LANSING - From being an aerospace engineer to becoming a nationally recognized archery coach, Glen Bennett has always understood shooting processes. When Bennett arrived at Michigan State in 2009, he just thought it would be interesting to turn one of his favorite hobbies into a new career.
Having grown up shooting longbow and compounds on his grandparents’ farm in Holt, Michigan, Bennett quickly developed a keen eye for archery and went on to win a few state tournaments.
When the MSU Demmer Shooting Sports, Education, and Training Center was in the process of opening in May, 2009, general manager Michael Galella knew he had to find someone with archery experience.
“This one gentleman came in when we were in the process of hiring, and he had this shirt,” Galella said. “I’ll never forget this shirt. It looked like a NASCAR shirt with all these patches and advertisements and things. Basically they were all archery logos, and it was Glen.
“It stuck in my head, and I said, ‘You know, this guy must really know his stuff for him to be walking around with this shirt like NASCAR and everything.’ I never saw that shirt again by the way after I hired him.”
Fast-forward seven years, and Bennett looks back at his career change as a blessing.
“My life’s been all downhill since,” Bennett said, facetiously.
The archery community at Michigan State and in the Lansing area has certainly been on an upswing since his arrival. Bennett has helped lead the MSU archery team from relative obscurity to No. 3 in the nation. The team has also produced 28 All-Americans and 22 Academic All-Americans.
Matt Heffelfinger, an All-American and Academic All-American in archery who recently graduated from MSU with his Master’s Degree, knows much of those accomplishments are due to Bennett’s approach.
“Glen, more than a lot of the coaches I’ve been around for really any sport, emphasizes there’s life after sport,” Heffelfinger said. “So I mean really, how do you use the sport in other aspects? How do you transition the discipline it takes to practice, or the ability to balance competing at a high level in the sport with performing well academically?”
Volunteering as the coach is only one of the responsibilities Bennett has taken on as program coordinator at the Demmer Center.
There now have close to 160 students in their Junior Olympic Archery Development (J.O.A.D) program, and lay claim to five of the 31 spots on the Junior Dream Team – a feeder-type program for the Olympics.
Maria Steibel began in J.O.A.D. at 11, and has spent the last seven years learning from Bennett. Steibel describes herself as a decent archer, but Bennett says she has grown to become one of the top 20 archers in the country at her age.
“I look at him and he inspires me to do a lot more, not just in archery,” Steibel said.
More than anything, his students praise his patience and respectful nature. His background in engineering undoubtedly helps with mechanical issues, but some of the smartest people can be the worst teachers.
Bennett’s analytical demeanor is not lost on his students.
“Glen is generally pretty laid back, a pretty relaxed guy, a lot of joking back and forth and that kind of thing,” Heffelfinger said. “But he’s very good at dialing in on mechanical issues. A lot of times in his coaching you can see that he used to be an engineer.”
While Bennett’s engineering background offers a unique technical perspective, sometimes his coaching strengths can be as simple as patience.
“Archery is a lot of repetition, so he just tells you, ‘It’s O.K. …do it again,’” Steibel said.
Bennett’s efforts in the Lansing community and at MSU have not gone unnoticed. He has been named Greater Lansing Community Coach of the Year, USA Archery North Region Coach of the Year twice, and the 2016 Community Leadership Award from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.
One of the biggest honors was the Rings of Gold award, given by the United States Olympic Committee, which recognizes an individuals dedication to helping children reach their Olympic and Paralympic dreams.
With all of the accomplishments for both Bennett and athletes, it’s the simple moments that stick out to those who have met him.
Sarah Strickland, a junior kinesiology major at MSU and another All-American and Academic All-American in archery, may remember the personality of Bennett more than his coaching prowess.
“He always tells the older kids, ‘Don’t let your boyfriends take you to the submarine races.’ He says, ‘If a guy tells you that you’re going to watch the submarine races, he’s full of crap,’” Strickland said. “I was confused by it for the longest time. I had no idea what he was talking about, and then it finally clicked one day that you can’t watch submarines race.”
On the other hand, Steibel looks back at her early days of archery and some of the things Bennett would do to motivate her to shoot at further distances.
“I was a really stubborn child,” Steibel said. “One time, he wanted me to shoot the back wall, which is 18 meters and I was like, ‘no, that’s too far.’ Then he grabs a pack of Sour Patch kids and goes and hangs it up on the target and says, ‘If you can shoot it, I’ll give you this pack of Sour Patch kids and any other candy you want.’
“So I went along with it and shot the back wall and he said, ‘now was that so scary?’ So now we shoot up to 70 meters outdoors, and every single time I go out to shoot I remember that little pack of sour patch kids just hanging up on my target.”
Bennett looks back at that moment and laughs now, knowing how far he, Steibel, MSU, and the Lansing community have come in archery. As much knowledge as Bennett has when it comes to archery and shooting processes, he knows coaching children and young adults is a complex process.
“The key is treating every kid like an individual,” Bennett said “Find out what makes them tick.”
While Bennett’s hope is that one day an Olympian will come out of the Demmer Center, he is more than happy shaping the lives of every day archers.