Three Things I Learned While Throwing Axes

A couple weeks ago I visited a venue for throwing axes. The targets were painted on planks of wood and were deceptively simple to hit. Here, in front of all my co-workers, I was to try axe throwing for the first time. Coaches were providing instruction and soon it was my turn to throw. I admit I was nervous for all the usual reasons: What if I’m no good at it? What if people laugh at me? What if people think I’m incapable?
On the first round, I brace my foot on the throwing block and throw the axe as hard as I can. Not only did I miss the target, the axe actually bounced off and landed on the floor not far from where I stood.

This is my first lesson: Technique trumps strength.

My first instinct was that I needed to put all my power behind each throw to get the axe to stick in the target. It turns out strength is only a small part of a successful throw; the real secret is in your technique. The follow through is everything. It seemed so counter-intuitive to me that the motion of my arms after I had released the axe would affect the outcome but somehow it worked. Once I concentrated on my follow through, the rest became easy.

After our practice throws it was time for the round-robin competition. My first opponent and I were well matched in that we both struggled with hitting the target for the first couple throws. The coach then made a suggestion: try standing with a foot in front of the throwing block.

This is my second lesson: Small changes can have big results.

The “rule” that the thrower must have one foot touching the throwing block at all times was in fact a guideline. Throwers can brace their foot in behind the block, on the block, or in front of the block. This small change in position made such a big difference that I went from struggling to hit the targets to consistently hitting the mark. By modifying my starting point I increased my ability to land successful throws (as did my opponent) and we had a very exciting match.

As I waited for my next match to be announced I chatted with a few colleagues. We all agreed that it was surprisingly fun to throw axes at a target. Some got the hang of things quicker than others but we were all smiling and laughing and enjoying the afternoon. More than once I heard someone say they were nervous or felt uncomfortable with the idea of trying something new in front of so many people.

This is my third lesson: You’re not the only one who’s nervous.

I tend to assume that because people are laughing and smiling it means they’re 100% comfortable with whatever situation they’re in. My inner voice goes something like this:

Everyone is laughing and joking around, they all look so comfortable being here. Clearly I’m the only one who finds these events stressful. But I really want to try axe throwing…
I must be the only person who’s worried about not being good at this. I must be the only one who’s afraid they’ll look silly in front of everyone…

This may be an obvious one for you but for me it was a big leap in understanding. You’re not the only one! Everyone feels that way at some point. It’s what you do after that’s important: you try anyway. Failure isn’t nearly as bad as you think it’s going to be. I found that out when my throws were so off target the axe actually bounced off the wall and returned to my feet. There was no sirens, no big announcements, no pointing and laughing. The only thing that happened was I picked up the axe and tried again. And again. Until the technique and the small changes were becoming easier and the nerves were gone.

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