I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Advice

QandA logoThis is a question from a frustrated coach on a topic you may have some experience with.

Dear Coach Ruis,
In the past, I’ve dealt with students who wouldn’t follow all of my advice. But now, I have a student who not only doesn’t follow even half of my advice, but also argues with me constantly. She always finds an excuse to not do what I want her to do, even if I am able to prove her ideas wrong. How do I deal with students like her?

* * *

It is the teacher’s role to teach … and the student’s role to learn.

And, since this is a voluntary arrangement, I would simply not spend any more time with her. You are providing a service, if someone doesn’t want what you are providing, you don’t help by irritating them by insisting upon it.

At a deeper level, my coaching philosophy involves helping all archers to become independent, to be able to take or leave coaching as they see fit. I can’t do that by taking away their autonomy, by telling them they must do as I say or I will take my marbles and go home.

I suggest you respect your student’s right to ignore you. The flip side is I certainly do not want to spend time with people who ignore my advice and/or cherry pick my advice, distorting it into something it is not. If I must continue to work with such people, I tend to get more formal and less casual and instead of making statements, I ask questions. If they are insisting on doing everything their way, I honor that by making them do it. I can help by asking questions that lead them to think, but I cannot do their thinking for them.


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Midnight Flyers (Black and Blue)

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
I keep having one arrow fly into the blue or black (3 o clock or 9 o clock) almost every single end. It’s not a specific arrow as I’ve tried using different arrows. It’s also not sequence specific. Sometimes it’s my first arrow, sometimes it’s my second arrow, and sometimes it’s my third arrow. The other two arrows are almost always within the red, if not, then in the yellow. But somehow I manage to get one in the blue/black regardless of how well the other arrows do. I think it might be form, but I have no clue what part of my form is flawed. What should I do?


I can’t say for sure. One possible source of this could be a lack of good “line” that is alignment of the string arm with the arrow/string plane. (The Two Pillars of Consistent Archery are: soft hands and good full-draw-position, aka “good line”.) If you are still consistently not having good “alignment” then you will be basing your performance on athleticism more than having structured it into your body. (You are depending on muscles and timing rather than bone structure and posture.) When this happens you will have dramatically different “good days” and “poor days.” What this will manifest as will be: on good days, your groups will be smaller. You said that recently you have been pounding the middle. But on bad days, your groups will be poorer: meaning some blues and blacks will occur normally. Yes, I said “normally.” A shot not based on secure body posture will have quite variable groups sizes and you will normally have arrows in the blue and black.

Having said that, it is quite common for people not getting to full draw to miss left and right, so maybe that is a hint. Either have a shooting partner or use a mirror to check your alignment. One quick way to do this is to draw looking directly into a mirror. If you get into good FD position, you will be able to see your back in the mirror as your shoulders should be 10-12 degrees closed to your aiming line.

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Arrow Rest Basics

A question came in regarding the differences between recurve and compound arrow rests.

I have a different approach regarding arrow rests than some other coaches, which I will explain after some background.

When an arrow is loosed, it flexes. This is because the force acting on the arrow through its nock is not lined up exactly with the axis of the arrow’s shaft. In a finger releases, the string is sliding off of the string fingers toward the archer. This causes the arrow to flex, first into the bow and then back and forth as it flies to the target. The arrow’s fletches damp out most of this flex within the first 20 yards of flight. The flexing of a shot arrow is mostly horizontal when shot with fingers, hence the use of cushion plungers to absorb much of those horizontal forces while the arrow is still on the string. Since the arrow is bowed in toward the bow, as it slides forward on the rest, it pushes up against the arrow rest, which necessarily (action-reaction) pushes back. On modern recurve bows, a cushion plunger as used to absorb some of that force and to control the amount of “push back.” A stiff arrow rest (usually a stiff wire) is used to maintain the elevation of the shaft as it slides forward, very little flex is allowed for in the vertical plane of the bow.

Compound arrows, shot with fingers, behave in the same fashion.

Compound arrows shot using a release aid flex much less and mostly in a vertical plane, making the use of a plunger ineffective and a stiff arrow rest less than effective. Rests designed for compound bows have most of their

The blade of this launcher rest (left) acts just like a diving board at a swimming pool.

