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?

Motivation
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?

Suggestions
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?)

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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.

Enjoy.

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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Barebow Arrow Considerations, Part 2

Tuning for a Single Distance

Target archery is becoming less interesting. In field archery, one has to contend with many different shooting distances, different footings, different directions (into the sun, away from the sun, into and out of shade, etc.) and different shooting angles (uphill, downhill, sidehill, etc.). Target archery was a contrast to field archery in that the shooting was on a flat field, at just a few distances and the angle of the sun only changed as the sun moved through the sky. Most rounds had three or four distances to contend with. But, now, as Olympic archery is being driven by telegenicity (make the game simpler so viewers can understand) and dragging the rest of the target archery community with it, competitions have devolved to single distance contests(!).

This came to my attention as I was helping a student prepare for our USAA national championships and he stated that Barebow Recurve was to be contested at 50 meters … only. That couldn’t be right, I thought, so I looked it up. Yep. 50 m, and only 50 m. <Sigh> This certainly doesn’t make things more interesting for the archer.

Preparing for a Single Distance Shoot
Obviously most indoor target competitions are single distance shoots, but outdoors was typically more varied. What this means in terms of preparation is that a number of options are now available for these outdoor contests that were not before. Here are some of my thoughts.

Try to Arrange Your POT Target Distance to be the Competition Distance Stringwalking puts demands upon an archer’s tune so that arrow flight will be acceptable at all crawls. Lots of compromises are involved. This is because taking a crawl basically changes the tiller of the bow and affects the bow’s dynamics. With just a single distance to prepare for, having a zero crawl is ideal. There is also less variation is placing the tab on the string when the crawl is zero rather than, say, a half an inch.

You Can Use a Bottom Nocking Point Locator to Your Benefit If you have a powerful bow, a small crawl may be inevitable. If that is the case, it is allowed to use the bottom of the bottom of two nock locators a set your crawl. The arrow and bow must be set up to make that crawl the correct one, of course. You are not allowed to put on a half inch long nocking point locator, or set your bottom nock locator a half inch below the nock where it would serve no purpose other than being a crawl locator. But for an ordinary tied-on locator in a reasonable position, well that can be used.

You Can Use a Split Finger String Grip String walkers do not use a split finger string grip, they use a “three fingers under” (3FU) string grip because they will be making crawls. But what if your bow is underpowered for the competition distance? In this situation, with no crawl and 3FU, your arrows hit below the target. One easy fix is to try a split finger grip (you may need a different tab). This results in a substantial gain in cast and if your arrows land on the target, you may be able to find a point of aim using either the target rings or the target stand or the wind flag, or … , etc.

A Permanent Fix is to Find Perfect Arrows If the target distance in such competitions is to be the same for many years, it may be in your (or your student’s) best interest to purchase and tune a special set of arrows. After all, you don’t see the long drive golf contestants taking full sets of clubs out onto the tee box. They just take the clubs they are going to use (a pumped up driver and spares). So, why prepare a bow and arrow combination to shoot multiple distances when there is no need. Field archers use arrows with lower FOC balance characteristics than do target archers, who tend to shoot at longer distances. This is just a manifestation of having different arrows for different applications, so this isn’t anything new, just the same response taken to an extreme.

A Perfect Solution Would Be a Dedicated Bow and Arrows It was the case that some archers used different bowstrings on their recurve bows for different distances in the FITA Round. This allowed them to choose different nocking point heights and brace heights for the various distances, essentially creating a different tune for each distance). A lower brace height could be favorable at 90 m but not help at all at 30 m. At 30 m a higher brace height might be a benefit. The nocking points would be used to get the best tune at those brace heights for those arrows (which by regulation had to be the same). I haven’t heard of this being done, but were I in that position and also well-heeled (I am not), I would be tempted to tune my backup bow and arrows, which can be different (both) from the primary set, for the shorter distances and switch bows half way through. Of course if one needed one’s backup bow at the longer distances, one would be in a bit of a fix, but how often does that happen?

So, the message is: if you only shoot at one distance for many of the events you enter (or your student’s enter) focus on setting up the equipment for that distance alone. If you can afford it, dedicate a set of equipment for just that distance. (This is already being done by anyone who has an “indoor bow” now.)

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Parallel Shafts and Barreled Shafts: Same Centershot or Different?

