National Archery Day?

Okay, supposedly this is National Archery Day in the U.S. I have no idea why, but I suspect that if nobody does anything to “celebrate” it, it will go away. Should it “go away”? Are you planning to do anything for National Archery Day? Do you have any ideas of what we might do to promote archery on NAD? (GB has annual “give it a try” days, for example).

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Can You Dislike Practice and Succeed at Archery?

Way more often as not, you can read me answering this question as “no, if you do not enjoy the process, you likely will not succeed.”

But is this “attitude” fixed or can it change?

This is a good question and it does apply to archers. This is especially the case in that young archers often “succeed” at winning championships without practicing. These are archers who go to, say, a weekly JOAD session, which is as much social as it is instructive, and then attend competitions and win them. This can go on all the way up to state and national championships. This is a manifestation of a lack of competition. These kids do win without practicing because they can win without practicing. If more kids were practicing effectively, this would not be the case.

Since it is the case that some kids do win without practicing, they logically think that practicing, or practicing a particular way, is unnecessary. Of course, if they continue on, they will reach a point where they no longer win, and many of these kids drop out at this point, either because they have a fixed mindset and think their talent ran out, of they just didn’t want to have to work at the sport.

For the number who hit a wall and ask for help, there may be an answer: some people feel that you can trick yourself into enjoying boring subjects, like archery practice. This is a bit like neurolinguistic programming I guess, but all you have to do is get them to tell themselves that they like learning about archery. That they find it interesting. That they want to know more. Even remote curiosities about a subject, like searching online for “What are archery bowstrings made of?” should be encouraged.

Learning that they can “reframe” their own attitudes is a way to motivate them to go deeper into any subject. Even if the task or subject is boring, even if it is not something they would choose to do, this is a valuable tool which will also pay dividends later in life.

Of course, as a coach, making practice boring is not a plus; making it interesting and challenging is.

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The Missing Link in the Mental Game of Archery Has Been Found!

Larry Wise has just published a new book on the mental game, Planning to Peak in Archery, but it is not just another such book; it is much, much more. In my opinion what has been missing in archery training is a way to create a mental plan for a serious competitive archer. Beginners and intermediate archers can be taught various mental tools (positive self-talk, process goals, affirmations, etc.) but this is a little like trying to create a machine shop starting with a few hand tools: files, ball pein hammers, etc.

How are we to go about creating the so highly desired “mental program” that is so often talked about? Well, Larry Wise has taken all of his skill as a high level archery coach and as a classroom teacher and created a system to develop mental programs that can be used by anyone participating in an aiming sport.

Archery has been missing this pragmatic aspect of the mental game for a long, long time. (Not that other sports have developed systems like Larry has. We may be out in front for the first time as sport coaches!)

I recommend this book wholeheartedly. When I think of the mental game of archery, I can’t think of anyone who has a better handle on it than Larry Wise. This is an absolute “must have” book if you are a serious archery coach or a serious competitive archer.

Full Disclosure In developing this book, Larry used me as a sounding board and as a copy editor for which I was paid. But if you asked me to point to one significant idea of mine in this book, I would not be able to. All of the credit goes to Larry.

Steve Ruis

Planning to Peak in Archery is available directly from Larry at www.larrywise.com. It is $24.95 and if you order it directly from Larry, you should be able to sweet talk him into signing it.

