Looking for a Remote Coach

QandA logoGot another letter with a very good question:

Hi Steve,
I’m reading your excellent Why You Suck at Archery and am wondering how to go about choosing a remote coach. I’m in Atlantic Canada and in my city there are no coaches higher than Level 2. So I was thinking about getting a coach through other means. Do you have any suggestions on what one needs to look for when looking for a remote coach?



This is a very good question! I wish I had an equivalently good answer. The best I can do is point you to the Canadian Archery Federation (http://www.archerycanada.ca) but I haven’t noticed that they keep a list of coaches. Here in the U.S., you can look up coaches on USA Archery’s list (http://www.teamusa.org/usa-archery/coaching/find-an-instructor-or-coach). Other than that, I do know that Larry Wise, M.J. Rogers, and I all do remote coaching. I am sure there are others, I just don’t know who they are.

With regard to negotiating to receive remote coaching, there are a few particulars that need to be covered. The usual things like fees, compound or recurve, etc. are the same whether you are physically together or not. The other ones I can think of are:

Technical Can you hook up in a meaningful way technically? Are you going to use Skype or some other teleconferencing software? For simple issues I have students send me video clips with questions and then I respond via email (I have never liked telephones for some reason and now that my hearing is going south, I like them even less.) The question is simply can you engage one another technically. Video clips, even large ones, can be sent privately via Drop Box or other file sharing programs.

Communication It is hard enough to communicate when we are face to face and we can shoot and physically demonstrate aspects of archery shots. When you eliminate the physical and, at best, muffle the audio and visual, a premium is placed upon being a clear communicator. This is something you will want to pay a lot of attention to while you are negotiating working together. Are communications concise and clear? Do you go back and forth resolving confusion or are you creating even more confusion? etc.

This is something that the archery organizations could do a better job for their members. If the organization trains individual coaches, they should make them easier to find (this is especially true for Canada which is always having to deal with members being spread out a great deal) and one of the particulars they could include on their coach listing is a detail like “Will Do Remote Coaching.”

I hope this helps.


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Shooting In Cool Weather (Guest Post)

I volunteer from time to time to work with local JOAD groups. We are blessed in the Chicago are with a number of very good JOAD coaches, one of who had this to offer his young charges as the weather turned quite cool here in the area recently.

Shooting In Cool Weather (Guest Post)
by Gabe Querol

Coach GabeLast evening we conducted our JOAD class in the first cool weather of the season. All the kids came dressed in a manner which made me realize I hadn’t done enough to teach them how to operate in cool conditions. I saw hoodies with draw strings, baggy coats, baggy sweatshirts and a young man with shorts and a teeshirt, who was shivering. Needless to say the practice was not productive for many, as some were hitting clothing on every shot and others were uncomfortable and didn’t much care how they shot.

Q: So how should an archer dress for cool weather? A: In layers.
1) The first layer should be a close fitting long sleeve shirt, like an Under Armour shirt.
2) The second layer is to trap warm air and be slightly looser than the first layer. I prefer a short sleeve teeshirt over my base layer.
3) Next comes some sort of jacket or vest. I prefer a convertible cycling jacket because the sleeves can be zipped off. I leave the sleeve on my string arm and zip off the sleeve on my bow arm. Some prefer a vest of some sort, with a compression sleeve on their draw arm. These compression sleeves can also be found at running or cycling stores. If you need a place to start, try Bike Nashbar. Since few jackets and vests are made specifically for archery, you’ll need to tuck in collars so they do not interfere with your drawing process.
4) Next comes a hat. Yes! I know some of you are loathe to wear a hat, but your body sheds an enormous amount of heat through your head. If you want to be comfortable, wear a winter hat or an insulated cap.
5) Keep your hands warm by wearing mittens or gloves when not shooting. Keep a chemical hand warmer in your pockets and keep your hands in your pockets to warm them when needed.
6) Depending on the temperature, wear thermal underwear or fleece-lined pants.
7) Wear shoes and socks which are appropriate for the conditions. Remember shoes which give your feet room to breathe will allow air to circulate and keep your feet warmer. 8) Keep a positive attitude. Shooting in less than ideal conditions is hard for everyone. Those who do the best are able to focus on the target and forget about all distractions. If you start shooting with a poor attitude, it will be reflected in your scores. This applies for wind, cold, rain, or whatever is thrown at you. A positive outlook is the most valuable arrow in your quiver.

Good advice from a good coach! Steve

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Helping Your Students by Booking Guest Coaches

We are currently providing our coaching venues with a guest coach for lessons. These are individual lessons in our case, but this works equally well with classes.

Having a guest coach for your class or students individually is a wonderful idea. Having such a guest increases the focus of the students being taught and helps break up practice routines that might have gotten a little stale. Having a voice, other than yours, making the same key points as you do, can only help your credibility. And it is fine when you are preparing for the session to ask your guest coach to emphasize certain things.

