Committing to the Shot

I was watching the last few holes on the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf championship and I saw Tiger Woods do something uncharacteristic … well, several things actually. One of those has to do with archery. In his post round interview Tiger was asked about the poor shot he made on the 16th hole that ended his chances of winning the tournament. The old Tiger would have said something like “I made a mistake and there was no recovering from that.” He never went into detail, as if he were protecting proprietary secrets. This time he expanded on what happened. He said “I failed to commit to the shot.” He said he had at least three ways to play the hole and he described them. He chose one of these but failed to “commit to the shot” which resulted in the ball, instead of curving right as desired, curving left and going out of bounds, in effect a two shot penalty.

So, what does this have to do with archery? Good question!

As archers we face the same dilemma any time there is more than one way to take on a shot, for example we could aim off because of the wind or cant our top limb into the wind. Which should we do? Which ever we choose, we must commit to doing that and only that. If we do not, then we end up like Tiger. He wanted one shot, but he left his subconscious mind juggling three possibilities, with no one of them the clear set of instructions as to what needed to be done. As a consequence, he got a blend of multiple approaches instead of the one he wanted.

Even when we are shooting normally, we need to make a commitment to the shot we want to shoot. This normally takes the form of a pre-shot rehearsal/visualization of the shot we are to shoot (just before we raise the bow). This activity constitutes our subconscious mind’s marching orders.

This “commitment to the shot” is so important that Master Coach Bernie Pellerite recommends that compound archers put that step into their shot sequences, a practice he got from Hall of Fame Coach Len Cardinale.


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What Letoff is Best for Target Archery?

Often as not these posts are stimulated by questions sent in by my students. In this case part of one question included this:

Remember those 65% cam letoff modules? I didn’t notice any difference so I put the original 75% ones back on after a few months. Since using my trainer with two tensions, I see the higher tension seems to go off easier. In addition, I’ve read the higher tension lets you hold on target better. I have noticed even with my stabilizer with different weights I don’t get as steady as I’d like or should be.

Many coaches not raised in the world of compound bows are a little baffled by the concept of letoff. Simple stated, the letoff is the percent of the peak draw weight of a compound bow that you lose getting to the holding weight. So, if you have a 50# peak draw weight compound, if it is designed with 50% letoff, you are holding 25 of those 50 pounds at full draw. If you have a 60% letoff bow, then you are holding 40% or 20#. If you have a 75% letoff bow you are holding 25% or 12.5 lbs.

So, why not 100% letoff, it sure would be easier holding?

In the early days of compound bows (Hint: the 1970’s) compound bows had 35-40% letoff at best. The archers choosing these bows were shooting 40 and 45 pound recurves, holding 40 and 45 pounds at full draw, so knocking off a third or more of that was quite a deal. Shortly thereafter letoff reached 50%, then 65%. When I got started in archery the Compound-Fingers archers were often shooting 50% letoff bows and the release shooters were shooting mostly 65% letoff bows. The difference between the two groups is understandable if you grasp that the fingers do not leave the bow string in a finger loose, the bow string pushes them out of the way on its path toward the bow. If there is very little tension on a bowstring at full draw, where the loose occurs, then there is little force to move the fingers out of the way, which means the string will move much more than we want it to in response to the force exerted on the fingers by the string (action-reaction). This makes for inconsistent wobbly releases.

Bow manufacturers have raised letoffs up to 75%, even 80% but these are not used much for target applications. They are mostly used by bowhunters who may have to wait at full draw for a deer to present itself, for example.

Target archers still need a bit more string tension for the reasons implied in the question and more. As more and more compound archers switched to using release aids, which make our releases so much cleaner, we tended to give back some of that full draw bowstring tension (high letoff = lower full draw string tension), trading it for comfort. The holding weight at full draw which creates the string tension is a force we exert on the bow that (a) makes the bow easier to hold up (as the draw arm is pulling up, somewhat, as well as back), (b) makes the bow easier to hold steady, and (c) gives a reasonably clean release.

In my student’s case, his bow has replaceable modules that attach to the cams that change the letoff from 65% to 75%. (Letoff is an element of design that varies slightly with draw weight and draw length and since those are adjustable, these numbers are approximate.) He is saying that with the 65% letoff modules installed (giving a slightly greater holding weight/bowstring tension at full draw), that the release goes off more crisply and that he seems to be able to hold steadier. He is quite right.