Contents

  • Section I: Forming Your Archery Perspective
    Learning Basics
    The Building Blocks Of Performance
    Engaging In Present Process Thinking
  • Section II: Developing Your Preparation Skills
    Practice With A Purpose
    Setting Your Goals
    Pre-Tournament Preparation
    Tournament Site Practice
    Post-Tournament Evaluation
    Helping Yourself With Self-Talk
    Shooting Beyond Target Panic
  • Section III: Adjusting Your Archery Attitude
    The Three C’s: Commitment, Composure, Confidence
    Did You Hear What Coach Sutter Said
    There Are No “Deserves”
    The Myth Of Pressure
    The Big Questions For Aspiring Athletes
  • Section IV: Engaging Your Mind Through Focus Mapping
    Understanding Focus Shifting
    Mapping Your Breathing Pattern
    Plotting Your Primary Muscle Group Loading
    Mapping Your Attentional Focus
    Focus Mapping For Advancing Athletes
    Pre-Start, Pre-Shot, And Downtime Routines

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Form and Function

If you saw a young archer shooting at your range and their form was, well, let’s say “unusual,” what would you say if asked for your opinion? I’d say, “Let me see your target face.” If the target tells me that he groups really, really well, then I would say that everything was fine, just fine. If his arrows were hitting all over the face, I’d ask if that were normal and if he/she said yes, I would say that if better performance were wanted, then some changes were going to be needed.

You see, as coaches, we need to distinguish form from function in archers. The comment has been made often enough that champion archers were winning with less than perfect form. In some cases it was almost bizarre. There have also been archers with impeccable form who never won. (If you have to choose between form and function, always choose function.)

I recommend that we teach beginning archers a form that is near optimum for those archers. (We start with generic form and then tailor it to the archer.) The reason why I avoid idiosyncratic form is that it takes longer to learn; that is it takes more effort and more time to learn. But if an archer has idiosyncratic form and they shoot lights out, then “don’t touch,” is my advice. They don’t get extra points for “style.” Form and function are not linked inextricably.

There are obvious examples of form and function being tied together: for example, if an archer stands with their bow side foot behind the shooting line and draw side foot ahead of that line, they have just made shooting a bow very, very much more difficult. Of course, that young performer who shoots a bow with her feet while doing a hand stand indicates that such limitations aren’t necessarily absolute, still it is far easier to shoot using something akin to “standard form.” There are reasons for this and I am currently working on a book (Coaching Archery from First Principles) in which I will endeavor to lay those out. And, it is clear, that the differences between things like slightly open stances and very slightly open stances are so small as to be only felt by an elite archer. But even beginners can feel the difference between a very open and a very closed stance. So, there is always a matter of degree involved and blanket statements like “an open stance is required” are just silly. The question is always “how open need the stance be?”

In every aspect of archery form and execution, what I call “form elements” (Once a chemistry teacher, always a chemistry teacher.), there are fundamental principles at their core. Often these principles are simple laws of physics or biology (anatomy, kinesiology, etc.) and because of the issue of “degrees” being involved, everything has tradeoffs, pluses and minuses, pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages. So, the existence of such things is never in doubt, so we much focus upon the magnitude of them. A tiny difference between slightly open stances and very slightly open stances is a much smaller issue than between which foot should be on the target side of the shooting line. One form element is highly flawed, the other is, meh, maybe a moot point.

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Archery in the News!

An article in The Guardian newspaper pointed to archeological discoveries which could substantially push back the date archery was used for hunting in Europe. According to that article:

“Early archers would have been able to kill their prey at a considerable distance while at the same time giving their diets a protein boost without endangering themselves, say researchers. It has also become clear that bow-and-arrow technology is ancient, with some of the oldest arrowheads traced to caves in South Africa and dated to around 64,000 years ago.

“Outside Africa, the earliest evidence of archery was some 48,000-year-old arrowheads found in a Sri Lankan cave two years ago. However, that date is now expected to be pushed back to around 54,000 years . . .”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that researchers or reporters have any idea what primitive archery was like. The article went on:

“An animal 100 metres away will think you are too distant to be dangerous and won’t move away,” Slimak told the Observer. ‘With a bow and arrow, you could pick it off easily. Equally importantly, you’ll be too far away for it to attack you if it is wounded and gets angry. So you can hunt safely and provide more protein for your group.’”

