Being Driven Crazy by Psychology

There is a burgeoning field of scientific endeavor which is the study of the acquisition of expertise. I am trying to write a book on the mental game of archery and since there is too much material for one person to study, one needs to do a lot of reading to find out what others say, hence my interest in this subject. Anything that helps us understand how to make expertise more attainable, makes us better coaches.

A promising viewpoint on the attainment of expertise is Ericsson’s work on what is called “deliberate practice.” Ericsson’s claim is that undirected practice has minimal benefits, the main one being making us more physically fit to perform the task at hand … maybe. But if you want to improve the quality of a performance, highly focused practice  is necessary, with the focus on a specific aspect you wish to improve, using directed drills/exercises to that end.

The mainstream press, though, has asked the omnibus question: Is practice all you need to develop expertise? And lately they have brought up a number of topics researchers claim have a role. One of these is “working memory.” Working memory is a hot topic in psychology right now which is why people are trying it out for a leading role in … you name it. (Such is science: when topics are “hot” a whole bunch of scientists jump on that bandwagon. This is probably a manifestation of scientists looking for a place to work in which results are easier to get, not unlike gold prospectors.) working memory is how much information you can cram into your mind and hold it there while you are working; this is definitely “short-term memory.”

Working memory is now claimed to play a role in sight reading of music and any number of other performance-related fields. Apparently the people making these claims haven’t looked at a performance critically. For example, studies show that in order for a musician to play from music they are reading, they have to “read ahead” several notes ahead of where they are playing. It was discovered (by the simple expedient of covering up the music and exposing it at rates the scientists could control), that professional musicians read ahead farther than amateurs. But to the researcher’s surprise, the difference was very small. When reading music and playing, there is an optimum read ahead distance: if you are to close to the playing time, musicians stumble. They apparently do not have enough time to translate the symbols into actions. If they get too far ahead of playing, they also stumble because they tend to forget what they had read before they are supposed to be playing it. So, working memory does play a role in sight reading music (reading as you are playing) but the part working memory plays is as part of a chain of events. Obviously if you do not have enough of working memory, you will struggle at this task. Other studies show that “experts” have more working memory than amateurs in this arena. So, the question I have is: does working memory get improved through practice? If so, then the question (Is practice all you need …) is too broad.

Yet, huge claims are being made regarding the role of this bit or that bit when it comes to practice. How any one of us is to make any sense of the current state of research is beyond me (literally). There seem to be some reasonable conclusions one can come to with regard to practice that have low chances of contradiction later.

  • So, should archers practice? Yes. Practice is a route to better performance. But, how effective the practice is is dependant on how smart you practice. So, practice as focused as you can.
  • Is there a way to project the amount of practice needed to meet a goal? No. Longer practice sessions do not seem to be as effective as more frequent shorter ones. (What “longer” and “shorter” are is ill-defined.) If you want to perform consistently, you must develop to the point you can shoot larger numbers of arrows in a session than required for performance.
  • It also seems that the best physical practice for a performance is the performance itself. So, if you are a pianist, play the piano. If you are an archer, shoot arrows.
  • In order to tell what works and what does not, you must … keep … records of your performance. Memory alone just doesn’t work.

My feeling is the question “Is practice all you need to develop expertise?” as discussed in the mainstream press, supports the meme that there are natural “talents” for particular activities: a talent for math, a talent for the violin, a talent for baseball. This is not only unsupportable by any science (the existent of sport- or activity-specific “talents” has no evidence supporting it) but is a toxic concept; even if it were true, there is no benefit from believing it.

Performers who believe in “talent” tend to quit easier when they encounter difficulties, believing they “just don’t have a talent for math or whatever.” They also shy away from greater challenges because they have no idea how far their “talent” can take them and they don’t want to test something they don’t understand. Plus, since this talent-thing is responsible for their ability, why practice? These reactions to the belief in the concept of talent have been documented and seem to make sense.

If you don’t believe in “talent” then the outcome is determined by how much you learn and how hard you practice. If your performance isn’t good enough, you either need to work harder or smarter (better: both). This nonbelief in talent has this benefit in that we can now see the effect of deliberate practice upon skills developed and it is quite positive.

 

 

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Is it My Equipment, the Environment, or Me?

When experiencing problems in archery, the key question for archers is: is it my equipment, the environment (wind, rain, etc.) or me responsible for my misses. Since you cannot solve a problem you do not know you have, this is something coaches have to help with as often as not. Believing one has an equipment problem when it is really form/execution is to road to nowhere.

