Must See/Hear TV … for Archery Coaches?

As many of you know I have been working on a project for quite a few years now to create a sourcebook for the mental side of archery, for coaches and archers to consult. Lately the task is starting to feel like the task Sisyphus was condemned to or at least like Hercules being tasked to clean up King Augeas’ stables. The problem is as soon as I start to feel as if I have a hand on a topic, additional information pops up that I need to wade into.

I have felt, just as an intuition mind you, that the mind-body problem is a dead end, that the mind does not exist separate from the body and the body can’t exist without the mind (plus they are intimately knitted together.. There is a fascinating new TV series that explores what we are learning about our brains and minds which is reinforcing this idea. The six-part series is The Brain with David Eagleman on PBS stations and it is available as videos on demand. David Eagleman is a British neuroscientist.

The episodes I have seen are very watchable and should be of interest to any coach desiring to know what is behind the functioning of our brains. The first episode I saw was “Who Is In Control?” which addresses the various minds (conscious, unconscious, etc.) and it probably isn’t a spoiler to share that our conscious minds spend more effort creating an illusion of control than in actual control.

As another teaser, did you know that purehy rational decision making doesn’t really exist. Our emotions are necessary to make decisions. (They show a patient who has a disconnect there and can only make decisions using her rational powers and trying to pick a can of soup brings her to her knees as she is overwhelmed and frozen by information (not by the information per se but putting a value on it—“Is ‘low calorie’ more important than ‘low salt’ when buying canned soup?” is a rational decision few of us are equipped to make).

As with most BBC productions, it has aired in England and Australia already, so y’all are ahead of us here in the USA.

Bottom Line The Brain with David Eagleman is highly recommended to coaches interested in the inner workings of athlete’s minds/brains.


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Good Then, Good Now

We as coaches don’t have a great many “rules of thumb” available. Here’s a good one.

The basic old rule in Howard Hill’s day was that the last number in your draw length should equal the last number in your bow length.

Please remember they were talking about longbows (that’s all there were in the 30’s and 40’s) … not compound bows, not crossbows … and they were talking about adults.


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Keeping Score When You Don’t Want to Know Your Score

In response to watching the Lanny Bassham video I touted yesterday (, one of you wrote to ask: “If I have to be a guy marking the scorecard and keeping a running total how do I not focus on my score and ignore it? I don’t want to know my score until I am done shooting!

I am a bit stumped here (although, of course, I have some recommendations) so do you have any suggestions?



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And It’s Free!

If you haven’t yet noticed, Mental Management Systems (the Basshams), have established a YouTube Channel:

I recommend it to you. Lanny Bassham just posted a short video on “trying too hard” that is very much worth viewing.



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Why So Much on Recurve Archery?

A number of people have noticed that most of my posts are with regard to recurve archery. From this they conclude that I am a “Recurve Guy.”

Wrong. I get my inspiration for blog posts from my students and the vast majority of my students are Recurve archers, both Olympic Recurve and Barebow.

I am a “Compound Guy.” I shot compound bows for six years before I even found out there were such beasts as archery coaches. (Now, I are one!) The coaching tradition in compound archery is much less strong than in recurve archery. (I wish I knew why.) And the coaching tradition in traditional archery makes the compound coaching tradition look strong. (Although there a number of people trying to counter this: Byron Ferguson, Rod Jenkins, Ty Pelfrey amongst others.)

I have competed most in compound styles, a distant second in traditional styles, and almost not at all in recurve styles.

It is because of the demand for coaching by Recurve archers that I spend the most time studying, thinking, and writing about recurve archery.

If you have questions about compound and/or traditional archery, please send them in. Otherwise you will have to do with the output generated by my Recurve Muses.

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Drawing Lessons

One of my Recurve students was struggling a bit with the NTS draw, specifically the ending of it. In that draw, the string is drawn until it contacts the “corner” of the chin, with the string fingers an inch or so under the jaw, then the string hand is raised into position under the jaw (+ detail, detail, detail, etc.).

If that gap is a bit large as many people concluded it should be from Kisik Lee’s first book, especially the pictures, there is a problem. The unstated aspect of this issue is if the archer’s chin is “down,” his chin blocks the draw by interfering with the string fingers on their way back. Recurve archers who shoot from a “high anchor” (corner of the mouth) have no such problem; there is nothing in the way of the string finger’s landing zone. But Recurve archers using a “low anchor” need to be taught to position their chins higher than archers who use a side anchor. Our jaw lines generally slope from the rear downward toward the front, so to get the hand under the jaw, you have to kind of “go around” the point of the chin.

If, though, in the NTS approach the draw was a bit too low, it encourages moving the head farther than if it were closer at the end of the draw. Your head moving down (the part where your nose touches the string) and your hand moving up have to negotiate a meeting place in the middle, which is a significant source of variation because very small changes in the position of the rear end of the arrow result in large differences in hit points. By raising your head the bare minimum, then drawing to a very short distance below your jaw, you can minimize this source of variation.

In the old days it was “set your head” and “draw to anchor.” Kisik Lee designed his approach in reaction to this instruction, which has the drawback of the archer’s chin possibly blocking the path of the draw fingers into position.

Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. The basic task is to get a good head position while getting into good full draw position (including an anchor point with a large amount of contact with the jaw to enhance the “feel” of being in the right place). Both of the described approaches are imperfect, so I suggested my student give the first one a try (the old school approach). In this I am definitely becoming “new school”! I think that if we tinker a bit our autonomic and subconscious processes will adapt whatever approach is chosen into one that works … if we know what works. Obviously bumping your chin while trying to anchor is not acceptable, but both of the above approaches will work if archers allow them to be tweaked by the wisdom inherent in their bodies.

The bow and arrow will teach us everything we need to know … if we can learn to listen and to hear them and if we do not assume we know what is right and wrong. Too often entrenched ideas of what is correct and incorrect dominate the teaching and learning of archery. Instructional books have diagrams showing “Correct” and “Incorrect” forms, for example. This then uses our worst tool (our conscious minds) to dictate the workings of our bodies. We try to force our bodies to comply to the conscious dictates of some form master. I am coming to realize that if we share with archers what they are trying to accomplish and then have them train their subconscious functions along those lines we will end up at a very good place faster and with less effort.



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Ridicule Needed, Liberally Applied

I see a lot of archery-themed photos. The ones I deplore the most are the William Tell re-enactment photos. People seem to think these are cute but don’t seem to know that Tell’s shot was coerced by a tyrant. They also put ugly ideas in the hands of, well, some people who are tempted to act them out.

Just as one instance of these representations, consider the following book cover.

Sister Light, Sister dark Book Cover

Sister Light, Sister Dark Book Cover

The model apparently had never drawn a bow before or, if she had, she had pinched the nock and string of a toy bow like all children do.
• Note that the arrow is too short to be drawn into proper position.
• There is no signal to stop drawing the bow other than the razor sharp broadhead slicing into the archer’s hand.
• And what kind of arrow rest is she using? If one were being generous, and I am not, she might be using a thumb release, which the picture surely disallows, but if she were, then the arrow would be on the correct side of the bow at least. The arrow should then rest on the top of her upper finger curled around the bow, but the arrow clearly sits lower than that. Is she pinching that, too?

What is clearly needed in these ridiculous photos is ridicule to be applied, and lots of it. If you have a chance to review such photos please be discriminating and pile on some steaming ridicule on these people who don’t even bother to Google what an archer is supposed to look like before setting about their business.

And dump some more on any of the stupid William Tell-type photos, while you are at it. They put dangerous ideas in the minds of people who desperately need other things to think about.

PS I apologize for the rant, I just need to get some things off of my chest from time to time.


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Does Anybody Know . . . ?

Dear Coaches,

I announced the formation of the Archery Coaches Guild ( on this Blog and many of you ran over and signed up (it’s free!). Thank you. But so far, no one is posting (other than me and members of the team).

Does anyone know why?

Our feeling was that coaches had a lot to say to one another and from those conversations and questions we could figure out what you all wanted and provide those resources at low or no cost. But, so far, all we hear is … cricket, cricket, cricket.



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Over and Over and Over . . .

I am working remotely with three students now and one of them commented “By the way, your tip of rotating my left foot more to the right was a gem. I think it is helping with the problem of opening my hips.” What he is talking about is closing his stance. And this is almost always something I ask of Recurve archers … out of necessity.

Having an open stance has become dogma, that is no one questions it. It is taught, recommended, etc. as “standard form.” The unfortunate thing is this: in order to get into acceptable Recurve full draw position, one’s shoulders must point at the bow, this is a position that is 12°-13° closed to the target lane. Having a 20°-30° open stance places the feet 30°-40° away from the orientation of the shoulders. What this causes in most recurve archers showed up in a video of another of my remotely coached students. His feet were open, knees were open, hips were slightly less open, shoulders were even less open but they weren’t even close to being pointed at the bow. The problem with open shoulders is that you are unbraced and unstable at full draw.

The Cure As a fix for this tendency, I ask almost all of my Recurve students to close their stance up. If they were to adopt a foot position in which their toe line was 12°-13° closed, then their shoulders, hips, knees, and feet would be aligned vertically and in a very strong position (vertically). Because of the rule of coaching which says “If you want an inch, ask for a mile.” I ask them to close up their stance 20°-30°. A general tendency in any such changes is to drift back toward where you started (through end after end of shooting), so you want to start them past where you want them to end up.

What happens when Recurve archers close their stances is twofold: for one they get into much better full draw alignment (better “line” in archery jargon) and, two, their draw length goes up (so clickers need to be reset). Both of these things are “good” things. I tell my students that once they get used to shooting from good upper body alignment (called the Archer’s Triangle or Wedge) then they can explore other stances should they want to.

Open Stances There are benefits to open stances, the primary one being that the archer’s lower body becomes a more stable platform supporting the job the upper body is trying to do. But this requires a twist, a substantial twist, to occur in the archer’s torso. If this isn’t achieved the loss of good line is catastrophic to the chances of learning to shoot consistently well. So, I leave open stances for advanced archers, but only if they can achieve good (or great!) line with one.

