A Missing Key Point in Teaching Form

Note—I can’t remember whether or not I have posted this before. A quick search of my posts just goes to show that quick searches aren’t available on this platform. So, if this is a repeat, I apologize. Steve

We distinguish “form” from execution by defining form as the various positions one gets into during a shot and execution is how one gets from position to position. Many others lump form and execution as defined this way into just the word “form.” In either case, we are all taught to coach by teaching “optimal form.” With regard to shooting technique, we are told “this” is correct and “that” is wrong; “this” is good, “that” is bad, etc. Of course, no one, and I really mean no one, shoots with optimal form. It is something to be striven for, not accomplished.

People go to great lengths to explain why shooting their way is best. Even I do this, despite the fact that I understand that there probably is not a best form, but that every archer must find “their shot.” I believe each archer must build a form they can master, which will be somewhat close to optimal form, but their form and execution being perfectly aligned with what is prescribed is probably not possible.

There is one point, however, that should be emphasized and virtually never is. And that is that if some element of optimal form, as you teach it, is not possible, then that form element needs to be taken off of the table. The only coaches that seem to have embraced this principle are para-archery coaches, but we all should.

For example, we all know how important, even essential, shooting with back tension is, right? But what if your student has had a back injury and cannot shoot that way? Back tension needs to be taken off the table as an option and another way to shoot needs to be found.

As another example, I had a student-archer who because of his body shape and a few other factors, could not get into “proper” alignment. So, that had to be taken off of the table. We figured out how he could improve without proper alignment. (A great many successful archers do this in any case.) Of course, he ended up as close to proper alignment as he could get and make repeatable, good shots, so he ended up close to “optimal form,” but not actually there. What we relieved was his concern over that; he stopped trying to get “there” as it was not something he could achieve. His time was far better spent working upon other things.

Our coaching approach should always be to encourage the most effective form an archer is capable of, optimal or not.

The big problem in all of this is figuring out what to do “instead,” which is basically not covered in coach training courses. Consider the young archer who struggles to hold his bow up. What do you do? Allow him to practice dropping his bow arm until it becomes a permanent part of his technique? I had to figure out, on my own, that one “fix” is to get them to widen their stance some, not so much as to make them unstable, but substantially wider. This gives them more leverage in holding their bow up. Next, we removed as much weight as we could from the bow (back weights . . . gone, unnecessary stabilizers . . . gone, stabilizer end weights . . . gone, etc.). Then we lived with a bit of “dropping of the bow arm” because there is little we can do until the archer’s bow shoulder muscles develop and those develop later in life. We informed the archer that they are to try to keep their bow arm up after the loose, which is exercising the muscles needed, but we are not criticizing them for “dropping their bow arm.” (This is one of the reasons we suggest delaying the transition from wood or plastic recurve bows to metal-risered recurve bows for any younger archer who struggles to hold their bow arm up.)

We need to share other such “compensations” so, if you have a pocketful, please consider writing guest post for this blog. We all benefit when we share good coaching knowledge.

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Under the Chin or Side of the Face?

There is a healthy debate going on in UK coaching circles as to the “best way” to start beginners, often focused upon which anchor to use, a high anchor (side of the face, corner of the mouth) or a low anchor (under the chin).

Most of these debates are characterized by program coaches claiming they have the “best success” using one or the other. What seems to be left out are the mechanics of the situation.

Here is my take on this question.

The low or under chin anchor presupposes the archer will be using a bow sight. Bow sights are problematic for beginnings because they are using “borrowed” program bows. Until they get their own equipment that they can sight in, there is no use in introducing bow sights. (And don’t think we didn’t try.)

Our approach is to teach Barebow, then introduce other accessories, such as stabilizers and bow sights, in stages and by so doing introduce archers to many of the different styles of shooting that are available to them.

On top of that, beginners are started on large target faces at short distances. The strategy here was summed up by a catch phrase used in USA Archery: “Early participation, early success.” This is no longer used but I think it shows some wisdom. In our programs we even deleted the “safety lecture” to create a system in which participation, aka shooting, occurred as early in the first lesson as possible.

