Is This a Good Bow?

I received a request from a correspondent along the lines of “what do you think of this compound bow”? Getting quality information about an expensive purchase is a real issue for archers and I wanted to share my thoughts on the topic. In the message the following was included:

The incredible versatility appeals to me, both as a means to work my way into this type of shooting, and the wide market of resale if it is not for me. Every review I have seen is very positive, but it’s always nice to hear a word from an individual.”

To which was added “Also the price as you can find them fully loaded for around $350 on eBay.”

* * *

I have not shot that particular model but I have worked with a student who is shooting it.

Some Specifics
First let me point out that recognizing your limitations is very important. If, for example, you are not a confident “bow mechanic” buying second hand gear is a real risky proposition. You could run up shop repairs in excess of what you paid for the bow if you can’t do many things for yourself. I have, for example, bought compound bows and then changed eccentrics to create a different draw length, made new bowstring and cables and been very happy with the results. I had the eccentrics and all of the bowstring materials, tools, and experience to do all that, plus a bow press to break the bow down to make the changes. I also had the expertise to know that I could find the specifications for cables and string on the Internet. If you had this done at a good shop, you could be look at upwards of US$200 for the parts and labor.bowtech-infinite-edge-pro

Additionally, the phrase “you can find them fully loaded for….” indicates that you are attracted to a bow that comes with arrow rest, bow sight, stabilizer, quiver, release aid, etc. as a way to get equipment that at least is matched to the bow. A word of caution here: the ancillaries provided in a bow package are generally of lesser quality and also may not be appropriate to your style of shooting. Plus, these compound bow “packages” are almost always directed at bow hunters in the U.S.—they will have a short stabilizer, a pin sight, a quiver that bolts to the bow, and a wrist strap release aid. I have never seen such a package come with a long rod stabilizer, for example, and if your preferred style involves a long rod, you will have bought a short stabilizer for no good reason (your package does come with a short stabilizer, no?). If you are looking at a Compound Unlimited/Freestyle compound setup to shoot targets with, you will be replacing the arrow rest, the sight, the quiver, the stabilizer, and the release aid, making their purchase dubious “bargains.” Add to that for target shooting, “bow quivers” are generally not recommended because as you shoot arrows, it changes mass and the balance of the bow. If you are using the bow to shoot targets, leave it off.

Having said that, it is the case that some of these accessories will do for a time as you are learning the pros and cons of the accessories you will purchase to replace the ones that came with your “package.”

Regarding Opinions
There are many, many fine bows on the market and an opinion can be helpful if … and it is a big “if” …  if your application for that bow is the same as the opinion givers, and he/she is about your size, strength, and shooting ability, etc. By “your application” I mean what you intend to use the bow for. For example, if hunting from a tree stand, a short axle-to-axle (ATA) bow design is a real asset as it results in the bow almost never bumping into something when you are trying to line up a shot. (For comparison, imagine being in a tree stand with a 70˝ recurve bow with long rod and V-bars!) But if the bow is to used for target shooting, its short ATA is a detriment (the riser is the biggest stabilizing factor in the entire setup, a short riser has its mass concentrated in a smaller zone, making it harder to hold still).

So, when you are looking for opinions or talking to someone about their bow, look for or ask them how it works for your application. If you are out hunting you can ask people if they shoot target with the same bow, etc.

The key thing is not so much the brand or model of bow but to have the bow fit you. I focus first on the grip section. When I draw the bow, does it feel solid, stable, and secure in my hand? A bow that Claudia loved felt to me like it was going to slip out of my hand at any moment. So, it was a good choice for her, but not for me. Does the bow’s draw weight and draw length include settings that fit you? If not, you are only buying trouble.

So, have you gone to a shop and tried this bow? If not, you may be buying a “pig in a poke” that is something that may look and sound good but not really work well for you. We always advocate that you “try before you buy.” Note I realize that this is generally not possible <sigh>, but I can’t stop giving what I think is my best advice.

The Bottom Line
Newish compound bow archers are in a real bind. Most start with a Genesis Compound or other zero let-off bow. To get a real advantage from a compound bow, however, one needs one with let-off. So, what to buy next? If you go full-tilt-boogy for a “real” bow with “real” accessories you can be looking at a price tag in the $1000-$2500 range and that is definitely not a god idea, especially of you are on a budget. Until you have more knowledge, keping your purchases at the low end of the price spectrum prevents making expensive mistakes.

