When I agreed to get certified last fall, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had never been in 4-H as a kid, nor had I ever volunteered for an organization like this before. I was essentially clueless. But I couldn’t help but say yes, even though I wasn’t entirely sure why.
I just wrapped up my first year as a Volunteer Certified Archery Instructor for the Hendricks County 4-H Shooting Sports Club. The program was 16 weeks spent with over 300 4-H kids from all walks of life, all experience levels, and all ages, ranging from 3rd- to 12th-grade. Being the new instructor, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the kids. They can show us how we are supposed to teach the fundamentals and the mechanics while we are at the three-day academy, but you have to expect that when you are working with anywhere from 30-90 kids at a time, there will be challenges along the way. And with only two to three other volunteers each week, we had our hands full, and then some.
Some of the kids had never picked up a bow in their life, others didn’t know what their dominant eye is, and some kids had shot before but needed to be re-trained due to bad habits. We had some kiddos that showed up every Tuesday night from 6-8 p.m., and we had some that may have made it just a few times. We had several archers who were autistic, or had developmental challenges, and I’ll tell you, they were just as eager as everyone else, more eager in some cases. And they were good.
The new archers were the most fun to work with each week, due to their sheer determination to get an arrow stuck in the target. I generally spent my time with the left-handed kids, since I am a lefty myself – it was just more natural to help them get their mechanics down. I stuck with the kids shooting the shortest distance targets. Sometimes you could just have them adjust one thing about their stance or their anchor point, or even their follow through, and it made all the difference in the world. They would make the adjustment and watch their arrow fly into the target with a “thud” and instantly they would turn and look at you, and the biggest smile would come across their face. There were a few who were reluctant to listen, but when you talk to them like you are on the same level and tell them things like, “Oh geez, I did the same thing for the longest time, but then I changed this one thing and I started hitting exactly where I was aiming,” you could see their demeanor change and they let their guard down just enough to give it a try. That was an awesome thing to witness.
Each week spent watching the kids get better and gain confidence was incredible. Each week I looked forward to getting to the fairgrounds, watching the kids set the range up, getting all the bows out and stand in their respective lines, waiting to shoot. After 15 weeks, it was time for the fair. The kids had moved to longer shooting distances, in some cases with a heavier bow, and were shooting groups that I would be proud to shoot. They stepped to the line come tournament time and they not only made their parents and family members proud, but they made me proud as well. These archers are amazing. And I should add, getting to watch our own kid improve each week, was an absolute treat as well.
I walked into that first Tuesday night shaking in my sneakers. I was there as an instructor; I was wearing the orange vest, I was responsible for the safety of these kids. I was also responsible for teaching them how to shoot archery, something that I myself had only learned just a short six years prior. I wasn’t sure how the weekly shoots were executed, I wasn’t sure about correcting the kids or if I would even be right when I did correct them. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about anything those first few weeks. But a funny thing happened as the weeks progressed, I learned to be an instructor just the same way they were learning to be archers, by showing up each week, and putting in the time at the range.
Volunteering was never something I had considered in my younger years, it’s such a time commitment. I thought someone else will surely step up. But the reality is, the person those kids may be waiting for to step up, could very well be you. I said yes, and it’s a decision I will never regret.