Quick Query

Fellow Coaches/Lurkers/Et. Al.,

I am working with an author on a wishlist for archery coaches. To help I would like to know what you would like to have available to support you as a coach … custom whistles, wind gauges, a mentor, books on coaching, videos to explain XYZ, what?




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Can You Control Your Thoughts?

Quite some time ago I was participating in an archery camp at the Olympic Training Center in California. One of the activities was a simulated USAA/WA tournament which I was very happy to participate in as I came up through field archery and, at that point in time, had not participated in a formal USAA event.

The coaches handicapped the whole affair as we had quite a wide variety of archers. The targets were sized and placed at distances appropriate to our style and demonstrated skill. I was the only Compound Unlimited archer so my target was farthest away.

After the mock tournament, we had shoot-offs. I was tied with another participant who was some ways down the line from me, but we were told we were going to have a one arrow shoot-off, closest to the center wins. I was to shoot second, so I prepared to take my shot thinking “I don’t want to know what he shot, I just want to shoot a good shot,” just execute my process, as it were.

The coach running the exercise spotted the shot my competitor made, walked up to me and, I swear, with something of a smile on his face he said “He shot a 6!” quite loudly. Instantly the thought entered my head “I only need a 7 or better to win,” along with an image of a target face with the gold and red rings painted “acceptable” (don’t ask me how that is done). Argh!

Shouldn’t a somewhat expert archer be able to control his thoughts better than that?

Uh, no … but I am glad you asked.

We do not “create” our thoughts through a conscious effort. There is some subconscious process involved but I do not think even that is voluntary. Our thoughts are generated outside of our control. In computer lingo, they are “pre-fetched data.” I can’t prove what I can say, but this is what I have learned so far:

One of our greatest mental powers is of imagination. By using it we can consider the past or the future. Animals which have no imagination live in the present moment, reacting to stimuli but not anticipating them. Our imaginations allow us to consider scenarios; for example “Was that movement in the tall grass due to a zephyr of wind or is there a predator creeping up on me?” We can imagine both. Since wind zephyrs are not particularly harmful, the safest choice is to assume it is a predator and move away from it. This is a survival function that other animals, or at least most other animals, don’t have.

In order for this to work, though, all of those scenarios need to be “in mind.” This is where our thoughts come from and why. They are necessary and you must, and your student-archers must, learn to deal with them.

Dealing with Unbidden Thoughts
So, there I was on the shooting line, thinking thoughts I did not want. They were thoughts of the future and an archer needs to operate in the now, like the good animals we can be … from time to time. Then, I took a deep breath and tried to “shoo” those thoughts away, but now I know there is a better way.

An archery shot can be broken down into parts. One such set of parts is “pre-shot, shot, and post-shot.” Each of these has a routine. We are in a skill-based, repetition sport, so routine/habit is our friend. To execute a good shot we need to launch our routines, the latter two follow on the heels of the first, but how does the first get going? These routines exist in long-term memory, so we have almost no control over them other than to run them. It helps to have a “trigger” for such routines. Golfers are notorious for these: before they take a shot or a putt, they will twirl their club, or pull on their ear, or tuck their shirt into their armpit. All of these inconsequential actions are routine initiators. They are like a switch that says “go.” For my shots, now, I drop my hand onto my quiver and gently rattle the arrows on the top tube … and he’s off! Since all of my practice shots are made in the “now,” that’s where I am when my routine is running. This is why if I note I am not in the now, I will break off that shot and start over. I never give myself the license to shoot any other way. It is not an option.

This is why you must be consciously present while you are shooting, even though there is little to do consciously. You are “there” consciously to watch for mistakes being made, without thinking about making mistakes; you are just watching. As mentioned, if you observe a mistake being made, by you, a thought will come into your had, unbidden, to feed your survival tool, your imagination, and when this happens, you really need to let down. This you an learn to do. So can your students.





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You Get What You Pay For

I get a “newsletter” from ArcheryTalk.com and occasionally drop in there to see if anything of value is being discussed and occasionally there is. Unfortunately there is an ocean of other “stuff” one needs to sift through to find it.