You are doing what I usually recommend and that is to get a relatively inexpensive ultra-adjustable bow. This kind of bow can be set to a lower draw weight while you are learning the process and cranked up considerable as you progress. (Careful! These bows usually restrict the available draw weights by draw length. If your draw length is long, for example, don’t expect the lighter draw weights to be available to you.)

These bows can be adjusted with simple tools, typically just Allen wrenches, and do not need specialized equipment or knowledge or additional parts to do so.

Getting the package provides you with at least all of the parts (but usually without a nocking point locator) you need to start shooting, even if they aren’t the style or quality you will end up with. As long as you don’t spend more than you can afford, you are probably going to be okay with one of these bows.

Tell me what’s up.

Steve

 

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Oooh, Ouch!

QandA logoI got this call for help email from a colleague in Italy:

My average score at indoor competitions is around 510-515/600. I am quite regular in this. My objective is to reach 540/600 within the indoor season and I am working on it. But yesterday I shot a first half with a typical score (257), but I was feeling good, and in the beginning of the second half I started shooting very well. After seven ends I had 193 points which was 13 points higher than in my first round! I went back to the shooting line and asked ‘How many ends to go?’ ‘Three.’ I said ‘Not possible! I have 193 points already!’ Well, you can guess the result of my next end. I followed a 28 with a 20, then a 26, then a 21 and ended up with a ‘normal’ score of 260.

Apart from the fact that I was writing the scores (which I will try to avoid from now on), if I think back to that end, I cannot retrieve a different way of shooting, but obviously it happened. I tried to concentrate more after the 20, and it was slightly better, but in the final end, I shot another 5!

In the second part of the competition I had been shooting with an average of 28/30, until I realized I was going ‘too well’! My question for you is: what can I do to avoid this problem? Is there any ‘trick’ apart from trying not to realize how many points I got?”

* * *

What you are dealing with is called a “comfort zone,” you are “comfortable” shooting 510-515. As mental guru Lanny Bassham says “shooting 510-515 is just like you” making it part of your self-image and, according to Lanny, self-image controls performance. What is needed is to reframe that mental set point inside of you and there are a number of things one needs to do. A simple one is to avoid a practice many archers do without thinking. When warming up or just shooting at a target, they will only be concerned with how their arrows group on the target face. If the groups are tight, no matter where they are placed, they are happy. This is a mistake, your groups should always be centered on the target’s center (e.g. the gold) because your subconscious mind keeps track of where your arrows land. You want to be someone who “always hits the gold” (“I live in the gold!”) … now that’s a powerful self image! Also, your subconscious mind keeps track of your group sizes. If your first arrow at, say, 70m is left of the center in the blue, did you do anything wrong? If that arrow is within your normal group size at that distance,. then you did nothing wrong and should take no action. If it is outside of your normal group, you need to check whether something is wrong (loose sight, bad form on that shot, etc.). If the shot is “normal” and you think something is wrong and make an adjustment, then you are on a path to failure.

Primarily, though, the little things don’t make big changes. To make a bigger change in your “comfort zone” you need to shoot “normal” scores in practice that are higher than 510-515. Here is how you do that: you start with a bigger target face at a shorter distance, say a 80cm target at 9 meters. Shoot a practice round (30 arrows, 300 points and multiple by 2 to get a 600 point score equivalent). Your score should be very high; if it is not, you are losing focus (probably because it is too easy … you think). You need to focus on shooting your normal shot, in normal rhythm, just at this larger target much closer up. Your arrows should all land in the gold (9s and 10s) giving you a score at least in the 560-580 range. Focus on getting your score to as high a level as you can without doing anything different like aiming too hard, trying to “help” shots into the 10-ring. Keep a score card and keep records of each and every score (just looking at those much better scores reinforces what you are doing). You must do this several times. (Obviously this takes quite a bit of practice time.) Then you can move the target from 9m 2-3 meters farther away and repeat the process. In 3-4 steps of doing this you will be back to 18m. After you shoot 2-3 very good scores at 18m, you go back to 9m with a 60 cm target face and repeat the process. All the time, you need to retain a high level of focus without “trying to score.” (“Try? There is no try; do or do not.” Yoda from Star Wars) After you have gotten through the series with the 60cm face, go back to 9m with a 40cm face. When you finish the series with the 40cm face, you will be at regulation distance (18m) with a regulation target face and along the way, you will have shot 100’s of arrows into the gold and shot dozens of scores higher than 510-515. Then it will be “like you” to shoot scores higher than your “old normal.”dead center arrow

