Things Go Better with Coach!

One Archer, Five Different Coaches
If you took one archer’s shot, videoed it and showed those videos to five qualified archery coaches, you would likely get five different explanations of how to fix their flaws. However, I will argue that any one of them could potentially help the archer improve, but only if a couple of conditions were met.

First, the explanation from the coach for the changes recommended should resonate with the archer, aka the coach speaks their language. They need to respond to the communication in a way that makes sense and motivates them. Second, the archer would need to stick with that one coach’s voice as they continued to work. If they listened to all of the coaches at once, they would be worse off than when they started. You can’t make successful changes with too many voices floating around in your head. This is why “tips” and online videos are not good guides to better scores. (They can be helpful, but only for a specific topic and short term.)

Continuity Is Needed
Continuity is a problem that exists at every level of archery when it comes to coaching. Because changes occur only slowly, our instincts can be to switch coaches more often than is helpful, let alone being the guy who will take advice from anyone on the practice line at his club. Even the best archers in the world can cycle through a number of coaches rapidly when they don’t see immediate results.

If you want to give yourself the best chance of making meaningful changes to your form or execution, you need to stick with the same source of advice for “a while” and allow it to work. I don’t know how long that period is or should be but I also don’t know of anybody who does – that’s the challenge.

Archers develop shots that are unique to them. Yes, they look like everybody else, but they are different. Before I work with a serious archer I want to know what they think their issues are. I want to see them shoot and I want to know what their common misses are. Some archers can effectively shoot in ways that would undermine other archers. We recently had an Olympic men’s individual champion who shot with his string thumb behind his neck and with no sling (and yes, the videos showed him “grabbing the bow”). But if these things, these “form flaws,” are not problems for an archer, would you recommend they change them? Why? (I would not.)

This happens often enough when I work with young archers. These young people often haven’t developed enough muscle to keep their bow arm up through their shot. So their bow arm drops a little when the string is loosed. There is no immediate cure for this (although if their bow is too heavy, I suggest lightening it; young recurve archers do not need side rods or back weights, for example) so I tend to “leave it for later” (although I reinforce that work will have to be done at some point—just not now). If that archer sees another coach, they may see the “dropping of their bow arm” as a major flaw they need to work on . . . right now.

This is why I counsel archers who are seeing me or other coaches short term (something I recommend) that they should always take notes and discuss what was addressed with their “regular” coach to see how it fits into their improvement plan. Even “tips” from others on the practice butts, need to be brought to the regular coach for discussion. One of them may actually help.


Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches

What Is a Good Shot?

In a target archer’s post shot analysis the outcome of each shot (the “hit point”) is compared with a short-term memory replay of the shot just made to see if they match up. If, for example, the replay shows you that you had a minor pluck, which would result in an arrow to the left of center, and you check your hit point and it is to the left of center, then voila, you have matched up cause and effect. You can then include whatever move you focus on to avoid plucking in your next shot.

But, if your mental review of a shot comes up with “ordinary” or “normal” and you look at the target and the arrow is not in the center, can you tell if that is a “good shot” or a “poor shot” with an unknown cause?

Just what is a good shot . . . for you (or your students)?

Is that 9 a “poor shot”? The other arrow is in the X.

Consider a hypothetical experiment. You or a student pins up a pristine target face and proceeds to shoot 100 shots at it all of which were considered good. What do you think the pattern of holes in the target face would be? Generally, we would expect there to be more holes closer to the center than farther away, with the pattern centered on target middle. (If the pattern of holes isn’t centered on target middle, your equipment needs adjusting. Maximum score can only be realized through this centering of your groups on the highest scoring zone of the target face. Tight groups in the 3-ring are not good!)

The question devolves, then, into “how spread out are the holes?” What is normal for expert archers is different from what is normal for intermediate archers. The better the archer, the smaller the group. The ultimate goal for group size is “smaller than the highest scoring ring on the target face.” Indoors, compound archers perform this way in major competitions quite often. This even occurs outdoors from time to time in field archery. In target archery, perfect “distances,” e.g. 30 m, have been shot.