Note Before you freak out about the safety lecture being dumped, please realize we did our research. For one, after having observed quite a number of these safety lectures, we realized that a sizable fraction of the students were not paying attention. In addition, the lecturers were also not paying attention; it takes work to keep your audience engaged and seeing large numbers of your audience tuned out should ring alarm bells. And, finally, we learned that safety rules are best learned in context. We often stop our lessons to point out a safety rule. We ask the assembled students to repeat rules back to us. And we repeat as often as necessary. (We also post range rules and point to them as we explain why things are done the way they are.) In addition, we point out when students do things correctly, by name, to make sure that we don’t come off as always being negative, only pointing out things that are wrong.

Back to the Anchor Point Discussion: When targets are at short distances, a high anchor is (a) a better technique as the points of aim are closer to where the archers are looking, (b) a safer approach as arrows tend to land short of the target butt or on the target butt, and rarely over the target butt, which makes finding all of the shot arrows easier, lending to more shooting per lesson. When teaching aiming, we teach aiming first and then sighting later. Since sights on program bows are way more trouble than they are worth, aiming “off of the point” is an easy aiming technique to teach. (We developed protocols for teaching both.) With a high anchor, points of aim are often on the target face and so easier to teach (we use the target clock face).

Once point of aim is learned, transitioning to a bow sight (if they own one) is an easy process (and yes, we wrote a protocol for it—coaches are too often left on their own without even an example of a technique for teaching something).

And, the under chin anchor gets taught when it is necessary to “make distance,” that is to reach farther targets with reasonable POAs/sight aperture pictures. By then student-archers understand that lowering the nock end of the arrow gives greater cast from the same bow position.

We try to have reasons why we do the things we do and if we find a better way, we adopt that way as soon as possible. And arguments of “we have success in our classes” are weak arguments. If you did half of your classes one way and half the other way and then saw that one of the ways worked better, I would buy it, but just to say “we have success in our classes” is not being compared to the other method. (This is like people recommending their bow or whatnot as being the “best” of its kind because it works for them. But they haven’t tried all of the others, so on what is their opinion based? Answer: not much.)

Addendum
You will find an earlier post describing how we introduce bow sights using foam tape and ball-headed pins. This is to show students what a sight does and is designed to help them decide whether they want to invest in a bow sight,

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25 and Done!

The final issue of Archery Focus magazine has been posted. Whew!

The final issue is immense! It is twice the size of regular issues because I didn’t want to turn away any author from a spot in the final issue.

Archery Focus magazine was launched by Rick McKinney, Yoshi Komatsu of Japan, and Denise Parker in 1997, stimulated by the success of the 1996 Olympic Games and the success of Yoshi’s magazine in Japan (Archery). Claudia and I took it over in mid-1999, so of the 149 published issues of AFm (only five issues were produced in Year One), we were responsible for 135 of those, so:

  • 135 editorials written
  • 135 covers designed
  • 135 issues laid out
  • 1513 articles published (out of 1647 total)
  • I personally wrote 254 articles (excepting editorials and 21 of those articles had co-authors)
  • 1513 articles edited
  • a gazillion emails sent and received
  • thousands and thousands of photos cropped and adjusted

Yeah, I am pooped and it was time to pull the plug.

I know, I know, what have I done for you lately?

Continuing On
We will continue on in a number of ways. We are striving to find ways to make the thousands of helpful AF articles available to people well into the future. We will have a presence on the Internet (https://archeryeducationresources.com , https://watchingarrowsfly.com ). I will continue posting on my coaching blog (https://archerycoach.wordpress.com) to which you can submit questions. I will continue to do remote coaching and advising those of you who want to get published.

And now I will shut up about it.

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A New Way to Look at Target Panic

