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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter XXV: On Archery Prizes and Handicapping
Chapter XXV
On Archery Prizes and Handicapping
By C. J. Longman

In has generally been found to be the case that in pastimes which take the form of contests between individuals, some prize or decoration has been in request to be bestowed upon the winner as the tangible emblem of his victory over his fellow athletes. In games which are contested by teams united for a common purpose this feature has been less marked, and the games of cricket and football have this advantage over other athletic pursuits that their tendency is distinctly unfavourable to selfishness. But it certainly is the fact that in an athletic contest between individuals a prize in some form is generally expected. Where the rewards are purely honorary, or of little intrinsic value, it does not appear that any objection can be raised to the system; but where they take the form of valuable pieces of plate or objects of art, which have a convertible value at the silversmith's--and still more where prizes are given in actual cash--the practice is to be regretted. In some sports the rewards to be gained are so valuable that they tend to overshadow in the minds of some competitors the feeling of friendly rivalry which ought to be the basis on which all such competitions are held. The mere fact that the word 'pothunter' is in use, and that its meaning is well known to all who take an interest in athletics, is sufficient proof that this feeling is not purely imaginative, but that it has some basis in fact. The existence of such prizes is perhaps unavoidable; but nevertheless some may regret it.

In archery, money prizes are given at the public meetings small sweepstakes are frequently shot for by the various clubs and prizes are often offered for competition by generous individuals--sometimes in money, but more often in the form of cups, or of bows or arrows. Although the amount of money to be won in a season by even the most successful shot is very moderate, yet some archers wish that it was not possible to win any. They have a feeling that the bills stuck up outside the ground where a public meeting is to take place announcing 'Grand Archery Fete' ! so much money to be given away in prizes,'&c., does not add much to their own self-respect, and, further, they are sensible of a jarring note when, at the end of a competition, they are offered a cheque or some golden sovereigns for having beaten their friends at a friendly contest. Where the prize fund is provided wholly by a sweepstakes subscribed by the competitors themselves, little perhaps need be said, except that the entrance money should not be fixed so high as to form a serious tax on slender purses. There is as much fun to be got out of a shilling or half-a-crown sweep as out of a guinea one. The matter is somewhat different when outsiders who are not archers--some of whom do not pretend to take any interest in archery--are asked to contribute to the fund from which the prizes are provided. It is no doubt a considerable benefit to a town to be selected for the scene of a public archery meeting which brings upwards of a hundred archers as visitors to the place for several days. But the fact that we confer a pecuniary benefit on the citizens, or some of them, by our presence, does not justify our asking the tradespeople, hotel-keepers, and so forth, of the place to contribute towards our prize fund. The so-called 'local guarantee ' happily does not assume such proportions nowadays as was formerly the case, but it is much to be hoped that it will shortly disappear entirely. If we cannot keep our money prizes at their present level without falling back on this most objectionable resource, let us lower them, or even do without them altogether.

In some degree archery may be said to have suffered from a plethora of prizes. Meetings of small country clubs have been known at which, if there were not actually sufficient prizes to provide one for each competitor, at any rate a considerable majority received some reward for such skill as they were able to display. And it cannot be alleged that at our public meetings the prize list is too short. It is said that competitors are induced to attend meetings by the likelihood of their winning one of these numerous prizes. This may be the case, but some may think that the motive is not a good one for attendance; and it must be remembered that, if tile prize list were considerably curtailed, the entrance fee might also be lowered. Surely the right way to render the meetings accessible to all archers, rich and poor, is to cut down expenses as much as possible: not to tempt them with the prospect of competing for money prizes. It will be seen from Mr. Maxson's chapter on American archery that money prizes have been abolished in tile United States.

Moreover, the fact that archers whose skill is obviously moderate do frequently win prizes, even at public meetings, tends to lower the estimation in which tile sport is held by outside observers. One form of prize in particular confers no honour whatever on the winner--namely, that which is frequently given for tile best gold. It is true that this prize is more likely to fall to an archer who hits the gold frequently than to one who hits it seldom, but the actual position of the arrow in the gold is a fluke; a shot that strikes the pinhole being not perceptibly better than one which misses it by an inch. Although the prize for the best gold, like any other mild form of gambling, is productive of some small amusement and excitement, yet this prize should not on that account occupy a prominent position in any meeting which professes to aim at the encouragement and display of skill at archery.