So, archers have to be cognizant of what their normal group sizes are and use those as an indicator of whether their hit points are “normal” or indicating a “mistake.”

Younger archers often go wrong because of expectations. They shoot their first arrow (at a 10-point face) and shoot a 6. They had an expectation of shooting really, really well (often based on nothing more than a desire) and the score of 6 is disappointing, so they feel that something must be wrong and so adjust their sight, for example. This is a mistake. If you do not know what the problem is, or whether there is even a problem at all, the probability of choosing the right “fix” for the problem is near zero. Worse, if the next arrow is also classified as “poor,” which is now more likely because of a mis-set sight, another “fix” might be implemented . . . and another, and another. Said archer ends up “chasing his/her tail,” making corrections for things not wrong, getting farther and farther from a good setup. (Starting from a correct setup, even random changes will move away from the good setup to a poorer one because all paths lead away and few lead back, at least initially.)

A seasoned archer shooting a first arrow 6, might shrug and think “Not a good start,” but quickly get back into his/her shot process, making no changes/corrections/adjustments. If a 6 is normal, it is normal. It can also be disappointing, but that disappointment should not be a motivation.

We have all seen rank beginners (heck, we have all been rank beginners) shoot arrows, be disappointed, then shoot another, then another, etc. making no changes in form or equipment. “Shootin’ and hopin’” is typical of beginners. If they become serious about archery, they need to become more analytical, as described above. They can be taught this and they can learn it. The key to learning how to do this correctly is twofold: they need to know their “normal” group sizes on the various targets they shoot and they need to keep a mental list of their typical mistakes.

The list of typical mistakes, helps identify minor slips while shooting. For example, going back to the archer who had a minor pluck. If the archer’s arrows after an end are grouped nicely in the middle, but one arrow, his/her last arrow shot, is out away from the others to the left, that is an indication of that minor pluck. The shot replay might not have identified that cause, but the result may serve instead. Going back to the target, the archer can apply a correction for the minor pluck (plucks are usually caused by poor alignment at full draw, so a bit of additional attention on getting into good full draw position might be a fix) and if the left arrows don’t show up again, then problem solved.

Archery books and archery instruction often focus 99+% on technique. But intermediate archers on up need also to focus on developing archery skills. Arrows that repeatedly hit to the left of center might be defective internally where the defect cannot be seen. This is why we mark our arrows, so as to be able to identify them, and we make mental notes, such as “Arrow #5 was outside-left of the group.” In subsequent ends, if #5 shows up there again, wise archers rotate it out of the shooting set and save it for inspection later. I put them in my quiver upside down so I do not accidentally pull it out and shoot it again. I also have a tube in my quiver set aside for “extras” and “problem arrows,” and I am very careful when drawing arrows from that tube. When I do so, I carefully inspect it and then transfer it to one of the other tubes to shoot it in order. This is just one of myriad skills that serve target archers on their path to better and better scores.

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches

Do You Want the Long Answer or the Short One?

Toward the end of my teaching career when a student asked me a question I asked them “Do you want the long answer or the short one?”

In archery I expect that athletes would want the short answer to their questions. Their priorities are finding out which things are worth their time and effort to try and then figuring out whether those things work for them.

Coaches, on the other hand, should ask for the long answer. They should know the background, even the history, of the things they teach. They could also know the science of what they recommend. It would be nice to know all of the pitfalls when archers first try certain moves, and lots, lots more.

The students I taught were generally taking chemistry as a service course, to provide background for the things they were truly interested in, not because they were going to be applying that knowledge. It did not offend me that they, almost to a person, asked for the “short answer.” The rare chemistry major I encountered, would occasionally ask for the long answer, as is appropriate. That I asked my adult students this question and then accepted their judgment, I felt, was a sign of my maturing as a teacher.

When archery coaches are in “teaching mode” the most important principle to apply is “know your student.” If they are serious competitive archers, give them the short answer and ask if they want to know why. If not, don’t hold it against them, that’s not their job to know those things; it is your job. If they are beginning recreational archers, always, always give them the short answer. And tell them funny stories, they like those.