Your subconscious mind sees an arrow in the gold and it is an arrow in the gold. It doesn’t care that you “cheated” by using a larger face at a shorter distance. Only “experience” can lead to an improved self-image but we can accelerate that experience (rather than wait for several years as your scores creep up slowly) through these kinds of exercises.

A word of caution: if your form or execution or equipment are weak, this will help, but much less than if your form is solid and your equipment is tuned well. Check your tune and make sure your setup is good before doing the above exercise. You need to have confidence in your equipment to perform well.

If you figure out a way to not know your score, I will appreciate your sharing that! You must, however, must (must, must, must,…) avoid projecting your score into the future. So, if your end score is 26 or 25 or 27 you just approve of that and move on. You do not want to think things like “If I keep this up I can shoot a new personal best!” … these kinds of thoughts take you out of the “now” and place you squarely in the future and you must shoot in the “now” in order to shoot well. Also, you will end up on an emotional roller coaster and you now know what they feels like—”Oh, I have 193 points, how can that be?”) which will undermine the steadiness and calmness needed mentally to score well.

Does this help? These are methods archers have used successfully to move their comfort zones up and thus improve their scores.

I do hope this helps and you let me know if you try it and whether it worked for you.

Steve

 

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How Many Things Can I Work On at a Time?

QandA logoI got a query from one of my students which asked:

That leads me to something I meant to ask in the last email … what happens when you have a list of things to work on? I know from our lessons you can only effectively work on one thing at a time. So how do you choose what? The thing that is most wrong? The thing that is earliest in your shot sequence? The thing you think will give you the most bang for your buck (or time spent working on it). There are so many aspects to a shot sequence it seems inevitable that you will end up with a list of things. Oh, and, of course, each step builds on the previous, so if there is something you are working on early in your shot sequence it has to be there, done the new/different/correct way in order to practise something else.

* * *

I have the most wonderful students! (Good students ask good questions, that’s one of the ways you can tell which are the good ones.)

There is a common misconception that equates “work on only one thing at a time” into “work on only one thing until it is better before you tackle another,” which is wrong. You can work on many things at once, just not two at once. It has to do with feedback.

If you try to work on your bow arm and release at the same time and a group of arrows is better than before, was it due to an improvement in your bow arm or release or both? A potentially awful outcome is that one of those changes made it better and the other made it worse but not enough to not make the whole group better. In this latter case, you are getting a mixed message. When we do something differently we only have a “better” or “worse” outcome to judge whether the change we are exploring is a good one or not. We want to be able to attach those “better or worse” judgments to just one thing. This is my definition of getting good feedback.

So “work on only one thing at a time” limits how many things you can work on simultaneously but not how any things you can work on concurrently. (Sorry for the big words, but being accurate sometimes requires them.)

I do not have any good science to back up my recommendations but here is what I recommend: keep a list of things you think need work but limit those you are working on currently to three. I also recommend that before you shoot an arrow during any practice or competition session that you read that list, the whole list. When you are “warming up” you want to pay special attention to the three items you are trying to change at the moment. If you do not do this and just “warm up,” you will end up gravitating back to the shot you have practiced the most, what I call your “old normal” shot and you will then be send this message to your subconscious mind “it is normal that sometimes we shoot the ‘new shot’ and sometimes we shoot the ‘old shot’.” We want, rather, the message to be “we are committed to the ‘new shot” and no longer shoot the ‘old shot’.” So, read the list with special attention to doing the top three the new way … do it … do it every time you shoot.

As soon as you are warm, the best time to spend working on your top three items is right away. This will lay a foundation for the rest of the practice session being based upon your new shot and not your old one.