Finding A Guest Coach So, where do you find these guest coaches? At some point, you will have been coaching archery for a long enough time that you will have become part of a network of coaches. Some of these coaches will be less experienced than you and some will be more experienced that you. All of these folks are potential Guest Coaches for your classes. You do not have to bring in a “star” even though that is a very cool thing to do. You might even trade sessions with another coach just like you, that is you both can be a ‘Special Guest Coach” for one another. This has merit because you get to work with students with whom you are not familiar. You will have to be on your toes to do a good job for them. Make the effort to plan something different for each group with your coaching colleague so that either something very important can be emphasized or something new can be introduced. If for no other reason that a different coach telling the athletes the same thing as their regular coach and thus giving credence to that teaching, this is worthwhile.

Sometimes, you can catch a “star coach.” A couple of years ago, we got Lloyd Brown, the 1996 U.S. Olympic Coach and current Olympic Coach for Great Britain to come out for a week and conduct some lessons. There was a fee for these lessons and we had no trouble booking him up and he even threw in a JOAD class session for no fee. The fees collected paid for his travel expenses and we put him up and fed him, so it all worked out.

So, how do you do this? We had the advantage of knowing Coach Brown but there is a simple process you can follow that often works: ask them. Yes, just email, text, or phone them up and ask them. This is not as simple as it is being made to sound here as many of these coaches are quite busy. Coordinating with their schedules is very important, but you will find that they can be very flexible and come back at you with, “I will be in your area on such-and-such dates, can we work out something then?” We have found that putting a spare bedroom at their disposal and feeding them at the family table can reduce travel expenses a great deal.

If your network doesn’t include a lot of coaches, check out any coach listings you can find. USA Archery maintains a list of many of their coaches, for example. Check out the names of the coaches in your area and see if you recognize any of the names. Do Internet searches on the names of the coaches in your area. Are they actice and involved in archery nearby? Often these lists include contact information. Connect with them to find out if they provide guest coaching services.

Will There Be Fees? Do realize that coaching archery is not a charity function (although it may feel like that from time to time). We assume that fees will be charged. Our current guest coach is charging $65/hr for adults and $50/hr for youths 18 and under. These are quite reasonable in our area. Coaches of lesser resume will generally be charging less. (we recommend that fees be adjusted to the loacl economy. If the area is not so rich, we recommend reduced fees. If affluent, well. . . .) One of our most gratifying guest coaching gigs occurred when we broached the idea with our JOAD program’s parents and one of them offered air fare vouchers he had accumulated and another offered room and board. A third set of parents offered to pick him up at the airport (45 minutes away) and take him back and drive him around in the interim. If you have a large program, you may experience the same generosity from your archery parents.

Preparing for Your Sessions If you book a guest coach, there is some preparation involved. If individual lessons are involved, you need to inform people of their availability and sign up takers for slots in your schedule. Make sure you tell people where and when and what the fees are and how they can pay for the fees (cash, check, PayPal, etc.). We provide our Guest Coach a schedule, all addresses, directions, etc. ahead of time if we can.

If the Guest Coach is coming to take your class(es), make sure that your students know that ahead of time and ask them to prepare. The simplest thing to ask them to do is to prepare a list of things they are working on. (Our lists are always a minimum of at least three things.) You might also ask them to prepare questions they could ask the coach. This is why a handout/flyer is a good thing for this event as you can provide some background on your guest coach, which can lead to good questions being asked.

What’s In It For You? We ask this question a lot. What is in this for you? This sounds like it is more work than doing your class or lessons yourself, and you are right about that. But if you manage to get a really good coach to come give lessons, this can turn out to be a master class in coaching for you! By all means, sit nearby and observe your Guest Coach working. (We recommend you don’t make comments unless asked.) Watching a master coach go about his or her business can provide a great deal of inspiration and ideas for you to pursue in your coaching. Take a notebook.

So, this is not all about “them,” this is also about “you” and how you become a better coach.


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We Get Letters, Lots of Letters (Well, not Lots …)

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,

I am happy to report that I have just obtained my Level 3-NTS certification. However, a lot of the details I learned in the class are confusing me.

The NTS tells archers to use an open stance. When I asked the instructor about closed stance vs. open stance, she told me that closed stance should never be used because it’s “not as stable” as the open stance. I didn’t understand why, and I don’t really buy that argument, but I am inclined to believe it. What can you tell me about the credibility of open stance versus closed stance? I remember you advocating for a closed stance because it helps people reach full draw, but does it really make you less stable than open stance?

Moreover, I learned that the NTS tells archers to forcefully curl their fingers to feel tension in their bow arm. But isn’t the bow arm and hand supposed to be completely relaxed?

Finally, the course PowerPoint mentioned that archers should constantly buy equipment to keep up to date with new advances in equipment. But if equipment works perfectly well, isn’t there no need to update it?

