How to Be a Champion—Or Just Have Fun

A five-time 3-D Archery World Champion, and the only woman to take Africa's Big 5 with a bow, shares her philosophy on competing, winning—and paying it forward.

by posted on August 8, 2022
Joella Bates 5

Why do people compete? Some believe that it is to satisfy the need to win, give them a reason to improve their performance, or to give them motivation to perform better. Maybe it is a biological trait that encourages survival or attracting a mate. I think it is mainly because competitions can be such fun. We test ourselves, accomplish great things, meet new people, and take the experiences with us—all of which enrich our lives.

At a recent writer’s conference I met Joella Bates, who knows a lot about living an enriched life. I knew right away that she and I were compatible. She is a down to earth, caring and passionate woman who is also fearless and adventurous. A USA Archery Level 4 NTS coach, Bates is the only woman who has ever taken the Big 5 in Africa with a bow (Lioness, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Leopard, and green hunt White Rhinoceros). That was in 2009 during a single, 30-day safari. Several of those animals charged her and landed only several feet away when they fell. Bates has also completed a wild turkey Grand Slam (Eastern, Merriam, Rio Grande, and Gould’s turkeys), but has successfully hunted more than 80 species. A five-time Women’s World Champion in 3-D Archery, Bates’ next competition for the title is in Italy on Sept. 5, 2022. As the expenses for the competition are self-funded, Bates, who is also an accomplished seamstress and cook, has found some unique ways to supplement her self-funded expenses associated with the competition.

But Bates’ talents and successes don’t stop there. Her resume includes working as a naturalist, wildlife officer, fisheries manager, environmental scientist, writer, speaker, instructor, coach and motivator.

At the conference, I stepped up to Bates’ brilliantly designed archery training booth, eagerly anticipating the excitement of picking up a bow and arrow to shoot at some targets. I was not expecting an archery lesson. Bates very quickly instructed me on how to stand, how to hold the bow, how to aim, and how to release. My first arrow flew too high to hit its mark. “Your aim was right on and your form was good,” she said. “Just correct for elevation by bringing your hand back to your mouth.” I did as she instructed, and a little light bulb suddenly went off in my brain. “So this is how it is done!” I thought to myself as I released the bow as instructed, watching the arrow hit its mark. The whole lesson took maybe four minutes, and I was shooting like a pro. Bates is an incredible coach, and she even was more excited than I was at my success.

When I asked Bates why she competes, she explained it in a way that instantly endeared me to her. Like Bates, I grew up as the only girl in the family and had to insist on being given the chance to hunt and shoot the same as the boys. Here is the rest of our conversation:

JB: My “why do I compete” has changed through the years. Ever since I was a young girl, the desire to compete consumed me. I think it started when my dad declared that I was “too little in the toots!” I was determined to prove him wrong. But more likely, it was more to prove to myself that I could do it. I discovered that when I committed to something and did the work necessary to develop the skill, that I could do it ... anything that I really set my mind to do. 

There was a time when I competed with full intentions to win money—and I did. I quit my full-time job as an environmental scientist to pursue a career as a professional archer. I worked hard at this job, putting in many more hours than a regular job. I trained to win. In the process, I learned skills that I now pass on to others.

After winning my first 3D World Championship, I developed a motivational program that used archery as a demonstration tool along with delivering a message to get folks to make smart choices, be willing to try new things, work hard and smart and not quit. I invited them to come shoot with me. I desired to help others find the sport of archery and get them to fall in love with it. 

After an injury sidelined me in 2003, I switched over to primarily bowhunting. I could shoot a good shot, but my injured body couldn't take the pounding necessary to compete at the highest professional level. I also started writing and speaking more and more. Many new doors opened that kept archery at the forefront of my attention. I helped manufacturers develop, field test and market products and services.

At 61, I shoot for recreation, to keep me active and healthy, to enjoy time with likeminded people, to remain relevant, to open doors for more business opportunities (JoCamps Archery Boot Camps, private lessons, product development, bowhunting opportunities, teaching opportunities) and to leave a legacy while passing on the sport to other generations.

Oh, we must never forget that I desire to compete at the highest level to represent the USA in international competitions with the desire to bring home the Gold.

SM: What are your philosophies that drive your need to compete? What motivates you?
JB: One of my favorite things to tell folks that I coach is that you have to be willing to be bad until you develop the skills to get good. I was pathetic when I first started archery. I bruised myself because I didn't even know how to hold the bow properly, but pain is a great teacher in that we desire to avoid it. I learned to develop the necessary skills that took away the pain and replaced it with pleasure. I lost several of my dad’s arrows during my first at home archery experience. On my first bowhunting trip, I missed my first shot at a deer and second through fifth shot. I was shaking like a leaf and couldn't even think straight. I didn't quit. Since then, I have learned how to prepare and overcome those weaknesses and replaced the absent mental program with one that allows me to maintain my composure and finish the task well. Success comes AFTER failure.

SM: What do you say to a woman who is too timid to try archery, hunting, fishing, etc.?
JB:  We all have to start somewhere. Finding a knowledgeable coach to get you started right can save you many years of frustration. I hired a highly recommend coach who has provided me amazing guidance and still does to this day. He prepared me to compete to the best of my abilities as a beginner and still does today even though I am a very seasoned coach myself.  I won my first national championship eight days after Dan Hart of Huntsville, Alabama began coaching me. The next month, I won my first 3D World Championship. I now have won 13 3D World Championships and continue to be determined to win more.

SM:  What would you like women/girls to learn about themselves while they are learning great archery/hunting/shooting/defense skills?
JB: You are capable of doing so much more than you can right now. There is nothing stopping you, if you really want it. Put in the time. Find a great coach to provide you guidance. Keep your skills relevant. Always seek to do better. Pass it on. Always keep learning. I don't do the exact same things that I did when I won my first World Championship, I keep working and learning how to do it better.

SM:  What is your strategy for winning the World Championships?
JB:  Develop a plan. Look at my strengths and weaknesses. Focus on the positives of what I need to do to be successful. Write, talk about and dwell on what I want and need to do to get better and win. Make me the best version of me. My focus is on executing of the proper process and the results will follow.

SM: What doubts you had to battle to increase your success?
JB: Many people told me to my face or behind my back that I could not do it (that no woman could do it), it just made me more determined. Sometimes things we want take longer to do or get than we intend, but perfection takes time. If you work persistently, good things come in God's time. I've had health issues that kept me from achieving things as quickly as I wanted, but when something is important enough for you, you will find a way.

SM: How can people find you if they need a coach or want to support your self-sponsored trip to the World Championships in Italy?
JB: They can find me at or one my Facebook accounts:;;; and

Joella Bates and I became instant friends, and I would assume that is the same experience that most folks have with her. Maybe this is why she has been so successful at all of her endeavors. If you want to find adventure and success, you need only hang around her, and it will come.

Why can’t we all be like Joella Bates? Well, we are all different and have to find our own paths in life. Most of us have never given ourselves permission to be limitless and say yes to opportunities for adventure. Most of us avoid failure so much that we forget that success comes after failure. We have severely limited our own fun by being party poopers. Just say yes to the next idea or adventure. As Joella would say, “There is nothing stopping you.”

The author is an MA, WV Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Professional Counselor WV, Nationally Certified Counselor, NRA Instructor, Outdoor Writer




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