Many cam modules are adjustable to create a wide range of draw lengths. Some adjust the letoff.

Basically there has to be a happy spot in the middle of the letoff range, somewhere where the amount of resistance at full draw is not taxing yet the tension on the string is enough to facilitate a stable hold and release. For target Compound-Release archers this happy middle ground is currently around 65% letoff. As with all things of this type, this is not a dictum, it is just an indicator that the farther you get away from that number the less easy things get. As the letoff goes down (toward, say 50%) the holding weight goes up and so fatigue becomes a factor on long shooting days. If you are in very good shooting shape, this may actually be desirable. As the letoff goes up, the ability to hold steady goes down a little, but if you are rock solid steady, that may be an acceptable tradeoff. So some archers favor higher and some lower letoffs than what most archers do.

If you hear compound archers arguing over “what amount of letoff is best” realize that the discussion is probably pointless as what is best for one person may be quite different for another. It also depends on the application: bowhunting, target, field, 3-D. But compound archers, shooting more complicated mechanisms (bows), have more of an equipment focus than do recurve and traditional archers. Arguing over “what <fill in the blank> is the best …” seems to be a way to talk about their sport and stay engaged. I never pay those discussions/arguments much attention.

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Ladies First—A Reaction

This is not a review of the new Netflix short documentary as I do not want to watch this enough times to be able to review it correctly; it is rather my first impressions of this archery-based documentary. Ladies First is the story of a young Indian girl’s foray into archery as a way out of her life in her Indian village, a village immersed in poverty, misogyny, and patriarchy, a village where women are beaten out of course by husbands or male relatives and there is no crime involved.

We cannot feel superior in this regard as it is not that long ago that we were much the same. I remember that the legal question of whether a parent’s children were their possessions or not was addressed. I remember when wives couldn’t get a credit card or even credit in their own name if they were married (it had to be as Mrs. So-and-So).

This brave young Indian female had to talk her way into an instructional program and then excelled so quickly that she became a world champion as a youth and then within a few short years, she was ranked the #1 female Olympic Recurve archer in the world. She then proceeded to contest others at the Olympics, both in London and in Rio de Janeiro, and lost twice. Each time, she received small mountains of negativism in her country. Each time her quest was pumped up to a ruinous level of expectation by the press, the general public, and even her parents who prayed for divine assistance, prayed for her to win (as if there were not more worthy things to pray for).

Being young and relatively inexperienced, she took this attention/criticism personally, which is perfectly understandable. It was pointed out that the Indian team had no mental coach and really no significant experience in Olympic archery. (India is an emerging power in Olympic Recurve archery.)

The painful thing to me is that there was no one to explain to her or to the public at large that winning an Olympic medal is a crap shoot, governed by random chance as much as by skill. Since I know that last comment will set some of you off, I will explain.

Back in the day, Olympic archers shot a Double FITA Round, which was two 144-arrow FITA International Rounds, the “FITA Round” of most everyone’s acquaintance. This was 72 arrows a day for four days and the highest total score won. Such a sifting process allowed for the best archers to win, but was about as thrilling to watch as a neighbor cutting his lawn. For the Olympic Games, more and more of a televised event, it was a sport that would soon be dropped. As Wikipedia puts it “The Olympic Round was introduced to target archery so that it could become more watchable as a competitive sport, the main focus of this being for the Olympics when shown on television. The round was developed by the World Archery Federation (WA; formerly FITA).”

So, the double FITA was transformed into the Grand FITA and finally through several iterations to what we have now. The latest “innovation” is the inclusion of “set scoring.” When 288 arrows were shot, a bad arrow, even a total miss, could be compensated for by excellent shooting following it. In the single elimination, head-to-head shoot offs for Olympic medals, first introduced in 1988, a poor arrow could spell doom, so this was solved by basically resetting the scores to zero after every six arrows. If you won the contest of the first six arrows, you received two set points (if there is a tie, it is one each). The first to accumulate six set points wins. If there is a tie at that point, a lone arrow, closest to the center, shoot off is done. Since a number of these one-arrow shoot offs were decided by less than a millimeter of distance to the center (from 70 meters!) a rule was put into place that the distance difference had to be more than one millimeter.