On the side, the instructor told me that limbs must never be twisted to any degree, and that they must be in perfect alignment. But I remember you mentioning that twisted limbs were acceptable; now I am confused. Are there times when twisted limbs should never be used? Should I buy a riser that has adjustable pockets to fix my twisted limbs?



Gosh, where to start? Let’s see: BS, BS, BS, BS. That about sums it up.

I attached an article I wrote about the closed stance, that might help. Currently there are few archers who have tried such a stance and even fewer who have thought about the benefits of one. To say it is “not as stable” is ridiculous/ludicrous/stupid in that NTS (National Training System) is supposed to be steeped in biomechanics. If it is less stable, they should be able to state biomechanically why it is less stable and that they do not. The NTS states that by taking an open stance and then twisting one’s torso, you make a more stable platform from which to shoot (true). My assumption is that the instructor made the leap from the open stance + twisting = more stable, to closed stance = less stable (unproven). But, what about closed stance with twisting? Would not that be as stable as open stance with twisting? I could argue that it would not be because the shoulders are 10-12 degrees closed to the target (Olympic recurve) so a 30 degree open stance requires the shoulders to be twisted 40+ degrees, but a 30 degree closed stance would only require 20 degrees of twist (the shoulders already being 10 degrees closed) … but that is not an argument you were given, no? Plus, if things are different, so what? Are they significantly different? Do the differences show up on a score card? If they don’t, then such things are just differences and not improvements. If the 20 degree twist is insufficient to make the desired stability, how about a 40 degree closed stance? Realize that from the sternum up, the archer’s triangle must be preserved and we are only talking about what happens below.

I have read both of Kisik Lee’s books a number of times and I can’t remember where he said that (about curling the fingers), plus I don’t think that it is true. The muscles that curl the fingers have nothing to do with making the arm straight or stiff, so what possible advantage could there be? The disadvantage is unwanted tension. Those who currently curl their fingers generally do so fairly gently, I believe. The purpose of that curling is to position the bow on the pad of the thumb, not for bow arm enhancement, in any case.

The equipment quote is brought to you by your training’s commercial sponsors! Think about it. If an Olympian wins a medal and he/she is using a three-year old bow, how does that look to the bow’s manufacturer? Consequently, when an archer gets close to the ability to win such medals, they become sponsored, which means they get their equipment at no or much reduced cost. A condition of those sponsorships is that the archers use the most current equipment (the equipment that is being sold now, not three years ago). It is easy for ordinary archers to believe that archers win because of their equipment, hence the marketing stance, but this is not true. All of the top coaches admit that bad or poorly set up or poorly tuned equipment can prevent good performance but good equipment can’t cause it; that is what the archer does. So, not only is the claim untrue, it is demonstrably false. At worst this is an attempt to shape coaches attitudes to push/sell gear. At best it is a naïve belief.

I believe the 1990 World Champion (I am working from memory here, so …) had limbs so badly twisted that people shooting next to him were fearful that the string was going to come off at full draw. (That can happen, by the way; it has happened to me.)

All a bow does is give an arrow a consistent initial speed (called the launch velocity) in a consistent direction. It is up to the archer to point the arrow correctly and operate the bow consistently to score well. All the bow does is push the arrow. Period. So, if a limb is mildly twisted, you may not get 100% of optimum performance, you may only get 99% or 98%, something you could correct for by increasing the bow’s draw weight a pound or maybe even less. Ideally, do I want a bow with untwisted limbs? Yes. But if my bow has slightly twisted limbs, is it dangerous? No. Will that fact alone limit my performance? My guess is that unless you were an elite performer, you would not notice any limitation. My guess is that before you personally would notice any such limitation, you will have worn out or out grown those limbs.

Also … I know of no limb pockets that correct for limb twist. Twisted limbs can be corrected (sometimes) by twisting them in the opposite direction and heating the limb with something like a hair dryer (then held in that position until cool). This is tricky and risky. The glues that hold the layers together are softened by the heat, allowing for some minor movement, changing the internal structure of the limb. But you could weaken the limb or cause it to delaminate (one layer separating from the next), so if you try this, go slowly and use the minimum amount of heat to get results. My recommendation, again, is to ignore it until you shoot well enough for it to be a factor (you are not “there” yet).

I am glad you got your Level 3-NTS certification. And I am glad you had questions. I strongly recommend that you never accept anything at face value, including what I tell you. Think about what you are being told. Work through it yourself. Form your own opinions. Also avoid the temptation to give BS answers (like the closed stance one). Three words you need to be able to say are: I don’t know.



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Why Buying the Very Best Sometimes Is a Bad Idea

Guess what? When it comes to equipment recommendations, you are Number One! Now, don’t get a swelled head, we just mean that you are the first person your students will consult regarding getting their own equipment or an upgrade of their own equipment. No matter how good you are at giving such advice, something happens between your advice and the purchase. What happens is the student-archer does his own research on the Internet or through catalogs or, sometimes worse, a salesman comes in between.

