What was your sporting journey growing up and how were you introduced to the sport you chose?
My older sister was a gymnast, and I used to go with my mum to pick her up and drop her off and I used to play around waiting for her, then when I was old enough I joined the beginners class and then it started from there. The coaches saw something in me and thought I should move up a group and take it a bit more seriously, so I started that and loved it from day 1 and just progressed from there. So it was all thanks to my sister for getting me into the sport!
Was there an ‘ignition moment’ for you? For example, a moment where you thought, “Wow, this is what I want to do”?
Well as a youngster in the sport I just loved being in the gym, playing around on all the equipment, but then when I started doing more hours and taking it up properly and had my first set of competitions, I did quite well and loved competing. Then later on when I was going through the system that all elite gymnasts go through, I made the British finals for my age group and it was my first time representing Scotland and going down south to compete. As soon as I did that I had a moment of “Wow this is what I want to do and get to the highest level I possible can.”
How did you balance academic ambitions with sporting ambition?
When I was in primary school the hours I was doing weren’t as much, so it wasn’t too bad to balance things. When I moved up into high school my training became more intense and things started to get harder. When I moved into 4th year I moved my training through to Glasgow ,so I then made the decision to move school through to Glasgow, to the School of sport. I had my training incorporated into my timetable and that made things a lot easier. So I did less subjects and trained throughout the day, so I could balance school work by doing homework etc at night. The school offered a 7th year for pupils as we did less subjects to have a chance to gain more highers if you wanted.
What have been the highlights of your sporting career?
The biggest highlight in my career so far was representing Team Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast in April 2018. The women’s team came away with equalling our best ever result by finishing 5th and I personally made history for Scotland women’s gymnastics by finishing in the top 10 in the all around final and 5th in the Vault Final. Another highlight was gaining my first cap representing Great Britain when I was 13 and competing against Sweden. We managed to get Team Gold and I came away with the Gold in the individual All Around.
Also an achievement was during the 2011 British Championships, I came away with the silver medal in the floor final finishing very close behind the gold medal winner.
Also at the British Championships in 2016, which was one of the final Olympic trials for the contenders for Rio 2016, I finished in the top 12 and made the Vault and Beam Final beating some of the trialists to make the finals.
What have been the biggest challenges in your carer and how have you overcome them?
One of my biggest challenges as an athlete so far was at the end of 2011, I started having severe elbow pain so I went to the doctor that I had access to through the Sport Scotland Institute of Sport and then got an MRI scan to discover I had a serious injury that would take me out the sport for a very long time.
I had to rest my elbow for 8 months and then got the all clear to start building things back up when the pain starting again and was worse, this time I needed surgery and it wasn’t an option. I had the surgery in 2012 and it took 8 months for me to able to just put weight on my arms again and in total in took me out the sport and didn’t compete for 3 and a half years meaning I missed out on the chance to qualify for the Glasgow games which was a big blow for me and took a lot for me to overcome that. But what helped me overcome it and get myself going again was the fact I still had a dream of competing at the Commonwealth Games and wasn’t letting that go that easily and I knew I had more to achieve in the sport so I worked incredibly hard to get back the standard I was at.
In your experience, what attributes (technical/physical/mental etc.) does an athlete need to succeed at the highest level?
Throughout my career and what I have been faced with, especially in gymnastics, you need a lot of physical and technical attributes as the sport is very demanding on your body so flexibility, strength, understanding of the technical elements of skills are all crucial to be able to compete at the highest level in gymnastics. But as much as the physical side of things is very important, being mentally strong in my opinion is also just as important. In gymnastics there a lot of things that can be terrifying for people watching on the outside, but for gymnasts it’s just second nature. So we have to be extremely mentally strong to be able to do all these things we do day in day out, to be at the highest level. Every gymnast at some point in their career will have to overcome a mental block whilst training a certain skill and it can be hard to deal with, so being mentally tough is essential for being able to compete at the highest possible level.
