Coaching Simplified

As a good coach, you pay attention and try to learn about the “right way” to shoot and the “right way” to coach. We do our best to support you in those efforts. And, as we progress along that path, there comes a time when we have to admit that “the right way” does not exist.

The impression is had that serious archers are getting ever closer to that perfect form and perfect execution that will lead them to success. In reality, it is quite the opposite. Coach Kim of Korea said it perfectly when he said archers are “all the same, all different.” He said this in the context of his experience in which every archer is taught the same standard form at the start, but as the archer progresses that form is adapted to fit the archer, leaving every archer in a different place from the others. Instead of all archers converging on this idealized form and execution, they are all diverging toward personal, idiosyncratic form and execution.

Before you freak out, wondering “what am I going to teach?” or “how will I know what is right to do?” think about this. When students are taught in school how to write, is the goal that they will all become the same writer, writing the same way about the same things? When they are taught math, is it to always solve the same problems, the same way? Or do we take some satisfaction when they branch out on their own and approach things in novel ways?

Uh, huh.

So, this is not so shocking as you might initially think. What this leads us to, though, is coaching based upon foundational principles. There are things that cannot be jettisoned in an archery shot. For example, you cannot skip drawing the bow. The bow is a mechanical device into which we load energy by changing its shape. We must draw the bow. Manufacturers of bows must make limbs that are resilient, that is that will recover quickly to a previous shape. Bow limbs made out of modeling clay probably won’t work so well. Some things just can’t be dispensed with.

So, what are the crucial aspects of shooting arrows from a bow?

The Indispensable Principles
I am confining this discussion to target archers. We love to see our archers shoot an arrow dead center. Bulls-eye! (We used to award a little plastic medal for a beginning archer’s first such shot.) But an archery tournament isn’t: unpack, set up, shoot a 10, pack up, and leave. We are expected to “do it again.” Tournament scores are made up of multiple ends of multiple arrow shots, as many as six in a single end.

What we all want is high scores. High scores are achieved by placing as many arrows in the highest scoring zones as you can. The de facto definition of optimal arrow group size is, therefore, “small enough to fit into the highest scoring ring.” And, since groups of arrows can be moved anyplace by sighting techniques, our goal as archers is to shoot “tight groups,” that is groups with closely spaced arrows. Tight groups come from being able to repeat one’s shot process precisely, many times. To be able to repeat one’s shot sequence precisely, one needs to be able to relax and focus and be calm and still under the tension of the draw and then be able to execute a clean release. So, for us coaches, this is our first principle. Anything that supports this is good, anything that detracts is bad. Period.

Realize that we are ignoring the role of equipment at this time. The fundamental principle governing equipment is that the equipment shouldn’t limit performance. So, if your archer has a set of misfit arrows of different weights, lengths, and spines and are bent in addition, nobody, not even a shooting machine, could shoot tight groups with those arrows. For now, we are assuming your archers’ equipment is not limiting their performances. Your responsibility as a coach involves equipment issues, we are just not addressing them right now.

So, what does, for example, body position have to do with this fundamental, or first, principle? This is a ridiculous example, but it does serve: consider what would happen if you had your students shoot (or try to) with their feet on the other side of the shooting line? Ordinarily, a right-handed archer would have their left foot toward the target and their right foot away with the shooting line running between. What if their right foot were toward the target and the left foot away? Would they be able to shoot? Our guess is “no.” Maybe one or two inventive students might switch hands and try to shoot left-handed and make it work, but to shoot right-handed, this recommendation is “nuts.” Now this was clearly a ridiculous suggestion but stances are not black and white. They are all shades of gray. You were taught about even or “square” stances, open stances, and closed stances. There are more, by the way, but there are also fine points with regard to open and closed stances. There is the matter of degree: how open or closed are you talking about?

If you read books on archery form, they almost always recommend one kind of stance, but almost never explain why, nor do they often explain how to tune that stance for various archers. Our primary fundamental principle helps us and it works best if both the archer and coach know the principle. Obviously this is not something you teach to beginners, but should to serious competitive archers. Knowing what is desired allows archers to discern what helps and what doesn’t.

If a stance helps an archer be still and calm at full draw just before and during the release, then that is a good thing. If it detracts, then not.

Bows that are too hard to pull, stances that don’t allow archers to get into a fully braced full draw position, bows that are hard to hold up through the shot because they are too heavy all are negative factors. Bows which are too hard to pull distort form and fatigue muscles that result in shakiness, not stillness. Bows which are too heavy cause an archer to “drop their bow arm” upon release which creates larger groups but is an equipment issue, and is not the archer’s fault. And if that equipment issue is allowed to persist, it will train the archer to drop his/her bow as part of their shot sequence!

There are other fundamental principles. One I use is I ask my students to remove all unnecessary motion from their shots. For example, quite a few students raise their bows well above their full draw positions and then lower them into place while drawing. I ask them to just stop at the correct position on the way up and skip the trip, taking the bow up farther and bringing it back down.