I was recently asked by a Recurve student about whether barreled shafts should be set up the same as parallel shafts with regard to centershot. He commented that some expert archers are saying barreled shafts should be lined up with the string (actually the string plane) but parallel shafts should be lined up with the point peeked out from behind the string (the “standard” recommendation for “fingers” shooters). So which way should barreled shafts be set up?

I answered “yes.”

Having the arrow point peeking out from behind the string is the traditional setup position. Let’s look at this. The reason that the arrow point is set up outboard from the string plane is because when a finger shooter releases the string, the string slides off of the fingers (actually the string pushes the fingers out of the way, but “action-reaction” applies: as the string pushes the fingers away, the fingers push the string away). Since the fingers curl in toward the archer’s head, the string slides toward the archer slightly as it slides toward the bow. The bow pulls the string back toward the string plane as it pulls the string back toward the bow and the string slides over to be inside the plane of the bow and then back outside. The nock separates from the string when the string is at a peak in this sideways oscillation (away from the bow, similar to where it started), at least if it is properly tuned it does. The force on the arrow from the string is directed mostly down the shaft and by having the arrow point slightly outboard of the theoretical string plane, then the point end and nock end of the arrow are aligned when the arrow separates from the string. This results in the force being more down the line of the shaft (in which direction the shaft is very strong) and not sideways (in which it is weaker). Force that goes into the arrow oscillation/flexing doesn’t move it toward the target. If you want to see this in action, there is a YouTube video in which a bloke shot a weak arrow with ever stronger bows and the amount of side-to-side bending gets extreme, almost bizarre, before on the final shot (weak arrow-strong bow) the arrow shatters from the side force. (Note: this is why a spine match is so important for “fingers” archers.)

The traditional arrow rest/centershot position for a “fingers” archer. The string has to be visually centered on the riser to get this view.

The argument goes that a barreled shaft is thinner toward the point and when it slides forward to the central thicker section, it moves the arrow point out to the left (for a RHed archer) anyway, so starting from that position gives you twice as much offset and a misaligned force going down the string.

So, is this right?
Yes, sort of … the arrow at brace is sitting fairly close to the thicker center section and so this position is built in, it doesn’t sit with the thinner part on the arrow rest in the position the centershot is set in. When the arrow is drawn, the thinner part slides in toward the bow.

Does it make any difference?
Probably not … for most archers … here’s why.

The position of the arrow rest, which determines the position of the arrow when it is sitting on the arrow rest (the so-called centershot position), is a setup position. When a bow is initially set up, you put things as close to where they will be when the bow is tuned as you can. Why start with wild setup positions which will make tuning that much harder? But since those final positions are determined a great deal by your technique, there is no way to specify exactly what they will be without you participating. So, the described positions are positions that seem to be closefor most archers.

The final position of the arrow rest … and the nocking point, and the brace height, and myriad other settings on a recurve bow should all be determined by tuning tests. If your arrow rest is set so the arrow point peeks out from behind the string (when viewed properly: from behind with the string and limbs free) and you think you might benefit from having the arrow lined up in the string plane because you shoot barreled shafts, then by all means test this out.

Be sure to document your bow before you make any changes. Then measure something that determines the quality of your shots (group size, practice round scores, etc.) and then change the centershot and test again. If these metrics improve, keep the change. If they do not or things get worse, set it back to the position you began with.

Realize that elite archers know their equipment better than most archers. They may have starting positions they use for their bows that are very, very close to what they will be when tuned in. Most archers need to learn more before they will know what to expect, so minute information gathered from the elites is probably of not much value.

Also realize that there are many, many variables involved in tuning a recurve bow to a high level: nocking point, string material, string diameter, serving diameter, nock size, the archer’s tab, the brace height, the limb alignment, the stabilizers, nock size, … <pant, pant, pant> … , the quality of the limbs/riser, the button position, the button pressure, … , as I said, myriad things affect the tune. Interestingly, a good basic set up of a recurve bow gets you 90-95% of the way to where you will be at the end. Tuning takes a great deal of time and a great deal of effort for that last 5-10% of performance. We are saved because of a basic rule which is: you can’t tune any better than you shoot, so for most archers, little tuning is needed. Since the elites shoot so well, they have to tune the heck out of their bows. They are, after all, looking for the last fraction of a percent of the performance they can get from their equipment and the law of diminishing returns applies.