Consider the following story from my friend Tom Dorigatti, a compound bow guru:

Do you remember me telling you that a careless person in the range went running (and I do mean running) past my bow and knocked it flying some 15 feet onto the hard concrete floor? Do you also remember me telling you that the silly thing was just not shooting well, or holding well, and was tossing flyers at will high and/or low out of nowhere?

I put on a new Hamskea arrow rest (taken off my Merlin bow), I checked axles and cams for straightness/cracks, misalignment. I rechecked and checked my measurements again. I found nothing that should be causing this. I do not miss by 12˝ or more at 20 yards, period.

“Well, I went a step farther and took a large magnifying glass and went over that bow from stem to stern looking for anything that may be a crack, or break in the limbs and/or the riser. I found nothing.

I have no way of checking for a twisted riser, however. So, we were down to either a twisted riser or a failure somewhere on the bow that we/I couldn’t detect. I called up Darton and explained what exactly had happened to the bow. I explained how it wasn’t shooting for crap, and that I would like to send it in for them to check out for a twisted or cracked riser. I got an RA Number sent immediately.

From the time I sent the bow in until the time I got it back was 10 days. They had asked for an arrow that I was using out of the bow and how I set the bow for its paper tune. Of course, I tune a slight nock high right tear because bullet holes for me doesn’t cut it.

I called them back after about a week and asked if they’d found the problem. They had. That idiot who knocked the bow flying had splintered (not visibly) all four limbs on the bow! What was happening is the splinters were opening and closing at their will and state, and not consistent because they were failing worse as time went on.

“What is important for coaches to do is to listen to these stories.”

The riser was checked and it wasn’t bent or twisted. Darton replaced all four limbs on the bow, and set it back up to factory specifications, which so happens to be exactly where I had it set anyway! Of course, I checked all settings before even trying to shoot the bow, and I guess it was right by them, since they told me they checked the tune after they’d rebuilt the bow.

Now the thing shoots like it is supposed to and I’m not fighting the nose-dives and wild arrows. It is shooting as tightly (or a touch tighter) than I am able to hold, so I don’t have any complaints.

In spite of the fact that the bow had been “abused” (not my me, though), Darton replaced all four limbs, reset things, and sent it back at absolutely no charge to me.

I now have a bow that holds steady now, after months of fighting it and blaming myself. because of the “shake,” when all the while most all of it was broken/failing limbs. I was lucky … because those four limbs could have broken all at once at full draw and … that is not nice to think about!

My sight movement since I started shooting has always been an up and down movement. Rarely do I ever have a side to side swim of my sight. I don’t have very many left and right misses either. So, I should have known that there was something really out of kilter with the bow when it kept getting worse and worse as time went on. But, I blamed form, and that shake because I went through all the measurements of the bow and they were spot on.

My suspicions really arose when it got to the point I couldn’t find anything else. I knew I was fighting the bow constantly. I had a friend shoot the bow and he said he struggled to keep the bow up close to center; it was like he had to fight the bow to keep it from having the sight drop out the bottom, too.

Another thing that put me onto the bow being screwed up was paper testing. I always shoot six different arrows when paper testing, not just a single shaft. Who the heck knows, you could pick a good one or you could pick a bad one, but when all your arrows give the same tear, you know things are good. With the “broken” bow, I was getting several tears per my tune, then a wild nock right tear of 2-3˝, then back to a “normal tear” for a couple, then a another wild tear. And it wasn’t the same arrow each time. Sometimes I could get three or four in a row, and rarely five or all six. That finally convinced me that something on that bow was moving around or changing as the bow was being shot.

“So, coaches, keep your ears open. Ask questions of the story tellers. Keep mental notes.”

The reason I am sharing this long story with you is because it was a long story. Here was a very, very careful archer, an archer who documents his equipment very carefully, an archer who is very cognizant of his own shot details, and an archery who has loads of experience and it still took him a great while to finally come to grips with the real problem.

When recurve limbs have interior defects, they eventually show up as limbs that look deformed, but compound limbs are shorter and typically solid fiberglass and do not necessarily show signs of internal damage.