The blade of this launcher rest (left) acts just like a diving board at a swimming pool.

flex in a vertical plane. The most popular rests used by compound-release archers are called “launcher rests” which are like diving boards. They allow flex, resisting it gently, in the vertical plane but have little effect in horizontal planes because there is so little flex involved. Common launcher blades are made of spring steel with little notches at the end to keep the arrow from sliding off.


My Approach
I put a simple, screw-in plastic arrow rest on my student’s bows when they buy their first bow, compound or recurve. I do the same for my own bows. (My last new bow was a Hoyt GMX and I fitted it with one of those $2.95 plastic, screw-in rest. With the threads, I can set the centershot fairly closely and the rest has flex built into it. Very simple. (When the bow was shooting well because I had a good basic tune, then I installed a plunger and rest.) With students who are building releatable form, I only recommend a plunger and steel wire rest when they will benefit from it (almost always quite late). Otherwise, a complicated arrow rest is just an added expense that produces no benefit, plus they make the bow heavier and require a lot of adjustment. The same is true for my compound students. I tell them that the first perfect NFAA Field Round was shot by a professional compound-release archer using a springy rest (Terry Ragsdale), a rest that is much like the cheap plastic rest I recommend now. A launcher rest comes much later when there will be a perceived benefit from its use.Springy Rest Montage

Basically my point is why use something that is much more expensive, more complicated, harder to adjust when there is very little chance of that piece of gear allowing an improvement in performance (basically by supplying better feedback to the archer)?

Plastic Arrow Rest

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Scoring Well

Every year, the team I coach acquires new archers, many of whom have very little experience. I wrote the following handout on how to begin to score well for them and I decided to share it with you. SPR


When you first seriously undertake learning to shoot your focus is upon your form and execution. Form being your body positions (foot positions, hip positions, shoulder positions, full-draw-position. etc.) and execution being the movements made to get from one position to the next. This is necessary. First you must build your shot, then through repetition you come to own it.

Then if you find you like competition, another aspect arises—scoring. Being able to shoot repetitively, creating nice tight groups is one thing, scoring well is another. An example is a student I had who worked very hard to make sure her sight settings were good and would go to a competition and shoot tight groups but not score well. On one occasion, her arrows were bunched well below the center of the target. She kept shooting, hoping things would work out and when we asked her why she didn’t adjust her sight so the arrows would land in the highest scoring zone, she answered that her sight marks were good, she must be doing something wrong and she just hadn’t figured out what. Compare that behavior with the 2000 Olympic Gold Medal winning archer, Simon Fairweather. After warming up and shooting two ends of three arrows in his gold medal match, he shot his first arrow in competition. He looked through his spotting scope, then reached up and adjusted his sight setting. The lesson? If you want to score well, put the damned aperture where it needs to be to make the arrows go in the middle.

Even if everything were perfect during practice and warm-ups, when competition pressure builds up, you change making things different. tension makes muscles shorter, making it more difficult to get through your clicker or into your full-draw-position, for example. This changes the feel of your shot. It doesn’t feel right any more. This is the challenge: making whatever changes needed to score well without trying to invent a new way to shoot in the process.

Here are some suggestions on how to score well:

  1. You must “trust your shot.” Improvising new techniques to score well is counterproductive. This can happen subconsciously!
  2. If your arrows are grouping off center, change your point-of-aim, crawl, sight setting, etc. so that your groups become centered. This is a basic condition for scoring well.
  3. Know thyself. Learn about how you respond to competition pressure. Take notes. If you shake more at full draw under pressure, note that (it doesn’t necessarily affect your scoring much), etc. Learn about what you need to eat and drink and do during a competition to perform your best.
  4. When things go wrong, troubleshooting must address whether the problem is your equipment, the environment (includes your target), or you. If you get the source of your problem wrong, you will not have solved the problem but probably also made an unneeded “fix” that makes scoring worse. I had a young student who was given a target with a soft center (they thought she would hit it much so it shouldn’t be a problem). End after end, she found arrows in the grass she was sure should have hit the target. Those arrows were going through the soft spot unnoticed and received scores of zero instead of 10s, 9s, or 8s.
  5. Track your competition and practice scores and compare them. If you are scoring 10% below your practice scores in a competition and you think that is a problem but it is, in fact, normal for you, you just created a problem that doesn’t exist and any “solution” to that problem will make your scoring worse.
  6. At the end of every competition, make two lists of at least three (3) items each: #1 Things I Learned and #2 Things I Will Do Differently Next Time. Do this within 24 hours of the end of the shoot. Read these lists to develop practice plans and to prepare for the next shoot.