This “set system” allows for an archer whose total score is actually lower to win. This has already happened. A bad arrow may lose a set, but its effect stops at the beginning of the next set. In broader terms, the new rules make it harder for the better archer to win and easier for a weaker archer to upset a stronger one. If one then assembles the most talented archers and compares their scores, you will find that there is very little difference between them, so little that those differences are less than the variations in a single archer’s score, therefore whether Archer A or Archer B wins any particular match depends a lot on chance. If Archer A is the “better archer,” that is ranked higher, has a higher end average, whatever, but has a less than average performance for a match, she easily could be defeated by a slightly lesser archer having an above average match. Plus the ranking of the archers to determine who shoots against whom is arbitrary (based upon a 72-arrow, 70 m “Ranking Round”). The dominance of the Korean women has been on display no more obviously that they frequently are ranked #1, #2, and #3 after the Ranking Round, which means if they win out, one Korean woman will face another only in the medal rounds, thus maximizing their chance of medals.

This is the reality of the situation: for TV reasons, there are more “upsets,” less predictability, and more excitement, but there is a much less chance that the best archer will win. But the thinking of the Indian public and media was “She is the No. 1 archer, she should win.” This is quite simplistic thinking. I wonder what the actual success rate is for #1 archers entering the Olympic Games. I don’t have the energy to do such a study, but if you do, I will publish it in Archery Focus. I suspect that the percentage of times the #1 archer prior to the Olympics even medals is closer to 50% than it is to 100% and may be below 50%.

So, all of the crushing pressure and expectations were placed upon a youth with no ability to create reasonable expectations for herself, plus she had no experienced coach, mental or otherwise, to help her create such expectations. Did this affect the outcome? I do not know. I guess an analysis could be done of both of her performances to see if the rounds she shot were above or below her average. If she shot above her average, then a case for “losing” is bankrupt, she just got beat by an archer having an even “hotter” performance that round. If she shot below her average, possibly the pressure was a determining factor.

In any case, please do watch this documentary (Ladies First on Netflix) and if you have a different perspective please let me know. I believe it was billed as an uplifting sports story but while I found her story compelling, I was also dismayed at the failure of the public and the media to understand and the failure of anyone in WA to help them understand.


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When Is It Safe for Young Serious Archers to Start Weight Training?

When Is It Safe for Young Serious Archers to Start Weight Training?

This question has been brought up before and this column (linked below) addresses the issue clearly and simply.

When Can Kids Start Lifting Weights?


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Should Your Students Have a Score Goal for a Competition?

If you have never had a student going into a competition with a score he/she wanted to shoot, you haven’t been coaching long. The question addressed here is: Is this a good idea? I hope to convince you that it is not.

The first problem with shooting a specific score is that it doesn’t help you achieve that end. Note I am not saying one shouldn’t hope for a good outcome, just not have a goal for that outcome. A score outcome is what is known as an Outcome Goal, sensibly so. Outcome goals are incredibly useful … except in producing outcomes. Basically this is because the harder you focus on such a goal, the harder it is to achieve it.

Another drawback to outcome goals is they are future directed. When you are talking about hitting a particular score, you are talking about when the competition is over and that doesn’t happen until you have no further options at improving your score. And anything that distracts you from present-moment thinking while you are shooting is a distraction, not an aid.

To create a high score, a personal best, say, what one needs are Process Goals. These are things, which if they are done, increase the score you will shoot. They are based on improving the process of shooting the arrows. I learned a lot as a schoolchild in my short stint in boxing programs (through high school). The minute the competition starts, all thoughts of goals rush out of your thoughts (very, very quickly when you are being punched in the face). Your corner men are there to remind you, which they do by shouting at you (Jab, jab, jab, stick him, etc.). So, some reminder is needed for even a process goal to have any effect during a competition. And having a coach yell at an archer while they are shooting is not advised and may be against the rules.

To use this ability of ours a goal needs to be selected, preferably something you/they are working on to improve your/their scoring and a process of tracking progress and reminding is needed. I recommend a simple score card for the latter. Here’s an example. You have decided that having a strong mental program really improves your shooting, but you often forget to do it. So, your process goal is “I …” (Always I and always in the archer’s handwriting!) “I will use my full mental program on 85% of my shots.” This level of execution, the 85%, has to be high enough to be a challenge but not so high as to depress your archer at the end if they fail to hit it.