Now, as to what order to take on these changes in your shot, you have some choices to make. There is logic and some science behind each of these and I haven’t been able to determine which is better, so my default position is “whichever feels better to you.” My thinking is if you think something is the right way to proceed, you will make better progress than if you are not sure, certainly better than if you are convinced you are going about it the wrong way.

Here are the two approaches that seem wise to me.

Tackle the Changes from Greatest to Least Effect If we could put a score impact rating on any prospective change, under this rule, you would tackle the issue that would have the greatest positive effect on your score first. So, if Change A would improve your score by 7%, it is more worth your time than Change B that might only improve your score by 1%. What this means practically, is that the effect of Change A would also be easier to see while it was happening and that improvement would strongly guide the process and supply motivation. Something with a tiny 1% improvement potential would be hard to see in the first place and would provide little motivation.

This plays out, interestingly, in the history of each and every serious archer. When they first begin, their scores are quite low and they make progress as they learn in leaps and bounds. As they get better, though, it becomes harder and harder to improve and each improvement requires more and more effort. This is, in general, why there are so many really good archers, but few great ones.

The hard part if you adopt this order of making changes is how to assign a scoring improvement potential to each potential change. If you figure out how to do this, please, please let me know!

Tackle the Changes in the Order of Your Shot Sequence This option, I think, benefits archers who most recently have chosen to become serious archers. The previous procedure, I think, benefits archers who have established their shot and are making smaller changes therein. The reason I believe this is twofold: for one you will be making improvements in your scores that are substantial as you work anyway; for another since you don’t have a settled shot yet, you do not want to be practicing a later aspect of your shot that will be changed when an earlier step is modified.

This approach, of course, makes it much easier to identify which you do first, second, third, etc.

When I work with a new Recurve student (my questioner is an Olympic Recurve archer) I work from what I call the “Three Pillars.” The three foundations (aka pillars of support) for consistent accuracy are a relaxed bow hand, a relaxed string hand, and good full draw body alignment (in this case delineated by the archer’s triangle—see illustration). So, the thing I most often address with a Recurve archer first is his/her … stance. It seems that most beginning Recurve archers have been told that an open stance is somehow required. But rotation your feet counterclockwise when your shoulders need to rotate clockwise to get into good FDP is working against what you want. A closed stance, at least to start with, doesn’t result in an archer’s shoulders fighting with his/her stance to get into position. So, I work to get their hands relaxed, and their body in position. (The same is true for compound archers, with a few details being different).force-triangle-finished

If  that archer is still building his/her shot, I then work through the shot sequence, helping them find their form as they go.

Conclusion
So, you have to decide which route you want to take and commit to it … and … (you knew there would be an “and” didn’t you) I think the best way to proceed is to make an improvement and then move on from each thing on your list. You do not need to make something perfect. If you think you do, you will be spending a great deal of time working on just a few things and you will feel as if no progress is being made.

Make an improvement and then move on. Your shot is an organic whole; you cannot change part of it in isolation and like a chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link, so think of the changes you are making as being on an upward spiral. You will go around and around, through your shot, paying extra attention to each part over and over. But you will feel the progress being made (the list of items you have crossed off as having improved should not be discarded; it is an indicator of progress made). And, each time you come back to the same item (e.g. I need to improve the solidity of my anchor.) it is not an admission that you didn’t fix it before but that you have made sufficient improvements that your improved anchor is no longer quite good enough (Hooray!). Having to work on items again are indicators that you have reached another level.

In order to tell whether you have reached another level or are just going “round and round getting nowhere” you have practice and competition round scores. If they are getting higher or more consistent where they are, you are making progress.

I hope this helps!

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Archery’s Grumpy Old Man?