There is more … much more.


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Sticking with Strings

QandA logoAs a follow-up on my last post about waxing bowstrings I received a query about breaking in new bowstrings.

* * *

First, a separation must be made between modern and post-modern bowstring materials (my definitions). I say this because no one is using traditional materials (silk, hemp, linen, cotton, sinew, etc.) in target archery so we do not need to talk about them. (Yes, primitive archers are using such materials but not to seriously compete against others in ordinary target archery venues.) And, there is a big difference between the first-generation modern string materials and those that came after.

So, the first “modern” string material and the only one worth considering is Dacron® (still available for purchase, by the way). Dacron® was much stronger than most of the materials and cheaper and more regular, etc. But Dacron® was also “stretchy.” So, when a new Dacron® bowstring was placed on a bow, several procedures were used to remove some of the stretch. One common technique was to place the strung bow, back down, in one’s lap and press down on the limbs. After some of the stretch occurred, the string would be twisted up and shot. Unfortunately, Dacron® never stops stretching so one needs to keep twisting over the life of the string.

The first post-modern string material (in my scheme of things) was Spectra® marketed under the brand name “Fast Flight.” This string material was primarily ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, a slightly modified version of the material used to make black plastic garbage bags. And, there was Kevlar® (poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide—Aramid fiber), and yes the stuff used to make bullet proof vests, but Kevlar strings had the nasty habit of breaking … at full draw so achieve only a temporary popularity.Recurve bow string

Most newer bowstring materials are made from two such materials, their fibers twisted together to make “blended string materials.”

The point here is that once you get past Dacron®, the “stretchiness” is much, much less. (There are technical terms used, such as “creep” which have technical definitions (stretch that doesn’t recover, stretch that does recover, etc.) but my argument doesn’t require a foray into the itty-bitty details.) Because of the low level of stretch in these materials “string break in” is a simple procedure: string the bow and shoot it.

The “old” rule of thumb (Fast Flight came out in the late 1980’s, so we are talking about the last 30 years or so) was 100 shots and you were good to go. Basically 30 will probably do it. After that adjust your brace height or eccentric positions and you are good to go. Yes, you still need to check these things regularly because things do go wrong, but don’t expect large changes after break in, they just don’t happen with these “post-modern” materials.

And, if you keep your ears open you will hear old-timers talking about things like “sinking in” their new bow by shooting their heaviest arrows. These are traditional self-bow archers who are not talking about their strings so much as they are their bows. But keep listening, just be sure you associate what you hear with what is really being talked about and don’t just extrapolate that to you and your archer’s archery.

PS I still use Fast Flight string material for compound strings and cables and the occasional recurve or longbow strings. Good stuff. But (Warning!) do not use modern string materials on older recurves or longbows that do not have limb tip reinforcements. These materials are so unyielding that they can cut right into the bare wood of such bows. Most archers use dacron strings on those older bows as the springyness of the string lessens the shock on the limb tips. (No charge for that tip.)







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Waxing Poetic

QandA logoHi Steve,
One of my young archers asked if they had to use special bow string wax. He wondered if he could, in a pinch, use Chap Stick, lip balm, bees wax or something more readily available on his bow string. He readily ruled out candle wax, it didn’t feel the same, but I didn’t have a good answer for him on his other suggestions … do you?

* * *

Okay, is he a recurve archer? Recurve archers do not generally wax their strings, unless they are expecting to have to shoot in the rain. Wax increases the weight of the string, slowing it and the arrows attached to it down. Water in the bowstring will do the same thing, so the wax is preferred over the water as being less variable. The amount of waxed used then becomes a variable, which …Chapstick

If he is a compound archer, well, they do wax their strings, maybe once a year. So, what kind of a pinch/emergency are we talking about? ;o)

I remember a young JOAD archer who was earnestly waxing the string and cables of his compound bow and I asked him why he was doing that. His response was that he was told to “keep his string and cables well-waxed.” The fact that he already had enough wax on his bow to polish a good sized gymnasium floor was not considered a sign of “oops, too much.”