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The “Talent” Question

I posted my opinions on talent recently (Do You Believe in … on July 8) and have been engaged in a lively debate with a number of you regarding that claim. There seems to be some misunderstanding. I was specifically addressing the existence, or rather the nonexistence, of specific talents, such as a talent for archery, or a talent for chess, or the violin. There is no doubt that people have advantages of the body and mind over others when it comes to any particular sport. In fact, I will be so bold to say that participation levels are high enough that at the elite level we see specific body types and mentalities being selected out. If you have, say, genetic physical advantages and you participate, you will experience more success, which can create greater encouragement, which can lead to higher levels of accomplishment. Fifty years ago, no college football offense linemen were over 300 pounds in weight. Now it seems they all are. This did not happen by chance.

As another example, when I was interested in swimming, most swimmers were of middle height. Today, you will find successful swimmers who are much taller and thus benefit from a longer power stroke. If one seriously considers the physiological advantages of a swimmer like Michael Phelps, you can see huge advantages built into his body. Now, if he had been born on a desert planet (Arrakis?), he would have never developed that “talent,” which is my point: what we call generally call talents are actually just high levels of accomplishment.

There is something called the relative age effect. I have written about this with regard to the age groupings of youth sports, including archery. If you break youth competitive groups down into two-year groups, for example, you will soon discover that kids who were born slightly after the start date have an advantage. Let’s say the starting date for the age groups is July 1. If a youth were born on June 30th, he/she would be one day into his/her twelfth year during their first year of any cycle. If they were born on July second, they would be considered to be almost one whole year younger than they really are for that whole year. (They would be an eleven-year old on July 1 and for the rest of the year.) This is a tremendous advantage. Twelve year olds that are twelve plus one day would be competing against kids who were twelve plus 364 days, essentially a thirteen-year old.

This played out in a study of European professional soccer clubs. All or virtually all of the players on the teams at the time of the study benefited from the relative age effect. Since they were older and stronger than their competitors in their age groups, they got more playing time, more encouragement, and experienced more success, or so the story goes.

These are not kids who have more talent, these are kids who are stronger and faster and better because they are older. A 13-year old is 9% older than a twelve-year old in the extreme. These athletes are parlaying their natural “gifts” into success on the playing field, and these successes can play out long term.

So, an athlete’s physical and mental attributes play a role, a role so large that we are seeing elite performances being made by people with advantageous body types, but who also are almost (or actually) obsessed with their sports. I can remember a time when a farm kid or high school kid could take some special training and end up on an Olympic team, even winning a medal. I can remember when female gymnastics were grown women. These situations do not occur any more because of the artificial selection process. Female gymnasts got shorter and shorter and lighter and lighter which were all advantages in their sport. To get the lightest, fittest athletes, they had to be younger and younger, to the point that officials finally put an age minimum on competitors.

You can’t put a limit on effort, however, so the obsessed athletes are putting up numbers that in order to be competitive with them must be matched by equal levels of obsession by the others in their sport. Athletes train year-round for their sport, their countries support them while doing this, so if you want to compete, you, too, have to train year around.

This is artificial selection, not natural selection. What is being selected are genetic benefits and mental abilities, and not inborn or god-given abilities to perform a certain sport or other activity. If you want to learn more about this I recommend the book The Sports Gene (highly readable).

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The Art of the Possible (Score)

Okay, so I am addicted to watching videos of golf coaches coaching. This is because videos of archery coaches coaching are not available. In a recent viewing Golf Coach Hank Haney said that one can establish a “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” golf round score by subtracting all of the big mistakes (penalty strokes, two-chips/two-pitches, etc., and three putts). This provides you with a score that is closer to your potential that what the scorecard actually said.

This practice applies to archery score cards, also. Take a look at a typical score card. On a, say, ten point scoring face, there might be mostly 10s, 9s, 8s, and 7s, but an occasional “flier.” Take all of the sub-seven arrows scores and turn them into 7s (this being your “normal low scoring arrow”). So, if there was a three, add four points to make it a seven. If a five, add two; if a two add five. When you are done, you will end up with a score that is closer to your potential score than what the scorecard actually said.

The point being, if you can eliminate your mistakes (or reduce them to a very small number, 1-2 per round) you will be shooting that score or very close to it. I went through a similar process in my NFAA field archery days. Through one long summer, I shot many practice field rounds with the goal of elimination all target scores under 18. (This is a 5, 5, 4, 4 minimum on those targets.) I did not chug along on this rounds and mumble “no low scores” or no “17s” like the Little Engine That Could, I just focused on shooting good shots and when I failed to hit that score goal of 18/20 on a target, I disassembled that end in mental replay to try to figure out what went wrong. (In almost every case it was a breakdown in mental focus, if you wanted to know … my mind wanders ferociously … as if you couldn’t tell!) The idea is to eliminate low scoring shots, or “working from the bottom end.” This can be a very helpful approach when coupled with “working from the top end” which is working to shoot excellent shots over and over.

