COLUMBIA — Show-Me State Games archery competitor Larry Skinner walks along the waiting line at Stephens Lake Park preparing for his turn to shoot. He is doing more coaching than competing.
The competitor in front of Skinner shoots her arrow into the left half of the target 40 yards away. Skinner notices the shot and offers some advice.
“You should adjust your scope just a little bit,” Skinner said.
The competitor adjusts her scope, and like magic her next shot hits the middle of the target making a quiet “thump.” Skinner smiles.
Skinner, 67, an archery coach from Moberly, is participating in the recurve barebow section of the archery competition at the Show-Me State Games. The recurve bow is a single string bow that offers little room for mistakes.
Skinner has coached archery for nearly 35 years. In that time, Skinner has coached an Olympic medal-winning archer in the Sydney Olympics and the U.S. National Junior Olympic team. He also owns a year-round training facility. Archery has been a part of his life since he was 12 years old. Skinner won national archery competitions twice. But his real passion is teaching the sport to others.
The constant quest for perfection attracted Skinner to the sport as a kid. Skinner said the nature of archery always leaves room for improvement, whether it is a pursuit for perfection in your score or mechanics, and Skinner loves the challenge.
At 12 years old, Skinner carved his first bow. He began competing at the age of 17.
“I just like the challenge of it. It’s one of the hardest things to do in life and to do well,” Skinner said. “Anybody can fling an arrow, but it’s hard to do it well.”
Everything Skinner knows is self-taught. He taught himself the mechanics and the proper technique to shoot a recurve bow. A recurve bow takes deep concentration and flawless technique to accurately shoot. But Skinner, a self-proclaimed "muscle control freak," was able to teach himself. The repetitiveness of the sport has created an obsession for Skinner.
“It’s a romance. There’s something about shooting a projectile, walking down and pulling it out that’s so addicting,” Skinner said.
As Skinner got older, he began coaching archery. Skinner coached casually for 15 years. He mostly taught his son and other students proper archery technique for the recurve bow, compound bow, release aid technique and finger release. Skinner enjoyed the chance to help a student train and then watch them achieve their goals. Tim Noble, who has trained under Skinner for seven years, has won the junior national title for the recurve bow three times. He says he wouldn’t be anywhere without Skinner’s help.
“He knows what he’s doing and conveys it well,” Noble said. “He’s a great friend and coach. He knows when to tell you what’s wrong.”
Skinner began coaching Olympians when his son, who Skinner says had an enormous amount of potential, quit archery 20 years ago. Skinner became nationally certified and started training students from around the nation in a quest to find an Olympian. He has coached two Olympians, including Vic Wunderle, who won an individual silver medal and team bronze medal.
Skinner trains his students by stressing technique. He employs different drills like the clicking drill, where students pull the string back until he says to release. He also uses a form master that is hooked up to the elbow, and without the right tension, an archer's back will jerk. Skinner said technique is the key to success.
“We train on technique a lot, but not a lot of mental because you will gain more confidence with practice,” Skinner said.
Skinner rarely competes anymore, but the Show-Me State Games offered him an opportunity to shoot some arrows in a laid back atmosphere. He is often traveling around the country and coaching his students in national competitions, but the games give him a chance to meet new people and catch up with old friends. During competition, he was often found joking with other archers offering up advice to anyone who was interested.
People would come up to Skinner during breaks asking for advice on how to shoot better or adjust their arrow. Forrest Blakley, who finished fourth in the recurve bow in the Youth Archery World Championships, said Skinner’s knowledge and expertise are the reasons why he is so successful.
“He’s been shooting more than 50 years. That experience makes him a good coach,” Blakley said. “Any problem I have he’s already experienced it and knows how to fix it.”
Skinner doesn’t know how long he’ll continue coaching or competing, but he knows archery will always be in his life.
“I can never quit,” Skinner said. “Archery is in my blood.”