Jim DeLine is a physical education teacher and archery coach at Highland Park Elementary School in Austin, Texas. His team won back-to-back state championships and recently finished fourth at Nationals out of 200 teams in Louisville, Kentucky.
When he isn’t busy with his team, he coaches high school archery and helps out with the middle school team. sportsYou had an interesting chat with Jim about this fascinating sport and the positive impact it can have on youngsters.
sportsYou: How did you get your team prepared for the state championships?
Jim DeLine: We try to do what every other coach does by trying to make sure that they practice regularly and they’re mentally prepared. For our particular fifth graders, this was the biggest tournament that they will have gone to. We’ve gone to small tournaments but this was held in a huge venue with over a hundred targets.
The kids were shooting 200 at a time. We try to get them prepared so that they go in with a mindset that they can handle any challenge and that nothing’s going to surprise them. But if there is a challenge that they’re surprised about then we want them to be prepared for the unexpected.
For fifth graders in a sport that’s so intensely mental, we try to help them get their brains wrapped around what the competition is going to be like. It is a big part of what we do. Other than that, we practice. In between actual practices they practice at home by using something called a string bow, which is a training implement that helps develop muscle memory.
sportsYou: How was archery introduced to your school district?
JD: We’ve had archery in our curriculum since 2012 but we’ve been coaching it for the last three years. We had a club and a little intramural squad with a tournament but we started the team in 2017.
It started through the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP). They have a two-pronged approach. One is to get archery in the schools and teach kids about it and the other involves a very vibrant competitive arm. There are tournaments all over the country leading up to state tournaments and then leading up to the national tournament in May.
In order to compete at any of these tournaments, your school has to document that you’re actually teaching archery as part of the regular physical education or agricultural science curriculum. You have to check that box off first before you can actually go and compete.
What’s very cool about this particular sport is that it checks off every differentiation, cultural diversity, social/emotional learning and gender equity box. It checks off every box that we have in education that we’re trying to bring to kids to impact and change lives. Teams need to have boys and girls on them and team scores have to include boys and girls scores on them.
You don’t have to be the strongest, the fastest or the tallest to be able to be successful.
You don’t have to be the strongest, the fastest or the tallest to be able to be successful. Every year we have two or three athletic stud boys that think that they can do anything because God gave them the talent to run and jump. Then you’ll have a girl who is just 65 pounds wet who learns to shoot an arrow better than them. It’s because she understands that she’s got to wrap her brain around technique and form and how to use the muscles the right way.
sportsYou: What is your greatest achievement as a coach?
JD: Last year, we had 10 kids on the high school team. One of them had Down syndrome, two of them had different degrees of autism and one boy was recovering from brain cancer. He’s a senior now and this was the first time that he could stand up since he was a freshman. We also had a kid that I thought was a heavy metal rocker but turned out to be the first chair cello in the entire region.
All of these kids came together and were absolutely horrible at archery. They’re still not great shooters but they had fun and we did qualify for state championships. My daughter was there the entire day rooting on her teammates. My proudest moment was seeing her take charge of her team and doing it in a graceful way.
Another proud moment was watching my daughter shoot a perfect 50 at 15 meters. A perfect 50 is about the size of a coffee cup and you have to put five arrows in that space at 15 meters.
sportsYou: What challenges do you face as a coach?
JD: Time is always a challenge and also perception. Every year we seem to have parents that question what we do and why we do it. One of our policies is that we don’t cut kids. We’ll figure out a way to pay for the things that need to be paid for like jerseys, permit fees and bus costs if we travel somewhere. We fundraise and have scholarships.
We always have to be mindful that we are putting forth a positive perception that this is an extracurricular part of our entire school. It’s wonderful and offers kids great things across the board but we also need to make sure that people understand why we do it.
We always go back and reflect on our core values, which are to keep the kids safe, help them grow and teach them to win.
We always go back and reflect on our core values, which are to keep the kids safe, help them grow and teach them to win. Sometimes people just see bows and arrows and they don’t really see the depth of what’s going on and how it impacts kids on levels that I don’t think they get impacted on in other programs.
sportsYou: What advice would you give new coaches of any sport?
JD: Kids first — plain and simple. The bottom line is it’s supposed to be fun and we want to teach kids values. For example, we tell them, ‘the dream is free but the work costs extra.’ We want to teach kids things that they can do to set goals.
You need to be ridiculously faithful to the little things and understand what you can or cannot control. All those things are wrapped around any sport. They’re also wrapped around life. The bottom line is that we want to keep kids safe, we want to help them grow and then teach them how to win.
How we define winning isn’t necessarily state championships.
How we define winning isn’t necessarily state championships. That’s great and that should be a goal but we want them to think about whether they shoot a personal best, helped a teammate, were professional, used manners and represented our school well. Those are all things that you can check off as wins.