Were there any influential relationships you had with coaches throughout your development and how have these relationships impacted you?
In my experience, I have worked with many coaches over the years, but there have been a couple coaches that have been very influential to me personally and professionally in helping my gymnastics. The coach I had growing up was great with me, teaching me the basics which I still use to this day, when I moved through to Glasgow I was midway through my elbow injury and couldn’t really do much when I moved and wasn’t in a good place mentally. The coach I then had at Glasgow and along with the men’s coach at Glasgow, who worked very closely with me, was amazing in helping me gain the motivation and confidence to get myself going again and helped me physically and mentally through the endless hours of rehab and conditioning to try and get myself fit again. I will always be very grateful for the amount of hours and passion they have put into me and my training and helping me not only in my gymnastics but in my life as well.
Those 2 coaches are the coaches that travelled with us to Gold Coast and they were both coming round with us during the competition and it was amazing to live out my dream with them next to me, as we have all worked incredibly hard for a long time to get to that point.
What advice would you give a young athlete based on your experiences?. For example, What to do/What to avoid?
Based on my experiences and my career so far, when you are young and just starting out in the sport or just starting to reach an elite level, is to first of all love what you are doing. If you enjoy what you’re doing then it will be a lot easier to get to the gym every day and put the hours in, because there is nothing worse than dreading going to the gym, or not enjoying it because you won’t ever improve.
Also a big thing in my opinion, is to put your trust in your coach, because your coach wants you to succeed and wouldn’t make you do anything that you weren’t capable of doing, so if you trust them you will improve massively.
Also don’t be afraid to communicate with your coach. Because if you tell them how you’re feeling, or what you want your goals to be, then you will be training in the best way, and a smart way, to get the best out of yourself and gain the most improvement so you can get to that level of gymnastics.
What advice would you give to the coaches of young athletes, based on your experience?
Based on my experiences and working with a lot of different coaching styles throughout my career, I would say to young coaches, planning your sessions and programmes for your athletes. Try to make them as individual as possible for each of your athletes is the best and easiest way to deliver your sessions and get the best out of your athletes, as they know as well as you do, what they are doing.
Also talking with your athletes and setting out clear goals with them moving forward. Start with small goals from week to week and then you can have bigger goals like a competition you are aiming for, or a routine you want to achieve. If you set goals with your athletes then it keeps them motivated and you on track.
Also the biggest bit of advice I could give to young coaches is that you can never stop learning! Even the top coaches in the world still get ideas and ask questions to other coaches to help their own development. So ask as many questions as you can and keep an open mind when coaching, to ensure both you and your athletes are always improving and reaching their full potential.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as an athlete?
When I was coming back from my injury and trying to get back to full fitness, a coach told me to always remember the bigger picture and the main goal that you’ve set for yourself and always remember that. That always helped me get through the hard days and the days where I wanted to give it all up.
I had the goal of competing at the Commonwealth Games and the best advice I always remember is imagine how it will feel when you reach that goal and are competing in the Gold Coast. Always imagine the feeling of competing and remember how that will feel and that helped me massively get through the harder days of coming back to the sport and I will continue to use in the remainder of my career.
What’s next for you (eg. competition/career change)?
Since the Commonwealth Games in April, I have been taking a break away from the sport and concentrating on focusing on my career ambitions for the rest of the year. From January 2019 I am returning to training full time and getting myself back into the sport and get back competing. I plan on being back in competition at the end of 2019, start of 2020. And the next big aim and goal I have set for myself is to get selected for the next Commonwealth Games which is will in Birmingham in 2022 and hopefully make a final and the ultimate goal is to get a medal at those games.
Where can people find out more about you? (eg. Site, social media links)
Facebook: Shannon Archer Gymnast
Twitter – @Shannonarcher98
Instagram – shannonarcher29
Thanks to Shannon for being a guest on our Ask the Athlete feature! We wish you all the best in the future!
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