Since we are not even close to a definitive explanation of target panic as experienced by archers, I feel it is important to get every possible idea into print, so that future investigators will have a place to start from. In this case I think a very good source for target panic is in our emotions, or rather in our interpretations of our emotions. For example, there is a bit of common wisdom that if one is getting angry, venting that anger can make things better. You don’t want to suppress it and have it build up more and more until you explode. This bit of collective wisdom is unfortunately wrong. Scientific studies show that expressing anger makes one more angry, not less. This is because we have gotten emotions wrong from the get-go. We have always thought there is a sequence in which a stimulus, say one that evokes anger, triggers an emotion that triggers a physiological response, in this case, the well-known “fight or flight” response of rapid heart beat, sweaty palms, etc. In actuality this is mixed up. The stimulus evokes a physiological response first then we associate an emotion with that response, and we are not all that good at interpreting those signals. So, a likely sequence for target panic is that subconsciously we become anxious or fearful and out heart begins to race and our palms sweat (common responses to a fight or flight situation). But when we experience these things, we can associate them with negative performances we have had in the past. In the past, when your game imploded right in front of you, you became self-conscious, embarrassed, confused, etc. so the symptoms are not far apart. You get into what I tend to refer to as the “here we go again” scenario. The sensations evoke those negative memories, by association, which makes us even more anxious, which enhances the physiological responses even more. This positive feedback loop takes you farther and farther away from what you need to do to shoot well: focus on your shot sequence in a calm and consistent manner. Now psychologists haven’t studied target panic to any great extent, but they have studied panic attacks a fair amount. One approach to people who had frequent panic attacks was to characterize those attacks as the patients misinterpreting the physiological signs (heart racing, palms sweating, etc.) and assuming the worst: they think they are having a heart attack or are going to die and they become even more stressed, which makes their hearts beat even faster and their palms sweat even more. The process feeds upon itself (it is a positive feedback loop, after all) until they enter a state of extreme panic. The doctor pursuing this line of thinking trained many of his patients to see that the initial response was their body experiencing a small degree of anxiety (for reasons unknown) and if they would just wait a bit or do some relaxation exercises, they would avoid a serious attack. The treatment turned out to be quite successful and even applied to students who were getting exam anxieties, or job interview anxieties. Another approach was to associate those feelings with something good, e.g. ‘I love the feeling of competition pressure, it means I am close to my goal!” The key thing here, that we have just learned recently, is that emotion doesn’t cause the sensations, the sensation causes the mind to interpret them, often by associating with an emotion, at which task we are not all that good. Addendum One of the more successful recent theories regarding emotions is that we learn them! We are taught how to respond to various situations by our parents and guardians. Kids with calm parents usually end up with calm demeanors. Kids with explosive parents often end up with exaggerated demeanors. As a young man, I had an explosive temper which I now believe I learned from my father. I have since trained myself out of that. But that is a whole different topic. Target Panic Science . . . Finally If you are interested, here is a good scientific paper on target panic: To what extent can classical conditioning and motor control systems serve as explanations to target panic? You can find it here: https://varden.info/doc.php?id=5 Don’t be afraid, it was written by a college student for a class and is not full of obscure jargon.

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Dear Archery Organization

It doesn’t matter which organization this is addressed to as it is addressed to each and every. Organizations such as these were created to serve their members by creating consistent and fair sets of rules for competitions and even to sponsor some events, helping members with range certifications and coach certifications, and a lot more.

Below I address some of the things that I wish all of the organizations would take seriously as they would really help archers and coaches persist in our sport and pursue excellence in our sport.

Rehab Help
Archers get injured. I often mention that I have gone through the “grand circle” twice already, namely problems with both shoulders, both elbows and both wrists. Some of the injuries were minor, but one elbow problem result in wearing sling for weeks, getting cortisone shots, and not shooting for a year and a half.

So, if I log onto any of the archery organizations websites and search for help with injury rehabilitations, what do you think I find?

What I find is <cricket, cricket, cricket>.

Surely there are doctors who are archers who could provide some generic guidelines. USA Archery has archery teams as parts of major universities and surely those institutions have physiology departments or even medical schools that would help, no?

As it is now, if you get an archery-related injury you are on your own.

Archery Science
There is a large amount of “collective wisdom” floating around in archer and coach circles. Unfortunately much of that is dead wrong. There are many, many questions that archers and coaches have that science could answer definitively. Questions like: in a strong side wind, how much of the affect is on the arrow and how much is on the archer? What is the best way to deal with such winds? Which is better in a stiff wind: a heavier wider arrow or a thinner lighter arrow? (Arguments can be made for both.)

Another question is: what is target panic”? What causes it? How can it be ameliorated or “cured”? Imagine university graduate students in psychology looking for real world questions for which they could find real-world answers.

Again, USA Archery has archery teams as parts of major universities and surely they have physics or engineering or psychology departments that would help, no? Many of these universities have students actively looking for research projects. Having a list of such questions and maybe a small research grant to go along with each would get serious attention.