If such motions are allowed to remain in the shot, they must be orchestrated, timed, and trained into the shot but they do not add anything. Raising a bow higher than necessary and then lowering it is sometimes claimed to help people draw the bow. I suggest these folks need to prove this somehow as it makes no sense. If they don’t think there is energy involved they should hold their bow in their “Address” or “Set-up” position, then raise their bow up six inches (or whatever) and lower it six inches and then repeat that 71 times. That is the amount of energy they are using in a Ranking Round that doesn’t in any way improve their shot. Of course, this is archery. You don’t have to do it “right,” you can include useless form elements into your shot, but the cost will be extra training time and effort and potentially lower scores, and the benefit is … what?

All archery movements must be part of a repeatable shot and if not done the same way, leads to a feeling of difference between one shot and the previous one. This is how an archer makes adjustments throughout a round, allowing them to stay close to optimal performance throughout. Having a movement that has nothing to do with the quality of your shot is just inserting a source of “differences” that can be felt but which do not make anything better. Those differences can mask others or create unnecessary letdowns, etc.

Coaching from first principles is something I will be talking more about in the future. It is a different approach. If you are happy with the way things are going now with your students, by all means continue. But as you strive to learn more, to become a better coach, keep these ideas in the back of your head so you can see whether they work . . . or not.



Filed under For AER Coaches, For All Coaches

Do Your Students Have Balance Problems?

A key element of consistent accuracy is being still while executing shots and a key part of being still is maintaining good balance. Let’s explore this.

Do Your Students Have Balance Issues?
Rank beginners often adopt some interesting body moves at full draw: shuffling their feet, swaying back and forth, etc. Sometimes this is due to simplistic thinking, e.g. “Hmm, I am aimed off to the left so I will move over to the right … shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.” More often it is due to balance issues. The bow is a heavy object for a young child and holding it out at arm’s length is challenging. Most archers who stick with it some develop relatively stable form and we stop thinking about the role of balance in their shooting. This may be a mistake.

So, how do we check to see if they are struggling with balance? I’m glad you asked.

The simplest way is to watch them shoot. Pick out a spot near their head and line it up with a point in their visual background. If they are swaying of moving substantially at full draw, then you will see that pint on their cap (or whatever) moving. Also look for an inability to hold good, erect, full draw posture. If they are constantly shift their weight on their legs or front to back, then they are having problems. For a more sensitive “tell” you can watch the tip of their long stabilizer (if they use one) if it doesn’t settle into a single spot, with slight movements around a center of motion), there may be a balance problem. If they shoot Barebow recurve, the top limb tip can serve for this check.

What to Do About It
For young archers, serious drills are probably not the answer. Often their balance problems are rooted in holding a relatively heavy bow up at arm’s length. If they seem relatively still at full draw, but when the string is loosed either their bow drops like a rock or they tend to tip a great deal to control it, they have a common problem. An adult holding up a six-pound weight at arm’s length is no hard task, but for a 10-year old, holding up a four pound weight at arm’s length is quite difficult. The deltoid arm muscles responsible for holding their arm up haven’t developed much by that time. A partial solution is to have them spread their feet out a bit more. We can’t be specific because we don’t know if their stance was already somewhat wide or quite narrow. If their stance is quite narrow, have them open the width of their stance until their heels (not toes) are as far apart as their shoulders.

A commercial balance board, many of which are available.

In the companion article for archers in this issue, we describe self-exploratory activities based upon balance and stance. One option to address these issues is to lead them through these exercises.

Drilling for Balance There are all kinds of balance training gear available at reasonable costs. These can be as simple as a round disk of plywood with a board or half sphere attached to the bottom to more complicate devices involving inflatable disks. If you are a DIY person, you can make such things yourself. A piece of 3/4˝ plywood large enough to take their stance on, with a small piece of 1˝x 1˝ or 2˝x 2˝ wood running down the center of the short distance (across the stance line) makes a good “wobble board.” Kids have a great deal of fun shooting while standing on such a rig.

An even less expensive piece of drilling equipment can be made from swim noodles (see photo below left). Cut a couple of eight inch pieces of a swim noodle and place one piece cross ways under each of your archer’s feet. Then they shoot while trying to keep their balance standing that way.

All of these pieces of rehab/training equipment work by requiring extra effort to create and retain balance.

Regular drills and scoring games can be used to keep this kind of practice from becoming boring.

Practicing and Assessing by Themselves
There are things archers can do to improve their balance by themselves, even when they are not at the range.

They can take a couple of minutes when they are at the range and while shooting at a close butt. Simply shoot a number of arrows while sighting across a bow hand knuckle. If they are used to shooting off of their arrow’s point or using a sight, they need to shoot a number of arrows to get used to the correct height to hold the bow or they could line up their aperture/arrow point with their point of aim and then switch to looking at their knuckle. The object is to shoot and have the knuckle stay relatively lined up with the mark chosen before, during, and after the shot. Doing five or more shots this way at each practice session will lead to an appreciation for how steady they are and whether progress is being made to becoming more steady. If they are more steady, they are probably more balanced.

Similarly they can play balance games, while waiting for a bus or even watching TV. Simply pick up one foot and count how many seconds they can manage to keep it off of the ground (one thousand one, one thousand, two, . . .). Obviously they need to switch feet so both legs get worked out.

