Our Suggestion Culture

In archery, beginners attract a fair amount of attention from well-meaning experienced archers. This is part of the target archery culture and is, by-and-large, a good thing, but . . . it isn’t a way forward. Well-meaning experienced archers want to share things that worked for them in the hopes that it will improve the newbie’s game, which is even more fun, and the newbie will stick with the sport. Tada!

Except it doesn’t work.

Sure, ask any archer and they will have a story of when “so-and-so suggested that I do such-and-such and it really improved my game.” If it involved a famous archer, the better the story. Except what they can’t remember is all of the cases when such tips were a complete waste of time and energy, of which there were a great many more.

Well, I am “Mr. So Why Is That So?” . . . so, why is that?

In most cases, the tip giver hasn’t watched you shoot for very long and doesn’t know what you are working on or what you have worked on, so if one does watch you shoot, and does ask “what are you working on,” and then asks “Do you mind if I make a suggestion?,” I’d say “Yes!” Because that might be the only time in your entire life where that happens. And the suggestion may actually be helpful . . . but think it though first, don’t just try it. Talk it over with a shooting partner or, better, with your coach.

More often than not, while you are practicing somebody will just start blathering away without even saying hello. I saw one guy lecture a pre-teen newbie compound archer about back tension . . . really! . . . as if that were going to help the youngster.

Most advice givers are untrained regarding giving advice and their advice is completely out of context. They don’t know what you are working on and possibly don’t care. It is an axiom that, when you focus on one aspect of your shot, one shot element as it were, the rest of your shot goes south a bit. Often our advice givers are commenting on these shaky bits in your shot which are only shaky because you are devoting too much attention to the thing you are working on (a necessary condition to get better).

So, if you are approached by one of these advice givers, what should you do? Well, if it is not something you are working on at the moment, listen intently to see if you understand the advice. Ask for clarification if you need it. Thank them for their advice. A good thing to do is whip out your notebook and write the tip down. If you want to flatter the person giving the tip, ask their name and record that, too. Then go back to what you were working on.

Because adults believe that children should attend to what they say, there is this assumption that if an “elder” archer gives a young newbie some advice that they should try to implement that advice right away. So we teach our young archers to say, in these circumstances, “Gee, thanks, I will tell my coach the next time I see him/her.” This is a magical incantation that tells everyone that there is an older, wiser adult already teaching this youth and so it is okay for them to not immediately implement those suggestions.

This phrase works for adult newbies, too.

Talk to your serious students about this syndrome, otherwise you could be in a situation on making two steps forward in lessons and making one step backward when they practice between sessions, or worse, two steps forward and three steps backward.

If you have never asked a student where they got a new shot bit and have them tell you that it was “a tip I got at the range” . . . you will, you will. This is a major source of exasperation for coaches and confusion for archers as they are often told contradictory things.

Addendum Helpful things advice givers could do instead of giving shooting advice: encourage newbies to listen to their coach, encourage them to work hard, suggest that you might shoot a practice round with them, explain that there is a lot to learn, and that that it will take some time, but if they stick with it, they too can become an expert archer. And wait for questions to be asked before advice is given.

Second Addendum Since archery is a social sport, gossip plays a serious role. Gossip is not a negative thing you should never do. This is how parents discover, for example, who the boys are they don’t want their daughters hanging around with. Gossip is the transmitting of social information. What you and your students want to avoid is negative gossip. For example, youths who do not immediately take the advice of their elders can be described as being “stuck up” or “full of themselves.” This is why that magic phrase is so effective. It blocks off any negative gossip.

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Shameless Plug for Mental Management Systems

The link below contains an announcement of a webinar series called “Mental Management for Archery.” MMS is a family-owned business which serves many sports but archery is one of their specific targets. (We labor under the pretense that we helped them come to that decision.)

You can sign up for their newsletters and can check out their programs. We took their “Performance Under Pressure” seminar, back when we actually got together with strangers in classrooms, and found it a very worthy effort.

These webinars, obviously, do not involve putting your life on line to take the seminar.

These are good people, with very valuable information about the mental game in aiming sports. We recommend them highly.