Oh, and when you email me with questions, it is perfectly okay to ask for “the long answer” or “the short answer,” I will understand.


Filed under For All Coaches

You Are Shooting Terribly; Should You Quit?

We have all experienced this if you have competed much at all. Maybe you started well and then your game came apart, or you started poorly and then went south afterward. The thoughts come easily: “Why am I doing this? I am wasting my time. I should just quit and go home.”

Well, should you quit?

I have seen a great many archers do this. It is not unusual at all. I have never heard of an archer being accosted for doing this, accused somehow of poor behavior. They paid their fee. Is there a rule that they must finish? (No, there is not.)

So, there are some real benefits to quitting. There is no sense in trying to deny it. One is simply you don’t shoot any more agonizing bad shots that day. Another might be you don’t have any more embarrassment associated with your poor round. And, hey, there’s a cold beer in the fridge at home.

I can’t imagine that you are shocked that I recommend to my students that they do not quit, unless unable to continue. The reason for this is simple: every round you shoot is an opportunity to learn and build towards something better down the road. When you give up and pack it in mentally for the day, it’s a missed opportunity to improve.

I suggest that my students may want to set a new goal for what remains of the tournament. Obviously they can practice their recovery program. They could also switch to a back-up bow and give it a good test.

What are some other good ideas to support “keeping going?”


Filed under For All Coaches

So-Called Mental Skills Coaches—A Short Follow-up

I had a conversation about my last post (So-Called Mental Skills Coaches) with a colleague in England and a number of points came up that may be worth sharing.

Basically, the “sniffiness” of sports psychologists regarding “mental skills coaches” is part of a longstanding dispute regarding qualifications. Basically, those who have them, want to keep “the bums out of the racket.” In other words, they worked hard for their credentials, why should someone who hasn’t done that work be given a pass?

There is a story about one of my political heroes, Clarence Darrow, a lawyer who defended the weak and poor often enough. As a prominent lawyer, he was involved in administering the bar exam to prospective lawyers, a test that, if passed, allowed that person to legally practice law in that state. There was a short, somewhat obnoxious candidate, who failed his first attempt miserably, failed his second attempt, and barely squeaked by with a pass on his third attempt. Hearing that he had passed the attempt this person strutted about, trying out his new found prominence. Darrow looked down his nose at the man and said, “I suppose you will be all in favor of raising standards now?” (This is from memory, don’t quote me on this.)

This is a well trod battlefield, the field of contentious qualifications. Some of these “standards” of preparation get made into laws (not surprising for the lawyers). Others are more relaxed.

The profession of “mental skills coach” is now growing. If it were to be squelched because those people “lacked the qualifications of sport psychologists,” it may never get off of the ground, so I am not in favor of that. The story of Lanny Bassham is illustrative.

Lanny Bassham is a mental skills coach, effectively. He makes no bones about not being a “sport psychologist,” he states this explicitly.  When Lanny got his business going (Mental Management Systems), sport psychology didn’t exist per se. Sport psychology only began in earnest in the 1970’s but because there is an existing discipline (psychology), it could establish itself as a concentration of study under the pre-existing topic, rather having to create an entirely new academic subject. Lanny refers to himself as a “performance enhancement specialist.”

If you are unfamiliar with Lanny’s story, here it is in a nutshell. Lanny went to the Olympic games in 1972 as a rifle shooter. He shot very poorly, but ended up with a silver medal. He had never shot before spectators of any number, but that in his mind couldn’t have been the cause of his poor performance. Because he had an Olympic medal, he had a certain standing amongst successful Olympians, so he set himself the task to find out from them what the secrets of performing at the highest levels were from that group of athletes.

He found that the common thread that bound together the winners was certain mental attributes that he now teaches. But all he had were interview notes and a program based upon those that was not very well developed yet. So, he set about training himself using his new found insights and two years later went to the shooting world championships, in which he entered a ridiculous number of events, winning most of them while setting a few world records on the way. He then went back to the Olympics in 1976 and took gold.