Back at the range or even at home they can draw on a target POA, close their eyes, count to a number (start at three, then move up when that become easy), then open their eyes to see if they are still lined up. If this is done at home, unless there is a home shooting station, this is best done with no arrow on the bow. This can be a game of “how long can you hold still at full draw.” It is a balance workout as well as an archery stamina workout.


Balance and stillness can be trained for. For your youngest charges, simple stance adjustments are suggested but not much more. With serious archers, more complicated training can be done with inexpensive or DIY training aids.

Do realize that balance is something that is invisible until you look for it and just because it is out of sight, it should not be out of a coach’s mind.



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Quiver Protocols

There is much information in archery that is needed to be learned and mastered that just doesn’t show up much in print or video anywhere. I was reminded of one such bit as I was chaperoning some new field archers around a field course this last weekend. I have written about this topic in one of my books, but I guess it is worth restating here.

The penalty for shooting an incorrect number of arrows is steep. Obviously, if you do not shoot all that you are allowed, you left scores in your quiver. If you shoot extra arrows, the rules penalize you and, to be effective, the rules must penalize you more than you could gain from the extra arrow(s). A common penalty for shooting an extra arrow is to lose the score of the highest scoring arrow on the target, or even the highest scoring arrow score plus one more point.

To prevent such mistakes, we create habits and one such is using a quiver protocol. I will describe my quiver protocol as an example, and you can take it from there. I use four-tube side quiver. A hip quiver slid around your back is great for indoors, but doesn’t allow you to see your quiver. Ditto for a back quiver. Seeing how many arrows are left in your quiver is at the core of all of my quiver protocols.

This is a four tube quiver. I made my first quiver as a back quiver, then modified it to be a side quiver, and then modified it to add tubes. (The tubes we got from golf stores.)

Of the four tubes in my quiver, I shoot from the top tube downward, meaning I empty the top tube before taking arrows from the next tube down. I do this this way because when I drop my hand down onto my arrows, the first arrow I touch is in the topmost tube which still has arrows in it. In this fashion I can pull an arrow out without looking at my quiver.

I reserve the bottom tune for “spares and defective arrows.” The spares are put in normally, but if I put an arrow in my penalty box because it is broken or bent, etc., I place it in fletches down, rather than fletches up. This distinguished the spares from arrows that must not be shot.

The top tubes are then used to distribute the arrows that will be shot. The basis for the distribution is our ability to count things without, well, counting them. For example, if someone rolls a die, do you have to count the pips on it to determine their number? The answer is no, because each face of a die has a distinctive pattern that is recognizable. If there are pips in all four corners and one in the center, it is a five. If there are pips in all four corners but none in the center, it is a four. Once you learn the trick, you never again count “1, 2, 3, 4 … that’s a four.” We learn this at, what, four or five years of age?

In any case, we want to set up our quiver to take advantage of this ability. For a shoot with six-arrow ends, we could just stuff all six arrows in the top tube and shoot them one at a time. But if there were only five arrows in that tube, instead of six somehow, would you notice? Possibly not. My quiver protocol has me putting two arrows in each of the top three tubes (3 x 2 = 6). When I glance at my quiver, if the tubes are “full,” meaning have two shafts in them, I am good to go. And a tube with two is easily distinguished from a tube with one or three just by looking, no “Uh, 1, 2, 3 … damn!” When I have shot my first arrow (from the top tube), if I look down there is one left in the top tube with two each in the next tubes. After the second arrow the top tube is empty. After the third arrow, there is an empty top tube and just one arrow in the second tube down. After the fourth, the top two tubes are empty, and … after the sixth, the top three tubes are empty. I never, ever, ever ever take an arrow out of the fourth tube and shoot it. Arrows taken out of the “spares” are only placed in the quiver in place of an arrow that was rejected, then they are shot from there.

If I am shooting in a three-arrow per end round, I start with two in the top tube, then one in the next, then an empty tube. If a five-arrow end round, I go “2, 2, 1, spares.” All of these patterns are as alike as I can make them. I always start with two arrows in the top tube, for example. This makes this ordinary and not something special just for this round, which requires additional thinking, something we try to avoid.

Using one’s quiver protocol over and over makes it automatic. I have not made the mistake of not shooting the correct number of arrows since I adopted the practice.

To make this work, you have to load your quiver carefully. This you do most often at the target aftre pulling your arrows while you might be engaged in chit chat with your target mates. You must clear the mental space to load your quiver correctly after each end. I use a mental trick of not allowing myself to move my feet until the arrows are quivered correctly. This is just an extension of not moving your feet until all your arrows are safely quiver, which is what we teach beginners for safety. (You can’t trip unless you are walking, unless you possess unusual “gifts.”)

Of course, there are all kinds of additional things of this ilk to learn. If an arrow is pulled from service do you know which one it is if it accidentally gets put in the wrong tube? (I number mine for this purpose.) Do you …

As a coach, these are things to teach your serious students. The advantage to them is if they offload some of these things into the realm of habit, there is less to distract the thought processes during the competition and fewer stupid mistakes to upset them.




