Interview with Andrew Phillips - November 2004

Age 26
Born London, resides Edinburgh.
University of Edinbugrh: Edinburgh/Civil Engineering MEng/Medical Engineering PhD (Final Year)

Andrew, first of all thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. I appreciate this is a busy time for you coming towards the end of your PhD. What is it about and how is it progressing?

The title that Iíve just about decided on (perhaps I should have done this at the start rather than at the finish) is: ďThe behaviour of the acetabulum and the pelvis: finite element investigations.Ē In other words looking at the hip joint using computer models. In terms of progression the bulk of the work is there, I now just have the joy of trying to write it up based on the random scraps of paper that Iíve been scribbling stuff on over the past three years.

You only took up archery in your fourth year as an undergraduate. Were you involved in any other sporting activities at university and if so what were they?

I did a lot of rowing at school and helped coach the menís novice squad when I first arrived in Edinburgh. It became frustrating rowing on a small stretch of canal in Edinburgh and Iíd have had to put a lot of time into becoming fit enough to try and get onto the senior squads, so I became less and less involved over the year.

What persuaded you to at that point in your career, to take up a new sport?

I came along to the sports fair during freshersí week to meet up with one of my flatmates who was on the athletics club stand. I happened to see a sign for the archery range, went and had a go and that was that really.

You won several university level medals for Edinburgh (including a team gold at BUSA Outdoors 2002) over the last few years and also the inaugural Oban Open. How good were these performances?

Oban stands out as the one time that I managed to win the individual competition as a senior as well as being on the winning team and it was nice to be part of the winning team the following year as well.

BUSA Outdoors felt good, as it was a good result at the end of a poor season. Before that we had had a run of 2nd places to St. Andrews in the SUSF League and SUSF Indoors, Cambridge at BUSA Indoors and Heriot Watt at SUSF Outdoors. Since then, thanks to others, the club has regained itís strangle hold on UK university archery.

Sadly, more recently, itís not only your PhD, which has prevented you from shooting as you much as you would perhaps like. Youíve also been suffering from a shoulder injury. Talk us through what happened and the steps you have been taking to get back to full fitness.

Shortly before BUSA Indoors 2003 something just seemed to go drastically wrong. I couldnít physically pull the bow back to full draw and my grip would just go at random. At first I thought it could be something psychological as there wasnít actually that much pain associated with it. Then I went to FASIC (physio centre at Edinburgh) and they pulled and twisted my arm about for a while until there was an almighty crack and a yelp of pain from me. They came to the conclusion that Iíd damaged the muscles connecting my shoulder to my spine and that when they became inflamed they could be pinching a nerve, which was causing the problems with my grip. They gave me sets of exercises to do to rebuild the muscle and these seemed to help while I gradually worked up to shooting more arrows at a higher poundage. I think the mistakes Iíve made which have delayed my return to full fitness are trying to shoot scores at competitions when I simply couldnít shoot that many arrows and more importantly not doing the exercises that they gave me to do often enough, and not getting on with shooting lots of arrows at a low poundage before trying to increase it. At the moment time spent trying to complete the PhD is really whatís preventing me from shooting. Once thatís out the way I think the shoulder should well and truly have had enough time to recover.

How important is all round fitness to archery at the various levels?

I think a basic level of fitness is important whatever level youíre at [Andy Fordham anyone?], and that it becomes more important the higher the level you reach. At the end of a competition youíre not going to shoot your best if youíre knackered. How do you stop being knackered? Do some exercise before the next competition! Speaking to people it seems that most remember their best performances as coinciding with times when they were fittest (one or two miraculous hangover performances being the exceptions that prove the rule). Being fitter is not by itself going to make you a better archer, but it is one of the tools that might enable you to become a better archer.

The idea of not fielding their most competitive team in regional league matches would seem alien to most clubs yet Edinburgh won all their SUSF fixtures, without looking threatened (except perhaps against Heriot Watt). How weak is SUSF?

