The New Outdoor Classification Scheme for Target Archery
I was recently involved in developing a new target outdoor classification scheme to be used by Archery GB, the national governing body for archery in Britain. Whilst the new scores have been released to members I feel that many will appreciate a deeper understanding of how the system is structured, and some explanation of how we came to the new system. This is what I hope to achieve in this article.
- The old classification scheme
- Issues with the old scheme
- Review process and challenges
- The new classification scheme
The old classification scheme
To provide some context and know where we are starting from, let’s briefly consider the old outdoor target classification scheme.
The scheme separated archers into tiers based upon the scores they achieved. Categories ranged from Archer through 3rd, 2nd, and 1st Class, Bowman, Master Bowman (MB), eventually to Grand Master Bowman (GMB). It was commonly quoted that bowman represented the top 15% of a category nationwide, MB 4%, and GMB 1%1. The top two awards also secured entry to the annual invite-only Masters tournament, where the nation’s best archers gather at Lilleshall.
Classifications are is extremely popular with club archers across the country as a method of tracking progress on a long-term scale. Classifications are re-assessed each year going up (or down!!) and archers move up through the classification tiers as they improve.
The outdoor classification scheme was built upon four main pillars that defined ‘mastery’ of the sport:
- Accuracy - achieving a minimum score/handicap,
- Consistency - on rounds with a minimum number of arrows,
- Strength - shooting at a certain distance,
- Repeatability - achieving the score 3 times.
Rising through the ranks required progression in the first three of these; subsequent awards required archers to shoot higher scores on rounds with more arrows at longer distances. The highest awards (MB and GMB) could only be claimed of the York/Hereford/Bristol and WA 1440 rounds requiring archers to shoot multiple distances during the day (including their longest competitive distance) displaying adaptability across 12-dozen arrows. Furthermore, MB and GMB scores had to be shot at the highest competitive standard - UK or World Record Status events.
Issues with the old scheme?
Let’s start with the obvious question - why was a re-design needed in the first place?
1) Increased standards
The most obvious issue with the old classification scheme was that it had become dated. It was generally assumed that the scheme grouped archers such that anyone holding a particular classification in one category was comparable to those holding the same classification in another category. For example, a 1st Class Lady Longbow would be considered of similar ability amongst all lady longbowers as a 1st Class Under 14 Gentleman Compound archer would amongst everyone in their category.
Whilst this may have been true when the scores were set a number of years ago, it is no longer the case today. This can be seen by considering data from various competitions and examining the percentage of each category achieves each classification (for an example see the Barebow Rose Awards work ). As such, classifications had lost some of their meaning and were no longer suitable for making fair comparisons between categories.
This ‘ageing’ occurred for a number of reasons, a few examples of which are as follows:
- Increased participation - archery has grown significantly in recent years, and a growing talent pool drives an increase in performance. Different categories have grown at different rates, e.g. whilst recurve scores have remained relatively stable, the explosion in barebow popularity has led to a significant increase in standards.
- Increased female participation - the last few decades have seen significant growth in female participation in particular. This has led to female standards increasing more rapidly then male.
- Improved technology - whilst technological advances generally have a small effect on score on their own, the cumulative effect over time does provide a noticeable improvement. There have been developments in all bowstyles (except perhaps longbow) since the scores were set, but perhaps most notable is within barebow. Here there has been a significant shift from wooden one-piece bows to modern recurves alongside an explosion in participation.
Taking these points into account there is, as a minimum, a clear need to update the classification scores to bring the various categories back in line reflecting today’s standards.
2) Anomalous features
In addition to ‘out-of-date’ scores, there are also a number of issues in specific areas once we start to look more closely. One of the most glaring examples are the score thresholds for Under 18 ladies longbow as shown in table 1.
Table 1: A comparison of old Hereford classification scores for ladies longbow categories.