Lanny Bassham tested his new ideas to see if they could effect the performance of an elite rifle shooter, himself, and found they worked very, very well. Lanny is in the shooting hall of fame.

Lanny basically has offered to share his insights, gained in this manner, with others. Anyone who claims he should not do that because he is “not qualified” is an idiot.

Eventually we will have better training programs for the mental game of archery and some certifications (this is happening now, I have asked some people to write about that topic for Archery Focus) but until then we will have uncertainty as to who is qualified to help athletes with the mental games of our sports. And, I suppose we will have quotation marks around mental skills coach for a while longer.

Postscript I endorse Lanny Bassham’s insights, personally, and have recommended his book, With Winning in Mind, to thousands of archers and coaches as an excellent entry into the mental game of archery.


Filed under For All Coaches

“So-Called Mental Skills Coaches”

I was reading an article about the 2019 U.S. women’s national soccer team and encountered this: “The US have often employed sports psychologists and so-called mental skills coaches over the years, although there is not currently a full-time staff member working in either of those roles.”

“So-called” mental skills coaches . . . hmm.

Why not “The US have often employed sports psychologists and mental skills coaches over the years, . . .”? Why “so-called”?

Sports coaching seems to be an established field, but I suspect that is because there are coaches who make a great deal of money doing that as a job, rather than there being standard (or non-standard) criteria that qualifies you to do it, such as doctors and lawyers and beauticians have.

What is it that qualifies one as a “mental skills coach”? When I look at my favorite mental skills coach, Lanny Bassham, he not only invented himself and his business as a mental skills coach, he invented his curriculum, too! There are now education programs just coming into existence that are certification programs, so “certified mental skills coach” is a phrase now coming into being. (Lanny’s company, Mental Mangement Systems is offering some of these.)

Note As an aside, it took me a long time to realize that a certification program was one that had a certificate at the end. What the certificate establishes is that you completed the program in good order, nothing more, nothing less. Basically it is just a “certificate of completion” for a course of study. The value of the certificate is derived only from the value of the program, or it should, although some programs seem to limp along, harvesting their former reputations along the way.

So, what is it that qualifies one as an “archery coach,” then?

In the infancy of archery coaching in this country, which was not that long ago, what qualified you as an archery coach was the fact that you coached archers. There were few of them and no, count them—zero, zilch, nada—archery coach training programs.

What qualifies one to coach archery is still evolving, although evolving chaotically in my opinion. There are a number of things that are needed to make “archery coach” a more recognizable position, far from being a “so-called archery coach,” and they do not involve getting a high paying job with a professional team or major university. One of the things I found missing when I first got a coaching certificate (a Level 2 certificate from the then National Archery Association, now USA Archery) and that is any kind of professional literature for archery coaches. I searched and searched and searched and found exactly two books on coaching archery, both of which were on how to teach a college archery classes (and one of them was published in 1935).

I can’t remember exactly when it was I took on the task, the mid-2000’s I think, but I decided to make the attempt to create a professional literature for archery coaches. (No shrinking violet I.) I went about and used my position as editor of Archery Focus magazine to ask every coach I knew to write books about coaching . . . and got turned down every . . . single . . . time. So, I wrote one book myself (Coaching Archery, WAF 2009) to get the ball rolling. The project got turned down by traditional publishers, so we formed our own publishing company, Watching Arrows Fly, which now has about a dozen titles on coaching (and many more on other archery topics, all available on and a half dozen more coaching books are on the drawing boards. (I am editing, designing, and laying out one such currently—Bob Ryder on Coaching Collegiate Archery).

It is a start.

We made an abortive attempt to create a community for archery coaches. We called it The Archery Coaches’ Guild. The effort is on hiatus because we just didn’t have the resources to pull it off. We spent many hundreds of hours and a fair amount of money on it only to end up back on the proverbial “square one.” It is doable as we designed it as a virtual community (around a web site) but we just couldn’t get it done.