One of the things I noticed when doing those rounds was if I shot a couple of fours early, then I became very conscious of “trying” to shoot the remaining shots as fives. This is, of course, not conducive to shooting fives, but it educated me as to the feeling of “trying” when I just wanted to execute good shots. I started to learn to shake off that feeling and get into a clean shot process. I also saw that my “misses” became smaller and smaller as I practiced this way. A great many things can be learned from a stint of working from the bottom end upward.

So, help your students see what is possible from where they are now. Too many are pessimistic about their scoring ability while too many others are overly optimistic. The optimistic ones need to see that even their “coulda, woulda, shoulda score” would not have won and the pessimists need to see where they would have placed had they shot their “coulda, woulda, shoulda score.”

Note This is my 279th post on this blog. That’s a whole lot of free advice! If you are grateful, think about buying one of my books (Steve Ruis on Amazon) or subscribing to Archery Focus magazine (www.archeryfocus.com). As you may know I am a retired schoolteacher, so I can use the money! :o)

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Do You Believe In … ?

Do you believe that there is a perfect shooting technique out there? And, if you mastered that technique you would automatically become a very, very good archer? There seems to be a fair number of archers and coaches who seem to believe this.

As a sport, and maybe representative of the wider culture, we also tend to believe in “talent,” that some people are born with a hard-wired ability to do . . . something. Otherwise, how do we explain young people who have abilities far beyond their years. While we do not deny that people have various physical and mental abilities, there is no evidence for this opinion that stands up to scrutiny. I tend to think it is a manifestation of our own ego protection at work. If that athlete just beat the stuffing out of me, it must be because he has a “natural gift” I was not given (aka It was not my fault!). It is harder to admit the truth: the other athlete prepared better, worked harder, or was just at a higher level of performance that you are currently.

This is the pernicious aspect of a belief in talent, if you believe you either have “it” or you don’t, what becomes of striving to get better?

A belief that there is some magical technique, is also akin to a belief in talent. It is not helpful and it is not based upon any evidence. If you believe that there is some essentially correct technique, the farther from which you get the poorer your performance as an archer will be, you are on the wrong path.

Ask yourself:

  • Is there any other sport in which this is the case?
  • If there were such a technique, should we not have found it by now? (People still argue about the “right” and “wrong” ways to do things.)
  • Do champions show a conformity of technique? Since they are performing the best, they must have technique closest to the ideal.

What I Suggest
Al Henderson, one of the U.S.’s greatest coaches, is reported to have told archers that “the key is to do it wrong over and over again exactly the same way.” I do not recommend one deliberately seek out how to “do it wrong,” but I do believe there is a process and it doesn’t involve a quest for “doing it right.”

Technique is Important, Everybody Needs One An archer’s technique is something he/she develops over time. It is never exactly the same as anyone else’s.

The Farther You Are from Your True Technique, the Harder It Is to Learn It If you insist on a form element or an execution step that is suboptimal for you, you will incur a training penalty in that it will take more effort and time to learn. Once this step is learned, though, there is no evidence that it is any less effective than some other step. There could be a score penalty for doing things that are far from optimal, but experience tells us that many archers can succeed having quite unusual form, so this has not been demonstrated in fact.

Learn Your Shot and Then Own It So, a budding serious competitive archer needs to find a shot, specifically his/her shot. Then, through repetition, they have to own that shot. Once they have gotten that far, there is a continuous improvement stage in which minor adjustments are made from time to time: in equipment, execution, and form, but these are small compared to the initial effort to learn and own a shot.

Technique, Like Talent, Is Not Given, It Is Learned The process is one of exploration to find what works and doesn’t work. Clearly what works is something close to what everyone else is doing, hence the idea of “standard” or “textbook” form. But occasionally, what everyone else is doing turns out to be suboptimal. The example of high jumping technique comes to mind. Everyone used to jump looking at the bar. Now everyone jumps looking up away from the bar.

Finally
In an article about David Vincent, an prodigious baseball statistics creator, especially with regard to home runs, an observer commented “Like many so-called stat geeks, Mr. Vincent was obsessed. His computer skills were a necessary entry point, but unless this subject drives you, you won’t spend time doing it.”