A one hundred meter (109 yard) shot? With primitive bows and primitive arrows? Pick it off easily? Egad! And not just “primitive” bows and arrows, but some of the first ever made in Europe!

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10,000 Hours . . . or Not?

There is bandied about a much touted “rule” that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class in, well, anything. So, what do you think? Does this apply to archery?

I think this idea has been quite debunked. I personally am always suspicious of rules that include round numbers (why not 10,256 or 9,522?) and which supposedly apply to everyone equally.

I have stated often enough that there is no such thing as a talent for archery. What there is, I believe, are sets of fundamental physical and mental skills and attributes that make your efforts more or less productive. For example, if you are over 7 feet tall (2.15 m), I think you can forget about becoming a world-class archer, and it isn’t just because you’ll have a devil of a time finding equipment to fit (e.g. long draw lengths require long arrows and long arrows are heavier than shorter arrows, which therefore requires more driving force to get them to a distant target). Also for example, if you are not easily bored and can tolerate long periods of dull drills and practices, you will have an advantages over those who do not possess such mental attributes.

So, a general rule that doesn’t include one’s advantages and disadvantages and the number is clearly made up (is that 10,000 plus or minus 1000, or 10,000 plus or minus 1?) . . . not buying it.

In addition I have seen archers succeed spectacularly without being close to that many years of deliberate practice and, basically I doubt their practice was all that deliberate (in Erikson’s sense).

Now, if archery were a sport as popular as golf or tennis, I think those 10,000 hours may not even get you close. This is another weakness of this rule: “world class” or “elite” means quite a few things depending upon how old a sport is and how much money is paid to professional practitioners. Tennis players and golfers get paid so much money at the top that competition is fierce. Minor sports, like archery, have few well-paid professionals and so those sports are dominated by amateurs whose time and effort are divided between family, jobs, and the sport. For example, do you hear much from the spouses of top paid professional sports practitioners about how much time their spouses spend at work? No? When your wife or husband is pulling in millions of dollars per year there isn’t much to complain about. (I made $2 million in my entire career as a college professor, $4-5 million if you correct for inflation, and today’s athletes can make that with two game checks (American football) or a month of sitting the bench in major league baseball.)

So, the competition to get “elite” or “world-class” status is sports varies widely.

So, what do you think? Is the “10,000 Hour Rule” useful or a waste of breath to discuss?

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A Review of “Choose to Be a Winner” by Jens Fudge

We are finally getting more than just a scant supply of resources on the mental game of archery. One such new source I encountered just before I published my book, “A Guide to the Mental Game of Archery,” is “Choose to Be a Winner” by Jens Fudge of Denmark.

I loved the tone of the book. The voice in my ear was that of a friendly coach/shooting partner who had, by all means, “been there and done that.” I am a little jealous of that tone.

And there is novelty in the contents. I read ideas and approaches I had seen nowhere else before, so something new is always welcome.

An especially strong segment of the book was the one on visualizations. Jens reminded me of uses archers can put visualizations that I hadn’t been focused upon of late. (I wish I had read this section before I published my book, but all authors have to be careful to attribute ownership to ideas and exercise and it is oh, so hard to not steal the good stuff. Oh, I am going to “steal the good stuff” when it comes to my coaching, but if I publish someone else’s work, it reduces their sales and is therefore unfair.)

What this book provides quite a good bit of are actionable exercises. And, trust me, I have been looking for years for mental exercises to help archers and this book has more than a few of those. As a tease here is one: Speed Visualizing. To do this you visualize one of your arrows, in detail. Then you visualize shooting it dead center into a target, then you repeat with a second arrow, and a third. (Mentally put yourself through the process; feel the building muscle tension, everything.) Now, speed up those three shots, reducing it to the three hitting dead center: bam, bam, bam. All three should take less than one second now. Then see if you can get this “video” burned into your mind. Practice it during breaks in your day. Then, when you reach important points in a competition, and you are in need of a boost in self-confidence, run the video several times in quick succession.