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For the Coach? For the Archer?

I was discussing a topic with a student and NTS came up. I generally do not teach the NTS, but elements of it are offered as options for archers exploring how to bolster particular form elements. In case you are unaware, NTS stands for National Training System. The nation is the U.S. and it is somewhat of a misnomer. I tend to think of it as the National Teaching System, because little in the way of “training” has been formalized. In any case, the NTS is all the rage in the U.S.

In this particular case, the student responded that he had read the reference I suggested but he said that often he was more confused rather than enlightened by the reading. This is not an uncommon result, as I find the NTS publications are mostly for coaches and not so much for archers. This is not confined to just the NTS but to many such writings.

I write mostly for coaches, but I do write for archers, too (Winning Archery, Shooting Arrows, etc.) and when I do I feel compelled to explain why certain things are recommended, that is I include the “why,” with the “what and how.” Otherwise one sounds just a little dictatorial: do this, do that, just shut up and do what you are told and I have never liked an authoritarian approach.

Coaches, serious coaches anyway, need to know the “why” behind all of the form, posture, and execution steps they teach. In acquiring this knowledge, a system of the shot is built in our heads which allows us to just look at an archer and “see” what seems to need work the most, for example. If we do not know the “whys” behind the “whats and hows,” we are left in the position of teaching archers the right way to do things based upon other peoples’ descriptions of “the right way to do things.” I am more and more convinced that there is no “right technique” or “correct technique,” that each archer must claim or build their own.

So, I am writing this to see if I can help you differentiate between “what the coach needs to know” from “what the archer needs to know.” Archers who are fed a bunch of “what the coach needs to know” may only be confused (the good outcome) but also may become discombobulated (the bad outcome), trying to do things that they should not and getting more mixed up than they were. The following may be oversimplified, but this is just my best first effort at making this distinction.

The What and the How
Archers are athletes. In general they need to know what they need to do and how they need to do it. The “why” is not going to be helpful as it confuses things and, in general, athletes need to keep things simple.

Usually a coach can get an athlete to try something different based upon their reputation as a “Quarterback Whisperer, or Pitching Guru, or Hitting Instructor, or Famous Coach, etc.” or based upon having a good relationship with the archer (they have worked together for some time, to the benefit of the archer). Once an archer agrees to try something different (it is their sport, I only ask, never demand), the only things they need to be focussed upon are “what am I to do” and “how am I to do it.” Then, they need to evaluate whether that change was correctly made and whether or not is was effective, as in “Oh, my groups are tighter.” or “My practice scores went up.” If the new form element works, they shouldn’t give a flying fart as to why it worked. (Why should they?)

The Why
Coaches, though, are better equipped to do our job if we know why something is preferable. For someone who, for instance, draws quite slowly, they might benefit from drawing more quickly. Drawing too slowly wastes energy, causes strain, and lessens the time an archer might have at full draw to do necessary things. Note If you don’t understand this, this is where people like me need to get better. To understand this, imagine being at full draw (compound or recurve, whatever). If you just wait, you will notice that it seems to get harder and harder to keep your bow drawn; it is not, the same number of pounds of draw force that are needed to stay at full draw doesn’t change (the bow is a mechanical object). But the energy supply of the muscles working to keep contracted to stay at full draw are running out rapidly, and the “it feels harder” is the signal that you are running out of time before those muscles stop working.

How much faster to draw the bow, if the archer agrees to try this, is not something that is dictated, it is something to be discovered. I generally ask the archer to try drawing too quickly and work back from there as it is normal to drift back to the status quo and if you only move up a little in draw speed, you’ll soon find yourself back where you were. So, the archer needs to experiment and try and test and feel his/her way to something new.

Telling the Difference
So, if you are reading an archery resource (article, book, web site, etc.), how can you tell if what it is that you are reading was meant for you or not? Here’s my best advice:

  • If muscles are mentioned, or physics, or the word “why” is used, then that information is for coaches. If terms like: scapulae, LAN2, vector, rotator cuff, or other scientific or context-specific terms are being used, terms that you may not understand, then that information is for coaches.
  • If what to do or how to do it is being described, then this is for archers. If a drill or a practice technique is being described, then this is for archers. So, if an article is describing the benefits of having a higher draw elbow is encountered, and suggestions are given as to “how to give it a try,” it is for archers. If they start going on about shoulder joints and rotator cuffs, then they are speaking to coaches.
  • Now, in my opinion, coaches need to read all of this, the stuff for the coaches and the stuff for the archers. Since our job is to get both an inside and outside view of what is going on in an archer, we need it all. But archers are probably better off without all of the coaching stuff, cluttering their minds. Just skip over it. And, coaches shouldn’t spend much time explaining the “whys” to their students. The first rule of communication is: know your audience.

A Wish
I hope in the future that archery authors make the distinction better between what is directed at coaches and what is directed at archers. This will help everyone.

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Archers Need More Help with Stabilizers?

We have addressed the topic of stabilizers, primarily how they work, and how to get started using one. It seems that it is time to expand on that beginning. Here I am going to focus in on how you, as a coach, can help archers wend their way through a forest of stabilizers.

