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?

Thanks!

***

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.

Conclusion
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

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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.

Thanks

***

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,
Steve

 

 

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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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Why Don’t Some Students Listen?

QandA logoOne of my favorite coach trainees sent in the following concern (he is currently coaching a college archery team):

“A common problem I’m noticing is that 75% of my students don’t seem to take archery seriously. For example, half of my students don’t come to practice regularly. For those that do come to practice, if I tell someone to do X, they will do it and say they understand it. But then on the following week, they’ve completely forgotten to continue doing X, or they have restarted making the mistake that I taught them to prevent. Others say ‘Well I know you told me to do this, but I just don’t feel like doing it.’”

“Is this normal with teaching? I have expectations that aren’t being met because people don’t regularly come to practice or follow instruction.”

To which I responded: Often our mental construct of coaching is from having observed highly competitive sports in which team members come close to killing themselves to “make the team” and then work their asses off just to stay on it, let alone play much. (I was an archetype for this kind of athlete.)

Actually, your students exemplify the current state of education as a whole, not just archery. So many students have gotten adequate grades/moderate success without any struggle that they have become very dilettantish (not their fault, but their problem).

Because of this we distinguish two groups of archery students: Recreational and Competitive. Our definitions (just ours) are Recreational Archers are in it for social reasons; they are characterized as not doing anything that is not fun. Competitive Archers are training to learn how to win/become better. They are characterized as those who practice and who will do dull drills to get better. Both types can be seen at any archery competition, so “attending a competition” is not a criterion either way.

Add to this scheme the proverb that “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

I preserve my sanity through the following rule: I will work for a student only as hard as they work for themselves.

So, recognize that some team members are there only for the fun of flinging arrows and for socializing with other team members and some are there to get better. I spend the bulk of my time with the latter, but don’t neglect the others because you do not know whether or when the “switch will flip” and they become Competitive Archers. The usual scenario for youngsters is they are encouraged to attend (or dragged to) a competition and they do surprisingly well. Then they have the thought, “If I tried harder I think I could get good at this” or “win” or some such.

You might want to try to arrange a “dual meet” competition with another archery club as an introduction to competition. You might flip some of your team’s switches.

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Those Pesky Multi-spot Target Faces

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I got the following question from one of my college archers and I thought you might be interested in the discussion And maybe you have some wisdom to share.

“On the three spot target today, I was able to shoot out the 10 ring on one of the spots (using my compound). 50% of the time, I would score a 9 really close to the 10, the other 50% would be a flat out 10. On the other two spots, however, I kept getting 8’s. Since the ring that I kept getting 10’s on was at the top, I decided to switch the bottom two rings with the top ring, so that there would be two rings on top. But, I still kept getting 10’s in that one center ring. Thus, I concluded that it wasn’t the height of the target that helped me, but it was the fact that the center target was perfectly perpendicular with how I was standing. Given this, what can I do to get of all my arrows in the 10?”

Welcome to the wonderful world of Archery!

My guess is that your preliminary analysis is wrong. One obvious reason is that there are many other factors you ignore. For example, a target spot that gets many 10’s ends up with a hole in the middle that can appear as a dark spot from the target line. Studies show that such “dots” can help aiming. (One of the difficulties associated with the multicolored target face is that the 9-, 10- and X-rings are all the same color, which makes them hard to distinguish, one from the others, at full draw). Realize, though, that I have never been able to get the same pattern on all of the spots of a multi-spot target! Only the elite seem to be able to do it.

Here are things you can try:
#1 Always put the target in its proper orientation as that is how you will see it in competition.
#2 Shoot in one particular order: e.g. 1, 2, 3. Compare the groups you get (10-12 arrows per spot, minimum).
#3 Try a different sequence: e.g. 3, 2, 1 and repeat.
There are six separate sequences on a three-spot target. One of them will typically give you better results.

You also should examine the results based on first, second, and third shots (no matter the sequence). If, for example, your third shot is always the weakest, you are probably shooting too quickly. It takes about 30 seconds for muscles to fully recover their full function and if you are getting off three shots in one minute, the last shot may be with only 80% of muscle capacity (numbers made up).

You will find that expert archers number their arrows and shoot them in the same order because there are defects in arrows that aren’t visible and only show up in the target. If your #3 arrow scores poorly, replace it with another and see if that was the cause of your poor scoring (I use the bottom tube of my quiver as a “penalty box” during competition. I do not shoot arrows in the bottom tube, so if I suspect an arrow is substandard I will consign it to the bottom tube until I can examine it more carefully. This is why you always want to have spare arrows in your quiver.

Other factors that affect your patterning: lighting (this is a biggie!), and soft target butts. Compound archers tend to shoot fairly tight groups. A great many arrows shot into a single place create a soft spot in the butt. Subsequent arrows are deflected from the firm parts into the soft parts, which causes the arrows to move position during impact. We want you to move your target face around while practicing to preserve the butts but at a competition you don’t know the condition of the butts, so if you watch the elite archers, they will move their target faces if they detect they are shooting into a soft spot. (Although they can only be moved so far.) They want to create their own soft spot, dead center in each spot of their target, not someone’s from another target.

Have fun!

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Hey Coach “What’s In It For You?”

There are two levels we wish to address this question in this article: the first is “what is in it for you personally as an archery coach” and then again from an outside view as someone who is responsible for youth archery coaches in a program, which is “what’s in it for them?”

