Jack Atkinson

Scientist, Archer, Coder

The New Outdoor Classification Scheme for Target Archery

13 minutes
January 1, 2023

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

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 achieve. 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%. The top two awards also secured an invite to the annual Masters tournament which sees the nation’s best archers gather at Lilleshall for an invite-only tournament and, once upon a time, those achieving GMB would be invited for national team selection.

Amongst many club archers across the country the classification scheme is popular 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.

Classification badges from 3rd to Bowman

Classification badges from 3rd to Bowman

The outdoor classification scheme was built upon four main pillars that defined ‘mastery’ of the sport:

Moving through the classifications required progression in the first three of these at each stage. In moving up a classification band you were required to shoot higher scores on rounds with more arrows at longer distances. The highest awards could only be claimed of the York/Hereford/Bristol and 1440 rounds which require archers to shoot multiple distances during the day (including their longest competitive distance) displaying adaptability across 12-dozen arrows. Furthermore, the scores had to come competitions of the highest standard - UK or World Record Status. Renowned archery nation the Republic of Korea still regards the 1440 as the hardest challenge and the gold standard of outdoor target archery.

Issues with the old scheme?

Let’s start with the obvious question, why was a re-design needed in the first place?

Increased standards

As stated above, it was commonly quoted that the classification system grouped archers into percentage bands, with the idea being that archers of any given tier in a particular category were comparable to those of the same tier in another category. For example, a 1st Class Lady Longbow would be considered of similar relative ability to a 1st Class Under 14 Gentleman Compound archer within their respective categories.

Whilst this may have been true when the scores were set in the 80s, it is no longer the case today. This can be shown by considering data from various competitions (for an example see the Barebow Rose Awards work). As such the percentages have lost their meaning, and classifications are no longer suitable as a comparison between categories.

This has hapenned for a number of reasons, a few examples of which are as follows:

Taking these points into account there is, as a minimum, a clear need for the classification scores to be updated to bring the scheme back in line across the various categories in the 2020s.

Anomalous features

In addition to ‘out-of-date’ scores, there are also a number of issues with particular scores once start to look more closely. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is are the score thresholds for Under 18 ladies longbow as shown in table 1.

Category 3rd 2nd 1st B MB GMB
Adult 39 124 173 280 359 447
Under 18 76 124 212 306 388 -

Table 1: A comparison of classification scores for ladies longbow categories.

Contrary to the vast majority of categories juniors in the under 18 category are required to perform better than adults to reach the same categories. This does not intuitively make sense, and I suspect arises from the setting of previous scores being a slave to statistics (foreshadowing…). There were presumably some outstanding junior longbows in the data that was used causing a skew in the results. Similar issues exist elsewhere with certain classification bands being much thinner than others for some bowstyles (e.g. ladies barebow MB). Again, 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 also 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 can make it difficult for archers to make their way through the scheme, with some classifications requiring much more improvement to progress to the next stage than others. This again stems from the setting of the score thresholds being overly slaved to statistics. Whilst it is important to make classifications comparable across the different categories it is also important to consider the user’s experience and pathway of progression through the scheme to strike a balance. This is something we will return to in due course.

New age groups and rounds

The Archery GB age groups changed in 2022 to move more in line with World Archery and to better accomodate childhood development. As a result new classification scores are needed for the new groups. In addition to changes to junior age groups there was also the introduction of the Under 21 and 50+ categories. It would be good if classifications could be added for these new groups.

Suitability

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 member. As such 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 archers develop to the point where they can shoot the distances required for a classification they have often also improved in ability to the 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 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 acessible ladder through the scheme.

Finally, one of the more controversial questions centres around the suitability of the rounds used for classification purposes. In recent years target archery has sene a swing towards the WA720 and head-to-head format. This has been driven by changes World Archery competitions which have trickled down to the domestic scene. Given this changing landscape there is question as to whether it is apropriate 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 many archers who enjoy shooting the York/Hereford/Bristol and WA1440 rounds and have concerns that a shift towards the 720 will lead to a demise to these rounds. There are also those who point to the pillars underpinning the current classification structure to say that excelling on the WA720 represents mastery of accuracy, but not of the other aspects that currently define mastery of outdoor target archery. The changing tournament landscape has resulted in more 720 tournaments available today compared to a decade ago at the expense of other formats. 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 roundsets. 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 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 and this discussion can evoke emotional responses from both sides. If the 720 rounds is 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 and challenges:

To perform the review Archery GB assembled a working group of volunteers that were interested in halping with the review. After an initial meeting to discuss ideas for the review it was decided that the first item to update would be the target outdoor classifications. This was because they are 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 the data and develop a new scheme.

There were a number of challenges to this process, some of which can be summarised here:

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 fits together and works, and how you can make your way through it.

The scheme can be summarised

Class Sub-tiers From rounds totalling Rounds Type of event Administered by
Archer Archer 3rd ClassArcher 2nd ClassArcher 1st Class 12 dozen arrows Any round of appropriate distance Any event Clubs
Bowman Bowman 3rd ClassBowman 2nd ClassBowman 1st Class 18 dozen Arrows Any competitive event
Master Bowman Master BowmanGrand Master BowmanElite Master Bowman 36 dozen Arrows Any appropriate WA1440, York/Hereford/Bristol or WA720 round Any record status competition Archery GB

The Journey

We start by considering the archer’s journey through the classification scheme. There were a number of issues with the journey through the old scheme that we outlined above.

The prestige rounds

New age categories

50+ rules Junior breakpoint

Junior age groups Following the Archery GB age group changes of 2022. 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.

Another benefit of bringing the scheme in line with the new age groups is that there is now an under 21 classification category to help encourage youth archers. This will be particularly useful for student archers who take up the sport at college or university.

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 previos requirements.

Distance requirements - related to…:

It took a long time to get these to match in an appropriate manner using data from multiple tounaments

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 beacuse 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.

Score Standards

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.

Fure 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.

Summary

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 hopefullt 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,