What is important for coaches to do is to listen to these stories. From them you can glean knowledge but also they can give you an appreciation of how hard it is to diagnose some equipment problems. Because Tom is such an experienced bow mechanic, it took him longer to eventually send it back to the manufacturer with a note “It’s broke, can you fix it?” It is a matter of pride for both Tom and I that we can fix almost anything that goes wrong with our gear and it can cost us time and money and effort to overcome this belief.

It is also important to listen to these stories for examples of good and bad behavior on the part of the manufacturers. Darton showed itself to be a quality company. I have had equally good service from other manufacturers. But when an archer has a bad experience with a seller or manufacturer, he then tells that story repeatedly for the rest of his life! This contributes a lot to a feeling of negativity floating around archery and it is nice to be able to note times in which a positive result happens.

So, coaches, keep your ears open. Ask questions of the story tellers. Keep mental notes. The deeper you get into coaching, the less obvious equipment problems become (the easy ones are detected and fixed easily). There aren’t any textbooks or training programs on how to help your student-archers with equipment problems … yet, so you have to find ways to educate yourself otherwise.

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Compound Letoff—More is Better, Right?

Letoff is what makes compound bows special. Without letoff, compound bows are just a mishmash of wheels and pulleys. But, with letoff, wow!

If you are unfamiliar with the concept, compound bows incorporate mechanical advantages to have the draw force of a bow ramp up faster than recurves and longbows and then when they reach “peak weight” the force drops off down to a much lower “holding weight” at full draw (see illustration). Because of that faster ramp up, the total energy stored in the bow is greater for a 40# compound bow than for a 40# recurve or 40# longbow, even with the force give-back from the peak weight to the bottom of “the valley.”

The most typical “letoff” is 65% but when they were introduced they were 30-40%, then 50% became popular, then 65%, and now bows with as high as 80% letoff can be purchased. The letoff percentage is how much of the draw force is taken off, so a 40% letoff would reduce the peak weight by 40% at full draw. A 60# compound bow with 67% letoff leaves the archer only holding 20# at full draw, twenty pounds! The other 40# or so has been thrown onto the cabling system so that, in effect, the limbs help pull one another.compound-draw-force-curve

So, being Americans, we think that if letoff is what makes a compound bow special, we want “to get me some more of that,” and the more the better.

Unfortunately this is not necessarily a good thing.

One can design a bow where there is almost 100% letoff and you would be under almost no strain from the draw at full draw. But for target archers this is definitely not a good thing. We want to have enough holding weight to get a clean launch of our arrows. Even with release aids, a very low holding weight (aka a high letoff) means that only a small force is needed to change the launch position of the rear end of the arrow. Therefore it is easier to mislaunch arrows. This is the same consideration with recurve archers who do not have enough draw force “in hand” to get cleanly off of the string. (The hardest bow I have on hand to shoot is a 10# recurve bow. Getting off that string cleanly is very difficult.)

Most compound target archers seem to have gravitated to about 65% letoff. I say “about” because exact letoff cannot be built into a bow. If you change draw weight, or brace height, or any number of things on a compound bow, you can change the letoff involved (not hugely, but some).

Hunters are more prone to use a bow having 80% letoff as they will only be taking a few shots, may have to shoot from an awkward position, have larger targets to hit, and may have to wait for a moving target to clear obstructing brush or turn for a clean shot. The extra letoff allows more time at full draw.

More time at full draw is the advantage of letoff. Because of the lessened strain on the archer at full draw, they have more time to align their bows correctly and then aim carefully. When peak bow weight happens at full draw, as it does with recurves and longbows, time at full draw is necessarily short and less care can be afforded.

 

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An Archer’s Quandary: Reading Targets and Arrow Scores (Part 2)

(Be sure to read Part 1 first. Steve)

I will now answer the question about how to teach your students to address the scores of their arrows as they shoot them. It requires you to understand some more about typical patterns. The critical issue is to distinguish normal shot outcomes (which need no correction) from abnormal shot outcomes (which do).

For rank beginners, there is no problem as their arrows are all over the place. The first goal is to shoot a round in which all arrows score. Then the task is getting them to shoot “round groups” centered on the target center. (This needs to be checked and addressed. I have students divided target faces in quarters and count how many holes in each quarter. They should be roughly equal (this assumes a left-right and up-down balance equals “round”). You can also have them count how many arrows are in each ring.)

Once these have been achieved, then your students will start to “see” patterns in their arrow scores. Some will require action, others not. If your archer mistakes one kind of arrow score as indicating a problem and it is not or vice-versa, his/her score will suffer, largely because their mental state was not adjusted to correspond to reality.

