Home on the (Archery) Range

At Trackers Earth, let your little archers try to hit the target.

A few months ago, the word “grit” suddenly took on new meaning for parents all over the country. It was everywhere: On NPR, in the newspaper, on your Facebook feed, as the secret ingredient that was the key to your kid’s success.

Almost ready to let the arrow fly and land where it may.

Almost ready to let the arrow fly and land where it may.

The concept of grit — or what your grandma might have called stick-to-itiveness — is at the core of research from Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who won a MacArthur genius grant for her work on the topic. She defines “grit” as the ability to stay keyed in on a passion, and to work at it, over and over and over again, with plenty of failures along the way, until you get it right. According to Duckworth, grit is a better predictor of success than, say, a traditional IQ test.

I think she’d like the open archery range at outdoor education mecca Trackers Earth’s spiffy new facility in southeast Portland. Watching my 6-year-old son and one of his buddies try to master the ancient art — okay, try to figure out how to hold the bow the right way — it occurred to me that this is most definitely one of those activities where perseverance is key. It requires serious hand-eye coordination, solid fine motor skills, a surprising amount of core strength, the ability to respect both the rules of the range and the other archers, and a lot of failing and trying and failing again.

But it’s also way cool. Merida, of Brave fame made archery hip again, Disney-style, and ever since, the sport has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance. In the Portland-area, there’s also Archers Afield, (archersafield.com), a giant indoor range in Tigard that does fun birthday parties and offers private lessons.

The Trackers facility is a little more low-tech, in keeping with the organization’s tread-lightly ethos. Your kids are aiming at one of four small targets, propped up against a stack of hay bales. They offer a “family hour” on Saturdays between from 11 a.m. to noon which is a great choice if it’s your first time at the range. For $15 per kid, (ages 6 and older), you get the use of a bamboo bow and three arrows, plus instruction from one of their talented staff members, who are truly skilled in the art of helping kids without taking over for them.

Taking aim at the target.

Taking aim at the target.

Our instructor, Kate, encouraged the kids to think things through before stepping in — how did they position their hands last time? Was that really the right stance? Where should your eyes be looking when you’re ready to shoot. (Spoiler alert: At the target.) Then she backed off, and let the kids try and fail and figure it out on their own. When Ben finally managed to hit the edge of the target on his 25th try or so, he beamed with pride; when his friend Isaac finally hit the hay bale, he jumped up and down with uncontained glee.

If your kid likes it, you can stick around for “open range” between noon and 3 p.m., for a small additional fee. Fair warning though, that’s when serious archers also come and use the range — one cool dad next to us impressed the kids by shooting two arrows at once with his own, clearly handcrafted bow — and your kids will have to observe the rules of the range.

By the end of our hour, both boys had, if not mastered the basics, at least figured out how to hold the bow, while a little girl shooting next to them was hitting the target nearly every time. And though they’d failed way more often than they succeeded, they were both keen to try again as soon as possible. A pretty gritty day — Professor Duckworth would have been proud. I know I was.

Trackers Earth archery range, 4617 SE Milwaukie Ave. $5 for open shooting without the family lesson or $20 for a five shoot punch card. All kids need to be accompanied by an adult. Trackersearth.com.

Julia Silverman

Julia Silverman

Julia is a former Associated Press Oregon education and politics reporter, who has also worked as a web editor at Oregon Public Broadcasting. She likes reading, cooking, hiking, swimming, and being left alone at the end of the day to watch some pretty bad TV. Her twins, Ben and Elly, like making trouble.
Julia Silverman

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