We have created a form for giving such recommendations and the stimulus for that form being created was a student we sent to a good archery shop who came back with a bow with 15# too much draw weight and about 2˝ too much draw length. But it was a very high quality bow, discounted heavily, and it had red and gold flames on it. Yep, you got it, a discounted high end bow that hadn’t gotten sold got fobbed off on our student. We were upset with the draw weight and draw length mismatches, the two most critical fitting criteria, but not so much about an expensive bow being bought as that student’s parents were quite well-to-do and could afford it. Now we realize that buying higher end equipment before it is appropriate can actually inhibit the progress an archer is making.

So, we recommend that you actively sell your students in avoiding buying top-of-the line gear before they are ready. We do this by recommending they buy equipment that matches the level of their shooting. Beginners should buy beginning-level equipment. Intermediate archers need intermediate-level equipment. Advanced archers need high end equipment (how high is a tough question).

Realize that this runs counter to conventional wisdom. Home craftsmen are best off buying the best hand tools they can afford: they work better and last longer. Cooks are encouraged to buy the best cookware they can afford for the same reasons. Most people think that if their archer had better equipment, they would shoot better. This is not necessarily the case. This is the same kind of thinking as when people think that a 60# bow should shoot arrows twice as fast as a 30# bow (not even close). And going against the grain of “common knowledge” is a tough sell.

The Reasons
There are a number of good reasons for the equipment purchasing scheme described above. Here are a few.

Budgetary Reasons We’re talking the family budget here. Many a family has a garage full of sports equipment purchased when one of the kids (or Dad or Mom) was excited about a new sport but then dropped it a couple of months later. There is the $300+ baseball bat, the $250+ hockey skates, etc. High end equipment has high-end price tags and investing a large sum of money in equipment before a significant commitment to a sport is made is probably a recipe for wasting hard-earned money. Our suggestion is to have youths earn their better gear through participation. This runs counter to the current trend in which parents try to encourage their kids by buying them stuff, but our recommendation has a better foundation in psychology.

Another consideration for growing kids is they can grow out of things quite quickly. For example, we do not recommend carbon recurve limbs for kids for that reason. The wood-fiberglass limbs give quite adequate performance and, as the youth grows, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg every time they need new limbs . . . or new arrows, or. . . .

Such equipment purchases can also create envy in students of lesser means but that is hard to control.

It Isn’t Necessary Many of the young Olympic Recurve archers we see can’t wait to get out of a wood-risered recurve into one of the really pretty metal-risered recurves. Turns out there is no significant advantage to the archer. What about the new equipment makes it more consistent or accurate? There is very little difference and there may be actual negatives (see below). What young archers need is a good tab, properly fitted to them. (We see way too many youths with rigid, metal-frame tabs, usually the wrong size and in the way; we recommend you keep them on a soft tab until they are quite close to their full growth.) Then they need good arrows. Carbon arrows? No, good aluminum arrows are fine. The best reasons for buying carbon arrows rather than aluminum are: you have no access to an arrow straightening jig or you need lighter mass arrows to “make distance.” The worst reason is “they’re cool.”

If they are using a bow sight, a decent bow sight might be next. Only after whatever makes for a full kit for the archer is had is a move up to a better bow warranted. So, a beginner-level setup can be upgraded one step at a time, by buying a better <insert whatever accessory or bow here>. The old accessories, for example, will fit on a new bow but the new bow need only be the next step up (beginner to intermediate to advanced to expert/elite).

It May Inhibit Progress Buying higher-end gear for a less than appropriate archer can have drawbacks. The aforementioned metal-framed tabs are one example. If not fitted perfectly, the tab creates awkward, rather than relaxed, string hand fingers which inhibit clear finger releases. Same goes for release aids.

We have seen way too many youths, especially girls, rushed into a metal-risered recurve bows (or full compound) with the result that since they do not have enough shoulder development to hold the bow up through a shot, they get months and months of practice dropping their bow arms! You can ameliorate this a little by widening their stance until their muscles develop, but there is only so much adjusting that can be done. The wood and plastic resin risers on beginner bows have the added benefit of being quite light weight. The metal bows, not so much.

Whether working with parents or adult students, avoiding buying mistakes is a tough one for us coaches. Making sure the person with the purchasing ability knows that buying higher-end equipment is not necessarily a good idea is important. You may want to print out copies of this article or draft something on your own as a handout.

We are busy trying to put together an online course of how to fit students with appropriate archery gear so as to help you help them get the gear that will keep them in the game. Look for it on the AER website. We will announce the course here.

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Q&A After a Longish Layoff

QandA logo

I got the following letter from one of my compound students:

“The lessons last year were great. I didn’t do any archery during the winter, seemed every other day I was doing snow. Also got a late start this year and have only been out five times. I have a strange problem that concerns me. Maybe you’ve seen it.