My recent post on the recommending of archery instructional videos to those we coach seems to be foundational in establishing me as archery’s grumpy old man. I gathered from some of you a sense that video is the wave of the future and I was not embracing it, along with “it is the preferred avenue of learning of young people and you are old, so….” Some of this is probably true, but I do myself no good if that is the only message that you got. My points are simple: it takes a lot of work to make a good instructional video (I don’t think anyone will disagree with this); and the tools for making and publishing a video have become very, very inexpensive, so they are within the reach of millions of people that were formerly blocked out. A consequence is that videos are often produced by an individual, with no support or help from a team.youtube-logo-full_color

All forms of communication have their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes a strength is also a weakness. Text has a strength in that it can easily be skimmed and highlighted (more so on paper and increasingly so electronically). On the other hand a 20 minute video takes at least 20 minutes to digest and is hard to highlight. A comparable text can be digested in much less time, so video is inefficient for that reason. Video has a strength that dynamic processes can be shown (both speeded up and slowed down, too) that cannot be matched by text.

There are many misconceptions about how we learn best. We may have addicted entire generations of American kids to whiz-bang presentations by creating an expectation that education should be entertaining. (Why we did this is beyond me; I think it was an attempt to keep kids in school.) So, there is a constant push for musical backgrounds, more color, more animation, etc. in instructional presentations, but are these effective? In an attempt to answer this question (in small part) the U.S. Navy did a study to determine the best way to teach prospective Navy Corpsmen human anatomy (Corpsmen are battlefield medics). They provided students with either color photos of human internal organs, black and white versions of the same photos, or black and white line drawings. Most people would expect the color photos to teach best as they are the most realistic. Turns out color photos came in dead last. Black and while line drawings came in first. It turns out that humans learn about the shapes of things by identifying their outlines first, and color often supplies a great deal of information that is superfluous.

So, in archery instruction videos have their place and, I still insist, making good ones is quite difficult. I also still suggest that if you are going to suggest videos to students that you first view them completely yourself and note any things you may want to emphasize or comment on or correct.

So that you don’t think I am the equivalent of an old man standing out on his porch shouting at the neighbor kids to get off of his lawn, here are some videos I find quite instructive for coaches: https://www.youtube.com/user/ArcheryWinchester/videos. And, yes, I find there are points that are weak and things that could have been done better … and they are still done well enough to get their points across. (I found the videos in #2 most informative.)

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Olympic Recurve Alignment

I have a right-handed Olympic Recurve student I am coaching remotely and he sent me a couple of videos and a question:

I’ve sent You two videos to your Dropbox; in the video that the camera is between me and the target you can see that after the release my string hand goes out to my right side instead of just going back. It means that I’m doing something wrong, right? Have you seen this happening before?

* * *

Yes, it is called a “pluck” as one would pluck a string of a guitar or other stringed instrument. (The bow was probably the inspiration for stringed musical instruments.) At some time or other, every “fingers” archer (non-mechanical release archer) has to deal with this issue. If you are asking “have I noticed you doing this before?” as opposed to “have I ever noticed anyone doing this before?” the answer is yes in both cases. In your case, we have been working on other things and, in general, beginning archers are often “all over the place” meaning that they lack enough consistency to identify which things they are doing often enough to suggest correction.

The cause of plucking? If you would look at the video taken from in front (I say “toward” as in “toward the target”) and look at your rear elbow. It is sticking out to your right. Ideally placed it would be right behind the arrow in the central plane of the bow (the one with the arrow in it) or slightly past that position (around toward your back—see the diagram). Because your elbow is out to the right, the pull on the string is slightly out to the right also, but most importantly, your subconscious mind knows that just relaxing your string fingers from this position will not get your fingers enough out of the way of the string, so it tries to “help” by opening your hand slightly. (Your fingers can move in toward your palm much farther than they can move back away from being straight. In order to avoid the string, your fingers need to be “out of the way” and your subconscious mind evaluates how successful that process will be.) Since this hand opening must be done quickly, your subconscious mind overdoes this motion and your hand moves out away from your face. Unfortunately, the string follows this motion of your hand, to some extent, taking the rear end of the arrow out to the right, resulting in shots that go to the left of where you aimed. (Target Cue: if your arrows start hitting left of where they formerly did, plucking the string is a common cause. Learning to read targets is a skill necessary for progress and making corrections while competing.)

the-lines-of-archery-lo-res

In the right hand photo, the shoulder line of this Olympic Recurve archer can clearly be seen.