Providing a Coach Support Structure
At one point we attempted to build what we called The Archery Coaches Guild. The purpose of this organization was to help archery coaches by providing information, advice, continuing education, and connections to other coaches. We failed. I think it was a good idea, but the time or the people, aka us weren’t right. But this is something one would think archery organizations would be interested in, no?

And . . .
When the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) was founded in the early twentieth century, they focused on training two cadres of people: coaches and course superintendents. (There were no professional golfers at the time.) Coaches were needed to train new golfers who would then participate, or stay in the sport if problems were suggesting they leave, thus creating more demand. And they needed people to design and maintain courses, so that golfers had somewhere to play.

Currently the organizations make a minimal effort at training archery coaches, nonexistent coach support structures, and little to no help with range design and building and maintenance.

I have written a couple of articles about what I call “golf envy” from hearing golfers wishing that archery money purses were similar to those of professional golf tournaments. Maybe taking the path that the golf associations did is a way to achieve that.

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Reading Old Archery Books

I am an intellectual, a geek, I know that. When faced with a task the tools that come to hand easiest for me are books and articles, etc. What I want to address here is “reading old archery texts” and why you might want to do so.

There is a general tendency among archers, mostly compound archers, to look at the latest and greatest as having more value. We want the latest equipment, the latest tuning methods, the latest technique tips, etc. This is because we have been led to believe that things are better now that they were in the past and that, in general is true . . . but not absolutely true. My friend and colleague Tom Dorigatti has a bone to pick with the phrase “new and improved” which is a bit of marketing nonsense foisted upon us through TV ads and now other media. He claims, quite so, that something cannot be both “new” and “improved” at the same time.

Basically I have read archery books dating from recent to hundreds of years old. I have learned many things, including the idea of back tension goes back centuries. But specifically, let’s look at one book, namely: Doctor Your Own Compound Bow by Emery J. Loiselle

I gave away my copy of this book, so I am operating from memory. My later version included a section on those new-fangled two wheel compounds. Most of the bow was about four- and six-wheeled compound bows. Never having shot one of those older bows I learned a lot in seeing how they were tuned. They were open-ended systems so you could feed cables through from one end and they would come out the other, giving you a huge number of tuning options. Two-wheel compound bows are a closed system in which one thing feeds into another and so provided many fewer tuning possibilities.

The two-wheelers were also less complicated mechanisms and thus less could go wrong.

Historical tidbits are dropped along the way. Did you know that the earliest compound bows used banjo and guitar tuning pegs for their cabling take-ups? There wasn’t anything being ready made at the beginning, so they used what they had.

Did you know that the early compound bows had no bow presses to help work on them. The bows were loosened until there was no tension on the cables or string and then dismantled, which meant that retuning was required for any such process.

Did you know that the first bow presses had a single point of pull, resulting in myriad broken handles (and the invention of the two point harness)?

Did you know that “creep tuning” was invented in the 1970’s?

Some of this knowledge is of just historical interest but much of it underlies the processes used on modern bows and why modern bows are designed the way they are.

Old archery books are available for a song and many of them have information that is pertinent today still. You may be surprised at how little archery form has changed, for example.

Happy reading!

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An Excellent Summary of the Role of Practice

I don’t think this is behind a pay wall and I recommend it as an excellent summary of the role of practice in archery or any other performance sport or art

Does practice make perfect?

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More Damned Lists

I have written often enough about “The List” which is the list of things you are working on to improve upon and that that list is to he read every time you shoot arrows. But I also advocate other lists be drawn up. For example, after every competition I ask my students to create two list: one is Things I Did Well. I ask that at least three things be written to make this list, there can be more but not fewer. The other is Things I Will Do Differently Next Time. Again, a minimum of three things must make up this list. Note that there is no “Things I Did Wrong List” although the second list comes close to that. This is so the focus is on what was done well and what needs to be learned without negativity.

These lists are to be written, and completed within 24 hours of the end of the competition, the sooner, the better because memories fade quickly.