Competitions at archery are conducted on two principles the first being a match where all start on an equality, the prize going to the absolute best shot, and the other being a handicap. Several forms of handicapping are in vogue, the principles adopted being either merely to penalise competitors for past successes, or else to make a more elaborate attempt to bring together archers of different powers. The old-fashioned system was to penalise an archer by the loss of the white ring when he won the first prize. If he repeated his success, he would then lose the black in addition, and if in spite of this he again succeeded he would lose the blue. After a certain interval, during which he failed to win, the forfeited rings would be restored to him one by one. This system was rough and ready, and has now been abandoned, except in very primitive country clubs. The method which has taken its place is the deduction of definite percentages from the score of the archer who is to be penalised, from five per cent. upwards, according to the enormity of his offence. At those public meetings where percentages are deducted, twenty-five per cent. is the limit, that being the amount lost by the archer who makes the highest score at the previous meeting of the Grand National Archery Society.

In some clubs, however--the West Berks, for example-- there is no limit to the amount a man may lose if he persists in winning, and cases have been known of archers who have piled up penalties to the extent of sixty per cent.

If penalties are to be employed, no doubt the percentage system is the best, but a better method is available where a pure handicap is desired. This is to take the average of a certain fixed number of the previous scores of each archer. The competitor who has the highest average is said to lead the handicap, and he has the privilege of giving to each of his rivals the number of points by which his average exceeds their averages. The same principle is applied throughout; thus, if there are four competitors, A, B. C, and D, whose averages are as follows:--

A--400 B--350 C--300 D --250

A will give B 50, C 100, and D 150. 011 the other hand, B will receive 50 from A, and give 50 to C, and 100 to D, and so on with each individual. If it was certain that the average represented each man's form accurately, this would be an ideal system of handicapping. At archery, however, men are liable to great fluctuations, and consequently the average of a man's last three rounds, especially if they were shot some little time before the handicap in question is decided, may give a figure far above or far below the score which he can reasonably expect to make on that day. If an archer is put at a figure far below he actually makes, he will spoil the handicap by winning with a score which is quite out of the reach of the scratch me. For example, if a really good archer makes three bad scores. averaging 200 early in the season, and later on recovers his form and makes a score of 500, he will set the scratch man a task which is practically impossible. If the latter's average is 470, he will have to give the former 270; this, added to his score of 500, gives no less than 770 as the figure which the scratch man has to beat. Such a case as this is by no means impossible, and in order to avoid such anomalies the Royal Toxophilite Society have recently adopted a system invented by Colonel Lewin which has proved a considerable improvement on the old method. At the end of the season a Committee examines the performances of each member during the past year, and taking the average fixes his permanent rating for tile ensuing season. In any handicap at the beginning of the season, this permanent rating would be his handicap figure As the season progresses this rating is modified by more recent form, the last three rounds previous to a handicap being taken, and the average of these is added to the permanent rating and divided by two. Thus, if the permanent rating of an archer were 350, but his last three rounds averaged 450, his handicap value would be (350+450)/2=400. This is, on the whole, the best system of handicapping which has been devised. Some clubs adopt the system of dividing their members into classes according to the scores they make, each class competing for a prize. If an archer improves or falls off in his season's shooting, he is promoted or degraded to the class above or below. This plan has some merits, as it excites a keenness among the archers to win promotion or to maintain their position among those who have arrived at the first class. It is not strictly a handicap, and there is nothing to prevent a regular handicap being shot for in club which is divided into classes, the classes being disregarded for the occasion.

Two systems are in vogue by which prizes are determined which are competed for on level terms. The usual way is to award the first prize to the archer who makes the highest score, but certain competitions-- amongst them tile Championship of Great Britain are decided by points. In these competitions the ten points on the York Round, single or double, are apportioned as follows:--

2 points for most hits on the round
2 ,, ,, highest score on the round
1 point for most hits at 100 yards
1 ,, ,, highest score at 100 yards
1 ,, ,, most hits at 80 yards
1 ,, ,, highest score at 80 yards
1 ,, ,, most hits at 60 yards
1 ,, ,, highest score at 60 yards

