was just as good as them. So I went and joined an ice hockey team, the junior Belfast Giants, and I was good at the ice skating part of all that, handling the puck; it was just the team element did not work at all, which I think is why I do really well in archery, because I don’t have to rely on anyone else and it’s just me. That’s why I like it: if I do everything right, it’s in the middle. Same with the ice skating. It’s a singular drive. so I took the time and the energy, put the effort in, that works out.
It’s your responsibility.
That’s why team sports have never really worked out with me.
I just saw on Facebook, Tim Gillingham (US pro compound archer) said he took up archery because team sports were “too much politics”.
That sounds quite accurate.
What’s your greatest strength in the sport? What’s the strongest part of your game?
There’s probably two sides to that. If we went by ‘strong’ in one respect I would say I am very physically strong. I just turned eighteen three weeks ago and have a 50lb bow, and there’s not many people in my age group that shoot a 50lb recurve. It does give me that edge. I’m shooting beside people, I have better sight marks, and my arrows are travelling faster, and that’s generally all very handy. But on top of that I probably just have a very good mental game. When I get into head-to-heads I don’t let other people get to me. Some other people are good at this as well. When I was shooting against Valladont; it was as if I wasn’t there. We went up to score and he was just like “yeah, that’s fine” and we went up there and there was no interaction. It’s not that there was no interaction in that he was blanking me; it was just you could tell he was plain, straightforward about it and that’s what he does. I have the same sort of thing. Unfortunately, I can’t really compete with a 90, but I have a really good mental game, which is why I’ve won two world gold medals, European golds.
You think so? You think it’s more the mental side of it than anything else?
The thing I do is, under pressure, I actually perform better. The higher the level of competition, the better I perform. I don’t find I do well in practice, because I don’t have that push. Even if I go to a club competition where there’s no-one there that’s really going to be challenging me, the fact that we’re scoring, even in practice, if I start scoring I will shoot better than if I’m just putting them into a target. So if I go to a competition I shoot better; if I go to a competition where there’s a friend of mine who might or not beat me I’ll shoot even better; but then when I go to the big competitions the level improves.
When you’re up against people who also have a strong game?
Yeah. I think that’s a good mental attitude to have. An awful lot of people shoot international level scores in practice and then they get to the competition and they can’t do it. In practice, a lot of people would beat me. In a competition, those people would struggle.
You talked about how Valladont dealt with you in the head to head. Was he… disdainful, or something like that?
Not quite, he just sort of kept in his shell and came out when we were scoring the arrows. I kind of respected him for this. I had a line cutter; it was cutting where the line would have been but it had wrinkled the paper so it was yellow, and if he had had that I would have called a judge over, but he just came over and went “yeah, it’s in” and there was not a second’s hesitation. You can tell that’s years of experience: he knows it should have been in; the paper had just moved. Some people get all jittery and tense, but he was just getting on with the average day’s shooting.
There’s a certain level that I’ve seen in some people, like the Koreans, where there’s a confidence: you know how good the performance is and you know how you can deliver that, and it’s only when you come up against that sort of extremely hard competition that things change.
With any top-level archer, they can all put them in the middle. It’s: can you put them in the middle when it counts? It comes down to your mental game and that’s what’s really important. Are you able to go there and up there and do it when it matters? You’re on a shoot-off and he’s put in a ten, can you get a better ten?
Where did you get that mental game from? Is that something you developed yourself or did you have someone who coached you?
I’ve never had a coach in the sense that other people have. I’ve got a coach that started me off who I still see twice a week at school. She’s not really a high level coach. She can do a beginner’s course, she’s a lovely woman and will say “Yay, Patrick, you did really well”, encouraging me, point out anything I’m doing particularly wrong, but other people I’ve heard of, they see a coach twice a week at their club, they’re helping them every single day, working with them, helping them with that competition. There are people in the Northern Ireland squad, like Barry Wilson and Maggie Squires, who have done a lot to help me when I was just starting off, setting up the basics of my technique. But since then, I started going to archery competitions, I went on my own, my parents dropped me off and I was there, didn’t know anyone, but then I would start shooting and the first few ones I got beaten and I thought “no, I don’t like coming second” so I started winning, started doing well and talking to other people. I think that pretty much my progression up the archery scale is all down to myself. I think I’ve just sort of learnt it, not to allow myself to do badly. The downside is that I don’t think I’ll ever be, say I drop out in fifteen years and come back when I have kids, I’ll never be a recreational archer. People who just go out for a field shoot and dander around the forest with their mates for a bit of craic and a shoot, I’ll never be able to do that. Fair enough, I might not always be the level I am now, but I’ll never be able to do it for the fun of it. There will always have to be that performance aspect.
That makes a lot of sense. So what’s the next big thing?
Hopefully I will get selected so I will be off to the senior Europeans in June.
Where’s that again?