Archery Update from Mental Management Systems

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Before You Can (String) Walk, You Have to Learn to Crawl

One of the very best aiming techniques when eschewing sights is stringwalking. Basically, stringwalking is just hooking onto the string slightly below the arrow in order to shoot distances inside of your point-on-target distance (using ordinary point-of-aim technique).

So, if your three-finger-under string grip when your tab is touching the bottom of your arrow is, say, 40 m then moving down the string in small increments will allow you to shoot targets inside of 40 m using the same sight picture.

This is in contrast to gap shooting in which you must aim higher or lower than the center of the target on every shot not at the POT distance. In stringwalking, the sight picture is always the same.

Stringwalking works because when you draw and anchor gripping the string below the arrow somewhat, you are just rotating your bow so that the arrow is pointing slightly downward. Doing this de-tunes your bow, of course, so there are limits. As a rough estimate, a crawl past two inches below the arrow is fairly extreme.

The detuning is substantial which is why we “walk” down the string and not up (which is a much worse detune). As an example of the detuning, a recurve bow is usually set with its tiller to be one eighth to one quarter of an inch positive. If you are shooting three-fingers-under, it is more typical to be about 0˝ of tiller. This is difference in string grip has the effect of moving the center of pressure of the string grip down the width of your top finger. A crawl of 2˝ would be 2-3 times as much as that change in the string center of pressure, so tiller is going to be way off at that crawl. (What archery giveth with one hand, it taketh away . . .)

The Point of this Post
The message I want to give to you in this post is that you need to be very precise in setting your crawls. One would hope you would be accurate, too, but here I am talking about being precise.

Here is a series of photos showing me making a crawl. The first photo shows the initial placement of the my tap so that it is touching the arrow and the base of the tab is up against the string itself. This allows me to make sure the tab is in the same position each time.

I use the stitches on the tab to gauge how much of a crawl I am setting up but recent rule changes allow printed scales now (very limited printed scales). Once I have decided how much crawl I am taking, I then insert my thumb nail into the center serving in that location.

And this is where you need to be very careful. I have the bow, bowstring, and my head in the same position each time and I sight along the top of my thumbnail when I am setting that crawl distance. (“Be wery, wery careful . . . he, he, heh.” Elmer Fudd He may be a cartoon careful but that doesn’t make him wrong.)

Then the tab is slid down to the spot my fingernail is at and again, I am sighting along the top of my fingernail to make sure everything is consistently lined up.

From this point onward I have a 2-3˝ draw on the bow to keep my hands from slipping out of position (because if they do, it is “do over” time). You need to be ready to shoot as soon as your crawl is set.

I set my crawls down to the quarter of the length of a single stitch, which is less than a sixteenth of an inch/1 mm. That amount of crawl equates to just under two yards of distance on one of my bows . . . which is why you need to be precise. Consider how carefully sight shooters set their sight apertures. I ended up converting many of my “ten click sights,” sights whose “micro adjustment” made ten clicks per rotation (and a whole rotation wasn’t that much) when I discovered that at 90 meters by groups were centered on the nine-ring above the ten and one click adjustment cause my groups to be centered on the nine-ring below the ten. Those sights are now “twenty click sights.” (Actually the groups were 10-9-ish and I couldn’t get them to center on the ten ring. Gosh, I wish I could shoot that well again . . . truthfully, that period lasted only a little over a year when I was practicing up a storm.) Setting crawls is not as precise as setting a good sight aperture, so if you are at all sloppy, you are throwing away a fair amount of precision.

Addendum I mentioned “walking up the string” in passing, dismissing it somewhat but it isn’t entirely illogical. For example, if you have a young sight archer struggling to make distance, one easy fix is to swap his tab for an opposite handed one and have them shoot “two fingers over.” Yes, you read that right. The slot in the tab for the arrow for an “upside down opposite handed tab” is between the second and third fingers then. This grip moves the arrow down the width of the middle finger which is substantial. When I did this I got around an extra 10% cast (28% better when I shot three fingers over). What your archer will get depends.