A Fine Point I hear all the time from archers talking about their stance as something to do with their feet (“rotate my left foot,” etc.). It is not, it is a reorientation of their entire body. I wish I had a large Lazy Susan (rotating platform) that I could have students stand and shoot on. Set them up with a nice “square” or even stance (toe line pointing at target center) and then be able to rotate their entire body to new angles. The feet should always stay at the “normal” and comfortable angle to the leg that you are accustomed to. The problem with rotating the feet is if there is any rotation above them (and there often is) one leg ends up being “tightened” (more twisted) while the other is loosened” (less twisted). (Stand up and play with is concept, concentrate on how your legs feel as you rotate your upper body with your feet in various orientations. Notice how these things affect your balance (good balance is a requirement for successful archery). You can learn a lot about your own body and your student’s doing this.

So, the recommendation to the original student was to pick up both feet and point them in a different direction, it was not “rotate your left foot.” But in doing so, the student did rotate his feet, so I had to give him directions to get his feet back to their normal orientation … and that is how miscommunications occur. If you adopt the attitude that what your students hear and understand is your responsibility, not just what you say, you are on the right path.

In Passing While watching a student shoot from an even stance, lay an arrow or alignment rod across their toes. It should be pointing to target center. Then observe where the archer’s arrows are at full draw. You should see that the arrow and the alignment rod are in the same plane (with the target center, too). The arrow being in the same plane as the target center is a basic condition for accuracy. (The arrow moves up and down due to the angle of the arrow and gravity, but there are no sideways forces that will throw it off line.)

Most people say the square or even stance is taught first because it is “easy to teach” or “easy to remember.” Rather it is taught first as a basic component of aiming. Any archer in a square stance, using even modest form and execution will have no windage (or left-right) issues. This starts from the ground.

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Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On!

I got the following question on the blog from Ginger:

My son shoots compound in JOAD target competitions. The last few months his hands have started shaking after he starts shooting, usually around the third or fourth round. I noticed at a few competitions other archers, close to his age, 17 yrs, hands were shaking. At one competition an archer’s hands were shaking really bad, nothing compared to my son’s hands. Seeing the other archers hands got me to thinking, is this common for hands to shake sometimes after a archer starts shooting? I am planning to take him to the doctor to make sure their is nothing else going on. If this is common, what can we do to help him stop the shaking, maybe more snacks, or a soda?”

* * *

It is really hard to say anything without seeing what is going on, so I will have to give you a somewhat generic answer.

First, I want to say that some people shake naturally. I remember going to NFAA Nationals (Outdoors) once and saw that my partner’s main competition was shaking like a leaf during warm ups, and I though my partner would win easily. Not only did the “shaker” win that silver bowl but won a number of sectional tournaments as well.

Some people have a medical condition that causes this (involuntary tremors) and some people seem to shake naturally (meaning no pathology indicated). Low blood sugar can result in shaking, so a good breakfast before a competition is recommended. (There are people who are still stuck in a low-fat rut who recommend cereal or pancakes, but such choices result in running out of energy faster than a bacon and egg type breakfast.) If he has been skipping breakfast (due to nervousness, excitement, whatever) or has been substituting a “pop-tart” for his regular breakfast, you have probably found the source. (I have never been particularly steady, so I have looked into this quite a bit for my own shooting.)

If your son is otherwise steady-handed, there may be a number of causes of the shaking. Muscles shake from fatigue and while one’s bowhand is supposed to be completely relaxed (or close to completely relaxed) when shooting, some have adopted an iron grip instead (lovingly called a “death grip” by archers). If your son is squeezing his bow hard, this can result in a great deal of fatigue quite rapidly.

It is unlikely that mere sodas would cause such shaking even though they contain considerable caffeine. While some coaches suggest a soda can provide a “sugar lift” I do not recommend them as they are followed fairly quickly with a sugar crash. (I drink rehydration drinks, aka Gatorade, diluted 50:50 with water at competitions.) Sodas like Mountain Dew or “energy drinks” like “Red Bull” are a whole other thing. If you son is sensitive to caffeine, this might be a source. Most archers avoid caffeinated beverages on shoot days as a key element in archery is the ability to be still under the tension of the draw. I would talk to him about his beverages of choice and be aware that many of the beverages are marketed as if they provided an edge to sports competitors.

The most common source of shaking, I think, is being overbowed. You don’t mention whether your son shoots recurve or compound, but both kinds of archers can be pushed (or pull themselves) to shooting higher draw weights than they can handle. This can be significantly compounded if he shoots a compound bow (no pun intended). Compound bows are quite heavy and the upper arm muscles (the deltoids) used to hold the bow arm and bow up mature late. So, if the bow is too heavy and the draw weight too high, shaking would be normal under those handicaps. Compound archers need to be able to raise their bows up into shooting position (not past) and draw them, release the string, and hold the bow up through the followthrough without grimacing or grunting or gyrating their bodies to be able to pull that off. If they can’t, the bow or draw weight is too heavy (or both).

Let me know if this helped!

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