The location of the tournament is determined by which clubs are willing to host, and also have the necessary range space and configuration, headquarters, and (most importantly) parking to accommodate the 500 competitors and 2500 spectators and volunteers. The date is based on availability in the host club’s calendar.
Participation in the tournament has more than tripled in the last six years (507 participants in 2012), and is approaching the point where we needed to either reformat the event or drastically reduce the number of participants. We are simply running out of time and space! We want to give as many youth the opportunity to participate in the tournament as possible, so we chose to follow the National 4-H Shooting Sports Invitational procedure of combining individual scores for team totals, which allowed us to not only increase the number of total participants, but in many cases, increase the course of fire allowing competitors to shoot more during the event.
This is also a procedure we adopted from the national 4-H tournament. Event coordinators use a random selection process to assign shooters to relays and squads. Having team members shoot at different times of the day helps reduce the influence of factors that change throughout the day (temperature, wind, angle of the sun, rain, fatigue) on team scores. In other words, it helps ‘level the playing field’ for things we can’t control. More importantly, the state shoot is a time and place to meet, talk to and learn from 4-H members and volunteers who you don’t see on a regular basis. It’s an opportunity to expand your group 4-H friends from a community or county to a statewide network. Preparing for and traveling to the tournament nurtures existing relationships; talking with and learning from new folks at the tournament helps build new ones.
Safety is the number one reason spectators are not allowed on the 3-D course. With 4-5 shooters on a squad, there is simply no room for the 20-40 spectators per squad to watch from a safe distance. As the trails are narrow, uneven and sometimes sloping, we want to reduce the chance of tripping, falling, and other accidents as much as possible while the youth navigate the course with their bows and arrows. Another issue is the more secluded nature of this sport makes it harder to enforce the ‘no coaching’ rules. This is a great event for more experienced 4-H archers to build their character and self esteem, and practice responsibility and problem solving. However, it is hard for them to do that when their coaches/parents are using this time to coach and parent, rather than quietly observe. Luckily, there are plenty of volunteer jobs available so parents and coaches can stay occupied while their members compete!
The focus of 4-H Shooting Sports, and all 4-H programs, is youth development. Our goal is to help youth develop life skills to be healthy individuals, achieve academic success and be prepared for the workforce; we just so happen to do that (in this case) through the shooting sports. We work hard to ensure the physical and emotional safety of 4-H members and their families. One way we do this is making sure we use all the safety measures (eye and ear protection, appropriate footwear, other protective equipment) to which we have access.
Again, this comes down to our goal of youth development and providing a safe environment. The goal of other shooting organizations is often to increase the number of people in their sports and to develop highly competitive athletes. In 4-H, we focus on the foundations of shooting sports in order to help youth develop responsibility, decision-making, self esteem, and other life skills. Some 4-H members reach a level in their sport where they become focused more on their skill as a competitive shooter. This is often when they start using highly technical (and often expensive) gear/accessories that are not necessary for the course of fire and distances we shoot in this tournament, and can be unsafe in the hands of less experienced shooters. When shooters reach this level of achievement in their sport, they might consider shooting with an organization whose focus is on the competition and development of athletes. They can continue growing as a 4-H member by becoming a teen or adult leader, helping other 4-Hers gain life skills through the shooting sports.