Bingo. Young archers who demonstrate talent are driven, by love of the sport, or love of the attention it creates, or. . . . Part of this drive surely is rooted in success. If one tries, and fails repeatedly, enthusiasm rarely survives.

This was so important that an early motto for youth archery programs was “early participation, early success.” What this meant was to get a bow into a prospective archer’s hands, then shooting at large targets set at short distances to ensure some measure of early success. A new archer having to shoot at 20 yd/m or longer will probably do well to hit the ground with his/her arrows and more than likely not be inclined to come back. (“I tried that but I was not good at it.”) Such a “conclusion” comes well before any skill has been achieved that could be the basis for success on “normal” ranges, so “big targets, up close” became the watchword for beginning archery programs.

The phrase “unless this subject drives you, you won’t spend time doing it” is key. Talent is built, not something one possess. This takes time, time on task. Something about the sport has to supply the energy needed to come back for more. Channeling that energy into some ballet-like search for perfect technique is counterproductive.

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Barebow Arrow Considerations

There is an upsurge in interest in Barebow, both Recurve and Compound. (Yeah!) This is accompanied by increased levels of confusion regarding the role the arrow plays in the ability to shoot consistently.

Since there are many Barebow aiming variations (gap shooting, “instinctive” shooting, string walking, face walking, etc.) I am going to hop over these variations (all of which create tuning issues) and move to the heart of the matter: aiming off of the point.

Aiming Off of the Point
Using the arrow point as an aiming support brings many advantages and a few disadvantages. One disadvantage is it makes draw length even more crucial. For example, consider that the nock end of the arrow is below the aiming eye and the sightline. The line of sight being even with the arrow point means that the arrow is slanting upward (as it is with other styles, of course). Now, if you draw your bow a bit too far, the arrow slides back and downward lowering the arrow point, causing you to raise your bow up to get the point back to the sightline. Drawing your bow a bit long results in high arrow hit points in that you’ve made the bow a tad stronger, but raising the bow also contributes to high arrow hit points, so this “positive feedback” results in larger errors. Similarly, a short drawn bow, results in the arrow sticking out and up farther, which results in you lowering the bow, another double whammy! (This effect is prominent for longbow and recurve archers, less so for compound archers.)

Aiming off of the point makes draw length control particularly crucial. On the plus side it provides amplified feedback in that regard and so may contribute to better draw length control. There are many other aspects of aiming off the point we leave to your further investigation.

The Effect of Arrow Length
The effects of variations in draw length can be made permanent by choosing a shorter or longer arrow. A longer arrow will result in a lower hold of the bow. A shorter arrow will result in a higher hold. So, for indoor targets, a longer arrow can be an advantage. Indoors, the distances are so short that most bows are over-powered. This results in points of aim (POA) being very low, off of the target face and maybe on the floor where there are few visual clues as to where the POA is. We would like to have a POA on the target face as a face provides many visual cues as to the POA’s location (e.g. a POA at 12 o’clock in the 5-ring). So, for indoors, most people favor a longer arrow. This cause the hold to be lower and the POA higher. Since the length of the arrow is one of the largest aspects affecting the tune, a stiffer shaft has to be chosen to compensate for the extra length.

Outdoors, the distances are much larger, and bows tend to be under-powered. Here a shorter shaft provides a higher hold, a lower POA, and more cast, but we need a weaker shaft so we can cut it as short as we can.

We accept as a given that one’s form will be more consistent when the arrow is near level than when the bow is held with the arrow slanted way up or way down. So, the closer you can create a setup, for you or your student, that is near that situation, the better.

Arrow selection is not a simple matter of just checking a manufacturer’s spine chart and selecting the shaft closest to the characteristics your archer possesses (DW and DL and bow type). In most spine charts, the entire row of choices determined by the DW are available to you. Limited only by arrows that are too short (as they are dangerous). Here is a row from a simplified spine chart:

Compound Bow

21˝ 22˝ 23˝ 24˝ 25˝ 26˝ 27˝ 28˝ 29˝ 30˝ 31˝ 32˝ Recurve Bow
29-35 lb 1214 1214 1413 1416 1516 1713 1716 1813/
1816
1913 2013/
1916
2013/
1916