I will reinforce over and over that these techniques work for some but rarely all archers. You can only find out if any of them work for you is to try them, sincerely and vigorously try them. The hard part is coming up with things to try and Coach Fudge has supplied you with a basket full.

I am recommending this book, highly, to all archers and coaches who want to get deeper into the mental game. It is a bit pricy (see price below), but what price do you put upon winning?

Contents

1 What This Book is About
2 About the Author
3 Training Planning – Competition Planning
4 Training Journal
5 Mental Training
6 Visualization
7 The Inner Conversation
8 Mental Energy
9 Focus
10 Self-Confidence
11 Mental Competition Preparation
12 The Reviewers
13 Additional Resources

173 pages (including a number of blank pages, I assume for taking notes)

$37.79 (Amazon US), no suggested list price

Available in English and Danish (It would probably be nice to get it into French and German, too, but translations are tricky things, so we are just throwing the idea out there to potential archer-translators.)

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Do I Need My Own Equipment? Do I Need Better Equipment?

I am currently working on a book on coaching archery from first principles, my effort to supply “whys” for all of the “whats” we propound. Currently I am working on an equipment chapter and the following questions came up and while they don’t necessarily involve fundamental principles of coaching archery, I decided to include answers to these questions. I am interested in any constructive criticism you might have and suggestions as to things to include, etc.

* * *

As I have mentioned (ad nauseam?): archery equipment purchases are a minefield for newbie archers and/or their parents. So allow me to address the two questions here, even though they do not necessarily involve first principles.

Do I Need My Own Equipment?
When beginners start in archery, they generally will use “program equipment,” that is equipment supplied by the instructional program. The criteria for what makes good program equipment are: it has to last, be affordable (aka less expensive), suitable for beginners (low draw weights and draw lengths common to the kinds of beginners being taught—adult, youth, etc., easy to maintain and repair, sturdy (it has to last), it has to perform fairly consistently, and it has to last! (Did I mention it has to last?)

Few of these criteria are invoked when buying personal equipment.

Here is the guiding principle for equipment acquisitions—in order to learn to shoot well, your equipment must give good feedback. To give an archer good feedback, his equipment must be fitted to them. For example, I can pick up a 48˝ recurve bow, but if I were to draw it to my 32˝ draw length, it would either break or the bowstring would slip off the limb tips. There is no way I can shoot that bow with good form. So, in order for equipment to give good feedback it must be fitted and to be fitted, the archer must shoot fairly well. This sounds like a scheme out of the book Catch-22, but it really does make sense.

When I fit an archer for equipment they wish to purchase, we need to list all of the parameters involved in the purchase. Things like the color of an arrow’s fletches is basically a personal preference, but the length and heftiness of the arrow is not. Those are based upon the bow’s power, the archer’s draw length, whether they have their fingers on the bowstring or shoot a mechanical release aid, and how well they shoot. So, arrows are tested to find the sizes that will work best for the archer, and then color choices and whatnot can be made. The same is true for bows. If a recurve bow is being purchased, the bow’s length, draw weight, and draw length all must be factored in. But if the archer has only shot a few dozen arrows, his draw length may be all over the place: longer one shot, shorter the next, with no two measurements the same, so what do we use to measure the arrows?

So, the equipment purchasing pattern goes: (a) an archer shoots with program equipment (or borrowed equipment) until they develop somewhat consistent archery form. This is indicated by being able to shoot groups of arrows that land in roughly the same place on a target face, somewhat consistently. Then comes (b) the archer is fitted for his/her own equipment and that equipment is acquired. This equipment will then give the archer better feedback and so they will learn more and at a higher rate than if they had stuck with program equipment. If they are confined to using borrowed equipment/program equipment, their progress will plateau fairly quickly.