More Stabilizers, More, Please
It seems to me that many novice archers, young and old, rush to make their equipment look like the “good archers’” stuff. This is especially true of young archers whose moms and dads are archers. The problem with doing this is that such additional accessories may not help and might just hurt their progress in archery. Each new accessory changes how their bow feels and needs to be adjusted and tested. If your student does not shoot quite well yet, they may not be able to notice that there is no improvement in their archery from the addition of the XYZ Gizmo. And if they are adding mass to an already “too heavy” bow, they will be hurting their progress.

These accessories only make small differences in their results and if they really want positive attention for their skill as an archer, practicing and refining their form will probably pay off more than fiddling with their equipment.

That being said, you will probably not make many friends if you pooh-pooh each student-archer’s desire to add something to their kit. So let’s look at how you can help.

Getting Fitted
One of the areas archers need the most help is with their archery purchases. The archery marketplace is bewildering to even many seasoned archers, so it is especially so for novices and beginner-to-intermediate archers. If you prove valuable helping with these purchases, your opinion on subsequent ones will become more and more impactful. Besides, trying to help an archer is always one of the better things we do.

Fitting Long Rods Short stabilizers are limited in length by rule, but long rods are not, so let’s look at long rod fitting. An easy way to measure a student up for a long rod is to have them hold their bow at their side, string up. Have them allow it to hang as far as it will, but their hand should be in the bow as it is when shooting. Then measure from the stabilizer boss to the floor/ground. Add an inch to this length—this is a good first estimate as to what length of long rod to start on. If your archer is still growing, add another inch. If the long rod you are shopping for doesn’t come in that length, err on the long side, but not 5˝-6˝ long as that will be unwieldy.

As to how much the rod weighs: lighter is better (stiffer is better, too). The rule of thumb is a lighter weight farther out has a greater stabilizing effect than more weight closer in. There are now some carbon fiber long rods that are not too expensive that are lightweight and quite stiff, too. If on a tight budget, an archer can look for a used rod or a less expensive aluminum one. Some very gaudy scores were shot using aluminum stabilizers. Don’t fall for the “carbon is like bacon: it makes everything better” rule.

With regard to long rod “end weights” we recommend they start with none, maybe just a plastic cap to protect the threads on the end of the rod. If the rod comes with end weights, they can be just taken off (and put in a Baggie labeled and dated!) and added later when your archer is feeling experimental or just stronger.

Fitting Side Rods Side bars and V-bars themselves come in a number of variations. V-bar blocks (the block the side rods screw into) can be “fixed” or “adjustable” as to the angle. For compound archers, “one side only blocks” are available, but you can just use an ordinary dual rod block also, even though only one rod is the norm. The V-bars themselves come in various lengths, sort of small, medium, and large. If your student is fairly short in height, they should get the short side rods. If they are fairly tall in height, recommend they get the long side rods. If in the middle, have them get the mediums. If an adjustable block is used, the angle the rod makes with the bow tunes the effective length of the rod.

To fit them, they need to be attached to the bow and your archer needs to shoot some to adjust to the new feel. After this “break in” period, you need to ask them how the bow feels. If they pay attention, they will notice whether the bow tends to react left, right, up, or down. If they do not notice, have them shoot some arrows blind bale, specifically asking them to pay attention to how stable the bow feels at full draw and which way the bow tends to move when the shot is loosed.

Angling the side bar or bars downward moves the weight distribution from back to front (and the reverse does the opposite). So, if they feel like the bow is “rolling back” in their hand too much (or less forward, these things are relative) then the bow is back heavy and weight needs to me moved forward. Angling the side rods(s) down will fine tune this. Adding weight to the tip of the long rod would be the most affective way to move weight forward (and so removing it is the most effective way to move weight back). What you want to be leery of is adding a bit of weight on the end of this side rod, then a bit more on the end of the long rod, then a little weight on the other rod, . . . ; this can lead you to a bow that is much heavier than before, something that might not be desirable (this is a warning for youths and smaller adults who have less shoulder muscle development).

To get a feel for how the bow is balanced, try hanging it from a hook or loop of cord so it can hang freely. You will eventually develop an “eye” for how a bow that is balanced well hangs. One with too much weight forward will hang with the long rod at an angle that looks “too steep.” One that has too much weight to the rear will hang with the long rod to flat to the floor/ground. From behind the bow, the bow should hang straight up and down, if it doesn’t then weighting of the side rods needs to be adjusted. (This is the only reason for a single side rod on a compound bow—to balance the weights of the “compound weight” bow sight and arrow rest on the other side of the bow.)

Testing, Testing, Testing
We have recommended over and over that when anything new is added to a bow (or the accessories jacked up and a new bow put inside of them), the new rig needs to be tested against the old. Notes need to be taken regarding the arrangement of the “old rig” and some measures of how it performs need to be had (group sizes and round scores seem to work best). Then the “new rig” needs to be set up, adjusted, and tuned and tested in the same way. This is what serious competitive archers do.