Contrary to the every other category under 18 juniors were required to perform better than adults to attain the same classifications. This does not intuitively make sense, and I suspect it arises from the setting of scores being slaved to statistics (foreshadowing…). Outstanding junior longbows in the data that was used to set score bands presumably caused a skew in the results. This can be easily visualised in figure 1 which shows the classification bands for all categories by handicap - whilst most bands show a systematic progression with age we see that adult ladies longbow doubles back on itself.
Figure 1 illustrates another issue that exist where certain classification bands are much thinner (or broader) than others for some bowstyles. Perhaps the most notable example of this is the ladies barebow MB which is exceptionally thin. As a result (combined with the increased standards discussed above) there were 9 GMB and 6 MB lady barebow archers in 2022. This goes against the desired structure of the classification scheme where we would expect fewer GMB than MB archers and suggests that the MB band (as set by statistics) is now too thin. Statistically speaking I expect this is the result of too-small a sample size being used when setting the scores. A review of the scores provides an opportunity to correct these issues, but pausing for a second we realise they perhaps hint at something deeper that can be addressed.
Table 1 illustrates a further issue with the classification system which is a lack of logical progression. The 2nd class scores are the same for both categories, but 1st and 3rd are different, meaning there are different, often irregular, jumps between categories. This becomes more apparent from figure 1 where we see a wide array of category widths, and variation in the degree of overlap between different categories. These effects make it difficult for archers as they make their way through the scheme, with some classifications requiring much more improvement to progress to the next stage than others (remember, each reduction in handicap represents the same factor of reduction in group size).
This again highlights issues that can arise when the setting of the score thresholds is overly slaved to statistics. Whilst it is important to make classifications comparable across the different categories it is also important to consider the archer’s experience of progression through the scheme and strike a balance. We also need to consider the suitability of our datasets and be aware of the This is something we will return to in due course.
3) New age groups and rounds
The Archery GB age groups changed in 2022 to move more in line with World Archery and to better accommodate childhood development. As a result new classification scores are needed for the new groups. In addition to the junior changes Archery GB also introduced the Under 21 and 50+ categories. It would be good if classifications could be added for these new groups which requires appropriate standards to be defined.
In addition to simply changing the scores it is also worth taking a step back and considering how suitable the scheme is for the state of target archery today.
One of the key uses of the classification system, particularly in the lower tiers, is to promote participation and engagement amongst club members. However, the reality is that the scheme is not particularly welcoming to newer archers. Adult males are required to shoot 50m to achieve the 3rd class which presents a challenge to many new archers in their first season, especially the average casual archer. This has led to many clubs instead promoting the 252 scheme or similar amongst their newer members which, to an extent, ends up replacing the classifications, especially at the lower levels (Note: the 252 scheme is also a good idea and I support its use, but there is space for both).
Related to this is the problem of 1st class/Bowman ‘purgatory’. Once many archers reach the point where they can shoot the distances required for a 3rd class they have also often improved in ability to a point where they move rapidly beyond 3rd and 2nd class. They then start to plateau, and it is common for archers to become stuck in 1st Class or Bowman for a long time, with the next classification being a significant distance away. After spending a significant time without visible improvement archers can become disillusioned with the scheme and lose motivation. It would be good if changes to the scheme could address this issue to provide a more accessible ladder through the scheme.
Finally, one of the perhaps more controversial questions under this topic is about the suitability of the rounds used for classification purposes. In recent years international target archery has seen a swing towards the WA720 and head-to-head format. Driven by World Archery, these changes have trickled down to the domestic scene. Given this changing landscape there is question as to whether it is appropriate that an archer who competes on the world cup stage is ineligible for the highest classifications and to be defined as a ‘master’ of target archery.