This first acquisition of fitted equipment is a major turning point in pursuing the sport of archery. After a few months or even weeks of lessons, archers or their parents are asked to shell out some hundreds of dollars to get equipment tailored to the archer. Please note one can use inherited or hand-me-down equipment or borrowed equipment, but that equipment must fit the archer, otherwise there is no point. I have seen young archers trying shoot bows their uncle gave them that were physically too heavy and too hard to draw. Their little bodies were twisted into pretzel shapes to hold up that heavy bow at arm’s length and then draw it. None of that helps. I use tests to see if the weight of the bow is too much; tests that show whether the draw weight is too much, tests to come up with a draw length that is close. But, with regard it growing youths, we are always providing some “room to grow” into those purchases, and I will be sharing those tips as we go.

Do I Need Better Equipment?
This question is similar but different from the one above. In this situation our archer has had equipment fitted to him/her that has either been outgrown, or the equipment is hindering their performance, rather than enhancing it.

If the archer in question is a casual, recreational archer who is satisfied with their performances but has clearly outgrown their equipment, then equipment of roughly the same quality, just of larger sizes needs to be sought out.

If the archer is dissatisfied with their performance and it seems as if the equipment is holding them back, they need better, not just different equipment. So, if your archery child is really enthusiastic about archery, why not just buy them top-of-the-line gear and have done with it? This sounds reasonable and I have even heard other coaches recommend this, but there are some, actually many, drawbacks to this. If the archer is young and still growing their working draw weight and draw length may go up in leaps and bounds. You may need replacement recurve limbs at the end of a summer, when you bought new limbs at the beginning of summer. Do you want to be replacing $100 limbs or $1000 limbs? In addition, equipment designed for advanced-to-elite archers can be quite finicky to operate. Small variations in execution can produce major errors. That level of equipment assumes a high level of execution and without it,  it may perform worse that cheaper equipment. (See “Patience” by John Vetterli in Archery Focus magazine, 8-3, about half way through John relates how he over bought equipment and how it delayed his progress.)

The rule of thumb I use is the level of equipment should match the level of the archer: beginners should get beginner-level equipment, intermediate archers should get intermediate-level equipment, and advanced-to-elite archers should get that level of equipment (close to top-of-the-line or there). Of course archery manufacturers don’t help you out with accurate labels of the levels of what they are selling, but there is a price correspondence: beginning level equipment is the least expensive; advanced-to-elite equipment is the most expensive, and intermediate level equipment is in between. (If you are just starting at the intermediate level, look at the low end of intermediate priced gear; if you have been an intermediate for a while, look at the higher priced end of the intermediate equipment range.

And we always recommend that you “try before you buy.” This is the really big advantage of a good archery shop. Most shops have a place to shoot and if they are selling what you are interested in, they will allow you to shoot it to see how it feels (within reason, though). If you then buy from them, the tend to set up the equipment for you and adjust it if necessary. These services justify a higher price for your bow or arrows than you can get online. Don’t just compare prices, compare prices and services.

How Do I Know If My Equipment is Holding Me Back? This is not an easy question to answer. One obvious example is if all of your aluminum arrows are slightly different lengths and are somewhat bent. Getting a set of weight-matched, straight arrows will result in an immediate score increase.

Another case is “making distance.” Young archers compete in age-range competitive categories. As you move up in age, the competitive distances increase and the target faces get smaller. Young archers using light drawing bows often encounter this problem when they move up to the next age-competitive category. In order to hit the target at their new longest distance, they have to hold their bow much higher, so high that their arrow point or bow sight aperture are lined up way above the target. Careful aiming is no longer possible and, well, tilting that far up distorts an archer’s form and undermines achieving good, consistent archery execution.

What is needed to “make distance” is lighter arrows, a stouter bow, or possibly both. Both of those things will produce flatter arrow trajectories, leaving the archer with his/her arrow point or sight aperture on a recognizable spot on the target face, allowing careful aiming and having archery form near what it is at the other, closer distances.