Edinburgh has worked hard to be strong at all levels within the club. The idea of fielding an intermediate team at SUSF events was to make that level of the club stronger by providing a challenge to those archers. I think what is concerning is that other SUSF clubs (all of whom knew this was what Edinburgh were going to do) did not see this as an opportunity to try to beat Edinburgh. The lack of SUSF clubs at UK university events is also a concern and does suggest that with the exception of Edinburgh, SUSF is the weakest of the regional leagues. Having said that things could easily change; the success of St. Andrews and Heriot Watt a few seasons ago, as well as the strong performance of Aberdeen at the inaugural BUTC show that.

I think for other SUSF, or other clubs to improve it requires a small group of people to get together within a club and agree on a goal between themselves and then push each other to achieve that goal. I think this has been achieved in several clubs in the recent past, although people have not then been able to stay to build on that success. I suspect when and if this happens it would be quite possible to see a couple of other strong SUSF clubs competing at a UK university level as well as Edinburgh.

No other Scottish university sent teams to BUTC or BUSA Outdoors and only Heriot Watt and RGU sent archers to BUSA Indoors. You once suggested that Edinburgh should join NEUAL for some more competitive matches. Why do you think Scottish university clubs have been less active on the British stage?

I think I suggested at one stage that Edinburgh might consider competing in two leagues, sending an intermediate team to one, and a blues team to the other. Which team was sent to which would be based on the level of competition. As long as SUSF is there, Edinburgh should send a team to it before thinking about competing in other leagues. However if Edinburgh feels something can be gained by sending different teams to different competitions in order to allow archers to improve at all levels then that is something to be considered.

I think I touched on what I suspect is the reason for other Scottish university clubs not being present in large numbers at UK competitions last year in my previous answer. They have decided not to go; or rather they have not decided to go. Iím sure any of the SUSF clubs could compete at UK university level if a group of four or more people (including novices) got together and decided to start competing as a team. From what I understand this is how Edinburghís success started.

Edinburgh and Heriot Watt have enjoyed a good local rivalry, particularly over the last five years and with the addition of Tom Duncan from York, this looks as though it could be a strong Heriot Watt team again this year. How much difference does a strong Heriot Watt make to SUSF archery?

I think having a strong team to compete against EUAC improves SUSF archery and further improves EUAC archery. However I suspect other SUSF teams may dismiss a strong Heriot Watt team as another strong Edinburgh team. EUAC and Heriot Watt shouldnít be tempted to lower their standards to allow the rest of SUSF to catch up. If other SUSF clubs want to close the gap they will find ways to regardless of what EUAC or Heriot Watt are achieving at the time. However they have to make the decision that they want to close the gap.

Edinburghís production line of high quality novices shows no signs of slowing down, with a 509 recorded at the most recent SUSF League match. What are the most important factors in producing and then retaining good novices?

There seems to have been a lot of discussion on this on the message boards of late. The availability of the range is certainly a factor, although I think this really comes into play more when novices are progressing to become intermediates. I think the defining reason is the amount of time that senior and intermediate members are prepared to spend coaching novices when they come to the club. Perhaps this is because these members know they can use the range at other times, but it is a level of attention that few other clubs can offer. EUAC is fortunate in having senior members such as Alistair, Claudine and Matt who have been in archery for sometime and who are able and prepared to offer advice, much of it learnt from bitter experience, while the backup support offered by other members is of great importance. They are essential in coaching people the basics as well as providing encouragement, in particular in getting novices to transfer from indoors to outdoors. In general those novices who stay on after their first year will become involved in the coaching and committee side of things and so success builds on success. Some have alluded to the Edinburgh effect. If as a novice or an intermediate you are coached or practice in a successful atmosphere you will enter competitions with a feeling that you are going to do well, so from that point of view it exists.

You made something of an impact organisationally as well, being over the course of a few seasons, Edinburghís secretary, vice captain and captain. Having seen a university archery club committee from just about every conceivable angle, what advice would you give to those thinking of standing for positions?