“I was using the back tension release last year from August until mid-October. Seemed to be getting the hang of it going out several times a week. Every once in a while I’d let the bow down about an inch, something you noticed I was doing and called it “vacillating.” (I think rather collapsing or creeping. SR) When I would do it with the back tension release, off went the arrow. I don’t think this is safe and never want an arrow going off without me doing it, not to mention losing several arrows. I stopped using it and went back to the Carter Insatiable thumb trigger release I’ve been using for years. Couple trips after going back to it, for some reason I let go of the release at full draw instead of pressing the button. It hit me in the bow hand knuckle and gave me a decent cut, luckily not too bad though. I made one more trip out before ending for the season with no problems.

“Earlier this week, only my fifth time out this season, I was shooting with the Carter Insatiable and just before pressing the trigger, I let go of the release. It hit the riser then went back over my right shoulder about 25 feet behind me. Couldn’t find the arrow even with the white wraps I put on. I was very lucky it didn’t hit my bow hand or come back and hit me. The rest of my outing all I could think about was making sure not to somehow let go of the release. I tried to figure how or why I did what I did but could only think it’s some muscle memory of the back tension release I was using last year. Maybe when I’m relaxing my bow hand I relax my release hand as well. Regardless, It’s not safe and I won’t keep using that release. I have a trigger release with the wrist strap I’ll use.

“Have you ever heard of this happening? Do you think I can wrap a wrist sling around the Carter Insatiable to make sure I don’t let it go?

“I don’t think this is a medical condition as I do other activities where I need to hold things and I don’t drop things. I’ve never had this problem except for these two times I’ve described.



To which I responded:

Let go of your release aid? Heck, I’ve done that myself.

It is always prudent, especially when you were learning something new when you started the layoff, to be very deliberate when restarting, even to the point of talking yourself through your shot sequence for several shots. Always review what you were working on (you wrote it down in your notebook, no?) before starting up again. If you don’t do this you’ll get a mishmash of your old style with elements of the new mixed in … uh, randomly or at least unpredictably.

It is also a very good idea to crank the bow down, too, if you can. Your archery muscles haven’t been worked in quite a while, so give them a chance to get back up to speed.

That hole in the cocking level can be treaded with release or other rope to make a lanyard.

That hole in the cocking level can be treaded with release or other rope to make a lanyard.

Triggerless releases in particular require you to be very deliberate and move the release away from a position where it might go off before you begin the let down. If it has a safety, reset it before you begin the letdown. It is very easy to rotate your hand the wrong way when it is moving forward rather than backward, so you must be very deliberate. If you are doing a letdown, be sure to aim at the ground in front of you (outdoors) or the target (indoors) while executing the letdown as mis-launches happen, even to the best of us.

Having shot one of my own release aids over 25 yards (it went farther than the arrow!) I do have some experience here and I think it is a good idea is to use a wrist lanyard on the release (at least until you have retrained). There used to be holes in the release aids for these (if not, you can tie one on). They basically got looped around your wrist (like a wrist sling) so that the release hung just and inch or two outside of its normal position. Frank Pearson even taught that to train for a really relaxed release hand you should drop your release after the string goes (on a lanyard, of course).

Older models had holes for a lanyard and even came with them at purchase.

Older models had holes for a lanyard and even came with them at purchase.

Starting up after a long layoff can include all kinds of surprises which is why you want to double check your equipment, turn down the draw weight (or swap in a lighter pair of limbs if a recurve bow is being used or even use a lighter weight bow at first), and review what you were doing when you started your layoff. Such layoffs can be long (months) or just a few weeks. If you take them casually, you may be doing damage to your learned form and execution or even yourself as in this example.


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Q&A Will shooting in the rain damage my bow?

QandA logoI received the following question from a student: “Will shooting in the rain damage my bow?”

I will take this occasion to point out that archery is often shot in the rain and supply some general suggestions as well as answer the question.

To answer the question directly, the answer is “no,” bows are mostly made out of anodized aluminum and plastic (the strings/cables are polyethylene) and are therefore waterproof. Wood bows are painted or varnished or waxed to repel water. Just be sure to take towels and whatever you need to dry off all of your equipment thoroughly, especially sights and release aids. If you just throw your gear into a bow case and zip it up, you are inviting rust on steel parts and even mold.

General Suggestions for Shooting in the Rain
I just got a tip on what to wear on your feet on rainy/wet grass days … waterproof golf shoes. These are made to comfortable, waterproof, and nonslip. Sounds like a good tip. Also, take extra dry socks. Swapping out wet socks for dry ones is refreshing and having dry shoes and socks to change into at the end of the day is very nice.