Having said this, don’t beat this approach like a borrowed mule. A little bit goes a long way, here. Your first goal is to establish that “this is the way things are done.” You are not trying to establish that this is the best equipment setup in all of the world for your archer. U.S. archer Jake Kaminski has set up a YouTube channel and has made some very useful videos in which he walks through setting up new equipment and testing it. He is an elite archer and has worked out how best to do those tasks for him. You will also see the amount of equipment he acquires and tests, looking for small improvements in his performance. The amount of effort is amazing. Do not try to emulate this as your students are nowhere near ready yet.SAve the elite archer routines for the elite archers.

Bare shaft tuning works well (Jake uses it). Simple testing routines that can be done in a single practice session (or between lessons) should be the goal.


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To Pre-Draw or Not to Pre-Draw, That Is the Question

I sent a video link showing Darrel Pace and Rick McKinney shooting at the 1984 Olympics (Los Angeles) to a Recurve student of mine who is working on speeding up his draw. He is quite an astute student who wrote back immediately with these questions:

Hi Steve,
Thanks. I note that Pace is only a few inches from his face at a pre-draw, at 5:35 in the video. Also he goes from this position to a couple of inches under chin/jaw before back up to anchor. Lots of movements going on. What’s the benefit to drawing below the chin/jaw and then up into the anchor? I’m aware I draw pretty much straight to my face. I remember the summer evening archery lessons where I was taught to do this. Along with T shape, square stance, tuck my chin down (something we had to undo).

And here is my response (somewhat augmented as I had a chance to think more deeply).

* * *

In American-style Archery (my term), you pretty much draw to anchor (with stops along the way). In is Kisik Lee’s teaching that you draw to 1+˝ below the chin and come up. I believe he claims it helps to set the rear shoulder/facilitate “loading” … I am unclear on this. (Have you read the USAA book “Archery?” This is the cheapest book covering Coach Lee’s teachings, also called the NTS or National Training System. I wish they had called it the National Teaching System because I don’t see training mentioned much.)

In Coach Lee’s description, you draw exactly that low until the string touches the corner of your chin, then you come up. This practice does give you a draw length indicator (if your head position doesn’t move, if …).

I found the whole “pre-draw” idea puzzling because everybody did it a different way. (I have written about this: “The Pre-Draw Redux” in AF 10-1) The first formal Instructor’s Manual of the NAA (now USAA) does not mention a pre-draw. I think it is a rather recent invention. Since starting and stopping muscle contractions results in more variation in muscle tension and therefore feel, I suggest we do away with it all together. (As an analysis tool, I always suggest you think about what if you carried it to an extreme: what if you stopped 5X or 10X on the way to anchor? If 1X is good, … ?) That stop may be being used to do something else, as I indicated, but does doing that require a stop? I don’t know.

In KSL’s technique, the “Set Up” element eliminates the pre-draw by skipping over it … or you could say he institutes it as being required as the final body position of the Set Up phase. I would like to find out what was happening elsewhere physically and mentally during a pre-draw as you have noted. It might have just been copied from the way others shot and then used as a point or marker in time/space in which other things are done, such as positioning the sight aperture, checking string alignment, etc.

Please realize that McKinney had his dad as a coach and Darrel basically didn’t have one (he did grill everyone he ran into, though). Modern coaching of archery hadn’t been invented yet. (I am not sure it has even now.)

PS Tucking your chin down is something you do (mildly) to use a high anchor. You do the opposite for a low anchor. So, if you were being taught to shoot with a high anchor, they were right. This is an ongoing problem with archery instruction. What is said specifically is generalized. Coaches need to do a better job of pointing these things out.

A Bald Face Plug
In this post I referred to an article in a back issue of Archery Focus magazine. If you are not subscribing, you are really missing out as you get complete access to all of the back issues when you subscribe. That’s thousands of articles written to make you a better archer and coach. You can get it here: Here’s the cover of the latest issue:




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What Should an Archer be Thinking While Shooting?

What should an archer think while shooting? This is a question often asked even though it isn’t asked often enough. There is, no surprise, not a whole lot of data to examine, but I did run across a 2013 survey of 28 PGA Tour professional golfers who were asked about what their favorite “swing thought” was (“swing thoughts” being the golf equivalent of archery “shot thoughts”). Here’re the results: 18 pro’s said they didn’t think about anything at all during their swing, 10 who did claim to have a swing thought said it was to focus on a spot a few inches in front of the ball, to encourage swinging through the ball, instead of hitting at the ball, or they focused on the desired shape of their shot. None of them said they had any technical thoughts about their swing. (Read that last sentence again. SR)

Now golf is more dynamic than archery, but it has many similarities to archery. This is one of those.

  • Golfers do their analysis and thinking between shots, so should archers.
  • Golfers inspect the lie of their golf ball, obstacles in their way, potential hazards, the landing zone they want to hit and how far away it is, the wind, club selection, and on and on, but when it is time to hit the ball, they do two things: they visualize the shot they want to hit (this is a form of instruction to the subconscious processes that control our muscles; it equates to “this is what I want you to do”), and they stop thinking consciously (it is just a distraction). Archers should do the same.