To fix this problem, your shoulders must adopt a slightly different position. We want a line across the top of your shoulder (called the shoulder line—see “The Lines of Archery”) to point at the bow. Currently, yours are pointing to the left of the bow. (Your rear shoulder cannot rotate your rear arm around to be pointing at the bow if your front shoulder does not have your bow arm lined up with your torso. Many times I find that these problems originate in the front shoulder more so than the rear.) Try turning your torso/front shoulder in toward the bow … slightly, and rotating your rear shoulder around toward your back more. This has the effect of lengthening your draw, so your current clicker position will have to be adjusted inward. But before you do adjust it, you can use your “old” clicker position for training. Stand up close to your target butt, and draw and shoot with your clicker on and your eyes closed. The goal is to slide through the clicker before you are ready to shoot by doing as instructed above. (Don’t shoot until you are ready; since the clicker is too far out, its “click” is not a correct signal to shoot.) When you can do this several times in a row, you can adjust your clicker … inward … and see if you can get your shot timing back. (Having someone watch how far your arrow point gets behind the clicker’s edge will help you figure out how far to adjust it, but you can do it a bit at a time with trial and error testing.) The clicker should only go off when you are in position … preferably a correct position.

force-triangle-finished

The “archer’s triangle”

What you are working on is the “alignment” of your upper body to the bow and when you get where you want to be, people will say you have “good line.” This is also what people are talking about when they mention “the archer’s triangle.” One side of the triangle (viewed from overhead) starting at the bow goes across both shoulders and is straight, thus your shoulders point to the bow.) Having “good line” is a prerequisite for consistent accuracy in Olympic Recurve because it means you are pulling directly away from the target (rather than away and out to the right as you currently are) and when you loose the string the string will go straight toward the bow and your hand will fly straight back along your face because that was the direction it was pulling, but only a small amount because your shoulders were in an extreme position. Monitoring where your hand moves upon release (it moves on its own, you don’t move it) is a way of affirming you had good full draw position/alignment. Since your position at full draw is very close to the limit of your range of motion in that situation, there is a very uncomfortable feeling in your back muscles just before release. This uncomfortable feeling is another part of “the feel of your shot” which helps you recognize the difference between doing it correctly and doing it incorrectly.

Sorry for the length of this response, but if you had focused on just keeping your hand close to your face, you would unlikely to be working on the correct source of the issue (your shoulder alignment).

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An Agenda for the Future of Archery Coaching

When I first entered the ranks of archery coaches I felt something was missing . . . in truth I felt a great deal was missing. So, I proceeded to educate myself as best I could. I started by looking for books on coaching archery. There were none in print. There were plenty of books about coaching other sports but the vast majority of those were about team sports and much of that material just didn’t apply. So, I set myself a goal to at least help create a literature for archery coaches. This started with articles in Archery Focus magazine and expanded to include books.

In my usual manner, I went around and asked all of the coaches I knew if they would consider writing a book about the coaching of archery and the answer I got was “no,” which I understood as there isn’t a whole lot of money to be made selling books to archers, let alone to archery coaches, a small subgroup of the archery community. So, I decided to write a book myself (Coaching Archery, 2009) so there would be someone getting their toes in the water, so to speak, in the hope that it might encourage other coaches. This approach is starting to bear fruit and the number of books available to archery coaches about how to coach is now approaching double digits and I am getting more “yes’s” when I ask people to write.

And as I have been educating myself about coaching, I am beginning to see something of an agenda for the things still needed to be done. This is the purpose of this article.

A To Do List to Promote the Best in Archery Coaching
When someone sticks one’s neck out saying “I know what we need to do” it is a bit cheeky, so let me temper this by saying I only hope to get the ball rolling with this effort. Many more people need to contribute to this in order for the effort to succeed.

The Goal? In order for any agenda to be useful there needs to be a clear goal in mind. In my mind, the goal for developing archery coaching needs to be focused on both the quantity and quality of coaching. If an archer needs or wants a coach, I would like for there to be a coach available and that coach be able to help the archer become better in reasonably short order.

To accomplish this, I see the need for the following (in no particular order):

Coach Training Programs

Continuing Education Programs

An Archery Coaching Literature

Best Methods of Coaching Practice

An Archive of Tested Corrective Procedures

A Coach Finder System

An Organization of Archery Coaches
Dedicated to Sharing Information and More

Let me address these one at a time.

