Recently, someone mentioned to me how hard it was to get the best juniors to attend tournaments in the first few months of the outdoor season, and this immediately set me wondering why that would be.
The answer, of course, is obvious – exams.
The first months of the UK outdoor season, typically April and May, cover a large part of the period where older kids, from 16-18, are doing some of their most important exams, the GCSEs, Scottish National 5s, and the A-Levels and Scottish Highers.
The point at which our junior archer’s performance tends to peak, at the top end of their U18 and U21 age brackets, also coincides with those exam years also.
Together, these factors mean that it’s very unlikely that Tournament Organisers would get good turn outs from those age groups from April until mid-June. Although there are no exams at weekends when the competitions are, kids will be very busy revising and parents will be wary of a gruelling and disruptive travel and competition schedule.
At a National level, this also coincides with point where ArcheryGB are running youth selection events and so there is actually a very real risk that we may miss out on the best team selections as archers may have to choose between attending selection events and being well-prepared for life-changing exams the next day. Until archery commands the 7-figure salaries of football, most archers (and parents) will favour the exams.
So, that all sounds plausible, but this is ArcheryGeekery, so let’s actually look at this in detail to see what the data actually looks like.
GCSE and National 5 Timetables
To start with, let’s take two pieces of information
- A timetable of GCSE, iGCSE, and Nat5 exams
- Figures from 2022 about how many pupils took each subject
We can then combine those two datasets to create a chart showing approximately how many kids are going to be sitting those exams on any day during the exam period this year. It looks like this.
This plot shows the number of pupils that will be sitting exams on those days. Of course, the kids won’t just be busy on those days, they will be busy before those exams with revision. We can approximate that with a function that models the build up to each day and we get something that looks like this. There are a lot of assumptions and approximations here, but the aim is to produce something generally indicative on the whole, rather than individually accurate.
This then shows us the whole exam period, and an approximate map of when lots of GCSE-age kids will be busiest.
A-Levels and Scottish Highers
Same again with these ones, which are taken around age 18, and include a lot of U21 archers. We can map the actual exams, and also the revision lead-up.
Putting it all together
Finally, let’s merge both plots on to one chart, to show the overall map of how busy exam-age kids are.
This plot shows some interesting things
- Kids are busy from mid-April to mid-June
- There are big peaks of work going into 4 “super-weeks” – weeks commencing 15th May, 22nd May, 5th June and 13th June, in this case.
- There’s an enormous gap in the middle!
That enormous gap is caused by the half-term holiday, sometimes known as the Whitsun holiday, or “Whit-week”. There are a few Scottish exams during that week, but not many.
Where there are important events that can’t wait until mid-June, this week (as early as possible in it) would be the ideal time to run them, as it would maximise the chance that exam age kids (who tend to be peaking in their archery performance) would be available.
For example, this year, the selection shoots for the World Youth Championships will be on the 16th and 21st of May, which unfortunately coincide with two of the biggest peaks in both the GCSE and A-Level workloads. Delaying those by just a couple of weeks to the 27th/28th May would minimise the chances that potentially qualifying archers would have to miss those events due to exams. Doing this would be a natural win-win, where kids would be more able to participate, and ArcheryGB would maximise the pool of archers available for selection.
The first stage of the Junior National Tour also lands on one of these busy periods. These are just a couple of examples, but there are probably many others.
- Kids have hard constraints at certain points during the year, that adults don’t have, and this should be factored in to tournament planning.
- Exam-age kids are busy from mid-April to mid-June
- Tournament organisers should expect a low turn out of U21 and U18 archers during that time.
- It might be better to push junior events later in the season, or target events at younger age groups during April, May and early June.
- For important events such as selection shoots that can’t wait until later in the season, the May half term week is an obvious place to target as it will maximise the chances of participation.
- This type of exam data analysis could be used in various ways to plan youth archery and support young archers at different points through the year.