Now Consider the following table:

Table of Scores vs. “Holding Ring”
(Normal Distribution)

Holding
Ring
RR
Score
360 Round
Score
300
Round
Score
10 717 359 299
9 692 345 288
8 664 332 277
7 637 318 265
6 610 305 254
5 583 291 243
4 556 278 232
3 529 265 220
2 502 251 209
1 475 238 198

This is an attempt on my part to define what “holding the Y-ring” stands for. To say an archer is “holding the 8-ring” is to imply that all of his/her arrows are 8s, 9s, or 10s, but this definition doesn’t correspond to reality. So, I defined the term to mean that three standard deviations of the arrow positions are scores corresponding to the rings implied. If you don’t know what that means, it means that 95-96% of all arrows shot will have scores of that ring or higher. So, out of every 100 arrows 4-5 will be out of that zone. For a 300 Round (10 point scoring, 30 arrows, like a Vegas Round—see column at the right in the table) it means that 1-2 arrows will be outside of that zone.40cm_3_spot_vertical

So, as an example, let’s take someone who is “holding the 8-ring.” In a 30 arrow round, 1-2 would be outside of that zone (8-, 9-, and 10-rings), presumably they would be 7s. I assume that this collection of shots includes no “fliers,” that is obvious “oops shots.”

Here is how you use this information. If your archer is shooting round groups, centered on the target (required for max scores), then you can use their average round score to tell what their “holding ring” is. If they shoot scores are in the mid-270’s, they are “holding the 8-ring.” If they shoot scores in the mid-240’s, they are “holding the 5-ring.” Just look for their score in the right-hand column and slide over to the left hand column of that row.

Holding the 8-ring means that one or two 7s will be “normal” for them. A round in which there are no 7s is possible and a round in which there are 3-4 or more 7s is possible. But an arrow outside of the 7-ring is a strong indicator of a mistake having been made and some adjustment needs to be made, and they should run their routine used to analyze bad shots when such shots occur. But, if they try to adjust something because they shot eight ends without shooting a 7, then they shot two in one end, they would be making a mistake. Two 7s in one round is “normal.” The fact that they occurred one after the other is a small, very small data set (two arrows) and no conclusions can be drawn from them nor should there be.

Now if this archer shoots a five, there is definitely a problem (especially on the Vegas target which has no five ring unless you are shooting a one-spot version of their target face).

If your archer improves so that they are shooting scores in the high 280s commonly, then they are “holding the 9-ring” and 1-2 8s in a 300 Round are “normal” and 7s, 6s, 5s, etc. become arrows that need to be labeled as shots needing some sort of correction. I repeat, you can’t know for certain, as these are based upon probabilities, but each archer really needs to know what “normal” scoring is for them.

A Caveat
Now, having said all of that, you must reinforce that we are not robots. Consistency is not something easily achieved or demonstrated and should not be expected, at least at a high level, from any but the very, very, very best archers. All of us have good days and bad days and once an archer achieves some ability, their scores are much closer to perfect than to awful, which means there is a lot farther one can drop from one’s average than one can exceed one’s average score. If your archer has a 280 average on this round, he/she can only exceed his/her average by 20 points, but can fall below that average by many times that 20 points.

Even Brady Ellison, who has shot indoor 600 Round world records of 598/600 and 599/600 recently is going to shoot an 8, one day soon. And, in practice, he may have a really horrid day and shoot a 294/300. The difference between elite archers and the rest of us is their high and low scores are much closer together while also being, of course, much closer to perfect.

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An Archer’s Quandary: Reading Targets and Arrow Scores (Part 1)

This is a quandary all archers face when they are approaching a high level of expertise. It actually occurs all of the time, although when groups are larger it is harder to see and often goes unnoticed. Here is an example:

You are shooting a 300 round indoors (10-0 scoring a la Vegas) and you have shot 10s and 9s only for the first eight ends. Then in the ninth end, you shoot a ten and then two 8s. Is something wrong?”

Well, what do you think?

If you think there is a problem, well, you are wrong.

If you think it is not a problem, you are also wrong.

