Hunting Bow Hunting

Q&A with Archery Coach and Educator Heather Pfeil

Natalie Krebs Avatar

Pfeil strikes a balance between coaching others and shooting for herself. Photographs by Silas Crews

Heather Pfeil first picked up a recurve at the age of 8. her hobby has since morphed into a full-blown competitive and coaching career. Now she’s introducing new shooters to the sport

Outdoor Life: You’re the program coordinator for Lancaster Archery Academy. How did you end up there?
Heather Pfeil:
I grew up immersed in archery. My dad is a hunter and he took me to this beautiful range where all these kids were shooting. I nagged him for weeks to take me back. I ultimately joined Junior Olympic Archery Development, shot Olympic style recurve for 10 years and trained as Resident Athlete at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. I’ve competed in the national compound and 3-D divisions for 10 years, and I’ve got my Level 3 coaching certification from USA Archery. Then I moved to Lancaster, Pa., in September 2013 to start the Academy’s program from the ground up.

OL: There are tons of archery programs out there. How is yours unique?
Coach-student interaction. We have dedicated instructors with unparalleled experience. We teach all ages, and we believe anybody can shoot. Our goal is to grow the sport and show newcomers how much fun archery is. In the two years since we’ve launched our program, we’ve introduced 5,000 people to archery.

OL: What’s the biggest mistake beginners make?
Probably the most common error lies in the process of shooting. It might be their draw cycle or follow through, but everything ultimately boils down to not understanding how much focus and energy goes into a good shot. A lot of coaches say—and I agree—that archery is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. It requires more visualization than a lot of people realize, and a lot of focus.

OL: So how do you achieve that?
We have several drills, but we’ll try exercises beyond target practice. I’ll have some go home and try yoga. Or I’ll ask others to visualize themselves shooting a perfect bull’s-eye. Everyone knows what a bad shot feels like. But can they envision a good shot?

OL: What’s the most common question students ask?
Beginners usually ask “How do I aim?” Everyone is quick to seek those immediate results. The more intermediate and advanced archers ask more involved questions ranging from mental topics like, “How do I block out distractions?” to technique-specific questions like, “How’s my follow through?”

OL: What’s next for you?
We’re going to keep expanding our programs at the Academy and I’d personally like to continue expanding my own knowledge. Archery is an ever-growing sport, so learning something new every day or week is my goal. The more I know, the more I can pass on to my students. I’d like to compete in more tournaments and shoot more. It gives any instructor an edge when they’re both an athlete and a coach.