From World Archery, Chris Wells, 1 JUNE 2018
The Danish world number one took gold at the world championships when he was 19.
Archery, it’s often said, is a sport that requires some physical skill and a lot of mental strength. Winning at a sport that works at such tiny margins comes down less to technical perfection and more to the ability to deliver when it matters.
It’s all about self belief and confidence.
“You have to be arrogant enough to win,” says the world’s number one ranked compound man Stephan Hansen. “You have to shoot your own arrows and the other guys can also lose. Everyone can lose.”
“When I got world champion in 2015, all the matches I shot there, I just felt really comfortable – and I didn’t care who I was shooting against.”
“I would be arrogant and I knew I was better than the other guy. I wasn’t scared of who I was against. It didn’t matter.”
Big personalities – perhaps big egos – abound in elite sport, archery is no different. Hansen says that’s not as a result of success, but a reason for it.
“People expect us to be arrogant because we win things, but we are [arrogant] on the line because we have to be. You have to not care about anybody else, because there is just you [shooting the arrows],” he explains.
Before winning his senior world title in 2015, and then coming second in 2017, Hansen won crowns as a cadet and junior in youth events. He shot his first international competition in 2009 at the age of 13.
His approach to tournaments has grown over time.
“If you start early, you can learn and develop the skills to deal with the situation,” he says.
“It takes time and experience, and that’s the only thing you can do. Everyone can be a world champion in practice but when you get to the competition line it’s always a different feeling. You can’t learn much from just being at the practice range.”
Hansen’s archery has evolved as he has aged.
“When you’re a junior you don’t really care as much because you have school, you have friends and you’re just hanging out,” he says.
“Now it’s my job. I have to win to live.”
It’s a journey that anyone can take – and doesn’t have to happen at international events as early, or quickly, as it did for Stephan. Archers of any level, he says, should always push themselves at a tournament level in which they are competitive.
“You might get the same feeling so you can get the skills to handle high-pressure situations,” he explains.
Hansen has been both hugely successful in major events and had disappointing finals matches, sometimes failing to live up to his own high expectations.
He won the World Games in Wroclaw in 2017, beating Iran’s Esmaeil Ebadi in the final, but was visibly annoyed with his shooting – and the same occured when he lost the gold medal match in Berlin at the last Hyundai Archery World Cup stage of that year.
“When I get angry in a final, it’s not really because I’m angry I’m just disappointed in myself and I just try to get the disappointment out,” he says.
“I’ve thrown my release, I have done many stupid things, I have never broken anything but I just get super disappointed in myself.”
“Because I’m arrogant enough to stand on the line, I have to take the blame. I’m the only one that is responsible for shooting bad.”
It takes days, Hansen admits, for him to recover from a sub-standard performance – almost until the next event. That reaction, and his determination and drive in the arena, is born from a highly competitive personality.
And when things do go bad, it’s because the mindset, that mental strength, is not on point.
“The problem is that many people get nervous and they think that they shouldn’t get nervous. Everybody gets nervous and it’s about how you react after you get nervous,” says Hansen.
“I get nervous of making the shot, I get nervous of not hitting the middle, which I think is pretty normal. I feel like I’m getting scared of failing, basically.”
As well as the confidence in his own abilities, Hansen found changing from a trigger to a hook release – forcing him to keep moving and prevent any attempt at a punch – allowed him to control those nerves better.
Instead of fighting the excitement of the moment, he embraces it.
“I’ve had competitions that I didn’t feel nervous because I didn’t really care much, and I shot not as good because when you don’t really care, you don’t try,” he says.
“I go to tournaments and I’m excited to shoot. I do not go there and think I will be nervous to shoot. I will be excited and the excitement can give me some nerves.”
And making sure those nerves don’t sink a performance is all about what’s inside the mind.
“You have to have a game plan because you’re going to get nervous, every single time,” says Hansen.
“If you don’t feel like you’re good enough to win, you won’t win. Go there and feel like you’re good enough to win.”
Stephan Hansen was the world’s number one ranked compound man as of 1 June 2018.