This goal is written at the top of a page of a small notebook (that fits in the archer’s quiver). Down the left edge, the ends are numbered (1-10, 1-12, whatever). To keep track of whether or not the archer’s full mental program was used, while walking to the target or waiting for a second line to shoot, he mentally recalls the end just shot and then writes hash mark for each correct execution ( | | | ). Then the goal at the top of the page is read again to reinforce that it is in play. If the archer can’t remember whether he used his full mental program (or whatever the goal is about) on a shot then it is a miss, not a hit. (Based upon the need to reinforce the ability to remember and focus on that thing.)

At the end of the shoot, the number of hash marks is added up and the percent calculated. If the goal was blown through, a much higher % is chosen next time. If your archer falls way short of the mark, chose a smaller number. You want numbers which are challenging, but doable. Success breeds motivation (believe it or not). Feedback needs to be on the thing being worked on and not superfluous things, so the first thing you want to do is discuss this outcome with your archer. Ask questions like “Did this work?” or “Do you think this helped you stay on your plan?”

Do not get ambitious and lay out four process goals for a competition or practice session. This is like giving a dog too many tennis balls to hold in his mouth. He will drop one, and then another, and then become obsessed in fitting them all in and lose tract of what he was doing before. I recommend one goal at a time. If you think your student can handle more, try two … but only in a practice round or practice session. Let me know if that worked for you and them.


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Avoiding The Judgment Trap

Archery is full of judgment traps. We are asked to judge shots as good or bad. We are told we are doing some form element right or wrong. We ask “What is the right way to do xyz?” And judgments have things associated with them: emotions and self-knowledge. Once you start down the judgment road, it is hard to turn back and the negative consequences can get locked in.

For example, one of the tenants of Lanny Bassham’s Mental Management System is that “self-image determines performance.” (He’s not the only one who says this, but he’s the only one recommending this to archers.) If you judge yourself negatively and often, how does that affect how you see yourself? If you repeatedly call yourself an idiot, lazy, unworthy, etc. that is going to lower your self-image and actually affect your archery … negatively. Some people try to offset this by using “happy talk” about themselves, but like the negative comments, whether you believe these things at the moment determines their affect. If you try to BS yourself to better scores (You are a great archer. You can beat them all. Yada, yada, yada.) you will quickly find out that doing that doesn’t work. The reason is you have no evidence for those claims, so you know they are BS.

What and Why
Believe it or not, some progress can be made from the use of two words: what and why. When you shoot a bad shot, if you start an analysis with the word “Why …” as in ‘Why did I just dump that arrow into the six-ring?” or even “Why was that shot low?” you end up pointing at the only source of why answers, which is “you.” There are no teammates to blame, so a bad shot is due to something you did wrong, or an equipment problem you didn’t notice in time, or … you you. By asking question that start with “what” instead, there is less emotional loading and judgment tempting involved. “What happened on that shot?” or “What is wrong with my bow?” are both questions that are lower on the judgment inducing scale. “What” zeros in on the thing needed to be corrected, not the person responsible for the error.

Why turns the inquiry onto you and we all suffer from a number of biases, one of which is called the recency bias. Whatever our most recent form flaw is consider the primary source of all of our ills. So, we tend to head off in the same direction no matter the issue. A “what?” question can help us avoid such traps.

One researcher, Tasha Eurich, author of “Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life,” pointed this out: “In the course of my research on insight, my team and I compiled a group of 50 … who were rated high in self-awareness (both by themselves and by others) but who had started out with only low to moderate self-awareness. When we looked at their speech patterns, our participants reported asking what often and why rarely. In fact, when we analyzed the transcripts of our interviews, the word why appeared less than 150 times, but the word what appeared more than 1,000 times.”

Becoming More Self-Aware Through Self-Reflection
Some have suggested that archers would benefit from psychological self-reflection exercises, to know more about ourselves. Knowledge is power after all, no? I still think of psychology to be in its infancy and so I tend to view such recommendations with a healthy dose of skepticism. For example, a number of researchers have found that the act of thinking about ourselves isn’t necessarily correlated with knowing ourselves. And it is self-knowledge, often referred to as insight, which seems to be the thing that helps archers mentally. In a few cases, they’ve even found that the more time their study participants spent in introspection, the less self-knowledge they had. In other words, we can spend endless amounts of time in self-reflection but emerge with no more self-insight than when we started.

Meditation, on the other hand, results in a greater state of calmness, which does support quality shooting. I recommend it to any and all so disposed as an aid to their archery.