Since this is not an easy question to answer, this is where the help of an experienced archery coach can really help. In lieu of a coach, a very experienced archer may be of help in answering this question.

Note
For some strange reason WordPress has decided all of the text of my posts is to be italicized. I have not yet figured out what to do. Any ideas? Steve

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Pet Peeve No. 

As a tyro magazine and book designer, I have a pet peeve regarding “eye candy” which is what I call photos that attract the eye but do not support the associated text. Consider the following photo:

The text this is supporting is an admonition to consult a coach who can check to make sure your form is good.

Do you see anything not quite right in the photo? I do. Check out the next photo.

Here I drew a line along the archer’s forearm. In perfect form, that line would be pointed at the center of pressure the bow hand makes upon the riser. As you can see, it isn’t even close.

Now, I am not pointing out a form flaw. There are many reasons why an archer may need to have a high draw elbow: a shoulder injury, a congenital defect, etc. I am not criticizing the archer, I am criticizing the choice of photos. If your point is that an archer should consult a coach to ensure their form is good, and you want a photo showing a coach and archer, you should use a photo in which the archer’s form is close to perfect, otherwise the photo is contradicting the text.

* * *

Since I am currently working on a book advocating coaching from first principles, which are often scientific principles, allow me to address why a lower elbow (than shown in the photo) is recommended (if possible, always if possible). When a bow is drawn, you push upon the riser and pull upon the string. The force, therefore, in a finger-release situation, is directly between the centers of pressure of the bow hand on the riser and the fingers on the string. This “line of force” (being just the line of the direction of the force) is often called the primary force line and is described as being from the center of pressure on the bow’s grip (which needs to line up with the central plane of the bow to prevent pre-loaded bow hand torque), through the nock of the arrow and out the bottom of the archer’s draw elbow. This line of force is as close as we can get to the line the arrow sits upon. The farther away the arrow is from that line, the poorer the transfer of energy and direction to the arrow. (Ask any string walker of the consequences of the arrow being elsewhere.) We can’t get any closer, because the arrow can’t sit in the middle of our bow arm, etc.

If the archer’s draw elbow is in any other position, they are effectively pulling away from the line we want the arrow to travel upon. If our elbow is on the high side, as in the photo, there is an upward pull on the bow that isn’t balanced and will cause the bow to move when the string is loosed and we do not want the bow to move once we place it in a “perfectly-aimed” position. If the elbow is low, there is an unbalanced downward force. If the elbow is outboard, you have an outboard force (which causes a wrist cock, and eventually a pluck). If the elbow is wrapped too far around the torso there is an unbalanced force in that direction, which can lead to the string rubbing on the archer’s face or arm as it leaves.

Another thing that happens with draw elbow variations is they change the pressures of the fingers on the bowstring. If the draw elbow is too low, it creates extra pressure on the top string finger and high fliers are the result, etc. Non-optimal finger pressures on the string and even the arrow can create forces on the arrow rest, causing things like clicker bounce, arrows lifting off of the rest (even under a clicker), etc.

Moving away from the primary force line results in compensations that result in larger arrow dispersions. If, for example, you have a flying elbow. you are actually pulling the bowstring away from your face. To make a semblance of an anchor position, you will tend to push your string hand in toward your face. When you loose the string, that inward push will result in an outward compensation and a pluck will be seen. There are some extensive videos of this on the ArcheryWinchester website.

The archer-bow-arrow system is somewhat closed so one thing out of whack always leads to others.

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It’s Here . . . !

Now available for your reading pleasure, A Guide to the Mental Game of Archery. We try really hard to keep the prices of our books as low as we can. Even though I have been working on this book, off and on, for over ten years, we are asking $19.95 for the paperback version. We are still working on the Kindle version if you want an even less expensive edition. (Amazon keeps changing the process by which Kindle e-books are created . . . argh!) I don’t have a timeline for that release as of yet.

Cheers.

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