Within a small club I donít think you need to worry too much about exactly what it is that each committee post does, as long as between two or three of you, you manage to get along with your sports union and manage to organise training times, competition entries etc. Within a bigger club I think there are certain jobs that need to be done in order to keep the club running, in the case of EUAC these are captain, vice captain, equipment officer, secretary, and treasurer. Then there are jobs that are what you make of them, publicity officer, social convenor etc. The club isnít going to collapse if these arenít filled or if people slack off a bitÖ at this point I maintain that Iím just filling in until a publicity officer with a bit more time on their hands can be found and that Iím keeping up an EUAC traditionÖ If youíre going for one of the posts that needs to be done then think about what it is that you want to bring to the job, and what plans you have for trying to improve or maintain things. If youíre going for one of the other posts think about whether youíre suited to it and whether youíre going to enjoy it. If you drag people to the pub stand for social convenor, and in the tradition of EUAC social convenors if you enjoy a drink or ten thatís probably not a bad thing.

You have been intimately involved with BUTC since its conception. In particular you were a judge and in charge of the running of BUTC 2003 in Edinburgh. Talk us through your version of events leading up to that day and the day itself.

ďIntimately involved with BUTCĒ Interesting way you have with words! Seriously, I remember a lot of conversations in the pub with Tim. For the most part it was then him who drove the creation of the event. In the run up he organised the making of the bosses (with a bit of help from Chris B [Burnett], Big Dave [Sewell], Eddie [Gosling] and myself), the making of number boards, hiring of the PA and projector, getting the medals and the trophy made up etc. He also put a huge amount of time into publicising the event and bullying, sorry encouraging teams into entering.

I guess I really became more involved closer to the event thinking about exactly how everything could be fitted into the limited time available and working out how many people we were going to need to try and make everything run smoothly on the day. In the weeks before and on the day we had around 20 EUAC members, to whom I am forever grateful finishing off stands and other pieces of equipment, acting as officials, runners, field party etc. The presence of ACME and the database written by Tim meant that side of things was taken care of and so most of the worry on the day was in getting through the matches and clearing parts of the hall between rounds so that we were out before the sports centre shut. Organising the ceilidh and post competition drinking was left in the safe hands of Eddie, so after the awards I just breathed a sigh of relief that there hadnít been any severe hiccups and that the majority of people seemed to have enjoyed the new style of competition.

What are the major differences between BUTC and other university events?

I think the main difference is the level of pressure and the time constraints. Compared to other forms of archery itís also the closest youíll get to making archery a true team sport. At BUSA it would be perfectly possible for a team who had never trained together to walk away with the good medal. At BUTC the members of a team have to have trained together and know their strengths and weaknesses, as well as be able to support and encourage each other over the course of the day. From a spectator point of view BUSA is not exciting to watch, whereas both times BUTC has been held when teams have been knocked out theyíve stayed on to cheer those who are left.

You worked on producing the hosting documentation for BUTC. This provides standard guidelines for university clubs wishing to host the tournament. (They are now available for download in the BUTC section of the site.) What are the key points for a university wishing to host this tournament?

I think the key points are that BUTC requires a fair amount of planning (comparable to BUSA) and that it needs a lot of people to make it run well (more than are required for BUSA). The documentation also includes ideas such as the use of a PA and projector etc. that may not be standard even to those who have run large competitions before. Another key point is that any club, which takes on the running of the competition, is running it for the financial benefit of the club rather than for the financial benefit of BUSA or some other governing body.

Attendance in 2004 was down to 20 teams from the 28 who competed in 2003. How can the organisers push the numbers back up?

I think there was a lot of publicity around the inaugural event, and as Iíve mentioned before Tim made a lot of phone calls. I donít think this was so much in evidence prior to the 2004 event. So what I what Iím saying is that Iím sure numbers can be raised to the 2003 level, but that whichever university runs it needs to put in a fair amount of time publicising the event and twisting peopleís arms, in the nicest possible way.

You were recruited into ACME after/during BUTC 2003. Is the behind the scenes aspect of running competitions how you expected it to be?

In general it was less fraught than Iíd expected, with everyone having their own role to fill in keeping things running. Thatís not to say that at times things arenít suitably chaotic and that Ian [McGibbon], Paul [Williamson] and Spinman [Dave Spinner] in particular havenít shortened their lives by a good few years. Iíve also learnt that lawyers donít get electric shocks.

Finally can you tell me why the BUTC Judges t-shirts are such an enthusiastic shade of red? Mine is in a cupboard.

So that people know who they need to bribeÖ or argue with when things donít do their wayÖ