If one is inclined to judge oneself negatively, we immediately are drawn to our limitations (I always …), to negative emotions (I am such a screw-up!), and we get directed to our past instead of staying in the present while shooting (Uh, oh, here I go again!). Asking What? instead of Why? can be used to help us better understand and manage our emotions (an emotional even keel is necessary for consistent accuracy). Evidence shows the simple act of translating our emotions into language — versus simply experiencing them — can stop our brains from activating our fight-or-flight command center. This, in turn, seems to help us stay in control.



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The Never Ending Story: Getting Through the Clicker

I have an Olympic Recurve student who is working through some issues and he wrote recently to ask (in part):

I struggle to get through the clicker. Are there drills to work on to better expand through the clicker? I am interested in something physical to do.

* * *

The first step in getting through the clicker is to have the clicker in the right place. So, having a helper allows you to do a clicker check. You simply draw through the clicker but instead of shooting, you continue to expand (until you can’t expand no more—Popeye) and the helper notes how far behind the trailing edge of the clicker your arrow point gets. (You must maintain good form and not allow your string hand, for example, to slide back on your face, or anything else that will get the arrow back farther: dropping your draw elbow, etc.) Your helper should see only a 1/4 inch (6 mm) gap between the clicker rear edge and the tip of the arrow point. If that gap is too narrow, the clicker needs to be adjusted outward. If too wide, adjusted inward. We are looking for a 1/4 in (6 mm) distance between the two. This is basically a measure of how close you are to the end of the range of motion of the back muscles you are using at full draw. (It is also, like all other measures of this type, an approximation.)

The key to getting through the clicker is relaxation. Tension shortens muscles, shortens the draw and makes it harder to get through the clicker. (This is why so many intermediate archers struggle when a competition gets hot.) So try this: set up to shoot, but let down after ever rep. Then with your eyes closed draw through your clicker and evaluate how relaxed you are when getting through the clicker. You are simply surveying your state of relaxation. Try relaxing your string hand. Try relaxing your torso. See if any of these attempts to relax non-critical parts of your shot have an effect on how easily you get through the clicker. If relaxation helps, then unwanted muscle tension is your issue. As you are doing this you are training your subconscious mind on the goal (getting through the clicker) and the map to the goal (relaxation).

You have to be on the lookout for any of the many subconscious “clicker cheats.” These will get you though the clicker but not with good form. If you struggle getting through your clicker the disappointment triggers subconscious “experiments” to get you through. One common example of such a cheat is the curling up of the string fingers, so if you notice extra tension in your string hand, that is an area to relax. Another common cheating response is to over extend on the bow side (which will spread your groups out L-R).

If in your most relaxed state, you do not get through your clicker easily, then the clicker probably needs to be moved out a very, very little. If you have the help of someone, have them watch several reps of the drill above (without reporting what they see each time). Then have them tell you where your clicker is after the draw, typically. If your draw is short, you will be asking the expansion to move the point too far and a struggle ensues. Ideally when the draw is finished and you hit anchor, the rear edge of the clicker blade should be on the point. The old guys referred to this as the clicker “hanging on the point.” If your draw doesn’t get you there, then the problem is not with your expansion, but with your draw.

The reason I comment on your faster shots looking smooth and strong is that when we become deliberate we almost always become short. Beginners often do this because their draw is still not as consistent as they want and since they don’t want to draw through the clicker when they are not ready, they draw cautiously and therefore draw short. The short draw then sets them up for a struggle to get through the clicker and a new set of issue ensues.

Let me know what happens if you try this.


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The Problem with Monkey See-Monkey Do Archery

Currently archers and archery instructors are engaging in what I call “monkey see-monkey do” personal improvement planning. If we see a recent champion doing something different, we attribute their success to that new “move,” because, well, no one else is doing that and everything else the winner did was just like what everyone else was doing, so their success surely must be due to what they did that was different and new.

Brilliant logic … just wrong and I mean “Flat Earth wrong,” not just incorrect.

The classic example of this thinking being wrong was a winner of the Vegas Shoot one year did so wearing a glove on his bow hand. The reason was he had a hand aliment that contact with the bow aggravated. This didn’t stop quite a number of people who showed up at the next Vegas Shoot wearing gloves on their bow hands.

There are a number of things operating here that need to be taken into account.

Survivorship Bias
So, you notice that a winner had a different, maybe a new, move. So is the success rate 100%? Did all of the archers who tried the new move experience success? What if I told you that of the ten archers who had incorporated this new form element into their shots, nine of the ten had achieved success, meaning podium-level making success? Okay, now we are talking! Nine out of ten, surely that proves this is the magic move!