At the same time there are also those who point to the pillars underpinning the old classification structure to say that excelling on the WA720 represents mastery of accuracy, but not in the other aspects that currently underpin outdoor target archery classifications. The changing tournament landscape has resulted in more 720 tournaments available today compared to a decade ago, but this shift is accompanied by concerns from some that it will lead to a demise of the York/Hereford/Bristol and WA1440 rounds. To ensure continued engagement with the classification scheme we should ask whether the round eligibility for the highest classifications ought to be opened up to more than just the York/Hereford/Bristol and WA1440 rounds. To do so does not have a simple solution, however, as it breaks multiple pillars upon which the current scheme is built - for example one could ask if the scheme allows MB classifications on the 50m compound/barebow round then why not a National or Western? - and would require significant overhaul of the system. There is also an element of prestige to the 12-dozen rounds which require archers' longest competitive distance, multiple distances throughout the day, and 12 dozen arrows. It is a discussion that evokes emotional responses from both sides. If the 720 rounds are to be introduced it should not be done in a way that cheapens the scheme or acts in a way to actively drive archers away from the 12-dozen rounds.
The review process and challenges:
To perform the review Archery GB assembled a working group of interested volunteers. It was decided that the first item to update would be the target outdoor classification scheme. This is the most-used classification system and there was a pressing need to bring them in line with the new age groups. A smaller team of three volunteers was formed from the focus group to examine data and develop a new scheme.
There were a number of challenges to this process, some of which can be summarised here:
- Handicaps - as part of the review process the handicap scheme was also being changed. Since this is used to set comparable classification scores across different rounds updates to the classification scheme could not be completed until the new handicaps had been finalised. As a result updates to both schemes were developed and are being released in tandem.
- Lack of data - No reliable way to determine the 14, 4, 1 percentage bands for all categories.
We tried data using scores from competitions and records databases. Not reliable.
The new target outdoor classification scheme
I will now outline the new classification system that was developed for use from 2023 onwards. In addition to outlining the structure and requirements I also aim to provide some explanation as to how each feature arose, how it improves upon the previous system, and how they fit together. It is hoped that after this you will have a much better understanding of how the scheme works and how to make your way through it.
The new scheme is summarised by the following table, with a longer explanation provided on ArcheryCalculator.co.uk :
The reasons for the changes can be grouped into the following categories:
- structural changes to improve an archer’s journey through the scheme,
- score changes to modernise
We start by considering the archer’s journey through the classification scheme. The old scheme had a number of issues as outlined above. To tackle these the following developments have been made:
- Increased number of classifications
Instead of 4 ‘club-level’ classifications there are now 6, split into two tiers - Archer and Bowman, each with 3rd, 2nd, and 1st Class. This allows for finer gaps between each classification. Since Archer 3rd class is set at a similar standard to the old 3rd class this allows for smaller steps and acts to bridge the gap between 1st class and MB. As a result there are now more classifications for archers to achieve and bridge the gap towards attaining MB.
- Changed distance requirements
The increased number of classifications also allows for a wider range of distances to be used within the classification scheme. Archers are required to shoot their longest age-appropriate distance for Bowman 1st Class, but 6 tiers means that they can now start at distance of 30m (for adults, even shorter for juniors). This is ideal for for beginners who can now start the scheme straight off of their beginners course, fixing one of the issues with the previous scheme.
- Regular spacing between classifications
A new feature that underpins the entire classification structure is the idea of a fixed spacing between each classification band. With 4 bowstyles, 8 age categories, 2 gender categories, and 9 classifications there are a total of 576 levels to be set.
The entirety of the new scheme can be summarised in table 2!
Table 2: Handicap data and steps that define the new outdoor
Added EMB - don’t move MB too far from where it os now
The prestige rounds
To include the 720 rounds presents a number of challenges, the main one being what to do about the number of rounds. Previously MB required shooting three 12-dozen rounds. But the 720 round is only 6-dozen.