Modern string materials are made out of stuff very similar to that used to make plastic garbage bags (high molecular weight linear polyethylene being one the first such materials). Wax is not needed, per se, as these materials do not absorb water. Some wax, though, keeps grit from getting between the individual strands of the string which keeps that grit from abrading the individual strands, thus preventing premature string failure. Any soft wax will do, which is why candle wax did not feel right (too hard). Beeswax has been used on bowstrings since prehistoric times, I believe. I suggest playing it safe and using a commercial product as the ingredients in lip glosses, for example, may soften the string material leading to string stretch which changes a whole bunch of bow parameters. If the commercial products had any such negative effect, the obsessive-compulsive archers would have pointed that out already.

Recurve bow stringIf any such substitute string “wax” is used in “a pinch” I would replace it with commercial bow wax at the earliest opportunity. Just wax over the area with the “good wax” and then loop a strand of serving material around the string, pull on both ends and slide it up and down. This will remove the excess wax. The “dewaxing” could be done before as well as after the correct waxing, first to remove the “bad wax” and the second to remove the excess. A couple of repetitions of this procedure will result in the “good wax” replacing the “substitute” almost completely.

Recurve archers can be obsessive about their strings up to weighing them to make sure they are identical in every way, down to the very small amounts of wax used on them.

Good question!



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There are Archery Coaching Principles

I was watching a teaser for Hank Haney’s instructional video “Lessons Learned from Coaching the World’s Greatest Golfer” and Coach Haney brought up something I had already recognized as a basic principle for coaching archers. When I recovered from the cheap thrill, I realized that he had expanded upon that principle in a way I had not.

The Goldilocks Principle
I have recommended “the Goldilocks Principle” to many coaches, the basic thrust of which is when you are looking to make a change, exaggerate at first. Goldilocks comes into it because if something is too low and you effect a change that moves you to a position of being too high, then you now have boundaries, between which you will find “just right.” (This porridge is too hot. This porridge is too cold. This porridge is just right. Ah.)

An archery example of this occurs while sighting in. If your first sight setting results in your arrow hitting the target very low, you could put a couple of “clicks” into your sight and shoot again. The result will be the arrow will land slightly higher than the first one (if you moved the aperture the right way, of course). Instead, you should move your aperture down quite a bit, hopefully so that your next shot is too high. Once you know where “too low” and “too high” are on your sight bar for this distance, then try half way in between those. If that isn’t very close, then half way to one of those boundaries (depending on where the next arrow lands) until you are very close, then you can go a couple of clicks at a time to fine tune your group location.

Coach Haney referred to those “boundaries” (e.g. too hot and too cold) as being “parameters,” a fine Latin term which means “to be measured against” but there is really no difference between what he was teaching and what I am. But Coach Haney indicated that working with Tiger Woods taught him a great deal. One of those things he shared in his sales pitch for the fill video, namely Tiger’s father, Earl, taught him that “there is a big difference between feel and real.” So Tiger would do a lot of mirror work, trying very hard to exaggerate any change he was making. The reason for this is that when you have practiced something until it feels natural, something I call the “Old Normal,” if you deviate just a little bit it feels like you have deviated a lot. This is why when you ask a student-archer to do something differently, they will move only slightly away from what has been tried and true for a long time. You have to ask them to exaggerate, as Coach Haney said “I have to ask for a foot to get an inch.”

So Tiger would do mirror work when he was trying a change a bit of his swing or he would ask his coach when his club (or hand or …) was in the right position. Then Tiger could associate that particular feel (which always felt very exaggerated to him) with the real position he was trying to create.

In other words, he used his own sense of the feel of things to calibrate the change.

This involves the athlete more actively in making the change. They are not just being a good soldier, doing everything (or trying to do everything) commanded by their coach. The coach is there is provide the feedback the athlete needs to match up the “feel” he is having with the “real” situation. This puts the athlete more in charge of his training, which I believe is always a good thing in an individual sport.


I believe there are Principles of Coaching Archery. I believe we share some of these with other sports. What I call the Goldilocks Principle is used in golf and, I suspect, other individual sports.