At some point or other, when I am brave enough, I will take a shot at writing an outline of archery coaching knowledge. Part of that “tree” will be a branch, a stout branch, labeled “Mental Skills” or the “Mental Game of Archery.” (So-called metal skills coaches, my ass!) Other branches will include archery equipment knowledge, the role of technique and how to teach it, how to develop archery skills, how to compete successfully, how to operate a recreational program, the science of archery, etc. My thought is if I create such an outline and share it widely, it will stimulate people to write about these topics. If we can accumulate the coaching wisdom of current coaches then future coaches will not have to “start from scratch,” as it were, developing their coaching kit. And, if they add their acquired wisdom on top of ours, well, maybe we will have something of great value to coaches going forward and, through them, to all archers.



Filed under For All Coaches

The Mindset of a Release Shooter

Note This is directed to release shooters, but coaches of release shooters should get the point as they should be release shooters themselves. Steve

If you shoot with fingers on the string, the tough nut to crack is deciding when to release the string (Now . . . no, . . . now, . . .). This is why clickers were so quickly adopted by recurve archers when they were first invented.

For Compound-Release archers (Are there any other kinds left?), the release of the bowstring is different, quite different, because a mechanical thingamabob exists between fingers and string.

My first release aid was mechanical (it was a Hot Shot) but prior to those were the various ledge and rope-spike release aids that were not mechanical. There are no such “non-mechanical” releases in use today because of the superiority of the mechanical triggers now available (mostly of the “double sear” type if that interests you).

What I am addressing in this post is the mindset needed to be a successful archer who uses a release aid.

I remember shooting a Flint Round (I miss the Flint Round, a wonderful competition) and on the final shot, my Hot Shot release failed to let go of the string. In exasperation I hammered the trigger several times (Whap, whap, whap!) and no luck. I borrowed the release aid of my mentor, who was shooting right next to me to get that last shot off. The feelings I had surrounding this event are very easily recalled. (Everyone on the shooting line was waiting for me to finish, for example.)

Release aids do fail to function, but this is a very, very rare occurrence. Much more often, a release failing to “go off” is due to the archer’s technique or the lack thereof. For elite Compound-Release archers this basically does not happen, but for us recreational archers, it does. This topic was brought up by a comment from one of my colleagues (slightly edited): “With other thumb trigger releases I know some shots just aren’t going to go off but with this new release, even if the shot takes longer I know it’s going to go off. That makes a big difference.” Yeah, baby! This is an oh, so important part of release shooting.

Part of the reason release shooters accumulate so many release aids (other than the general belief in magic, exhibited by all archers) is to find a release aid that combined with their mastery of the technique to use it, results in this level of dependability (IMHO, of course). Once you start having an internal debate (Me v. I) over whether the damned thing is going to go off, your shot is finished, done, kaput. A trustworthy release aid/technique combination is vitally important to the mindset needed to shoot well. (While waiting for the release to actuate, there should be no conscious thoughts about the release at all.)

In my first year of release shooting, I can remember the feeling of a shot carried on just a tad too long and the thoughts going through my head: Should I let down? Should I force through the shot? Will I run out of time if I do a let down? None of these kinds of thoughts are helpful. There is an optimum time frame through which all of your shots should occur and you can train yourself to do this, but a requirement for achieving this is that the release aid be compatible with your technique (and vice-versa).

For the curious, the venerable Hot Shot Release Aid.

Releases can be two-, three-, or four-finger models if handheld or even wriststrap releases. Release aids can be triggerless or have thumb, little finger, or ring finger triggers. Wriststrap releases can use the index or middle finger to set them off.

The only way to find out which of these types of release aid fit your archery is by trial and test. Do use a rope bow for your initial tries! I give a rope bow to each of my compound students (if they do not already have one) and encourage them to carry it in their quiver so they can ask other archers “Can I try your release?” without the danger of dry fires of wildly shot arrows.

Then it is a matter of try, try, and try again. The ideal release . . . for you . . . fits for hand/body and suits your personality. It will feel “right” once you have shot it for a while. And, like golfers with putters, there are golfers who use the same putter for 40 years and others who switch back and forth between a set of dozens of different models, adding to that set often. You need to find out who you are in this regard. Archery has always been a voyage of self-discovery.