To get around this the requirement has been changed from number of rounds to number of arrows. At Archer tier the number of arrows required is set to be the least number of arrows you could previously could achieve 2nd or 3rd class from was 12-dozen (3 Warwicks). At Bowman tier it is 18-dozen; the minimum required for the old bowman and third class. At Master Bowman tier it is 36-dozen matching the requirements for the old MB and GMB.
The other issue with the introduction of the 720 is that for many categories it is below the archers' longest competitive distance. To deal with this we introduce the concept of ‘the prestige rounds’. These are rounds of notable significance in archery and are defined as:
- The WA 1440 rounds - regarded by many, including the Republic of Korea, as the hardest challenge and the gold standard of outdoor target archery,
- The York/Hereford/Bristol rounds - similarly revered to the WA1440 within the UK, and of historical significance to archery,
- The rounds used by World Archery for international outdoor target competition - currently the WA 720 rounds.
The new classification designates these rounds as being of such significance that they override any distance rules and every classification is available from them. They are also the only rounds from which Master Bowman tier classifications can be claimed (at Record Status events).
New age categories
The age categories for classifications have been updated to follow the 2022 age groups introduced by Archery GB. This includes the Under 21 and 50+ groups. Like in the old scheme, each age step is accompanied by both an increase in the distance and a lower handicap score being required.
For juniors there is a break-point at the Under 16 category where females do not increase in distance
This pattern is followed for the 50+ category which shoots one distance shorter than the adult category with lower handicap scores. The Under 21 group is required to shoot the same distances as the adults but have lower score thresholds. This category will be particularly useful in encouraging youth archers, especially students who participate at college and university.
Note on ladies distances.
In the same way that male and female archers are in a combined age group for distance under the age of 15, the classification scores for junior archers in each bowstyle are the same regardless of gender.
There is then a break point at the under 16 category where female archers keep the same classification scores on the same rounds, whilst male archers require higher score on longer (age-appropriate) rounds.
And it’s not just juniors who have new age groups; at the other side we have the new 50+ category. It is important to note that there is no obligation to shoot in the 50+ category for those over this age. If they are comfortable shooting the adult rounds and achieve the required scores anyone (adult, 50+, or junior) can elect to use the adult classifications.
Further let’s talk about junior progression. Apart from the break point at Under 16 scores step by a regular handicap increment Similarly
Consistency - needs to be done over a minimum number of arrows Provides archers with much more flexibility Set by previous requirements.
Distance requirements - related to…:
It took a long time to get these to match in an appropriate manner using data from multiple tournaments
This represents a compromise between a data-driven approach, but also one that is understandable and supports progression.
The 720 round: Perhaps the most controversial point… But this breaks all of the other requirements!!! The desire for this to be included is beacause of the high-status competitions that are commonly shot in the UK. Solution is to have the prestige rounds that are the YHB/1440 and the international competition round.
Start at target day, end at RS
Setting the scores
Stats with a balance Based on competition data Fixed increments, but make sure roughly the same amount fall into each band to set these increments. Massage into a best fit.
Future Review Process
Future review process. Whilst the master bowman and below scores should remain stable for some time there will be regular reviews, and it is expected that GMB and EMB may well be subject to change. AGB will hopefully gather more data allowing verification and changing of the scheme. There will be a regular time frame set for review (3-5 years?) to stop the situation we just had happening again.
To bring all of this to a close, the new target outdoor classification scheme presents a number of significant changes when compared to the old scheme. However, these have been done with the effort of bringing the scheme in line with today’s state and standard of archery in GB. There have also been changes that will hopefully improve the scheme for archers of all abilities from beginner to Olympian. The lowest tiers of the scheme are now more easily accessible to new archers to get started,
My co-author of the 2023 classifications, Mark Roberts who provided some of the images in this article, has written some excellent guides and visualisations of the new scheme. They can be found on his website archerygeekery.co.uk
Mark and Marc Various archers who acted as a sounding board for details.
Though I have never managed to find any authoritative written evidence for these numbers, so they are likely an urban legend. ↩︎