I did not give you enough information to tell which it was.dual_vegas_fnt

You see, it depends on who is shooting and what is “normal” for them. If that were me, then I could tell you eights are normal … for me … and that seven ends of all 9s and 10s was not normal. But I have known archers for whom this would have indicated a problem of some sort. One of my archery club colleagues in California kept shooting perfect 300 scores on the NFAA five-spot target. (I noticed that because I was trying to shoot my first such score.) I asked him when was the last time he didn’t shoot a 300 score, and he couldn’t remember. It had been years, he said. The 5-ring on that target is equivalent in size to the 9-ring on the 40 cm indoor target, so shooting all 10s and 9s on that target was “normal” for him. (It was not normal for me.)

Also, what your thinking would have been if I had told you one of those 8s came in the fourth end and the other in the eighth end? If you thought the two eights were a problem in the first scenario, are they indicative of a problem when spread out, too? Most would say “no.”

We all seem to think that a string of good shots should continue, but this is an illusion, one of the so-called “gambler’s illusions” which includes winning streaks, basketball players “hot hands,” and many other phenomena.

When Brady Ellison shot his most recent world record for an indoor 600 Round, he shot is lone 9 in an otherwise perfect round (599/600) on his thirtieth arrow (out of 60). How would you feel if he had shot his nine on the first arrow? Or his last arrow? (Oh, he came so close!) The score would be the same, but the feelings are different. In one scenario we think he made a good recovery and a strong comeback. In another, we can tell stories of how the pressure got to him and he crumpled on his last shot. In all three, same score, same WR.

What we have to be aware of is our own propensity to see patterns, whether they do or do not exist. Consider the idea of “streaks.” These go against what we are taught is the “law of averages” which is properly named the “law of large numbers.” We are told that if we are gambling, winning more than a few hands in a row is not normal. We think that wins and loses should be mixed evenly. None of these are true.

We are told and believe that if you flip a coin often enough you will end up with half  of the flips being “heads” and half “tails.” People have actually undertaken experiments in which they flipped coins 10,000 times or more to check this “law.” To the contrary I remember reading an article in Scientific American magazine a very long time ago described an experiment in which a computer was programmed to simulate flipping a coin. They expected the law of large numbers/averages to show a 50:50 distribution of heads and tails in short order and then stay that way forever. Contrary to ordinary thinking, starting with ten heads or ten tails in a row is not at all impossible, but however it began, the totals would rapidly approach a 50:50 distribution and then stay there. But this is not what they saw. They saw a 50:50 distribution of heads and tails in short order and then they had a long streak in which heads flips dominated creating a number of head flips greater than the number of tail flips, then this “streak” was followed by a long stretch of 50:50 flips, but then there was a longish streak of tails creating a number of tail flips greater than the number of head flips, followed by a 50:50 stretch. This continued, as far as they could tell, forever.

The length of the 50:50 stretches was, in total, the vast majority of the tosses. But the long stretches of mostly heads or mostly tails (winning streaks?) resulted in almost no time being spent at exactly 50:50. This behavior is not governed by luck as a computer does not operate via luck, it is the ordinary nature of random events. All of these things are “streaky” by nature and not consistent as we would expect.  (BTW, the 10,000 coin toss experiment came out 5,067 heads, 4,933 tails.)

Now, clusters of archery shots are not random events, but if one were to shoot a long stretch of all 10s and 9s, and then shoot two 8s, would that be a sign of something going wrong or not? We are conditioned to see patterns, especially if they are negative. (I can’t tell you how often I have had the thought “Here we go again” while shooting, but it is not a small number.) The problem is you can’t tell, because the stretches are not predictive.

But wait, “What do we do? You haven’t said!”

Look for my next post.

 

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More on the Mental Game of Archery

Regular readers of my scribblings will know that I raid golf instruction for ideas regarding archery. And my last post was on the Mental Game of Archery involved some golf stuff. Well, here is some more: a post by mental game (golf) guru David Mackenzie of Canada. As you read, see if you find anything that applies to archery. (If you don’t end up with “all of it” you need to look closer. Steve)

* * *

The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Golfers
September 25, 2013
David MacKenzie
http://www.golfstateofmind

In my opinion, the top players in the world share 7 things in common beyond having a good golf swing. Here, they are.