If you wear glasses, you’ll need a way to wipe them dry. If you use a scope on your sight, same thing. (Some use miniature cans of compressed air to blow them dry.) You’ll need a way to keep tabs and releases dry between shots (a belt pouch) and have a backup tab if yours gets drenched (as in the case in which you drop yours in a puddle). I use a lot of Baggies: one large one to tent over the arrows in my quiver to keep them dry and others to keep small parts dry. A quart size Baggie will hold all of the score sheets, keeping them dry between end scorings.

If you are going to wear a rain jacket, you want it to fit snuggly or carry a bunch of thick rubber bands so you can strap down the billowing fabric on your bow arm. Just putting your armguard on top of the jacket sleeve is often not good enough. You should test whether your jacket will be in the way before you need to use it in the rain. Some high-level archers use golf rainwear, because many of the rain jackets have removable sleeves.

The other thing about rain shooting, you probably will need to lower your scoring expectations, although when the FITA Round Compound world record score was shot, it was raining to beat Hell during the 90m end and later. Peter Elzinga still shot 1419 out of 1440. (He also set the WR for the 70m segment.) Most people, though, shoot poorer in the rain than they do in good weather. But everyone in the field is at the same disadvantage, so if you keep your attitude strong, you will have an advantage over those who get bummed out by the rain.

Good luck! (Luck, of course, is based upon hard work and preparation!  “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” Thomas Jefferson)



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Q&A The Compound Archer’s Trapezoid?

QandA logoI got this rather excellent question (questions, really) from a Level 3 Coach Candidate in Great Britain.

I am presently studying for my AGB County (Level 3) Coach. A preliminary exercise was to study the 2014 Men’s Compound World Cup Final. Both archers aligned their shoulder line parallel to the arrow line (top/rear view). My question is “why?”
Biomechanically the shoulder line and bow arm line is more efficient if they form one straight unit, bone on bone. Yet, in “Even More on Coaching Archery” in chapter 22 “The Lines of Archery,” after describing, with illustrations, the efficient shoulder/bow arm alignment you write “For compound archers, this line is generally parallel to the arrow (or a vertical plane including the arrow).” At the back of my mind I recollect that this is repeated somewhere in Archery Focus magazine with the comment that most high end compound archers adopt this stance and that it might be due to the number of arrows shot in practice with high poundage (compared to recurve) and the reduction of injury.

EMOCA Cover (10%)
So why? Why do “most” compound archers adopt a biomechanically inefficient stance, especially if they are “top end”—is there a benefit?
Is it to avoid injury, and if so what injury is being avoided?
How do we coach stance to new/intermediate archers? Are we advised to coach efficient alignment only to change when/if they progress to higher levels or start with an inefficient stance? Chapter 23 is “How Compound Bows Mislead Beginners!”
Is it just because it is so common that archers (and coaches) have not looked at the stance critically?
I am not critiquing anyone here, just curious about what appears to be an anomaly.


To which I responded:

Glad you noticed that compound archers don’t adopt the well-known “archer’s triangle.” This is so common I am now referring to the compound archer’s trapezoid (or parallelogram). Basically the answer to your question is “because they can.” The reason they can is because of let-off.

Almost everything with regard to how we shoot is a trade-off, that is there are pluses and minuses to everything. The archer’s triangle gives recurve archers the bracing needed to hold the bow at full draw for the second or two or three needed to make a good shot. This bracing is needed because the full draw weight of the bow is being held in that position. Compound archers, on the other hand, are holding only a small fraction of their bows “peak weight” in that position. (A Recurve archer with a 50# bow is holding 50# at full draw (or thereabouts); a compound archer with a 60# bow is holding 18# (approx.).) Consequently compound archers can adopt a more comfortable position as less “bracing” is needed.

The plus is that the comfort comes from not having to turn one’s head so far at full draw. With the shoulders being 10-13 degrees closed in the archer’s triangle, the recurve archer’s head must swivel on his neck to close to the edge of its range of motion. This creates a great deal of neck strain and contributes to instability in head position (also headaches according to some elite recurve archers I have spoken to, also mentioned in Kisik Lee’s second book, I believe).

On the minus side, since the bow arm necessarily must be coming into the bow at a steeper angle, pre-loaded handle torque is a problem. Compound archers compensate by using thin or no grip (shooting off of the riser) with nothing sticky where their hand touches the bow.

So, compound archers spend more time at full draw but because they are under less tension from the draw they can afford a more comfortable body position, even though there are trade offs. A key element to success in compound archery is the ability to be relaxed at full draw.

PS The above is the result of my own analysis, I did not read this in a book. I just saw what I saw and then looked widely at the best archers I could see and this is what they were doing. Why they were doing it was from my own personal experience and analysis (I am primarily a compound guy.).

Regarding the rest of your question:

Is it to avoid injury, and if so what injury is being avoided?

Nope, just comfort.

How do we coach stance to new/intermediate archers? Are we advised to coach efficient alignment only to change when/if they progress to higher levels or start with an inefficient stance? Chapter 23 is ‘How Compound Bows Mislead Beginners’!