Filed under For All Coaches

Why Do I Need Soft Hands?

Since I have been working on our drills book, I have been feeling a growing interest in being able to prove, or at least demonstrate, why certain things need to be the ways they are in making an archery shot. Too much of archery coaching seems to be “do it this way” and if you ask “why,” one gets either nothing or gibberish as a response.

If you have read this blog for any length of time you may recall that I call “having relaxed hands and good full draw position” the Three Pillars of Consistent Accuracy. They provide the basis for all of the other things that need to go right to make good shots, one after the other. Good full draw position, often described as the “Archer’s Triangle” for Recurve archers, can be “proved” necessary based upon the forces involved and the desire for a “clean” release of the string for consistencies sake. But . . .

Why Soft Hands?
To demonstrate this necessity (or so I claim) I offer an experiment. First make a fist and make it hard. Hold it for as long as you can. After you feel the strain associated with this experiment, check a few things. Check how flexible your wrist is. Check how relaxed your forearm is. Check to see how relaxed your elbow joint is. If you are like me, there is a great deal of tension all up your arm and the joints are quite inflexible. The aphorism is “muscle tension spreads.” Containing the muscle tension, to the fist in this case, is possible but not, I think, easily or completely so.

So what? Who cares?

The basic consequences of unwanted muscle tension is that it restricts movement and, once a muscle is flexed, it cannot be flexed to perform an action. Examples of this are rife. Consider posing bodybuilders on a stage. They have muscles bulging everywhere. To get this effect, they are flexing muscles that are in opposition to each other (antagonistic and agonistic muscles). For example the biceps muscles close the arm at the elbow. The triceps muscles open the arm at the elbow. Flex both and the elbow becomes locked in its position. Those flexing bodybuilders are quite rigid when they are posing. Their joints cannot be moved. And archers want to move their joints. This is necessary to make shots.

Consider the bow hand. Why is the bow hand in a vertical orientation, what I call the “bye-bye” position? Why not wrap it around the bow as one would grip a pistol, say? Shooting a pistol requires very little muscle effort, certainly as when compared to shooting an arrow from a bow. If an archer uses a pistol grip, the primary contact with the bow (which becomes critical when the string is loosed) is focused on two groups of muscles: the pad of the thumb and the pad of the heel of the palm (Scientifically the thenar muscles are three short muscles located at the base of the thumb. The muscle bellies produce a bulge, known as the thenar eminence. They are responsible for the fine movements of the thumb. The hypothenar muscles produce the hypothenar eminence, a muscular protrusion on the palm at the base of the little finger. These muscles are similar to the thenar muscles in both name and organization.)

Ack! Not like this either.

These two muscle groups are independent enough that one can get tense while the other is more relaxed. During the loose, the recoil from the bow acts upon those muscles. The bow will “bounce” off of hard muscles more than from soft ones. So if the thumb muscles are more tense/hard than the other, the bow will actually rotate (the bow hand is at the pivot point, remember) ever so lightly, with the top limb moving forward and down. This slight movement gets amplified, the farther the arrow flies and a low shot results. If the thumb muscles are softer, the bow bounces off of the harder hypothenar eminence, and the bow rotates up (top limb moves down and back). This results in high shots.

So, what do archers do to reduce these effects? We isolate the bow contact onto the thenar eminence/pad of the thumb. Then, variations in muscle tension there result in the bow bouncing more forward and rotating less. (The slight rotation moves the arrow rest and nocking point. Moving both of these forward (toward the target) changes the aim very little.)

Then the job of the archer is to keep the pad of the thumb in a consistent state of muscle tension and a relaxed state is the easiest one to find/recognize. Imagine the difficulty in shooting well if the optimal situation involved those muscles being 11.2% tense or some other non zero value for the muscle tension? Ack!

We have even developed tension ridding activities for our hands (flapping them, flexing them backward, etc.).