The topic that drew my eye was entitled “Critique me” which consisted of a still photo of the archer at full draw shot from up the line, accompanied by this text: Just got a new <name of bow> and I was wondering what you guys thought of my form with the new setup. I’m always looking to improve and I appreciate any suggestions! I’m 6´3˝ and shooting a 29.5 inch draw length currently.

That was it.

I wonder what the gentleman in question hoped for in the way of feedback. The audience in question is united by at least one thing: they all have opinions. The problem is how would one evaluate the opinions. As you might expect I don’t think “crowd sourcing” of archer feedback is a good idea. Plus, one photo … really?

I read a few of the comments and a number of commenters said that his “draw length” looked right. Hello? If you wanted to evaluate his draw length you need a shot from above (ceiling downward) or from what I call “away,” that is on the far side of the archer. I also am 6´3˝ and shooting a similar bow in a similar fashion, my draw length is just under 32˝ so I have to be at least a bit suspicious that his draw length is a tad short. (One also doesn’t know if it was measured correctly.)

I hope that any coach asked for input in this situation would respond with “Sorry, no can do.”

For one, it takes a lot of training to be able to develop the skill of analyzing someone’s shot and that means you should probably get paid for the task. (Alright, I tend to try to help people who write in with their problems, simply because there is so little help available and I don’t charge for that service. But I don’t respond to cattle calls, like the one above.) A second problem is the archer hasn’t supplied anywhere near enough information.

I had an archer who wrote me and ask why his arrows hit to the left of the target. Well, there is a long list of reasons for this, the primary one being that is where he was aiming, but a common source of lefts or rights for “fingers” archers is having the wrong arrow spine. The problem is if the archers is right-handed, his/her arrows will fly to the left if too stiff for the bow and the right if too weak. But if the archer is left-handed, then the reverse is seen (arrows hit right if they are too stiff, etc.).

So, the information that is needed to ask any question is somewhat large.

I saw another AT question that asked: if you were just considering axle-to-axle length of a compound bow, what would you buy? Again, the question lacks enough information to provide an answer. You need to know what the bow is being used for to answer this question. Bowhunters favor shorter bows as they tend to shoot from cramped positions or have to walk through brush and can’t afford to snag their gear along the way. Target archers prefer longer bows as they are easier to hold still (the largest stabilizing force in a compound bow is the mass of the riser and how far it is distributed out from where the grip is (same principle as what makes a long rod work, just a lot more mass involved). And they have plenty of space to wield such bows.

So, please do send in your questions … and if you want a good answer, consider all of the information that might be needed to answer them, then include some of that. And, I strongly recommend you not ask “the universe” to answer your question. You will get too many answers that you cannot evaluate the quality of.



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More Barebow Questions

There seems to be a resurgence of Barebow archers lately and that makes me happy. That doesn’t mean Barebow is simple or easy. Here are some questions!

* * *

Coach Ruis:
I have a couple of questions. My first question involves blank bale practice. Winter is here, so I am shooting blank bale in the garage several nights a week, and going to the indoor range once a week. I am a string-

Barebow Recurve archers (right) get a bow and an arrow, none of the sights, stabilizers, clickers and other gewgaws that Olympic Recurve archers (left) get.

walking Barebow archer shooting an intermediate ILF bow with a plunger and wire arm arrow rest.
     While blank baling, I work on activating lower and middle traps when expanding as I focus on the draw arm LAN2. After a few days of blank bale, and I go to the range, I notice I have picked up a couple of ticks. First, I find I drop my draw elbow while expanding, and shoot high by a few inches. I have to concentrate on keeping my elbow at it’s draw height when I expand to correct this error. (I am actually not sure if this isn’t something going on with something else, like my bow arm/shoulder.) Second, my head position and/or draw hand at anchor seems unstable. It takes me a few ends to stabilize my anchor, and get my horizontal precision back. What is going on here, and how should I change my blank bale practice to be a force for good?