Uh, no.

Just as the winners write the history, only the survivors are even present to tell their story. What if 100 archers had incorporated this new form element into their shots, and of the 100, nine experienced great success, one experienced a bit of success and 90 got so frustrated with their inability to shoot well that they gave up the sport and are doing different things now? Different, no?

The problem with this MSMD approach is we only have the winners (aka survivors) to examine in any detail. The losers aren’t around to be evaluated.

Random Winners
Another problem we have is random winners. I remember seeing the scores shot in a North American IFAA Championship shoot, held in Florida one year. About 50% of the entrants and winners came from Florida. Like most archery championship shoots, this one was open to anyone willing to pay the entrance fee, but the farther away you live the less likely it is you will attend. That is just a matter of fact. And don’t you USAA/WA fans look smug at this, one of the first world championship shoots put on by the newly created FITA organization (now World Archery) was held in Sweden. The vast majority of the entrants were from Scandinavia.

So, there are some basic qualities winners need to have: they need to show up, they need to have archers better than them not show up, … do you see where this is going?

An oft quoted statistic is that 95% of competitions are won by 5% of the archers. I have no idea whether this is true, but I suspect the core of it is: people who win often or consistently are quite few. And they win a lot. The only times these things happen is when there is a truly transcendent player in the mix, like Tiger Woods was to golf, or when the competition is just not that great. I suspect, in archery’s case, it is the latter. In Olympic circles, the U.S. was dominant from archery’s reintroduction into the Olympic Games, but when they faltered, Korea became dominant (at least on the women’s side). Now Korea’s dominance is slipping and I suspect that winner’s circles will become more egalitarian as the quality of “the competition” goes up.

And The Solution Is …?
Gosh, danged if I know, but there must be more reality and science in archery if we are do get away from just mimicry as the mainstream of archery instruction. We need to acknowledge that there are as many “techniques” as there are archers and there is no “magic” in technique. We need to know why things work the way they do. We need to know more about the application of corrections. We need to know more about the mental game, particularly as to its application.

I am looking forward with much anticipation to finding these things out. It sounds like fun!



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Training Your Mind to Monitor Your Shots

Archery is described from time to time as a kinesthetic sport, one in which “feel” is a predominate mode of its expression. This is a simple consequence of our preferred sensory intake mode, vision, being entirely engaged in sighting or aiming. This leaves the rest of the shot to be monitor by the other senses. Hearing, smell, and taste aren’t much help, so that leaves the tactile sense (touch) and the sense of balance (often left off of the list of basic senses).

So, how good are you at monitoring the feel of your shot? How good are your students? Most, I suggest have no idea. I am not sure I do, either. But there are some things to do.

Mental Scans
A small set of activities can improve your understanding of the feel of what is going on while you are shooting. While shooting blind bale (short distance, large butt, no target face), start with a set of “scans,” that involve paying attention to how parts of your body feel during a shot with your eyes closed, start with your feet then your ankles on another shot, knees, hips, etc. One body part per shot. Are things moving? How are they moving? Are they moving correctly? Also do a balance check. During a blind shot concentrate only on how balanced you feel.

As usual, we are training our subconscious minds by directing the attention of our conscious minds. We are telling our subconscious minds what is important and what we are trying to do. We are teaching our subconscious self “the plan” and then we must hold it to the plan if we want a high level of consistency.

Form Checks
We can also check how our “feel” corresponds with the “real.” (In golf they have a saying “the feel isn’t real,” meaning that you need to check everything and then associate whatever you feel with whatever is really happening.”

Eyes Closed, Eyes Open Drills Again, blind bale, pick a spot to shoot at and either place your sight aperture on it or your arrow point, whichever way you are aiming. let down, close your eyes, draw on that spot, and then open your eyes. When doing this I do not pay much attention to the Up-down position of the aperture/arrow point, just the left-right position. If you can’t seem to end up close to that spot (again, L-R position), it might be you are fighting your stance. If you end up consistently left, try turning your stance to the right and try again. (Some people insist the stance that allows you the greatest success in this drill is your “natural stance,” the one in which your lower body is not fighting your upper body’s positioning.)

