SPECIAL REPORT: Young archers determined to get their point across
On any given Tuesday and Thursday evening, a group of closely-knit archers of various ages can be seen perfecting their skills on the green fields of Sir John Gleed School, Spalding.
This is a very special year for Silver Spoon Bowmen of Spalding which celebrates its 40th anniversary since being founded as part the British Sugar Sports and Social Club in 1975.
Joining in the anniversary celebrations will be three of the club’s brightest and best talents, Archery GB Youth Development Squad members Alex Taylor (16) of Holdingham, near Sleaford, Abbie Spinks (17) of Spalding and Lincolnshire County indoor champion Charlene Marsh (16) of Swineshead.
“Archery was always something that interested me and I started off with a recurve (sometimes known as traditional) bow,” Charlene said.
“Then I went to a local archery shop in Swineshead about five years ago and signed up for a six-week mini course in the summer holidays.
“After that, I joined Swineshead North End Archers Club with my mum Margaret who had already done a course as part of her Brownie leader work, so we were both interested in the sport.”
Alex added: “I was a Scout for a few years and there was one day when we could learn archery.
“From there, I joined my local club (Sleaford Maltsters) and did a course there about five years ago.”
Abbie’s talent became apparent on a family trip to Center Parcs seven years ago when a coach spotted her and suggested to parents Symon and Linda that they should take their daughter to an archery club.
“I just really enjoyed it so when we came back home from the trip, mum asked me whether I wanted her to look for a club locally for me to join,” Abbie said.
“We both did archery together but mum did it more as a support for me and we both ended up joining Silver Spoon Bowmen.”
Two years later, the titles piled up for Abbie as the Lincolnshire Outdoor County Junior Girl Compound title was quickly followed by her first national outdoor and indoor titles, aged just 12.
At the time, Symon said: “For my own daughter to be a national champion is a dream come true.
“I find myself just looking at her in amazement and I’m bursting with pride because her dedication is incredible and she’s an example for other children to follow.”
Looking back on her early success now, Abbie said: “It was quite an intense two years when I picked up a coach (Sam Newton) and we did a lot of solid work on my technique.
“It didn’t just happen but we started working hard soon after I joined the club.”
National honours also came Alex’s way last year when he lifted both indoor and outdoor under-16 compound (modern bows using a lever system) titles, two years after earning the most prestigious title for a young archer – Junior Master Bowman.
Alex said: “I was very proud when I got it.
“I worked hard for over a year to get the Junior Master Bowman award, shooting in all conditions and all over the country to record the qualifying scores.”
All three archers have Junior Master Bowman status, a passport to compete in some of the top archery competitions for juniors in the country and the chance to be spotted by coaches from Archery GB, the governing body for the sport.
Abbie said: “Myself and Alex have been invited onto the GB Development Squad, 15 archers from across the whole of Great Britain who have been identified as having talent and have done well in big competitions and selection shoots.
“They are people who are either breaking onto the international stage or have just got onto it and can improve to go further.
“For instance, there are three squad days where we have really high-level coaches working with us to either get us to international level or further onto the international stage.
“If you are already solidly on the international stage, there is the GB Elite Squad for those who are the best in the country and they are the ones who go abroad to compete against other countries.”
According to the last Archery GB junior rankings, Abbie is ranked ten in the country for Junior Girls’ Compound and Alex ranks seventh in the Junior Boys’ Compound. while Charlene is comfortably in the top 30 of Archery GB’s Junior Award Scheme.
Run annually for all archers up to the age of 18, regardless of bow type or discipline. the scheme awards points to archers for their achievements throughout the year, with Alex coming first for 2014 and Abbie seventh.
“To get where Alex and Abbie are, they have to do certain shoots and get certain scores,” Charlene said.
“I’m doing it mainly for fun but so far, I have improved my scores by about 20 points and it looks promising.
“I’m not far off the score I need to get to be invited to the selection shoots with Abbie and Alex.”
Ultimately, all three are progressing at their own pace in a sport which is as much about friendships as it is about competitions.
Alex said: “We all have friends across the country and these shoots aren’t just competitions to get scores, but they also about people meeting up.”
Abbie added: “Everyone is so supportive and when you have a bad day, they help you even though they are competing against you.”
But friendships had to be put to one side at the end of April and start of May when the World Archery Youth Championships and Commonwealth Youth Games selection shoots were held in Shropshire.
Held over two days and across two weekends, the tricky conditions would lead to disappointment for both Alex and Abbie who came seventh and fourth respectively, with just the top three being picked for junior compound men’s and womens’ teams.
Abbie said: “The weather was really difficult to shoot in and you had to change your sights all the time, making it really hard to keep your arrows in the same place.
“Whoever could keep their arrows together was going to win and I struggled to do that, even though I did well enough to be placed fourth.
“I was down about 30 points on my score but there were a lot of people who were down by a lot more.
“Because we were so driven and it was what we were all aiming for, it was the one time where I was annoyed that I didn’t get on the squad.
“I was happy for the people who got on the squad, but the sport has to be individual at some point and you have to be selfish.”
As a sport, archery is still benefiting from the bounce given to it by the London 2012 Olympics and Abbie, Alex and Charlene are right in the thick of it.
Alex said: “Archery is about to take off when you look at the growing club membership and the number of people doing beginners’ courses, it’s just increasing and increasing.”
Charlene added: “It’s a relatively easy sport to get into so if you want to do it, you can.”