If you look at these two sports (golf and archery) both have been around for very long times. So why is golf so much farther advanced when it comes to coaching than is archery? I am sure that it has something to do with golf being restricted to the well-to-do by and large and that the wealthy would pay for instruction where the poor and middle class could not afford it. But there is more. Part of it involves the transmission of information between and among golf instructors and coaches and the codification of that knowledge. Now, I really don’t believe everything the PGA teaches about coaching golf is correct, but at least you can acquire those teachings. You do not have to start from scratch.

I think it would be a “good thing” if us coaches were to make a list of as many of these archery coaching principles as we can identify. I can think of no better information to pass along to the next generation of coaches. As it has been, we have left each new generation to learn what they could on their own. We can do better.

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Marketing on a Myth

I was reading a website’s marketing piece for yet another mechanical broadhead design. The line that caught my eye was “… allows the <brand name of broadhead> to maintain a minimal amount of blade exposure reducing the wind planning (sic) effect insuring better accuracy at a distance and (than?) a comparable field point shot.”

All mechanical broadheads are designed around this central bit of dogma. There’s only one problem with it: the “wind planing effect” is bogus. As the “wind planing effect” story goes the blades of an old model broadhead (see photo) act like airplane wings and cause the arrow to “fly” off line.

An "old style" two blade broadhead (still available)

An “old style” two blade broadhead (still available)

This is very bad science. An airplane wing allows a plane to fly because a number of factors:
1. Its shape causes air to move farther around one side than the other causing the pressure there (above the wing) to be lower than on the other side (below the wing) resulting in the air pushing harder from below than above creating aerodynamic lift.
2. The wing is angled to the line of flight, more so at slower speeds than to create more lift but also more drag. When the plane gets going, the higher the speed, the lower the “angle of attack” to reduce the drag and the lift (you only need enough lift at that point to keep the plane level, not climbing even more).

So, to get this “force” attributed to broadheads, the blades (aka “wings”) would have to be curved and at an angle to the air sliding by them. In fact they are flat, that is “not curved,” and in line with the shaft of the arrow creating no lift whatsoever. Not only that but there are two or three of these wings spaced equally around the point either cancelling each other out or accentuating one another. If there were actual lift created (there is not) it would be at a right angle to blade and hence a right angle to the shaft and since it would be off axis, the effect would be to spin the arrow shaft around the shaft (faster or slower depending on whether they are working with or against the arrow’s fletching), which is considered to be a good thing.

A mechanical broadhead cocked (below) and deployed (above)

A mechanical broadhead cocked (below) and deployed (above)

So, where did the idea of the “wind planing effect” come from?

I have found references to this effect that go back to the early 1970s and I suspect they go back even farther. But I suspect it came about when people had the opportunity to compare the same arrows with different points, so possibly when screw-in points were invented. Arrows with a screwed in target or field points would impact in different places than a screwed in broadhead of the same weight. People immediately wondered “why?” and the wind planing effect story was invented to explain the problem.

So what was the real reason the two arrows hit in different places?

My guess is that a number of things could be the cause. First, broadheads are quite longer than target or field points. If they were not perfectly straight, when screwed on a shaft you would have the equivalent of a bent arrow and so it would not hit in the same place. Second, those considerable longer broadheads create a longer arrow with a different weight distribution (a different “front-of-center” or FOC balance point). That would cause the arrows to fly differently, too.

Of course, there are dozens and dozens (and dozens) of mechanical broadheads being sold in today’s market. All of the marketing for which is, well, bogus. So bowhunters are buying into more complicated and more expensive broadheads (in which more things can go wrong, such as the cutting blades not deploying or parts falling off before use making them unusable) for no good reason.

Can you see now why I ask all of my coach-trainees and all of my archers to think through everything and ask a lot of questions?


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New Coaching Book Available

My latest archery coaching book is now available on Amazon.com and other sources. Here’s the TOC so you can see if you are interested:

 Table of Contents
Still More on Coaching Archery


On Form and Execution
1  A Defense of Copying
2  An Analysis of the NTS Finger Loose
3  Being Consistent
4  Helping Your Students Explore Balance
5  How to Build Championship Form
6  Relaxing
7  The Physical Requirements of a Good Shot
8  We Don’t Talk Enough About Stillness and Rhythm
9  What Is the Most Important Part of an Archer’s Form?
10  Why the Bow Hand Release is a Bad Idea

