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One thing that will make you more effective than anything else

A picture of a small ornamental pumpkin with an arrow straight through the middle signifying the accomplishment made possible by good follow through.
Marksmanship and photograph by David Bates

Many years ago at summer camp, I fell in love with archery. Hunting never appealed to me. I loved the idea of field archery — competing with myself and others to see how often I could hit the target in the exact right place.

Camp bows and arrows are notoriously awful. 

The wooden arrows are usually stained with years of rain, leaf acid, and dirt collected as they’re left sitting in the field, only to be discovered and collected months later by the facilities crew at the end of summer. Feathers designed to help the arrows fly straight dangle like the last leaves of fall — valiantly holding onto the arrow in some last ditch effort to prove they can still help the archer hit the mark. 

Camp bows aren’t much better. The limbs used to be made out of wood that twisted and warped as bored campers used the tips for digging in the loose soil while listlessly consuming the safety lesson. Rubber handles that formed the arrow rest were either torn or so worn down that no arrow would stay in place without the support of a finger placed alongside the arrow’s shaft, dangerously close to the tip.

One of the safety rules we learned and eventually taught to other campers was “never shoot with broken or damaged equipment”. But when that’s all you have, you figure out how to make things work. You find the arrows that are straight enough and have three mostly good feathers.

It was this equipment that I came to love as I competed with my friend (Jeff) to see if we could achieve the Camp Archery Association rank of Silver Bow. 50 yards. 30 arrows. 100 points. 

Jeff and I learned a lot about field archery that summer through lots of trial and error. We learned that we’d get better results with better equipment. But more important than the equipment was the posture of the person who wielded it. And one thing, in particular, contributed more to successfully hitting the target than anything else.

Follow through.

In our more generous, non-competitive moments, we coached each other on the elements we couldn’t see ourselves. I’d blame the crummy arrow and Jeff would remind me that we were using the same equipment but getting different results.

We learned that we could have a perfect stance, draw, aim, and release but without a well executed follow-through, none of the previous elements really mattered.

In archery, what you do with the bow after you release the arrow from the string makes all the difference in the world. Most people just let go of the string and hope for the best. Experienced archers know there’s more to the process than that.

The lesson of follow through doesn’t require us to unpack all the nuance of good archery technique. In fact, there are many other examples beyond the sport in which follow through is a crucial element.

The important thing is to recognize that follow through is one of the most critical elements in our life. The commitments we make to family, friends, coworkers, and others are useless if we don’t follow through. Like an arrow that corkscrews into the dirt, so are the things we say we’ll do but fail on the follow through. 

follow through is one of the most critical elements in our life

As I look at my day to day, I find myself asking some questions. Perhaps they’ll be helpful to you as you consider whether or not it is worthwhile to practice your follow through skills.

  • When was the last time I told someone to send me an email but I didn’t respond in a reasonable time (or at all)?

  • What have I recently said I would do but later decided not to because something else came up that was more interesting or valuable?

  • What step or task did I agree to take on but didn’t finish because I completely forgot about it?

I wonder what we each might accomplish if we dedicated the next three months to honing our follow through skills.


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