It’s in Armenia in July. Unfortunately, I can’t make the junior Europeans. I’ll definitely be at the World Archery Field Championships in Zagreb this year, I’ll have to get the gold medal at that. I got the European. This is the juniors. Last year I was a cadet. Cadets is under eighteen, so if you’re under seventeen at the start of the year, you can be seventeen for most of the year. I was technically a cadet, but in the field champs there’s only junior and that’s under twenty-one, so I was shooting in the juniors against people, most of them being twenty, and I was only seventeen and I beat them all. Most of them, there’s nobody that I can foresee being that much ahead of me in the field and beat me. The scores that I put in in the finals, the whole way through the European field archery championships, apart from one elimination round where I had a miss I would have won the seniors there. Even in the last four targets, you shoot four targets and I think the highest gents score was 59 and I had 60. So fingers crossed for the world fields!
Have you any ideas that would raise the profile of archery?
What we really need is to get it onto TV. I know Eurosport have adapted. I think the World Championships were on Eurosport. So we really just need to get it onto TV, like darts. People really love watching it on the Olympics. The reason beginners’ courses are booked up across the country and have been for a year and a half is that so many people saw it during the Olympics. Every single match was televised. When they’re covering the World Cup and stuff, it’s the same format. They do, they show it really well. If you watch a target competition, I have to say it’s not the most interesting, but watching head to heads, and particularly the way World Archery does it with the voiceover and commentary, it is really interesting. If we get that onto TV regularly, in the same way that darts or snooker, why would you want to watch darts or snooker? What’s so interesting about darts or snooker that isn’t in archery?
The thing about darts is that it was always a pub sport until they invented the split screen, so you can see the player throwing and hitting the board at the same time, and that turns it into a TV sport. I’ve often thought about whether that would work with archery, but unfortunately it would make it look like darts because it’s such a familiar, iconic TV image.
I just think that we need to work to get the BBC, when there’s a World Cup, to put half an hour of matches on, you know the way World Archery does a round-up of the matches, put it onto the BBC, put it on Channel 4, whatever, for half an hour around every World Cup. Half an hour, the TV companies can afford that. It would be really interesting to see how the ratings go.
As I understand, there’s always a bump of interest in archery at the Olympics. It’s the same as with the Winter Olympics, I know that curling always get a bump – Britain won a gold medal in 2000 in the curling. Every time they show the curling there’s a huge bump of interest in it, because it’s interesting, unique, something you only see every four years. Archery had a huge media bump in 2012, of course.
The Hunger Games, Brave, The Avengers. We’ve done well recently! I founded my own club in 2011 and the first beginners’ course we had five or six people, two of whom joined the club. The second beginners’ course we had ten, eight of whom joined the club. We’ve just had another and we got another five, and we’ve another starting in three weeks with twelve booked onto it. This was a club that started off with five people three years ago.
Are you going to Nimes?
Unfortunately not. I’ve already been at the European field, missed a few days of school, went to the World Archery Championships, missed a few days of school, was training with GB team before Christmas, missed school, then we were in Qatar and I missed more school. My parents really don’t like me missing this much school! I do have the scores, if I put them in I could have gone, but it is a shame I’m not able to go. I’ll be there in two years time, and I’ll be at the Europeans next year, because I’m having a gap year. Possibly two once the Olympics become a realistic possibility.
What are you going to study at university?
Hopefully economics. I know it’s terribly politically incorrect, but with a view to being an investment banker. Only for the fact that I’ll make a lot of money, retire at thirty-five and run a loss-making archery company! That means everybody else gets cheap equipment…
That makes sense! I was talking to a guy today at Aurel Archery, this German guy who makes arrows who is a very interesting guy with an amazing product.
It is really nice to see how the archery market is expanding so dramatically. I started competing seriously about three years ago, and you’d only ever see three or four brands. Pick stabilisers, you have Dunker, Cartel and Easton. Realistically that was all you’d see. Occasionally you’d see some weird thing. I know there was Carbofast from Ireland…
I’m sure I saw someone in a Carbofast shirt, actually…
It’s really good to see the archery market opening up so dramatically, particularly against market dominators such as Hoyt and Easton, who pretty much have everything skewed in their favour. Not that I’m against them at all. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be ‘in charge’; they make very good products, but it’s nice to see other products on the market, and hopefully with a wider choice people will be able to find products that do equally well or better, so it just puts that competitive edge in that keeps them on their toes and everyone at the top of their game. If you just have one company dominating, and there’s no way to get past them, they can get slack.
Compound archery is ‘headlining’ this particular show, whereas all the other World Cup events the recurve is the headline…
Archery GB’s main focus is on recurve, and I’m sure it is the same with other national governing bodies in other countries, but their main focus is archery, whereas in the general populace compound might be seen as slightly more important, particularly in America where bow hunting is such a massive sport that it does take over so much. Then you’ve got NFAA, IBO, ASA, the regions, and there are so many competitions that are so important for compound. Recurve is really seen as the Olympic format.
Thanks Patrick! Good luck this year!
Extra thanks to Mlle. Infinite Curve who typed this up about twenty times faster than I ever could.