A very common arc for an archery coach is this: your son or daughter gets involved in an archery program and, voila, you are by definition “an archery parent.” If your child sticks to it so that you are involved for several years, your kid’s coach suggests that you help out and to help out you need to be certified, so you become a Level 1 Coach and start helping out with the team/classes. Along the way, you give archery a try and it is a lot of fun and you become a more or less committed archer yourself. As the years go on, you can find yourself in the position whereby the longtime coach retires from that position and asks someone to “step up” and take his position. Often many people look to you because you’ve been a helper for so very long and . . . sound familiar? I suspect that many of you recognize at least a part of this scenario.

It goes on. From the viewpoint of the youth coach, many times they find themselves two to three years past the point where their kids stopped participating and wonder “Why am I still doing this?”

We recommend that you look at this question from the beginning and re-examine it from time to time. It is one thing to do something to support a child’s hobby, but you could end up spending a great deal of precious family time, a great deal of money (on your own equipment, lessons, training programs, books, etc.) out of inertia, that is just by being involved.

We think you need get something out of this effort, being an archery coach, but we can’t tell you want that is. we suggest that you do a little exercise and write out your coaching philosophy. Steve Ruis, AFm Editor, has posted his several times so that will serve as an example.

My Coaching Philosophy
Steve Ruis
Last Updated Summer 2013

Because archery is not just an individual sport but is a sport with no opponent, almost all of the responsibility for a performance falls to the athlete. Consequently my goal is to create a situation in which the athlete becomes functionally self-sufficient. To do this, I:
•    describe my general approach (bring all parts of an archer’s shot up to parity and then rework the shot as many times as is desired to achieve the archer’s goals) but am open to other approaches an archer may desire.
•    endeavor to explain everything I am asking an athlete to do (but only up to the point they desire)
•    ask the athlete to make all final decisions regarding form changes, etc.
•    continually educate the athlete in techniques that can be used to self-educate him- or herself, e.g. process goals, journaling, learning how to analyze video (but only up to the point they desire).
•    break down complex tasks into doable parts as much as is possible, explaining to the athlete what is being done and why.
•    demonstrate a positive outlook, which is a requirement of successful coaching as much as successful archery.
•    educate the archer on his/her equipment with the goal of them taking full responsibility for their own equipment.
•    educate the archer on the requirements of competing successfully with the goal of them taking full responsibility for competition planning, preparation, and execution.
•    honor the athlete’s outcome goals and teach how one achieves outcomes through ladders of success and careful preparation and execution.
•    honor the fact that each student is a diverse individual and that I may not be the most, or even a very, substantial influence on their lives.
•    work as hard for my students as they do for themselves. If a student does not want to work toward their own goals, I will honor their decision but I will not continue to work with them.
•    will endeavor to point out how what they are learning from their bow and arrows carries over into other aspects of their lives.
•    will work with parents of underage athletes, necessarily, so that there is full communication between and among the archer’s support team.
•    work hard to improve my knowledge, skills, and attitudes as a coach.

Once you have written out your own coaching philosophy, basically “what you do” and “how you do” it as a coach, go back through and ask yourself “why?” for each point. For some things you may find it stems from “wanting to do a good job” and you may find that you do others “because you like to help people.” Archery provides a short feedback loop such that you can make a suggestion to an archer and they can get positive results in very short order. Compared to the other “projects” in your life, like “being a good parent” or “raising your children well” or “getting a promotion at work in the next three years,” this is blazing fast proof that your activities are effective and important to others. That feels good.

Whatever you discover as to “what I am getting out of this,” we think that to do a good job, you have to want to do a good job and the “whys” are important.

Do You Supervise Other Coaches?
Or do you help “run” the program you coach in? Or are you in any way invested in the success of the program? If so, there is another aspect of this and that is if your other coaches aren’t getting something out of their participation they will be gone shortly and you will have to replace them.

In the long run, we think coaches need to be paid. They don’t have to be paid as if it were like being in a great job but youth coaches are doing work very similar to what paid teachers and paid recreation leaders do. There is a lot of work associated with running a program and coaching a bunch of student-archers. Coaches also incur out-of-pocket expenses. Do your coaches have whistles? Where’d they get them? (We give our coaches a whistle as part of their graduation ceremony when we train them.) Coaches end up buying all kinds of things out-of-pocket (even their own whistles). Since the vast majority of them are volunteers, they are in effect paying for the privilege of donating their services.

If you want your coaches to stick around, there are any number of things you can do to encourage that. Obviously treating them with respect is a given, but after that appreciation goes a long way to encouraging volunteer coaches. This can be as simple as thanking them publically, either at a picnic/dinner/party or in an ad in the local paper thanking them by name. Plaques of appreciation are welcome as are other tokens (windbreakers, shirts with “Coach” embroidered upon them, whistles, books on coaching archery, (subscriptions to Archery Focus magazine, Ed.), etc. If your program doesn’t have much money, you can ask the parents to support a “coach gift” or as we did for a long time, we printed appreciation certificates designed on a computer. It is the thought that counts, not so much the money, but sometimes it is the money: to pay for a coach training program, to buy a bow for themselves, to allow for the coach to travel to an important event to be with the team. Parents will often donate all kinds of things if you ask for help. We have had parents donate round-trip airfare coupons they had to allow us to bring in a coach for a special team training session for one of our JOAD groups. Other parents offered to house and feed the guest coach and drive him around, others offered to pick him up and drop him off at the airport, and we collected enough cash to pay his fee for the session. We didn’t ask for anything specific, we just pointed to the opportunity and the parents did the rest.

You need to think about the “care and feeding of volunteer coaches” and how you can enhance the experience of your coaches. They will be happier, stay with you longer, and speak more positively about the program than they will if they are just taken for granted.

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