17-23 lb

Assuming this is the correct DW row, if the archer’s draw length is 24˝ AMO, a 1413 aluminum arrow is recommended. Shorter shafts are possible, but remember the arrow point is typically only about 1.75˝ ahead of the arrow rest at full draw, so a 1214 shaft could be used, cut to 23˝ but I wouldn’t go shorter. Other choices are: the entire rest of the row:
a 1416 shaft, cut to 25˝
a 1516 shaft, cut to 26˝
a 1713 shaft, cut to 27˝
a 1716 shaft, cut to 28˝
a 1813/1816 shaft, cut to 29˝
a 1913 shaft, cut to 30˝
a 2013/1916 shaft, cut to 31˝
a 2013/1916, cut to 32˝

All of these shafts and cut lengths should produce arrows of comparable performance. Keep in mind this is not this simple. As we move across this table row, the arrow shafts are getting heavier and we are losing cast thereby. (There are other issues, but this post is too long already.) All parameters in a spine chart, therefore, need to be taken with a grain of salt and if you desire to experiment with different length arrows, always (Always!) start with a longer shaft and cut it down in stages, testing for tune as you go (a bare shaft test is all that is necessary).

A Note Regarding Young Archers
Archers who haven’t achieved full growth probably should not play around with these ideas. For one, they are still growing and as their height increases, so does their draw length. Ordinarily I like to have at least 1˝–2˝ of extra length on their arrows just for safety (and the ability to shorten the shaft to get a better tune as they grow). These youngsters are better off working on their fitness and shooting form and execution than fiddling with equipment to get a slight advantage.

If a youngster, however, is having trouble “making distance,” the problem may be exacerbated by an arrow that is too long. I have seen some sticking out more than 5˝ past the back of the bow. In this case, a better fitting, resulting in a shorter arrow should help.

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The Ins and Outs of Bow Presses

If you want to be a compound coach, do you need a bow press or at least need to know how to use one? I think the answers are “yes” and “yes.” Compound bows were invented before the bow press. In those early days (the 1970s and 80s), it was the practice that to work on a compound bow, you slacked the string and cables or even dismantled it by backing out the limb bolts. This was a clumsy process which could be dangerous and, for one, screwed up any chance of finding your previous bow setup and tune accurately.

For those of you not in the know, compound bows use mechanical advantage to bend very stiff limbs, very short distances. In those early days, again, there were even kits to convert recurve bows into compounds: they involved cutting off the recurve sections and bolting on wheel hangers, etc. These bows, even without their springy limb tips were invariably weaker than purpose made compound bows, which used much heavier limbs (over 100 pounds of deflection force at a minimum).

Technicians in shops and manufacturers responsible for assembly, repair, and adjustment of these bows quickly realized the need for a device such as a bow press and voila!

The photo shows a couple of common modern designs, the yellow one was designed for older bows, the other for more modern bows. The yellow one worked until the past decade or so. The bow was placed so that the limbs rested on the outer rubber rollers, which were adjustable to make a correct gap between them. Then a winch pulled the riser, which was hanging below, downward, causing the limb tips to bend closer to one another, slackening the string and cables (see photo at bottom). The original presses were more like the yellow one, but they involved a single center pull (at the pivot point of the bow). It only took a few dozen bent or cracked risers (they were wood or cast, not forged, aluminum then) to suggest the improvement of having a double pull (note the two central rubber wheels on the yellow press), this perfecting the design.

That design lasted until compound bow’s evolved toward what are called “parallel limb” designs. These bows have limbs that are parallel to one another or even past that point. The original design of bow press no longer worked because the limbs didn’t stick out far enough to get bent; the bow just pulled through the outside rollers!

The other bow press has “fingers” that approach the limb tips on both sides of the eccentric on both ends of the bow (see detail left). Then a screw drive (powered or manual) brings those two ends of the bow closer together, getting the job done. This new type of press will work on newer and older style bows as long as the bow is short enough to fit between the fingers! In the early days of compound bows, the bows weren’t short like they are now. Instead of 30˝-38˝ axle-to-axle bows as are currently in vogue, they had 48˝, even up to 54˝, axle-to-axle bows. Modern bow press manufacturers are unlikely to make their presses accommodating of these very long compounds as so few still exist.

This press was my first press. I still have it as I have quite a few older bows.

Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!
Using a bow press is inherently dangerous, so be sure to get a seasoned veteran of their use show you how to use one. The forces involved are great (hundreds of pounds of force) and, trust me, if you make a big mistake, changing your underwear will be the least of your worries.

 

 

 

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