This is just a stop gap measure your archer can take until he/she grows taller (longer DL) and/or stronger (higher DW) and it only costs about $10 for an off-handed tab. This is only needed for their longest distance and they can go back to their regular tab for all of the shorter ones.

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We Are All Elites Now!

I just got back huffing and puffing from a walk of the dog. The huffing and puffing is partly due to wearing a mask across my mouth and nose and, well, the fact that I have asthma.

Long distance runners have known for long that training at altitude produces benefits. The argument goes: at altitude the atmospheric pressure is less, so each breath contains less of everything, including oxygen. So prolonged training at altitude causes an adaption to a more efficient respiratory system, capable of capturing more of the oxygen breathed in. A return to sea level results in more atmospheric pressure, more air in each breath, more oxygen in each breath, and a greater ability to capture that extra oxygen which leads to more stamina, more power, and presumably better performances. (It is like supercharging an automobile engine.)

In the past few years elite athletes, including LeBron James, rather than taking a trip to Colorado have adopted using air-restricting masks to simulate the same kind of training.

Well this pandemic has made us all elite athletes now . . . if you are wearing the recommended masks when you go out.

I am still searching for a mask that meets all of my requirements and, I suspect, that I won’t find “the one” until we no longer need to wear the masks. Actually, the mask requirement will be lifted only after I have bought a supply of the new masks, which will be expensive of course, thus keeping Murphy’s Law alive and well in the new millennium.


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How Many Pounds Should I Pull?

I have an Olympic Recurve student (who switched from compound) who is currently building his shot. Besides being a delight to work with, he is bringing up questions us coaches should be able to answer. One of those is “how much draw weight do I need?”

I am in the camp of “as little as possible for most recreational archers” as “it ’posed to be fun, bro.” But here is the answer I sent back to him.

* * *

As to what draw weight to settle on, you are looking for something you can handle. Our goal is to shoot our last arrow of a competition as well as we shot our first arrow, so too much draw weight creates fatigue that foils this goal. You also want it to be as high as possible (while meeting the other criteria). This is because the higher the DW, the flatter the arrow trajectory and the closer to “indoor form” we get. Young archers experience the problem that because of their short DL and low DW it means that at longer distances, they have to hold their bows at fairly steep angles, which distorts their form and results in their sight aperture being above the target face. We would rather not to have to distort our form so much and we would rather have our aperture line up somewhere on the target face for consistency (e.g. 12 o’clock—7-ring, dead center is even better).

Unless you are ferociously competitive, something in the mid-40’s would serve you well for all applications. There are some people who only compete indoors and so only shoot 18 m and 20 yds. They do not need much DW at all. Just enough tension on the bowstring to get off of it cleanly. If you plan on competing outdoors, pick your longest distance and see if you can sight in on the target, that is get a sight setting with your aperture somewhere on the target face. If you can you are good (enough) to go. If you cannot, and you can handle a higher DW, that is your solution. Many people find such a spot at the mid-30’s to higher 30’s of pounds of DW. (Cast depends on a lot of variables, one of which is draw length, another being arrow mass.) This is the gift given us by the creators of lightweight, stiff all-carbon arrows. If you cannot handle much draw weight, then all-carbon arrows are part of the perfect solution. Having less mass they accelerate to fairly high arrow speeds at low-ish draw weights.






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Another Cover Being Just Enough

I consider it a bit of sport to see how archers are portrayed visually and in prose in modern fiction. This is a cover of a book, which I will not buy because there are too many good books to read and, well, sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. (If the publisher cared so little about the cover, how much could they care about the contents?)

In any case, we see our supposed protagonist drawing a bow as a contortionist might. The arrow is on the wrong side of the bow and seems to being held by the fingers of the bow hand, which is not on the correct place on the bow.

The draw involves a bent draw wrist, a no-no, and a low elbow which tends to activate the biceps of the draw arm, another no-no. The bow wrist is kinked, “heeling” the bow, et cetera, et cetera. If the bow has any draw weight at all, she is in danger of wrecking her shoulder by moving her bow arm into place while under load. <sigh>

Possibly they were trying to establish the heroine’s status as a bad ass by showing her disdain for ordinary archery form, like bad guys from the ’hood holding their guns sideways (making their sights useless and a number of other things).