This is my recommendation. Stance is a minor factor when compared to upper body alignment (as long as it is consistent). My goal with a new serious archer is to get them shooting with good upper body alignment and relaxed hands. Anything else is of lesser importance. These then must be maintained when other body alignments are explored. Commonly I am recommending a closed stance to recurve archers who are struggling to get that good alignment. They tend to adopt an open stance because they are told that is “correct” but the open stance shortens draw length making it harder to get in line. The popularity of the open stance in Olympic Recurve dates back to Pace and McKinney (whose stances were then copied by the Koreans and have since become dogma). Those two were so flexible that they could swing their elbows several inches past line, which was not conducive to consistency, so they opened their stances making it harder to reach line and thus made it easier to feel when they had. Beginners with open stances are almost never in line. I close their stances, they get in line, and later they can play with other stances (although there is nothing wrong with the closed stance).

There are no inefficient stances, maybe ineffective ones. The open stance is being recommended because it requires the archer to twist back against it to create torsion in the trunk making the archer’s “shooting platform” less susceptible to wind etc. This alone tells you that the open stance fights against good alignment.

Is it just because it is so common that archers (and Coaches) have not looked at the stance critically? I am not critiquing anyone here, just curious about what appears to be an anomaly,

It is common that coaches who are experts about Recurve give advice to Compound archers and vice-versa. Sometimes this is based upon, shall we say, less than complete information. But, you’ll have to answer this one yourself. My “two cents worth” is that there is little serious discussion about shooting between and among coaches. I am trying to change this by creating a professional literature for archery coaches. To that end I am soliciting top archery coaches to write books to share their knowledge so that questions like the ones you ask become more common, leading to those more serious discussions.

Feel free to shoot back any further questions you have.

Your friend in archery,



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Helping Your Students with … The Mental Game

(from the May-June 2014 issue of Archery Focus magazine)

Note There is a great deal of talk about the Mental Game of Archery but almost none on how to get students started. Here’s two cents worth.


For beginning archers, the physical aspects of the sport dominate. There is probably very little room for anything else in their  minds. The phrase “archery is 90% mental,” is often heard in archery instruction circles, which is not at all true, although it is close to the truth when it comes to archery competitions. To become a good archer, many hours of practice, building muscles and  technique training and additional hours setting up and testing and tuning equipment all have to happen so that on competition day, the equipment and form and execution are unconsciously dependable. The remainder of the day is largely determined by our archer’s minds: how focused they are, how confident, how consistent they can maintain our performance, etc. So, how do you start helping your students with their mental games? When do you start?

The Mental Game of Archery
It wasn’t that long ago that there wasn’t any mental game recognized. Some archers did it, but most just practiced shooting arrows and making their equipment perfect and hope for the best. Today, all elite archers incorporate mental training in their practice and competition. Many young archers compete and win without a mental program but as they get older, they shouldn’t expect to be doing any “winning” when they are giving away such an advantage. Practice . . . mentally? Yep, do you ever expect them to do something well without practicing?

Getting Started A key to shooting well is your archers must focus their conscious thinking upon what they are doing “now” during any shot. If their mind wanders onto their stance while they are at full draw, for example, the outcome will be a bad shot. They must “pay attention” to what is happening . . . right now.

You probably know why. Archery is a repetition sport. If their minds wander it will (at least) change their timing and such shots will occur at a different pace than the previous ones. We want each shot to be their best shot and the next shot to be just like the last one. We know this from the fact that it is easier to do something you have just done than to do it new for the first time. It is more effective to “copy” the last shot than it is to make up a new technique while shooting the next one.

So what are they supposed to “focus on?” This is the role played by their shot sequence. Basically this is a list of everything they do to take a single shot. Their shot sequence puts names to things they will need to refine physically (improving their technique) but also it is a list of where their attention needs to be while shooting. When they are nocking an arrow, they need to pay attention to where the nock goes on the string, the sound and feel it makes when it slides into place, they need to pay attention to the way the “index vane” points, and they need to check how the arrow sits on the arrow rest (and under the clicker if they use one). They need to do this consciously (in practice) to train their subconscious mind to do it subconsciously (whenever they need it done) just like learning to tie their shoes or ride a bike (and later to drive a car). Conscious attention is needed to develop unconscious competence. Doing any of those things wrong can cost them points (e.g. if the arrow is sitting on the bow’s arrow shelf instead of the arrow rest, their shot will be low, very low).

The next thing they need to learn is the “Rule of Discipline.”

The Rule of Discipline If they follow this rule, they will learn faster than anything else you can do. Basically this rule says “don’t shoot shots you know are wrong.” Here it is in all of its glory:

If anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from the environment, you must let down and start over.