Using the Lists The lists are kept and used in practice planning and in tournament preparation. Before attending a tournament, for example, reviewing the lists from the last time you attended may be very helpful, reminding you of difficulties in that competition that you need to prepare for. More immediately, the Things I Will Do Differently list suggests drills and practice exercises to learn to do those “new” things. I put “new” in parentheses because the same item can show up on this list repeatedly, meaning you didn’t really learn to do those things.

All of this information is hard to keep in mind and if you try, you will be making more mistakes of memory than of archery. Things you promise yourself you will work on become “things worked upon” and even things done” without much effort. After all, you can’t learn that which you think you already know.

Lists are just a way to keep your archery mind uncluttered (these lists are to be written in a segment of your journal so as to be easily accessed and not have to be remembered) so that it can focus more and more over time on your shot process and all of the manifestations of archery skills, things that will actually lead to better scores.

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Sights or Stabilizers First?

I got into an interesting conversation with one of my authors, Arthur Halligey, from Great Britain. The discussion was on the teaching order for bow sights and stabilizers. Arthur and quite a number of other coaches over there do “sights first” while I recommend “stabilizers first.” What do you recommend?

My argument for stabilizers first is that my teaching modality is to do what is easiest first, also to break things down into steps so that the learning load is smaller. Of course, many children of archers are handed fully kitted out compound bows as their first bows, so that can be done. Presumably, also, the parents are there all of the time to help with the learning process. Children taking archery classes are shooting more often than not not under the watchful eye of a coach/instructor.

Our curriculum for archery classes (the AER Recreational Archery Curriculum—available in Coach’s Guide and Archer’s Guide forms with the Coach’s Guide containing the entire Archer’s Guide and a lot more) has Recurve, Compound, and Traditional Tracks. The Recurve and Compound Tracks include sights and stabilizers.

But not all archers shoot with sights and stabilizers. To give our students the full experience, we introduce the equipment in stages, so that they can experience most, if not all, of the shooting styles those divisions offer. All students start with Barebow and learn point-of-aim (POA) aiming as basics. Then stabilizers can be added (if desired). Compound archers can choose or try both short and long stabilizers (and thus experience both the Compound Barebow and Compound Bowhunter styles).

After stabilizers are used, we introduce bow sights. (We have a written protocol as to how to make the transition from aiming off of the point to aiming with a bow sight. This is easy, takes very little time, and shows how both systems are roughly equal in value.)

Other gear is introduced after that, for example, for Recurve archers, cushion plungers and arrow rests, clickers, etc. (Prior to that we recommend screw-in plastic arrow rests so centershot adjustments can be made but things kept simple.)

So, stabilizers come first because: they are cheaper (a cheap stabilizer works better than a cheap bow sight), they help archers notice their stability at full draw, they improve their grouping, etc.

Bow sights are iffy. The inexpensive one’s aren’t worth the money, the more expensive ones are quite a bit more expensive. Getting a loaner bow sight is harder than getting a loaner longrod, also.

I tend to think that British coaches are focused upon getting their students into full Recurve Unlimited kit as there wasn’t much a compound presence in the U.K. There were trad archers and Olympic Recurve and that was about it. Couple this with beginning archers asking most frequently “How do I aim?” and sights first makes sense.

I am not sure there are significant reasons for “stabilizer first” or “sights first,” making “machts nichts” the operative teaching principle here.

What do you think?

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A Special Message

The message below was just sent to the current authors of Archery Focus magazine:

Dear Archery Focus Authors, (And I do mean “dear.”)

The next issue of Archery Focus magazine is our 25th anniversary issue. It will also be our final issue. It is simply time to close publication.

The archives of Archery Focus are still tremendously valuable to archers and coaches and will still be available as back issues, article bundles, and a coffee table book of our lovely covers. Claudia and I will still be publishing books, so if you were in the middle of a book project, nothing has changed.

So, now that you know, I will mention that the author deadline for Issue 25-5, November-December 2021, is October 15th. If you submit something I will work it into that issue come Hell or high water. It will probably be the fattest issue we have ever produced!

Thank you for all you have done for our readers and be assured that your articles will continue to be available to help and inspire archers and coaches worldwide.

It has been a joy and an honor to work with you.

Your friend in archery,

Steve

* * *

What this means for this blog is I will probably be posting more frequently. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Steve

PPS If you have an article you want published in the final issue, the particulars are as above.

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