My second question involves shooting my secondary bow. I have an inexpensive three piece recurve I use for occasional stump shooting. I recently went on a trip for a couple of weeks, and brought the three piece along. I ended up shooting it a bunch of times over two weeks. Even when string walking I have to aim low and right to get the arrow to hit the mark. Once back at home and shooting my ILF bow, it took me a couple of weeks to regain both precision and accuracy. Obviously, I picked up some bad habits using this bow. I am guessing switching bows is a bad idea? I started out thinking that using different bows would increase my adaptability to different archery conditions, but now I am not so sure.

And here are my answers.

* * *

The difference with regard to your secondary bow is arrow spine. Unless you have a separate set of arrows matched to that bow, the odds of being able to use the same arrows with two bows is vanishingly small. You can mitigate the difference between the two aiming points by mentally telling yourself you are practicing “aiming off.” In the absence of wind, all points of aim (POA) of a well-tuned bow should be on a vertical line going through the center of your target face. (I call this the 12 o’cock-6 o’clock line.) If the wind is blowing, you may have to “aim off” of this line to allow the wind to blow your arrows into the center. I have people shooting sights deliberately mis-set their sights and find out how to still hit center as practice for this event. Mentally, then, you will not automatically blend in this shooting with your other bow’s shooting.

If your POAs aren’t on the 12 o’clock-6 o’clock line, your bow is not well-tuned.

Equipment-wise, if while string walking, your arrows hit to the left or right of your POA, and you can’t tune those out with your plunger, your arrows are either too stiff or too weak. Since you are aiming to the right (I assume you are right-handed) that means your arrows are flying left, which means they are too stiff for that bow. This may simply be a manifestation of your secondary bow having a lighter draw weight than your primary bow. (Can’t tell from here, of course.)

Regarding your first point. I have a problem with the National Training System of USA Archery (NTS) and you are demonstrating it clearly. (I assume you are learned in NTS as you are using their phraseology.) In this case, it is based upon the fact that we do not chose to use muscles consciously, but the NTS documents, which seem to be written for coaches but are foisted onto archers, offer way too much detail, including which muscles to use. Archers need to be put into proper positions and encouraged to use proper movements (what we call form and execution), which then limit the muscles that can be used … automatically. For example. If you draw the bow with your elbow at roughly nose height, it blocks out the biceps of your draw arm from being used. (Hold your hands and arms up in “pre-draw” position and then flex your draw arm biceps—careful, you may whack yourself in the face!) Subconsciously you know the biceps cannot help to draw the bow when in this position, so the biceps are not called upon. If you draw with your elbow quite a bit lower, it requires you to use your biceps. So, does an archer need to know about the biceps (the muscle that bends your arms inward)? I say no. They need to know that a better way to draw the bow is with their draw elbow “high” (meaning roughly at the level of your nose).

I believe your attention to things like the “middle traps” is really inhibiting what you want to do. If you put your body into the proper positions (form or posture) and then proceed freely (execution), you will automatically use the right muscles.

It is important to know these postures for this reason. At full draw we want a relatively straight line to run up the bow arm and across the shoulders (see the shoulder line in illustration below). Why? Bracing. A recurve bow exposes the archer to its full force at full draw (unlike a compound bow). To provide enough time under these conditions, we prefer to have our bone structure aligned to take that compressive force (you expand the bow, the bow compresses you). The bones can accept this force easily by opposing the force with compression resisting forces, but in the absence of the proper alignment of the bones to do that, we need to use muscle to supplement that. And muscles get tired and so over time their performance varies. Why do we need time at full draw? We need 0.5-1.5 sec (my estimate) of time to determine that we are being still. If you watch your arrow point carefully, it starts out being somewhat jittery when first at anchor, but then becomes more still (never perfectly so) after that time period. If you just wait, it will become more and more jittery again, as the muscles you are using to maintain your bone alignment fatigue. Why do we need to be still? If we are not still and are “shooting on the fly,” we will have variation not only in space (aiming is not perfect spatially) but also variation in time (we need to time the shot so it is properly aligned when we release). Stillness is better than not being still and we do not want to take this for granted.

If you observe this “settling” into your full draw position through the lessening of the motion of your arrow point, you can use this as a signal to release the string. Once you have become still and are on your POA, there is no benefit in waiting any longer. In effect, you have the equivalent of a built in “clicker” telling you it is time to loose.