Coaches can assess the degree of relaxation in an archer’s bow hand. The position of the bow hand is easy to check. If the bottom three fingers of the bow hand are, or can be, wrapped around the bow, the hand position is wrong (they have a pistol grip). When waving “bye-bye” to an infant, we hold our hand palm out and flap our fingers. This is the direction one’s fingers need to be able to move in an archer’s grip (and why I refer to that as the “bye-bye position”). The index finger, moving down toward the ground, and being slightly curved, may end up in contact with the back of the riser, but the others should not be able to wrap around the grip at all. Some archers curl these up alongside the grip to facilitate getting into this hand position.

As to checking whether the bow hand is relaxed, I look for “white knuckles.” Muscle tension in the fingers or pressure using the fingers forces blood out of them, turning the normal skin color lighter (black skin will look browner, brown skin will look creamier, and pink skin will look white). I will also ask the archer if I may touch their bow fingers at full draw (only after instructing them to not shoot and being in blank bale shooting position, aka up close, to catch accidental looses). At full draw I flick their fingers in the “open” direction. If they are tense, they will not move. If they are relaxed, the finger will move open and flick back to the normal relaxed position quite quickly.

How About the String Hand?
Fingers on either the string or release aid, have the same the prescription: a relaxed string hand. The muscles necessary to get the string fingers to curl around the string or a release aid are in the upper forearm and not the hand. Tension in the hand makes it harder to get a clean release (the string has to exert more force on the fingers to push them out of the way (and action-reaction makes the string move farther out of line) and harder to operate the release aid consistently.

I give the athlete something to feel for in the way of feedback and that is, I think, an illusion. If you draw a bow with a relaxed hand, it actually feels as if the hand stretches. It might actually stretch, but I think that it is mostly an illusion. The illusion comes from normal behavior. If a force comes from the outside of our body, we normal marshal muscle force (and so tension) to oppose that force. This is automatic. When drawing the bow we are supplying the force, but the bow turns it around and applies it to the string fingers. By deliberately not tensing those fingers, it seems to our minds that the fingers must be affected and from that comes the feeling of the stretch. (If you haven’t noticed this before, feel for it in some test draws. Try varying the amount of tension in your hand and see how that affects the feeling of the hand stretching during the draw.)

A nice relaxed release hand looks like this. The bow hand is not bad either.

The other thing I look for is a flat back of the hand, straight wrist and arm in a “normal position.” If the muscles in the string arm are relaxed, pulling on the arm from the farthest extremity (which the bow does) will cause the arm to be straight. If I see a kinked wrist or a curved forearm, or a cupped back of the string hand, I know there is muscle tension. There is a drill I use to provide the correct feel to the archer: you, or another archer, stand facing the student. Each reaches slightly toward the other as if to shake hands, but instead, they hook string hooks, treating the other’s string grip as if it were the string. Then both are to wriggle and shake their whole arms without losing the connection to the other archer. Wrists should be floppy, hands should flex back and forth, forearm muscles should flop around. (I got the idea for this drill from the marshal arts drill of “push hands.”)

Other Implications
The Three Pillars have other implications. For example, beginners often pick up the bad habit of setting their bow wrist before getting the bow seated (in anticipation of the forces to be applied?). Because of this “form flaw” the center of pressure point on the bow grip varies from shot to shot quite a bit causing larger than necessary groups. Sometimes they have a lot of contact high on the grip and they get low shots, other times it is low contact (aka “heeling the bow”) and they get high shots. In almost every case I recommend that there be no preset. In the case of the bow wrist, if it is kept relaxed while getting the bow up, the bow (and deliberate hand position as described above) will cause the center of pressure on the bow grip to be very consistent. The bow shapes and positions the hand and wrist very consistently. Presetting the bow wrist cannot have the response of the bow’s grip molding itself to each new hand position.