Mirror Drills “Closet mirrors” or mirrors designed to be mounted on doors are quite inexpensive and can be mounted so that archers can “shoot” directly at them or shoot with the mirror up the line. (Make sure it is square and plumb. If not your image is distorted.) If shooting in the direction of a mirror, it is important to not shoot the mirror! I suggest a let down after each rep. The drill procedure is the same: draw with eyes shut on a target, then open your eyes at anchor. You can see many things in this reflected view. Are you standing straight up and down? Is your bow being held straight up and down or is there a cant? Are you hunching your bow shoulder? Arching your back?

With the mirror up the line, when you get to anchor, open your eyes and turn your head to see the mirror image. Are your hips tilted? Are your shoulders square and “down?” Again, let down when you are done looking. (A line can be placed on the mirror with a length of thin tape to help gauge “straight up & down.” make sure it is plumb.)

Any flaws in “your plan” must be scheduled to be fixed in practice … immediately! these have #1 priority. If you are doing anything incorrectly, the worst thing you can do is pretend that everything is okay and go ahead and shoot a lot of arrows. The absolute worst thing to do is compete in this state.

Shooting Recall Drill
There is a drill called “Recall.” In this drill, as soon as you have release an arrow on target, you turn up the line and tell your coach/shooting partner/video camera where you think the arrow landed. Then either you or your helper spots the arrow and calls its actual location. When I do this, I replay in short-term memory where my aperture was a the moment of release and use that as my best guess as to where the arrow would land, moments later.

The purpose of this drill is to acquaint you with your built-in “instant replay” system. When in competition there are two things you need to do on every shot. One is to evaluate whether or not you made a good shot (and if not why) and you need to determine where the arrow landed. These may not match. Good shots can be blown off course by gust of wind and bad shot can land in the middle. This information is needed to create a plan modification for the next shot (allowing for the wind, whatever) or if a bad shot was made (which is where the replay is needed to figure out why), correct it as soon as possible as repeating bad shots is not a recipe for a good score.

I recommend you try these yourself (if you haven’t already) and then teach them to your serious students. As always, be on the lookout for other drills in this same vein. I will appreciate it if you send along any such drills you find as I am trying to compile a master list of drills (and what they are for) and make them available to one and all.


Filed under For All Coaches

Olympic Recurve Tuning (for Newbies)

I have a correspondent who is trying Olympic Recurve after having some experience as a traditional archer. He wrote in to say (amongst other things):

I bought a Galaxy Tourch riser and Galaxy limbs. They seem very good. Since I shoot a long draw and have a longbow that is 45# @ 30˝ I went with 32# long limbs. I can draw and hold this weight comfortably and it should be enough weight to reach out to long distance.

I’m grouping fairly well and holding the 4-ring on the NFAA target face at 20 yds, but a bit to the left. I have not explored enough yet if this is due to a slight torque in the bow hand as the grip does not seem quite right or a tuning issue that I can correct with the plunger.

I commented on this part of his message as follows.

* * *

The key to getting a good tune is starting from a good setup. I have worked with students who claim they have a good tune but one glance at their bows says otherwise.

It is imperative that all elements of your bow be arranged around the central plane of the riser. The limbs need to be bisected by that plane, the long rod stabilizer, the bowstring, the sight’s aperture. The only exception (I assume you are right-handed, if not switch left and right hereafter) is the arrow. Since the bowstring is in plane, the nock is in plane, but the arrow’s point is not. Instead of sitting right behind the string when viewed from the rear (always in plane—visually line up the string with the two screws that lock the limb bolts down to get your eye in the right place) the arrow point just peeks out from behind the string (right edge of the point lines up with the left edge of the string. (This compensates for the string sliding forward and in toward you during the release of the string.) Only from this setup can you then tune things in correctly.

Left arrows can be caused by the aperture being right of the plane. They can be caused by the arrow rest having the arrow pointing too far left, etc.

If you don’t start from this neutral setup position, you can pit these things against one another and end up with a “false tune” (one that is relatively less forgiving of the normal variations in your shot). So, if your rest places your arrow too far in toward your bow, all other things being correct, you will shoot to the right. You might tune those right arrows out by moving your aperture to the right, or stiffening your plunger button etc. But if you do, you are correcting for one mistake by making another and building a less than best possible tune.

Have fun getting set up and tuning so you can “live in the center” as they say!


PS The best exposition I have seen on setting up and tuning an OR bow is Archery in Action by Simon Needham. It is a DVD companion to his book The Art of Repetition. If you prefer books, there are a number of books available, such as Richard Cockrell’s Modern Recurve Tuning: Start to Finish (Second Ed.).


Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A