Coach Training Programs We have these! Check one of the items off of the list. World Archery has training programs as do many of the other organizations of prominent archery countries. In the U.S. the National Field Archery Association (NFAA) has joined forces with USA Archery to jointly train coaches for their programs and other organizations have agreed to recognize those trainings for their own purposes. This is an improvement. I know in Canada and the U.K. that they are undergoing extensive upgrades of these programs. And, even if you have criticisms of the existing programs, they do exist and they are subject to change/improvement, so we have a great start there.

Continuing Education Programs Once a coach gets a training course under his/her belt, the education cycle stops abruptly. There is little to no follow-up with a new trainee to see how their coaching endeavors are going. This is almost shocking because if you buy a pencil on the Internet, whoever sold you the pencil will follow up with a message offering to sell you an eraser. My email box is cluttered with messages asking if I am happy with a purchase or whether I have suggestions to make their service better. But after a coach training program . . . <cricket, cricket> . . . nada.

Coaches need encouragement, a way to ask questions, and most importantly additional training. Getting a bunch of coaches together for a seminar is a bit much to ask as we are quite spread out, which makes the Internet an ideal mechanism to provide additional training. We are currently working to bring out some training modules to meet this need (they are called the Archery Coaches Continuing Education Seminar Series or ACCESS) but we need a great deal more in this area to be done. One way to think of these is as help bridging the gaps between the coaching levels (Level 2, Level 3, etc.) and as ways to expand a coaches expertise over more styles (compound, recurve, traditional) and as a way to expand equipment knowledge.

An Archery Coaching Literature This is just a matter of getting into print the coaching wisdom of today’s coaches to benefit the coaches of tomorrow. The only U.S. archery coach, until just recently, to leave much of anything in print was Al Henderson. All of the other great archery coaches of the past haven’t left anything for us to benefit from. (If you know of any such books in other languages, I would like to know.)

I have set a personal goal to work toward the creation of such a coaching literature. There are a great many books available about archery technique, what I call “how to shoot books,” and more get published every day. What I am addressing here are “how to coach archery books” and, as I mentioned, we have about ten or so of those and a number more in the works. It is desirable to have a great deal more. If you look at some of the more developed sports, like basketball, it seems as if every prominent coach has a book or three on the market. There are dozens and dozens of books on how to coach this or that basketball offence or defense, etc.

If the wisdom of today’s coaches is put in print, then tomorrow’s coaches won’t need to reinvent everything all over again and real progress can be made. If you know of a coach who wants to write such a book or have a coach you think highly of, let me know (steve@archeryfocus.com) and I will approach them about assisting them getting something to market. Please note that I am the first to admit that no one will get rich writing for archery coaches. It is a small market, so I pitch these projects as “pay it forward” projects, projects that will build the sport so others can go places we could not.

Best Methods of Coaching Practice There is virtually nothing in the archery coaching literature about the best way to start archers out. Every coach I have met has an opinion on this but there is almost nothing in print. The only way to discover if there are “best” methods of doing anything is for the methods to be published so other coaches can test them and then chime in as to which they think work better and which work not as well.

This applies not only to coaching beginners but also to working with advanced to elite archers. What are the best ways to assess the status of an advanced archer? What kinds of questions should you ask when interviewing potential students? What do you do with the information you receive? How to you prioritize correctives (First, we need to work on . . . )?

Even if we can’t tell which of a set of approaches to, say target panic, works best, at least we will have a list of things people are trying. Knowing even this is a step ahead of coaches having to improvise something as they work.

An Archive of Tested Corrective Procedures Tested and proven corrective procedures is an element of Ericsson’s effective practice. In order for an archer to be practicing effectively, they need to know that if their coach suggests a drill that will fix a problem they are having, they need to have confidence that the coach knows what they are talking about. This requires the coach to have either immense experience about anything and everything or access to an archive of procedures proven to work in those circumstances created by other coaches. If the coach has confidence in the contents of that archive, that will lend confidence to his student-archers and speed their progress.