  1. THEY PRACTICE IN THE RIGHT WAY

Life is short. So why anyone would want to spend hundreds of hours trying to improve in the wrong way is crazy. Beating ball after ball at the same target at the driving range and coming away thinking you’ve mastered the game only takes you backwards. How many golfers wish they could take their range game to the course? 99% of them. The other 1% (the elite), practice in a way that is challenging and simulates course conditions. Hitting a bucket of balls to the same target over and over is easy and it’s nothing like playing on the course. The top players make every second count when practicing, so they’re working all areas of the game to the max. The first thing to do in trying to get better at golf is to think about the way you practice, and change your routine. I’ve worked with many players of all abilities and one of the major factors in success is the way you practice. Make practice hard and as much like the golf course as possible.

  1. THEY ARE ABLE TO STAY IN THE PRESENT

Staying in the present means that you give whatever you are doing your complete, undivided attention with no distractions of the past or future. In golf, this means you’re not thinking about your score, how your playing partners might be judging your performance, why you think you just sliced that tee shot or 3 putted the last hole. All your energy is on the process of hitting shot at hand and then enjoying the walk in between.

It’s easy to see how counter-productive it is not to be in the present – just think back to your last round where you started playing well and then thought about shooting your best score (into the future), only for your game to unravel. The same thing happens when you start to think about bad shots you hit (in the past). Being solely in the present is easier said than done I know (like everything else it takes practice), but there are good techniques to prevent these tension causing shifts in thinking. I’ve got plenty of techniques for getting better at staying in the present and relaxing in between shots in my Ultimate Mental Game Training System (2016 Edition).

  1. THEY CONTINUALLY WORK ON THE FUNDAMENTALS

Good players understand the importance of the fundamentals as it’s the foundation for a good golf swing. How you grip the club, how far you stand from the ball, how good your posture is, how good your ball position is and how well you align to the target are all way more important than just trying to swing the club correctly. The fundamentals need to be worked on continuously as it’s easy to get into bad habits, even for Tour players. It’s always worth a check up from your local pro to make sure you have these right. Alignment is the one that requires the most maintenance. You could argue that a consistent tempo is also “fundamental” to a good swing.

  1. THEY PLAY WITH VISUALIZATION AND FEEL, NOT SWING MECHANICS

The eyes are probably the golfer’s most important asset. Once they commit to a target, the top players imagine exactly how the shot will look, even what the ball’s going to do when it lands. How clearly you define your target and your shot shape before playing each shot will have a huge impact on how well you execute it. It quietens your mind and allows your subconscious play the shot, as opposed to conscious control with technical thoughts, which just doesn’t work as well.

  1. THEY WORK ON A HIGHLY REPEATABLE PRE AND POST-SHOT ROUTINE

The top players in the world all go through the exact same routine before (and after) every shot, even down to the number of practice swings and looks at the target. The routine acts to prepare you as best as possible for the shot, and going through the same sequence right up until you swing, means there’s no time for negative thoughts to creep in. Focusing on your routine also distracts you from the importance of the shot you are about to play – it makes every shot feel the same regardless of the situation. Your mind stays quiet.

  1. THEY KNOW HOW TO CALM THEMSELVES DOWN WHEN THE PRESSURE IS ON.

I’ve worked with enough players to know that the good ones know powerful techniques to calm themselves down to prevent nerves turning into panic and negatively affecting performance. They are very self-aware and know how guide their minds away from negative thoughts and towards positive ones. They use nerves to their advantage. There are many ways to do this such as breathing techniques or having special thoughts/places to go in your head in between shots. This could be looking up at the sky or the trees, anything to switch off your golf brain so you’re not thinking about your score or swing. I recently heard of a player that would try to solve math problems in his head when it all got too much out there! So there are countless ways to do it.

  1. THEY KNOW THE POWER OF ACCEPTANCE AND MOVING ON

Being able to accept every shot whatever the outcome should become a key part of your game. The optimal state for golf would be to become emotionally indifferent to good and bad shots. Most Tour pros have acceptance built into the routine and they tell themselves that although they have a positive intention for the shot, if it doesn’t go where they want it to, it’s better to accept it and move on, than get disappointed or frustrated. Try verbalizing this in your head before your next shot. Also, try making a deep breath or the action of putting the club back in the bag your signal that the shot is over and it’s time to get back into the present. There’s plenty of time to analyze your round when it’s over!

Ingrain these things and make them a habit!

 

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Thinking While Shooting

Occasionally I run into a student who has been thinking his way through every shot. It is always shocking when I discover this as I don’t look for it. I have been doing some writing about this topic lately and while doing so ran across this tidbit:
In a 2013 survey, 28 PGA Tour golf professionals we’re asked about what their favorite swing thought was.danger-sign-b

“Here’re the results:
•  18 pro’s said they didn’t think about anything at all during their swing.
•  10 who did have a swing thought said it was to focus on a spot a few inches in front of the ball, to encourage swinging through, 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.”