There is one exception: when you find yourself or your archer making a mistake repeatedly, it is okay to have a “shot thought,” a short phrase designed to emphasize a correction, shoring up a weak point as it were. An example is “strong bow arm” or “finish the shot.” This phrase is though only at the point in one’s shot sequence where it is appropriate. Mumbling “finish the shot” to yourself mentally in the process of raising the bow and drawing it is not recommended, only after aiming when one is finishing one’s shot should the phrase be invoked. And, this is a short term process, which should last a few shots and then stop. I have known people who use a shot thought through a whole round. (I tried this myself; I don’t recommend it as it seems to focus too much attention on one part of the shot routine, thus drawing attention away from other parts. It, it seems, becomes some sort of magic talisman; use it and you will score well. It isn’t. Don’t be fooled into this kind of magical thinking.)

So, the answer to “What should an archer be thinking while shooting?” is “Nothing is best.”

Note I consider a shot to begin when the bow is raised and end at the end of the followthrough. This defines “while shooting.” What happens between one shot and the next is the post-shot routine (scoping the arrow, analyzing any fault, etc.) and the pre-shot routine for the next shot (checking the wind, slope, any adjustment suggested by analysis of the previous shot, etc.).

Another Note Shot visualization is not magic. You cannot use a visualization process to any great effect if you haven’t practiced the process you are attempting. The mental instruction that a visualization is cannot train the muscles to do what they are untrained to do.

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Praise or Encouragement?

For all archery coaches, but especially those working with youths, a question comes up: how does one encourage one’s charges to “do better.” We are assuming here that archers who take lessons are automatically in the category of “trying to do better.” And here we will set aside those student-archers who think that lessons are magical, that they will automatically make one better. So, your student has professed a desire to get better—how do you encourage productive uses of his/her energy and discourage the nonproductive ones?

Yes, we are using the “M word.” There is a huge literature on the subject of motivation, a large part of which involves motivating athletes. Archery has an advantage over a number of other sports as it is perceived of as being fun, unlike running, say, or weightlifting. Archery also has a short feedback loop: shoot and arrow, get a result. You don’t have to wait a half an hour to see if your five-mile run time has improved. But “practice” can be perceived as being “boring” especially if it doesn’t involve shooting, or the shooting is unchallenging (blank bale, blind bale, etc.).

Recreational v. Competitive Archers We make a distinction in our programs between recreational and competitive archers. The difference between the two categories is in motivation: recreational archers are motivated by “fun.” If an activity isn’t fun, they lose interest. Competitive archers are motivated differently. They are looking to compete well, even to the point of winning medals and championships. Because their primary source of motivation is not “fun,” they are willing to do some rather boring exercises in the hope that they will improve enough to meet their goals. They are trusting enough in their coaches that they will be given fruitful things to do and not be given “busy work.”

Internal v. External Motivations Part of the extensive literature on motivation involves the focus of the athlete on a reward. (I am not using the technical terms here. Practitioners in the field use the terms “intrinsic motivation” and “extrinsic motivation” so if you do any research on your own, look for those terms.)

Internally motivated athletes are doing what they do for internal reasons, such as self satisfaction. Externally motivated athletes are doing what they do for external reasons, such as titles and trophies, and the respect shown by others.

There are many, many details but this is a distinction you need to understand. The key point being is if you offer an external reward to an internally motivated person, it will not only not have a positive effect, it can have a negative effect. Studies in which volunteers were offered money for their efforts resulted in refusals and a lack of interest in continuing to volunteer their time and effort. Volunteering isn’t about money and people who do volunteer can be insulted by such offers of external rewards.

As a coach, you need to be alert to the signs. A child who wears a medal to practice day after day is basically hanging out a sign that he is focused on external rewards. A child you responds to an offer of a reward, with “Whatever. . . .” is quite clearly telling you they aren’t in it for the hardware.

So, as a coach of relative beginners, what can you do?

We strongly suggest that “fun” is something everyone feels motivated by. Please do not attempt to grind your competitive archers into dust through more and more serious drills. Fun activities are something everyone can engage in and even for the most serious archer in your group, can provide a welcome respite from normal practice. This can be in the form of a game, popping balloons, whatever.

Focus on the Effort, Not the Outcome Even though some of your externally motivated charges want to collect all of the praise they can get, as coaches the route to doing better is based upon effort, so it is effort that we want to praise, no matter the outcome. So, for the student who won a medal at the most recent competition, if they had been working very hard to get better, the praise should be along the lines of “all your hard work has paid off,” rather than “that’s a cool trophy.” Some beginning archers get medals for just showing up, there being more medals available than competitors. The fact that they medaled under such conditions should never be denigrated, but if your athlete feels as if they got a “participation award” that doesn’t mean anything, you can always share your experience (I often tied for first and last in my competition group.”) and turn the conversation toward what they can do (the focus is on effort) to move up a notch. Some archers are so good, they have to compete in a more competitive category (youths against adults, for example) in order to achieve meaningful success.