For this reason, I do not recommend doing anything “early.” It was recommended at one point that the draw of a recurve bow be done with the wrist bowed outward because that was the position the wrist would be in at full draw. This is an early set of the string wrist. If the draw is done with the wrist as relaxed as can be, when the archer gets to anchor, the wrist will conform to the archer’s head anatomy, which is determined in turn by bones, and a regular position will be the result. Trying to set body positions early is like starting a sawing/cutting motion with a steak knife before the knife is anywhere near the steak. There being no resistance to what position we want to effect, the range of positions/movements becomes greater. (And no one wants to be known as the guy who cut himself eating dinner.)

Similarly it has been recommended to recurve archers that their shoulder line be pointed at the bow (a necessary condition for good full draw position) before the draw has been completed, that is early. This causes unnecessary muscle strain, as the final stage of the draw is caused by rotation of the rear shoulder around into that alignment. This is when the muscles of the back become engaged (back tension) as they are the ones that control the shoulder position and that movement. This cannot be done from the beginning of the draw due to a lack of leverage. (Try this with a light drawing bow. Raise the bow with 1-2ʺ of draw (to keep the hands in position) and then rotate your string side shoulder around to see if you can draw the bow that way. I have yet to meet anyone who could do this. Once the draw is about half way, however, there is sufficient leverage for the rear shoulder to take over leading the back muscles to accept the load of the draw almost completely.)

Any benefit claimed for doing anything early, should be examined very, very carefully. I have yet to find any such benefits.

Postscript Sorry this was so long. It kind of grew like Topsy.


Filed under For All Coaches

If You Are Not Already, You Should Be

By the title I mean “signed up to receive the Mental Management newsletter. Just go to their blog ( and there is a link to sign up for their newsletter at the bottom of the page. It’s free. This site is run by the Bassham family, to which I have referred to often as a source of the best information on the mental game.

Here’s a taste of what the newsletter has to offer.

“What is the Secret to Winning?”

One of the most popular questions I get is: “What is the Secret to Winning?” The answer is simple, “Don’t try to win!” Doesn’t that sound simple? It might sound simple but it isn’t easy to do. How do you not try? When you’re competitive and you want to prove how good you are, it’s hard not to give it all you have.

In the United States we have a society that believes that if you want something you have to make it happen. Again, that sounds logical but it doesn’t work. The harder you try the worse you do. When we perform well, it is easy and effortless. In practice this happens all the time. This is because in practice we don’t experience the same pressure we do in competition. So what is the secret to Letting it happen and not Making it happen? Is it to care less? Try less? Relax? I wish is were that easy.

The best way to improve your odds to win is to have the following: first, you must have a Self-Image that it’s like you to win. Simply put, if you don’t believe you can win, you can’t! The top 5% have the Self-Image that “it’s like me to win.” Confidence is a requirement if you want to win on a regular basis. Without confidence you leave doubt to creep in and take away your chances of winning.

Second, you have to have a strong mental system. You can’t expect to have technical consistency if your mentally inconsistent. The body follows the mind. Have a strong mental process and you improve the chances that the body will comply. This is one reason why our system is so successful.

Finally, you have to trust in your ability. Without trust you will never win on a regular basis. Lack of trust equals to lack of belief. The most common athlete we work with is one who has the skill but lacks the Self-Image or the consistent thought process that promotes good performance. The way to build trust is two fold, first have the skill set strong enough to win and secondly have a defined thought process that promotes consistency. If you lack either one, it will be hard for you to win. Remember this: “If you can define it, you can duplicate it, if you can duplicate it you can master it, if you master it you can trust it, and with trust comes consistency.

The best in the world are consistent!

by Brian Bassham



Filed under For All Coaches

One Arrow at a Time? Sounds Like a Plan

Source: Author: Andrea Vasquez.

The Russian compound women’s open team broke the seventh world record of the day.

Stepanida Artakhinova, Tatiana Andrievskaia and Anastasia Dzhioeva improved their own world record for team qualification with a combined score of 2037 out of a possible 2160 points.

“We were surprised to see we beat the world record,” said Tatiana. “We were just shooting, step by step. However, at home, we’ve achieved even better results than the one from today. But we are happy.”

Makes sense to me.


Filed under For All Coaches