From Darrell Klassen’s Cut the Crap Golf Blog

I also recall baseball great Yogi Berra being asked what he thought about while hitting and his answer was (approximately) “If I had to think while hittin’ I couldn’t hit nothin’!”

If you have students who are talking themselves through their shots (mentally), you need to find ways to discourage that practice. It is a real barrier to better performances.

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Tips My Arse!

I can’t help myself. Whenever I run across an archery instructional video available on the internet I tend to take a peek. Often I cannot get more than a few seconds into the video before pulling the rip cord and getting out of there because I know continuing to watch will just upset me.

I ran across a video the other day that was pumped with the tag line The BEST “Trick” to Improve Your Consistency! The topic? Knowing your shot sequence! The video’s author goes on to describe his shot sequence, doesn’t go into how to use it, just claims “having it” has made his shooting much more consistent. Clearly he implies that he has spent time trying to improve the form elements on his list, but he doesn’t just up and say that.

And, a shot sequence is not a trick, nor is it a tip, nor it is a secret. It is a foundational element of consistent archery performance.

Basically, I find that any offer of “tips,” “tricks,” or “secrets” to be an attempt to sell a pig in a poke. (Same is true for golf: I have yet to have a golf video tell me a “golf secret” which was something that wasn’t already in wide circulation.) Granted I think that the “authors” of these archery instructional videos believe what they are saying, but that is just another way to say that they are at best marginally clueless, usually just mimicking other things they see. And I am not saying this to slam the producers of the videos. I basically think they are good hearted people, trying to be helpful … this is just a warning to those who partake of these mini-instructional programs: caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.

PS I recently found out where the phrase “pig in a poke” came from. Farmers wanting to sell recently born piglets at market didn’t have cages to transport them in so they would catch them and put them in a sack (a poque). The “pig” would often be sold sight unseen because of the danger of the piglet getting out when the sack was opened which led to some unscrupulous sorts selling cats or other undesirable or excess animals in bags as pigs, so buying a “pig in a poke” came to mean to expose oneself to a scam. It also explains where the term “letting the cat out of the bag” came from. Or maybe the guy telling this story made it all up … sounds good, though.

PPS The term “ass” was invented as a less offensive version of the work “arse” and vice-versa. Both have swapped places a couple of times now.

 

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We Can’t Cover the Basics Enough

Got an interesting question via email recently. Here it is:
The issue I have is when shooting Recurve Barebow at a small target from distance, say shooting at a compound 40 cm target (just the 6 – 10 scorings rings available) from 18m whilst shooting a FITA 18, when using the arrow point to aim with I find the arrow tip covers the entire target. What would be best approach in this sort of situation?

Great question! Here’s my response:

* * *

The technique when using the point-of-aim (POA) technique is to align the bottom of the central aiming spot (visually) with the top of the arrow point (see illustration). You must then adjust your crawl or gap accordingly. This is more precise than hovering your point somewhere around the gold (worst case scenarios are having it wander around inside the gold with no place to settle and covering the gold entirely—your issue). Having the spot and the arrow point make a “figure 8” is much more precise and solves these problems.point-on-target-fig-eight

You do not need to use the central aiming dot, you can use any of the lower rings, but the smaller the dot the more precise the aim (the larger the circle, the harder to find the exact bottom. You can even use color differences between rings above the center to do this but, again, that is less precise (the top of the arrow and the rings are both convex, so it is hard to see when they are aligned correctly).

I actually had some success using a technique of mentally imagining an aiming dot (of contrasting color) which I can place anywhere on the target face. I used a cue like “7:30 in the blue” or “4:30 in the 5-ring” to make sure the dot was correctly located, and then touched the bottom of the dot with the top of my arrow tip and let fly. (Try it yourself. Look at the target in the illustration and imagine a green circular dot at 9 o’clock in the blue. Obviously you have to determine your crawls and or gaps based upon this technique and you need to size the dot according to the target face. I make the dot the width of one color ring as that can be replicated over and over.)