Prizes Need to be Small and/or Symbolic If you offer a prize for a practice competition/game make it something small. We had a habit of making the last session of a season (outdoor/indoor) one that involved many contests with many quite trivial prizes. On one such occasion we had just been to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA and brought back every cheap trinket we could find in the Center’s store. After we had given away the very last prize we held the plastic bag they had been brought home in over our head and said that the last prize had been given, so we were done. The students immediately chanted “Shoot for the bag, shoot for the bag” and so we did and later, the winner of the bag was proudly showing his kid sister that the ordinary plastic bag had “Olympic Training Center” printed on the outside. And we were concerned that the OTC socks would be considered kind of dumb.

Allow Them to Establish Awards/Rewards We believe in student-led coaching so letting them establish their own rewards can be fruitful. It also helps them in communicating with their classmates. Suggestions of $1000 are responded to with “Okay, who is going to organize the bake sales to raise the funds?”

Use Their Ideas We have younger student-archers create their own targets as an art project and they can, if they want, come up with a game or contest associated with the target or targets they come up with. Remember that we do not allow human depictions on targets we shoot at.

Let Them Decide It is often motivating to allow your students some autonomy. Even though you may have prepared quite a bit for today’s session, they may have other ideas. Our first program was at a club which had a number of field ranges as well as a target field. Some days we would concentrate on field archery, other days on target archery. Some days they got to choose, even to the point of splitting the group depending on what the students wanted to work on (depending on there being sufficient numbers of coaches available, of course.)

The Bottom Line
As a professional coach, it is in your best interest (both internally and externally) to “leave them wanting more.” Engaged students making progress and/or having fun, show up for the next session or the next series of sessions. And they are more fun to work with, too.

Educating yourself regarding the motivations of athletes and youths and keeping motivation toward the top of your concerns as a coach will pay dividends in the long run. And I am just learning that there are significant differences in how boys and girls motive themselves and one another (as if it were not obvious, but in the past many obvious things have been proved wrong, e.g. the Sun orbits the Earth, no?)


Filed under For AER Coaches

Traditional Archery in the N.Y. Times?

It isn’t often that archery makes it into major news organs but there is a lovely story about Turkish (Ottoman) traditional archery in today’s N.Y. Times: Caftans and Quivers: An Archery Competition 500 Years in the Making.

There is a pay wall, but you can also read up to ten articles for free, every month.


Photographs and Text by MONIQUE JAQUES

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If Self-Image Determines Performance, Then …

I just read a wonderful piece on self-image by Lanny Bassham over at the Mental Management website (“Nutrients of Self-Image”) which I recommend you go read. What I want to comment on in this post is the role of the coach in all of this. Lanny’s main points (said and unsaid) are 1) that self-image determines performance, and 2) that to grow or boost one’s self-image, one needs praise from others as well as from one’s self.

Now you can’t magically become a winner by hypnotizing yourself to believe that you are a great archer, magically creating a non-existent self-image and equally non-existent expert archer. The way to the winner’s circle is not through dedicated bullshit. One’s self-image needs to be rooted in reality. If you regularly shoot in the 270’s on indoor 300 rounds, there is no way to develop a self-image of being a 300-shooter without actually becoming one. But the path to that state is hindered greatly if all you or your student gets is criticism. Praise is positive reinforcement and studies show that works better. It motivates people to work harder and that gets them closer to their goal.

Praise is Positive Reinforcement
So, what should you, as coach, do to supply praise? The keys to me are to praise effort first and foremost. And all praise needs to be rooted in reality. If you have a student who seems to be allergic to practice, praising them on how hard they work is not going to change their behavior, plus onlookers will think you are a bullshit artist or incompetent or both. All praise must be delivered based upon reality. And the important reality is on good work performed. (If they are doing all of the wrong things, they need advice, not praise.) It is up to the athlete to determine if the amount of effort they are putting out justifies itself. Most people “get off of the bus” when they realize that the amount of effort needed to reach their goals is not within them. The ones who stay on the bus are those that see that their efforts will get them to or near their goals.

Business people will tell you that you praise in public, but criticize in private. Hearing another athlete get praised for working hard delivers a message to others nearby. Hearing someone getting hammered by their coach may encourage some others, but it is more likely to discourage more. I think this is wise advice.

In a recent coaching website I saw an article entitled, “How to Deal with Athletes Who Do Not Take Advice.” (That may be inaccurate as I am working from memory but the gist is correct.) I have no problem with these athletes. Bo Jackson was criticized as being an athlete who didn’t take coaching advice. He did okay, don’t you think? (In American football and baseball.) Some athletes are self-directed almost completely and need very little from outside of themselves. The question itself brings up in my mind coaches whose reputation or remuneration is based on whether his team wins or loses and so this seems to be a question for the coach and not the athlete. If an athlete doesn’t want advice, I don’t give them any. Simple. Archery is an individual sport, so pressure from teammates to perform will not be much and the athlete is left to him-/her-self to determine if the effort they are putting out is worth what they are getting back.

I learned this in my teaching days. I made a rule I shared with my students that “I would work as hard for you as you do for yourself.” I did this to save my sanity because I had spent a lot of hours working for students who didn’t give a damn. Do I praise such students on their effort? Of course I did, and still do; it’s my job.


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