The hand is steady, the eyesight keen, but what likely separates this archer from many others is the intangibles — the nerves of steel, that iron will, and the unwavering confidence. It is the stuff of champions, as Sophia Howard continues to exhibit.
The 13-year-old from Sylvania won the U.S. National Indoor Championship recently, her second indoor title to go along with the two outdoor crowns she has claimed, and an outdoor Grand National Champion title. For her coach Jason Pfister, a former member of the U.S. national team, Sophia is blessed with the mettle of a champion.
“Of course she has a lot of natural ability, especially in archery, but Sophie also has a lot of confidence in herself,” Pfister said. “If the arrow doesn’t go in the middle of the target, she’s not happy. What drives her is she knows she can put it in the middle.”
She was the best in a field of 70 archers in the Cub class (13 to 14 years old) in the recent event held at the Butler County Fairgrounds in Hamilton, Ohio. But her score of 1,139 after the two rounds of shooting would have placed her in the top 20 in the senior women’s division.
Howard, who was ill with the flu in the days preceding the competition, “felt horrible” in the words of her coach, but still managed an average score of 9.49 with the 120 arrows she shot. Pfister said Howard has to push herself, since often the competition at her age level does not force her to maximize her score.
“That has kind of been the challenge with Sophie at some events — she hasn’t had a ton of people around her in her division to push her,” he said. “She has kind of been on an island in some events, except at the national events where the challenge is certainly there.”
John Personett of Absolute Archers in Adrian, one of Howard’s primary sponsors, said she is the rare athlete in terms of her mental approach to competition.
“She just has this amazing drive for the competitive aspect of archery. She feeds off of that, while many other archers crumble when it comes time for competition,” he said. “They will shoot phenomenally in practice, and then get put in the pressure cooker of competition and fall apart. But not her — it is just the opposite.”
Pfister said he feels Howard is at her best when that competitive fire from within is raging, and she is chasing perfection with every shot.
“We kept her in the dark in terms of the other competitors and their scoring, while knowing she was in position to win it,” he said about their approach at the recent event. “The challenge is not for her to go out there and beat those people — the challenge is for her to do her best. And she kept her mind right both days and that made the difference.”
Personett sees as one of Howard’s strengths her ability to step into her zone and silence all of the commotion around her.
“When she steps up to the line, she’s not trying to beat anybody, but herself,” he said. “She wants to do better than her last best score, and sometimes that’s the only competition she has.”
Pfister, who is based in Columbus and has been coaching Howard for about a year, said her ability to accept advice, make changes, and believe in the process has worked to her advantage.
“She is willing to try new things, and that was a key when she first came to me early last year. We made some very significant changes in her form, and she stuck with it, and trusted me,” he said.
“Sometimes when you make changes you don’t see results right away and things are a little rough, but she has that trust, and that is a big thing and a real sign of her maturity. When you can believe in your coach, and not question things when you go through the downturns, that’s when the formula really works.”
Pfister said he expects the McCord Junior High student to move up the ranks and shoot against older competition in the upcoming outdoor season.
“I see a lot of real positive things for her looking ahead, and one of the goals is to try and qualify for the world outdoor competition,” he said. “She will be shooting against kids up to five years older than her in some events, but I think she is ready to face those kinds of challenges.”
Pfister said that as Howard continues to grow and progress, there is always the possibility of trying to qualify for those elite international competitions, as well as being prepared for additional opportunities that could come up. Howard shoots a compound bow, and that bow has been added to the competition for the 2019 Pan American Games, and the possibility exists that compound bows might be a part of the Olympic Games at some point in the future.
“That is definitely not out of the realm of possibilities for her, if she sticks with this,” Pfister said. “I don’t see many limits for her, really. Sophie is a dream to work with, and talent-wise she is at the top. She has so much potential as she gets older to really become a force in the sport. She has a good chance to shoot competitively against some of the best as an adult, and do really well.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.
Sylvania’s Sophia Howard recently won the U.S. National Indoor Championship for her fifth major title. The 13-year-old eighth grader at McCord Junior High expects to move up the ranks and face older competition in the upcoming outdoor season.