By following this rule they will train your subconscious mind to monitor their shooting and “urge” you to letdown when something is not right, even if you do not notice it yourself! While they are shooting, they are shooting by “feel.” Their eyes are focused on their sight or the target and not upon themselves. If their conscious mind doesn’t focus on what they are doing “now” the shot will be bad, so all they have is how the shot feels at the time. With repetition, they can learn how a good shot feels and use that as a guide to make this call, but the word “feel” is almost the total opposite of conscious thinking, so we use our subconscious minds to monitor those.

We train our subconscious minds what to pay attention to by paying attention to it consciously while practicing . . . and that is exhausting. If you think about how you learned to tie your shoes or ride a bike, it was really hard at first but now it is almost effortless in comparison. That is because you now do these tasks subconsciously.

There has been some misunderstanding regarding the Rule of Discipline. It is not if the coach sees anything wrong, they must let down, but whether the archer thinks there is anything wrong. Beginning archers wouldn’t be able to get off a shot if they had to do it perfectly in the eyes of a coach. What constitutes “right” and “wrong” for an archer evolves as they gain understanding and develop the feel of their shot and the Rule of Discipline helps them develop that “feel” and understanding.

… And the Training?
You are dreading asking them to practice one more thing, aren’t you? To practice their shot sequence, start by using the appropriate terms for the parts. Ask them to make a list of the parts of their shot. Go over it with them. This has physical as well as mental benefits, so they won’t get antsy. From time to time, focus consciously on one of the tasks (not every single one, you’ll wear them out).

For the Rule of Discipline . . . have them use it. Every single shot. If they don’t know how to do a “let down,” demonstrate it for them (note the differences for indoors and out) and have them practice it a couple of times and they will be an expert in no time.

And, don’t worry, there’s more, . . . but only if they want to get better.

Coming Attractions
We follow on from here with the introduction of policing one’s self-talk, it being easy to teach: what it is, how to change negative self-talk into positive, etc. Then comes shot rehearsals/imagery, being the practice of imagining a perfect shot just before raising their bows.

There is much, much more. You can teach these things to your recreational archers as well as your competitive archers. There will be no harm done as the recreational archers just won’t do things they don’t find fun, and you don’t know what will trigger the conversion from a recreational archer to a competitive archer. It may just be that there is some serious, performance enhancing stuff being done here; archery is not just flinging arrows and hoping to win a medal.

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Kisser Buttons

QandA logoI had a coach I mentor ask me about kisser buttons and I did a Google search to find pictures I could refer him to. To my horror, a “kisser button” search came up with a large number of photos of compound archers using a kisser button with a peep sight. You do not want to use a kisser button with a peep sight! Let me explain.

A kisser button is either a tied-on plastic “button” or a large knot of thread (some even use a simple brass nockset) designed to be felt by the archer’s lips at full draw. Since the draw is determined in the back and the anchor position of the draw hand determined by the bones of the jaw or face, the kisser button helps to orient the archer’s head. If the archer’s head is not straight up and down (or at least consistently oriented), she will get left and right and even up and down errors, aka larger groups.Kisser Button

Kisser buttons are largely used by Olympic Recurve archers if at all.

Compound archers, using sights, are allowed a peep sight, which is a lozenge inserted into the string which has a hole in it that allows the archer to look right through the string (see photo below). Again, the draw is determined in the back (and also by the setting of the draw length in the bow) and the anchor position of the draw/release hand determined by the bones of the jaw or face. The head position is determined by the aiming eye being able to see through the little hole in the peep. Of course, the peep has to be set up correctly so this is possible.

Kisser Yes

Kisser Yes!

If the compound archer has both a peep and a kisser, he has two references as to having correct head position. That should be good, no? No. Consider the situation if either reference is set up incorrectly. Your archer will have one indicator saying “Here!” and the other saying “Here!” with the two positions different. Consequently he will most likely be switching back and forth between the two or finding some ill-defined middle position. Surely, you say, that can’t be a big error? Well, errors of rear alignment are larger than errors of front alignment (just because of the angle of the arrow) and compound archers generally shoot smaller groups, so in this context, even a small aiming error can cost your archer significant points.

Kisser and Peep? No!

Kisser and Peep? No!

What if both references are set up correctly? No problem there, right? Yes, problem there. On level ground there would be no problem (also not much benefit) but in field archery where uphill and downhill shots are common, there is a new problem. When shooting up- or downhill, you are to tilt at the waist to keep the upper body geometry the same as for level shots. Unfortunately, it is easy to say that but hard to do. Most archers tilt at the waist but also tilt at the shoulders a bit. This means that the bow is in a different position than in a level shot but the aiming eye must be able to see through the peep so if the bow is lower, for example, the anchor position must be slightly higher (and vice-versa). Everything rotates around the peep being exactly in front of the aiming eye. But, if the anchor position changes, so does the kisser button position and once again we have the peep and the kisser providing “mixed messages.”

Archery is hard enough as it is. Don’t make it harder by recommending both a peep and a kisser button to your compound archers. One or the other suffices (with the peep having far more secondary benefits).

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