Success at archery, says Akshat Bhatia, isn’t about physical strength.
“Even when I was eight, I could pull a bow and shoot,” said the 13-year-old seventh-grader at John Glenn Middle School.
The discipline, he explained, is “more about the mental game – because you’re doing the same thing over and over again.”
“Mentally, you need to be in your own world,” said Akshat, who has an impressive record of accomplishment in state tournaments. “If you get distracted, you get messed up; even one inch could make a difference. Discipline teaches you to always have your specific time and routine in practice – and that’s true in every sport.”
His father Ashish elaborated: “In any sport, being energized is being successful. But not in this sport. You don’t want to be excited. Be in your rhythm, your zone.”
A repeat state champion, this year alone, Akshat has captured two gold medals: in the individual competition of last summer’s Bay State Archery Tournament, and in the State Archery Association of Massachusetts (SAAM) Junior Olympic Archery Development Program. He also won the silver medal in the association’s state championship, and he finished second in the Bay State Tournament’s two-person team competition.
Akshat said his archery role model is his father, who first tried archery in 2016 on the indoor range at the Woburn Sportsmen’s Club off Middlesex Turnpike.
“Every summer, they had an open house where you can try all sorts of sports,” Ashish said.
After accompanying his father to the range, Akshat began his own journey, using a plastic bow and arrows topped with suction cups aimed at plastic targets. He was enthusiastic about the experience.
“You can see how much you improve,” he explained, adding, “And it’s fun.”
He said he began taking the skill more seriously in 2018, participating in archery tournaments. There was a division of under-12, and at age eight, “I was the youngest by far.” He sees it as a life sport; indeed, “I’ve seen some 80-year-olds shoot, and some of [the people] in that age group are still on the world stage.”
In competition, the archer has two minutes to complete a three-arrow round. The outdoor standard is four minutes for six arrows. Akshat takes part in archery tournaments at least a couple of times a month, sanctioned by SAAM at clubs in different parts of the state and New Hampshire. “Our weekends are sometimes just this,” his father laughed.
Akshat has qualified for the State Games of America, which are Archery USA’s indoor nationals, and ranks in the top 20 in his age group.
He has successfully competed in indoor national tournaments, and for the first time earlier this year was part of the Lancaster Classic in Pennsylvania.
“The best archers in the world go there, and I got to see Olympians and everyone on the world stage.”
He found himself competing not only in his age group but also with adults. “I didn’t come in last place, which was an accomplishment,” he laughed.
The outdoor state tournament is held annually at a YMCA in Hopkinton and the indoor event at one of the sponsoring clubs. Akshat won every year since 2017 until this year when he advanced to the under-15 age category.
“I personally was fine with the performance,” he said of his silver medal.
In indoor tournament play, the archer shoots three times per round over 10 rounds twice for a total of 60 arrows at targets 18 meters away. The distance for outdoor archers ranges from 30 meters for the younger competitors to 50 meters for players older than 15. The targets are concentric circles, Akshat explained.
“The yellow is a 10 or a nine; that’s called the bullseye. Just outside is the red, which is eight or seven.” There are three additional colors on increasingly wider circles.
Archery competition generates “a different type of pressure, he observed. “It’s not that people are watching.” It’s also not the one-on-one format. “Most of the kids know each other,” he said. “It’s super friendly. Sometimes I actually shoot the same target with the person I’m against so we see each other’s scores.”
Setbacks can be “frustrating, but you just have to push through it, and after a while you get used to failure, learn from it, and try to improve,” he observed.
He displayed a traditional single-string bow, known as a bare bow. In competition, “it’s a huge disadvantage,” he explained. “This is a board and a string.” A bow used in competition can be adjusted for weight and tension.
The base of that style bow is built from a light metal like aluminum and is close to six feet in length. The price begins around $150.
“You have to put a lot of work into tuning your bow and fixing your arrows every time you go to shoot. When you shoot you need to assemble the limbs – the top and bottom sections of the bow – as well as the string.”
“When you pull the string, that’s the amount of weight you are holding,” Akshat explained. “You can scale down how much you pull.” The longer distance in outdoor contests favors additional weight to flatten the arrows’ trajectory, he said. Olympic archers, he added, also use stabilizers, sights, and “other types of gadgets.”
His mother Nibha Jolly lauded the perseverance Akshat has developed. “I was happy that he never gave up.”
She tried it herself once and remembers “the pressure on the shoulder blade. Personally, I think it is physical to shoot 60 arrows without stopping.”
He usually practices twice a week, at the Woburn Sportsmen’s, Onsite Archery in Billerica, and at a range set up in the basement of the family’s home. Does that routine help bring more discipline? Not really.
“I’m rather unorganized – it’s something I need to work on,” he admitted. But he also acknowledged that “any sport takes practice.”
Akshat’s schedule also makes time for cross country, competitive math, school orchestra (piano), band (trumpet), and even cricket. Archery is “not really a popular sport” among his friends; he said there is one other young archer in his grade.
“Of course, if you say you won the state championship, people understand,” he added.