On Practice
11  Practice Tricks
12  Why You Should Always Center Your Groups
13  A Practice Prescription Case Study: After a Longish Layoff
14  Enjoying Practice

On Equipment
15  Arrow Overhang: How Much is Too Much?
16  Bearpaw Twinbow Review
17  The Broadhead Planing Effect: Fact or BS?
18  Ultra-Adjustable Compound Bows
19  What the Coach Training Classes Leave Out . . . And Shouldn’t
20  A Stringwalking Puzzle
21  Can You Read Arrow Patterns?
22  The Optics of Apertures

On Coaching
23  Teaching the Finger Release
24  Getting from “Here” to “There”
25  A Coaching Case Study
26  The Overaiming Meme
27  The Stages of Learning Archery, Pt 1
28  The Stages of Learning Archery, Part 2
29  The Stages of Learning Archery, Part 3
30  The Stages of Learning Archery, Part 4
31  Coaches Never Assume
32  Managing Emotional Attachments to Athletes
33  On the Nature of Advice
34  Towards a Common Terminology
35  Watch Your Language
36  What To Look For (At?)
37  What Great Archers Don’t Necessarily Make Great Coaches
38  What the Coach Knows and the Athlete Needs

General Commentary
39  Random Archery Thoughts
40  Alternate Shot Letdown Alternatives
41  ATAs Archery Participation Survey
42  There Must Be … A Better Way
43  The Benefits of Archery
44  Having a Lot of Pull on the Archery Range

SMOCA Front Cover 10%


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How Many Arrows Should I be Shooting?

QandA logoI got an email from one of my Olympic Recurve students who ask the above question. It was in the context of getting a bit fatigues at the end of an indoor 600 round (60 arrows, 10-0 scoring).

* * *

As a rule of thumb, I think for “heavy shooting days” (to be alternated with light days and medium days and rest days) you should be shooting double the number of arrows in your most rigorous current round. So, that would make it 120 arrows for heavy, maybe 60 arrows for light and 90 arrows for medium. (For NFAA indoor archers you’d have to double these as an indoor 600 round is 120 arrows, 5-3 scoring.) As one’s championship desires become greater, those get upped. Many Olympians preparing for the Olympics do 400 arrows per day for their heavy days. The idea here is if you know you can shoot 120 strong shots in a day (as you have done it repeatedly) then shooting 60 strong shots is a piece of cake. On rare occasions you might want to do a super load day and shoot a much larger number of shots: in the scheme above, maybe 200-240. This is the psychology behind the 1000 Arrow Challenge, once you have shot 1000 arrows in a single day, it is very hard for you to respond with “I can’t do that” for almost anything else in archery.

You have to prove to yourself that you can shoot large numbers of quality shots. Each shot you shoot has to be with your full physical and mental shot routines. If you cheat and just “fling arrows” to run your count up, you will know this and the “experience” won’t really count.

* * *Indoor BB Shooting

Now, this is a very experience archer I am talking to. If he were less expert, the rules are quite different. I express this as “you have to find your shot before you can own it.” There is no real value in shooting high arrow loads if he hadn’t yet found his shot, the shot that uses his body best, aka optimally. If he weren’t there yet, shooting high volumes of arrows would create a feeling of “normal” around a shot he needed to change. Any time an archer tries to make changes, the “old normal” exerts a pull away from the “new normal” they are trying to create and back toward the old shot, making progress that much more difficult. With this student, we rebuilt his shot a couple of years ago and now he is refining and maintaining that shot, the one he will use for quite a while. (An archery shot is never “done,” rather like a knife it needs to be honed and occasionally sharpened as it is used; otherwise it gets dull and ineffective.) The score this student made in the local tournament was almost identical to the one he made to take a medal at the state indoor championship last year, even though he struggled somewhat due to a layoff from practicing.

Outdoor Blank BalesSo, if a student hasn’t yet found her/his shot, I discourage large volumes of shots and encourage working on their shot more. A balance can be found so they can have fun competing as all archers want to do, but really, really serious archers wouldn’t think of competing without having a settled shot, so if they were rebuilding their shot, for example, they will avoid competition until they can prove to themselves in practice that their shot is up to snuff. Otherwise, under competition stress, it will probably break down and they will have a good chance of developing bad habits as they struggle to score, that will just have to be weeded out later.


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