Maybe the pandemic is finally getting to me, maybe I am just bored, . . .


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The Value of the Personal Best System

I was reading a book last night (What’s It All About?: Philosophy & the Meaning of Life, by Julian Baggini. Granta Books. Kindle Edition . . . don’t judge me, I am a philosophy buff) and a couple of excerpts literally jumped off the page for me as they apply to archery. (So there, judgers, something good came from my weird reading habits!)

Here is the first:

“As psychologists have observed, our own sense of self-esteem is largely generated by how we compare ourselves to our peers. Yet we tend to compare ourselves to those apparently doing better than we are, discounting those who are less fortunate. That fosters discontent, since no matter how well placed we are in relation to the population as a whole, we only attend to that portion of it in comparison to whom we are losers. (emphasis added)”

Wow! I have been emphasizing that we are only competing against ourselves and . . . yada, yada, yada, and, of course, my younger students, at the very least, ignore all of this as clueless adult sayings they usually hear from parents. Of course they are comparing themselves to their peers.

I think the natural tendency to discount those “you are ahead of” is a bit overstated, kids seem to know all about social pecking orders, so I would be shocked that they didn’t know where they stood regarding their archery cohort, the whole cohort. Still if one is ambitious one does tend to focus on those ahead of them.

The author went on in a follow-up to say:

“However, putting this straight is not simply a matter of saying we can all achieve relative success and be happy with that. This kind of thinking is what motivated the idea that in education ‘all must have prizes’. Children are to be thought of as having different abilities, and success should be simply developing those abilities as best they can, even if their successes compare poorly with other people’s. But this too has its problems. The philosopher Gilbert Ryle, writing on a rather different topic, pointed out that the concept of counterfeit coins only makes sense if there are real coins to contrast them with. Likewise, the concept of success only makes sense if there is something that would count as failure. This doesn’t mean that there has to be actual failure. There can be a test, for example, with a pass mark of 50 per cent which everyone happens to pass. The point is rather that there must be a genuine possibility of failure, or else success isn’t success at all.”

I have always hated the “everyone gets a trophy” movement, if for no other reason is that discarded trophies are filling our garages and landfills.

Hey, What About Personal Bests?
Yeah, I roped you in with this topic, didn’t I? I think the PB System is still a good one and valid. Having a goal to shoot a personal best is one of the very best outcome goals because it doesn’t depend upon who else shows up. If your student is all geared up to shoot a better score than Billy, Jamal, and Andrew, what happens if none of those kids show up? The competition becomes like shooting at a target with no target face posted on it.

By targeting yourself, you have a known target and a known score and you will know if you are confident or not that you can beat it. Then, if you do, you may also beat a lot of other competitors or you may not. But if you can’t beat yourself . . . well . . . ? Setting new PBs are the very best signs of progress. You are learning to score better, whatever it is that you are doing. And better is better, no? If your major competition doesn’t show up and you win with a mediocre score, a score you knew those guys could easily beat, how do you feel?

Well, I still am recommending PBs as kind of the only useful outcome goal. If the competition is fierce, you are going to need such a score to contend. If the competition is not so fierce, it will show that you are making progress. And, you will be learning about yourself.

Part of the preparation in going for a new personal best score is demonstrating that you can do that in practice. This leads to confidence that you can do it in competition. (Going to a competition with no such evidence is “hoping” to set a new PB and there are many adages that attest to the value of such hopes . . . and they aren’t flattering.)


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Can This Trad Recurve Be Shot Off of the Shelf?

All of the older trad recurves and longbows were made to be shot “off of the hand” or “off of the knuckle.” There was no “shelf” to shoot off of. Then some enterprising bowyers started including a little built up section at the top of the grip wrapping. This could be something as simple as a little wedge of wood wrapped in place forming a small ledge that could help hold the arrow in place. Soon these bows also included an insert of a harder wood or other material to prevent wear from the arrow sliding against the bow.