 

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Principles-Based Archery and Coaching

I work with a few coaches who are trying to expand their archery knowledge so as to be able to work with more students. (Mentoring coaches is important. If you aren’t doing it—either as a mentor or being mentored—think about it.) In one case I am teaching a recurve archer/coach about compound archery. Some coaches are more comfortable sticking to what they know best and that is fine. You do not have to learn about multiple styles, you can specialize. I do think, however, that a principles-based approach can help coaches apply what they know to different styles of archery (for those interested) as well as different variables within their chosen style and my intent for this post is to give an example of this.

This comment is based upon a very good archery instructional video: “How to Find a Recurve Anchor Point” hosted by Archery 360 (a site of the Archery Trade Association) and this video was made in conjunction with World Archery. It is available on YouTube here.

This video is wonderfully made, with excellent production values and high quality presentations. The archers shooting demonstrated excellent form (this is not always the case). And, of course, I had a quibble.

In discussing the characteristics of a high quality recurve anchor position they made the claim that the nose touch by the sting is intended as a mechanism to set the bow into a vertical position. This is debatable at best, actually I think this is wrong. Rather than a mechanism to set the bow into a vertical position, it is a mechanism to make consistent one’s head position. In the video, a illustration was drafted of how the bow being placed off vertical somehow changes the position of the string on the nose as a “tell” and this allows the archer to straighten his/her bow up so that it contacts the nose correctly. This might be true if the archer were struggling with holding his/her bow anywhere near vertical. It also might be true if archers didn’t put such a premium on the nose touch that they will tilt their head to make the nose touch the string no matter what. (Have you seen this? I have.) I think this concept of what the nose touch is for is misleading. For one, the nose touch is not calibrated such that one could detect a canted bow at all well. For example, could you determine a 3 degree bow cant at the tip of your nose? Our sense of touch is limited in the first place and the tip of our nose is not anywhere near as sensitive to touch as, say, our fingertips or lips. In other words, the tips of our noses are not up to this task. In fact, without our eyes, we are very limited in determining plumb or level positions of our own body parts.

A "nose touch" can be incorporated into a side anchor or a center anchor (as here) or in a totally screwed-up anchor. Its primary function is in controlinghead position, primarily head tilt.

A “nose touch” can be incorporated into a side anchor or a center anchor (as here) or in a totally screwed-up anchor. Its primary function is in controlling head position, primarily head tilt.

The actual context for the nose touch, I believe, is that the bow is raised into a vertical position after we set our heads to be level (we hope)—a level head is needed because the eyes need to be level to function optimally. The nose touch occurs at anchor, confirming that both head and bow are vertical and the head is not tilted up or down. One can keep one’s eyes level and tilt ones head up and down (do it now and you will be agreeing with me, aka nodding). But tilting one’s head up and down changes the distance from the nock to the pupil of the aiming eye, which changes one’s sight marks. One does not, I believe, adjust the verticality of the bow based upon the touch of the nose. The nose touch is almost all about head position, not bow position.

These things are not minor quibbles because they can mislead archers as to the procedures they are to follow. When should the bow be made vertical? I think this needs to be done at the end of the raise. (Keeping the bow vertical as long as possible locks in the feel of the bow being vertical when shooting. Compare this with, say, trying to make the bow vertical just before the loose.) When should the head be made vertical? I think this is just before the raise. After that point, there are many other things to do and we do not need to add to that list. Since we want to “bring the bow to us and not move our bodies to our bows,” we need to establish where we want the bow to go.

Note The entire shot sequence is based upon a “set and move on” basis, that if done quickly enough, the things done earliest stay where they were set.

So, the sequence for recurve archers is: set head erect, eyes level (establish line of sight to target), raise bow to be vertical, draw and anchor, establishing nose touch which confirms verticality and sets head tilt to be consistent shot after shot. Having to wait for “nose touch” to check bow verticality and adjustments if necessary is inherently imprecise and also wasteful of time and energy at full draw.

Compound archers, on the other hand, check whether their bow is plumb after they hit anchor. This is facilitated by letoff, creating a draw weight at full draw that is a small fraction of the peak weight passed getting to full draw (a 60# bow can have a holding weight as low as 12#), thus allowing more time at full draw to check things, plus the fact that their sight apertures have bubble levels set in them that allow bows to be set perfectly plumb (if the bubble level is correctly set up).

As you can see, I think there are sound physical reasons for doing these things at these times. It may be a small point, but an archer mislead leads to difficulties later when sequences need to be shifted around and a “new shot sequence” learned.

 

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