We also want to have a relatively straight line from the centers of pressure on your bow hand and string fingers and on through to the point of your draw elbow (see the primary force line in the illustration above). Why? Biomechanically the COP of your bow hand is where you are pushing the bow handle and the COP on your string fingers is where you are pulling on the string. By aligning the draw forearm on that axis, you automatically throw the force of maintaining that posture on your upper back muscles (when archers say “back muscles” they mean the upper back, not the lower back, so the “mid-back” to an archer is the mid-upper back to others). The key is keeping kinks out of those two straight lines. This is what having “good alignment” or “good line” is all about. Any deviation from straightness of those two lines, requires muscles to be added to the equation, muscles to resist the draw force instead of just to maintain posture.

Whenever muscle is recruited to replace the role of bone under compression, we automatically make our shot more athletic. On good days, you can pull this off. On not so good days, your performance suffers. If you have large swings in your performances, it may be your shot is too athletic. A shot based upon bone is more consistent than one based upon bone and muscle (to resist the force of the bow). Muscle is always needed to maintain posture/body position, so we are not talking about that in this case.

I know I am going on and on, but the trap I hope you can avoid is in getting too focused on this muscle or that whatever. (I still have not seen a reference to LAN2 in any other source and do not understand how a reference to that point is superior to just using the point of the draw elbow. They are just a few inches apart and move together.)

Oh, with regard to you dropping your draw elbow. Your focus on your mid-back is allowing that (not causing it per se, but at least allowing it). Many successful archers use a focus on their draw elbow to get them through the shot. (Which you just discovered … it is not a bug; it is a feature!) The draw elbow is to move around (toward your back) and slightly down through the latter stages of the shot. This you can feel. Keeping both elbows “up” is a good focal point for successful recurve archery. If you are too focused on your back you may feel your elbow moving but it may be moving down rather than around. When the elbow moves down, it relieves the stress of the draw, something our bodies automatically do (relieve physical stress, avoid pain, etc.). You can draw farther, with less tension, dropping your draw elbow than not. But the build up of muscle tension in our back muscles (we call it back tension) is something we use as a sign that we are in the proper position. Allowing this tension to be bled off by lowering the draw elbow, removes this ability to determine if things “feel right” for loosing.

I hope this helps. Since diagnosing such things based upon written descriptions is kind of “iffy” do let me know if this works for you or not.


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Margin of Error

Consider a “normal” arrow shot at an 122 cm archery target set 70 meters away. What is the margin of error in aiming to hit the ten-ring?

The 10-ring is 12.2 centimeters wide. A “normal” arrow we will define to be 71 cm long (28˝) and viewed from the shooting line it protrudes from roughly the shooting line 71 cm in the direction of the target. Wherever the rear of the arrow is held, there is a circle at the tip of the arrow, which if the arrow tip is there when the arrow is launched, the result will be a hit in the 10-ring. So, how big is this circle?

This is a simple calculation. the 71 cm (0.71 m) distance the arrow point is from the shooting line will have a diameter of 0.71 m / 70 m times the 12.3 cm diameter of the 10-ring at its tip. This circle turns out, when the calculation is done, to be 0.00122 m or 1.22 mm (0.05˝) at the point of the arrow. If the archer is holding in the exact center of that circle, he/she has just half that distance to the edge, or 0.61 mm (0.024˝ … that’s 24 thousandths of an inch), to an aim point that will be in the 9-ring.

This is an incredibly tiny margin of error and shows the accuracy of Olympic and World Champions to be truly outstanding.

Outside Ring Diameters on FITA Targets


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More on Training Differences Between Males and Females

This article is by a weight lifting coach (aka strength and conditioning coach), an activity which is comparable to archery because we do reps of applying forces to moving objects, too. It is also important because our performances vary from day to day and there are differences between males and females regarding this level of consistency. Give it a read, if you are so inclined, and tell me what you think.



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Are You Steady?

This is a BowJunky video that shows the apertures of top compound archers while shooting during competition. Whether you coach compound or recurve primarily, this is well worth watching.