Since these little ledges held the promise of better accuracy they grew in size until a substantial arrow shelf was built into a built up handle section. And as sights become popular the little cutout grew to facilitate being able to see your sight and the sight window was born. (Also, “centershot bows” allowed arrows to be aimed and shot closer to the central plane of the bow.)

So, to determine if a bow was designed to be “shot off of the arrow shelf, there has to be a substantial shelf built into the bow (at least the width of your arrows) and the shelf has to have a hump built into it. If the arrow shelf of your bow is flat, it was built to be shot off of an elevated arrow rest (which often were of the “stick on” variety which can and did fall off and get lost even in storage). The crown or hump on the arrow shelf was there so the arrow touched only a small area of the shelf meaning less friction and less possibility of a “clearance problem.”

The shelf and the side of the bow adjacent to us was often covered with leather, to prevent wear on bow and arrows and also to provide a bit of “give” to help the flexing arrow on its way, much as cushion plungers now provide.

When the shelves became very large, a way of “adjusting” the centershot of the bow was to build out the side of the bow with multiple layers of leather or whatnot. This was called the “build out” and you can read accounts from back in the day of archers setting their “build outs.” Now you know what they were doing.

Photos below show the crown of the shelf of a bow designed to be shot off of the shelf, the leather pads used there, and how different shooting off of your knuckle was from shooting off of a shelf.











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Is It Safe to Draw a Bow Behind Your Ear?

This is an interesting question. Is it safe to draw a bow behind your ear? The answer is yes . . . and no.

For some styles of shooting, drawing behind your ear is standard form, such as Kyudo. However, these styles are usually shot with a thumb release. In a thumb release, the draw thumb is wrapped around the bowstring (from inside to out) and then wrapped with a finger or two to lock it in place. Because fairly heavy bows were shot this way, thumb rings were used to distribute the pressure around a wider area to prevent injury.

In a thumb release, the arrow is held on the other side of the bow (if a modern recurve bow were to be shot with a thumb release, a right-handed archer would shoot a left-handed bow) and the string slides off the thumb away from the archer. This causes a string deflection in the opposite direction of the “normal” Mediterranean release. So, instead of the string leaving the string hand moving forward and toward the archer as we are used to, the string moves forward and away form the archer in a thumb release of the string. This is why archers using this technique don’t accidentally rip off their ears when shooting.

Here is a photo of a modern archer drawing a 170# Tartar bow using a standard finger hook (just to show you it can be done). Look carefully and you will see that he is holding the string away from his face (note the shadow of the string). And, do you now know why, boys and girls? Yes, he would rip off his ear if he held a tight anchor. This is why these bows were shot, historically, with a thumb release.

What you sacrifice when holding the string off from your face is accuracy. Keeping a tight anchor, that is against your face is necessary to get your aiming eye into the plane the arrow will be shot in. When your aiming eye is outside of that plane, you are guessing as to your windage. Since the arrow is an ordinary projectile, if you can line up the arrow with your target (in plane, as it were), then your windage is taken care of and the only thing to concern you is elevation of the bow to get the correct distance.

I note in passing that archery was often used as artillery in the Middle Ages. The arrow cloud scene in the movie Braveheart demonstrated this technique. Historically comments on this technique include hyperbole such as “their arrows darkened the sun,” and whatnot. The archers lobbing arrows this way with English longbows (and a Mediterranean loose) often drew to their breasts with their heads turned slightly away so as to not catch their ears on the loose.

So, the answer to this question if you are a coach is “Only if you know what you are doing” which means “No” for all beginner to intermediate students.


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Did the Ancient Greeks Really Think Archers Were Cowards?

One of my favorite bloggers is Spenser Alexander McDaniel, who is a young man still in college studying classics. He blogs about things historical and this post caught my eye. I recommend it (Did the Ancient Greeks Really Think Archers Were Cowards?) to you if you are interested and his blog also.

He writes very, very well for one so young. He does quite a bit of debunking of the stories we tell ourselves about ancient peoples and the more I read his posts, the more “just like us” these people become. Granted they had quite different beliefs and attitudes, but otherwise the ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians, Hebrews, etc. would fit into our modern spectrum of peoples quite easily.


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