For the National Round, shot by ladies, eight points are allowed two for most hits and two for highest score, and one point for hits and one for score at 60 and so yards respectively. The system of points has been adopted mainly for two reasons: (I) because it rather increases the value of hits; and (2) because it is supposed to favour all-round shooting at the various distances. The first point is indisputably true, but it is an open question whether it is desirable to increase the value of hits as against score. This is a matter which cannot be decided by a mathematical demonstration; but it is the general feeling among archers that the present vlues set upon the five rings are satisfactory. Unless the contrary can be shown to be the case, there would seem to be no advantage in deciding a contest by points rather than score, because points accentuate the value of hits. There remains the second ground--namely, that points favour a man who is good at all ranges as against a man who is excellent at one range but indifferent at the others. This argument is somewhat stronger, but it is necessary to consider that a man who makes the highest total by means of an extraordinary score at one range, while he has comparatively failed at the others, can at any rate claim that he has excelled his antagonists at that range to a greater degree than they have excelled him at the other ranges. More often than not the archer who makes the highest score also obtains a majority of points, so that the advocates of each system are satisfied. Occasionally, however, it is otherwise; and, owing to an instance of a very anomalous character which occurred recently in the contest for the championship, the whole matter is undergoing the consideration of the Committee of the Grand National Archery Society at the present moment.[1]

The question of the value attached to the different rings has an interest apart from its bearing on the controversy of 'points versus score.' It is the feeling of some archers that hits in the centre of the target are too highly paid; that the bow is not so accurate a weapon that ally archer can rely on hitting the middle of the target, at any rate at 100 yards; and that consequently a gold is a fluke which ought not to count nine while a white only counts one and a black three. That this feeling is a common one is shown by the frequent appeals for sympathy heard on the archery field, proceeding from archers who have obtained a low average per hit. Such sympathy may readily be expressed--not on the ground on which it is claimed that the archer is an unfortunate one, but on the true ground that he has been shooting badly. It is, however, never necessary and seldom advisable at such a moment to state the reason on which your sympathy rests. In fact, the inaccuracy is not inherent in the bow, but in the archer. An examination of a number of scores shows that the more arrows an archer puts into the target the higher will be the average score he obtains per hit. Further, it will show that the shorter tile distance the higher will be the average per hit, and that the average per flit of a fine shot at one range will equal the average of a bad shot at the next shorter range. Indeed, it is not too much to say that if an archer were to give the total score made by him in thirty or forty York Rounds, it would be possible to tell him within a small limit the number of hits he made; and, on the contrary, if he were to tell you the average value of his hits at each distance and on the whole round, it would be possible to calculate approximately his average score.

On May 7, 1852, a York Round was shot in the grounds of the Royal Toxophilite Society, only five gentlemen completing the round. In those days scores did not run high, and this occasion was no exception to the rule, the highest score being 225 and the lowest 110. It would be sale to predict that on this occasion no one attained to an average value of four per hit; and this Noms the case. The highest average was 3. 77, and the lowest was 3. 43, which was secured by the archer who made the lowest score.

From an examination of twenty-four Double York Rounds ill which the scores ranged between 800 and 500, taken at random from the reports of scores made at public meetings published in the 'Archer's Register,' the following averages are arrived at:--

per hit per hit
At 100 yards 3.91 At 60 yards 4.71
At 80 yards 4.21 On the whole round 4.23

On an examination of seven Double and seventeen Single York Rounds (thirty-one York Rounds in all), exceeding 400 on the Single and 800 on the Double Round, the following average per hit comes out:--

per hit per hit
At 100 yards 4.1 At 60 yards 5.04
At 80 yards 4.63 On the whole round 4.51

This shows a considerably better average on each distance and on the whole round than the case previously quoted of Double Rounds between 500 and 800, while the Double Rounds between 500 and 800 showed a much higher average than that of the Single Rounds between 225 and 110.

An examination of twenty-four Single Rounds made by each of those two fine archers, Major Fisher and Mr. C. E. Nesham, confirms the results of the thirty-one rounds above 400. Major Fisher's twenty-four rounds averaged 96 hits 430 score, and Mr. Nesham's averaged 99 hits 437 score. The details are as follows:--


per hit per hit
At 100 yards 4.05 At 60 yards 5.02
At 80 yards 4.6 On the whole round 4.5


per hit per hit
At 100 yards 4.07 At 60 yards 5.22
At 80 yards 4.22 On the whole round 4.41

In Mr. Ford's famous score of 137 hits 809 score, his average per hit works out at the amazing figure of 5.90.

While it is impossible to say that the values of 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 for the five colours are mathematically correct, these figures certainly prove that the better a man shoots the higher in the long run will his average per hit be; and this fact certainly provides an argument in favour of the contention that the values at present attached to the colours arc a satisfactory measure of the value of hits.[2]

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