Even top flight compound people show aperture movement while aiming. Do realize that compound bows are easier to hold steady than recurve bows due to their greater mass. [ More mass means more inertia, which equates to harder to move.” The simplest example is how much harder it is to move a boulder than a pebble. They are both made of rock and their size is not an issue … their mass is the issue.] Conclusion: recurve apertures move, too … probably more so than compound apertures.

You are steady when the movement is minimal, not when it stops. What “minimal” is must be learned … and improved upon if possible.

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Stone Structures in Saudi Arabia Puzzle Scientists … But Not Archers

Through imagery provided by global satellites (in this case Google Earth) mysterious stone structures have been identified in a Saudi Arabia desert (see aerial photo). The purposes of these structures has been speculated upon but no definitive explanation has been produced. They may be as much as 9000 years old.

Clearly, the “old men” of the area were archers who shot off of the point. This “magic” allowed them to bring down much game, allowing them to survive and imbuing the magic with reverence. Of course, the silly scientists didn’t bother to ask a nearby archer if they recognized the images so made.


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Treating Tendonitis

I follow a blog called “Exercises for Injuries” by injury treatment guru Rick Kaselj of Canada. You’ll have to find his blog yourself as I couldn’t find a handy link to it. (I bought one of his shoulder injury products and that’s how I got on his list.) I tend to trust this source because he supplies sources for the studies he mentions and the ones I have checked have checked out. Also, be warned that his web-based ads are of the ilk of those irritating ads that go on and on and on and just when you think it is done, you get “But wait, there’s more.” I assume this kind of marketing works because so many people use it; I just find it tedious in the extreme.

Here is an excerpt form a recent blog post that has very interesting information regarding tendonitis which I believe applies to archers. I suffered from “Tennis Elbow” and a shoulder “inflammation” problem, both of which may not have involved an inflammation at all, which would explain why the treatments didn’t work (including cortisone injection).

* * *

Here they are three surprising things you need to know about Tennis Elbow:

#1 Inflammation
Many doctors and physical therapists still recommend icing and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for Tennis Elbow, in spite of the fact that the medical community has agreed that Tennis Elbow is not caused by inflammation.

This quote comes from a paper in the British Medical Journal: “Tendonitis such as that of the Achilles, lateral elbow [Tennis Elbow], and rotator cuff tendons is a common presentation to family practitioners and various medical specialists. Most currently practicing general practitioners were taught, and many still believe, that patients who present with overuse tendonitis have a largely inflammatory condition and will benefit from anti-inflammatory medication. Unfortunately, this dogma is deeply entrenched. Ten of 11 readily available sports medicine texts specifically recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for treating painful conditions like Achilles and patellar tendonitis despite the lack of a biological rationale or clinical evidence for this approach.”

There was also a study conducted in 2006. It was a controlled clinical pilot trial to determine whether icing decreases pain and helps to heal Tennis Elbow. The study had two groups of people with Tennis Elbow. The control group did exercises only. The test group did the same exercises and iced. Both groups showed the same amount of improvement, showing that icing provided no real benefit for Tennis Elbow.

#2 Shoulders
Many people (and health professionals) don’t realize it, but weak shoulder and scapular muscles can be a significant contributing factor to Tennis Elbow, because the elbows and wrists must be recruited to handle the more taxing, repetitive movements the shoulder and scapular muscles should be handling, but aren’t able to.

When we strengthen our shoulder and scapular muscles, it takes a lot of the load off of the elbows and wrists, thereby decreasing the strain and stress on them, which is what causes Tennis Elbow.

#3 Eccentric Contraction Exercises
There was a study done in 2005 that found that long-term, 71% of people using eccentric had completely recovered from Tennis Elbow as compared to only 39% that didn’t do eccentric and did only stretching (Martinez-Silvestrini 2005).

An eccentric contraction is when a muscle is lengthening while it is moving with resistance. Eccentric contractions produce collagen to help strengthen the muscles and tendons near your elbow, and this is what helps to heal your Tennis Elbow and prevent it from occurring again in the future.


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