Such procedures, once collected, also attract comments from coaches who experience variations of the same problem. Those comments offer advice on how to deal with those variations and at a bare minimum let other coaches and their students know that they are not alone in dealing with a difficulty. Knowing that others have dealt successfully with a technique or other malady is one level of support, knowing how they dealt with it is even better. Over time we may even figure out why the corrective worked and then we will be getting high quality information about how and why coaching works.

Of course, some agency must make this archive available and keep it up, maintain it, so this will be a collective effort requiring the backing of some or all of the archery organizations.

A Coach Finder System One of the most frustrating parts of coaching archery currently is the difficulty archers have in finding a coach. I am currently remotely coaching a young man in Portugal because he could not find anyone near him, but he could find me (through my coaching blog). I am not charging him because I am currently still learning how to coach remotely so I am getting as good as I give. I also have responded to questions from Africa and India for the same reason: local help is either not available or not trustworthy. I do wish there were more information regarding doing remote coaching. (Anybody out there want to write a book?)

There are lists of coaches available. Here in the U.S., one is maintained by USA Archery. But, if you are looking for a coach, all you will find is a list of names sortable by level (1, 2, 3, etc.) and state and there will be the town or city they live in and a contact mechanism (apparently just a phone number now). So, someone looking for a coach has to call up a perfect stranger and ask questions like “Do you give lessons in my town?” “How much do you charge?” “Do you coach compound archers?” “How much experience do you have?” etc. If, by way of a comparison, you look at a Yellow Pages ad for a mechanic for your car, they list the makes and procedures they specialize in, whether they take credit cards, whether they offer loaners while they are working on your car, what days of the week and hours of the day they are available, and much more. We need a system more like the Yellow Pages and less like a list of coaches available by state and town. I realize there is quite a bit of work maintaining such a list, so I suspect there will be a charge associated with it, but because of the Internet, it doesn’t have to be much. And such listings can include a photo, background information on the coach, what styles they commonly coach, what trainings they have had, what level archers they tend to work with, where and when they are available, etc.

An Organization of Archery Coaches Dedicated to Sharing Information and More The perfect organization to offer some of the services mentioned above would be an independent professional organization of, and for, archery coaches. Being independent of any other archery organization is important because then there is no “party line” to follow, that is the organization’s policies are open just to the organization’s members who might be associated with a great many archery organizations but beholden to none of them.

We are in the process of creating such an organization, The Archery Coaches Guild (www.archerycoachesguild.org). Currently to join is free but as tasks for that organization grow, some services may need to be charged for (such as being listed in the “Coaching Yellow Pages”).

So, What Did I Leave Out?
Write me regarding this agenda to create a better future for coaches and archers (steve@archeryfocus.com) if you think of something I left out. If you have something to contribute to the furtherance of this agenda, let me know and I will help you get it published. If you write an article for AFm, you will get a check from us and will become instantly famous . . . at least with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Okay, Let’s Pull the Trigger on this Thing (A Blog for Archery Parents)

I have been toying with the idea of offering a blog for archery parents. I even asked you if you thought it was a good idea and those of you who responded generally said it was. So, I am officially pulling the trigger on “A Blog for Archery Parents” (https://archerycoaching911.wordpress.com). Please share the link around to other coaches and archery parents. I posted an number of questions that archery parents frequently have so they wouldn’t be coming onto a bare site.

I will post on that site based upon the questions that come in.

Let me know if there are things you would like to see posted.

 

Steve

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How Fast Should You Shoot?

I came up through field archery and didn’t shoot with a clock running until I had been shooting quite a few years. Boy, the first time I did it made me very nervous. (I am one of those people who shows up early for everything; you know the type.)

So, after ending up a nervous wreck from my first exposure to a shot clock, I felt I had to do something about it, so I did.

Most youths who grow up with a clock running don’t have my problems, in fact the clock almost never affects them, because they shoot like Machine Gun Kelly, rat-a-tat-tat; a 3-arrow end takes 24 seconds, a 6-arrow end is done in a minute and a half.

Since archery is a repetition sport, tempo is a key factor in how consistent we can be. If one shoots too quickly or too slowly (than your optimal tempo) your scores will go down. So, a scoring strategy must not interfere with keeping a consistent shot tempo. For example, some recommend a 6-arrow end be broken into two 3-arrow ends with a short rest in between to recover the energy lost from shooting the first three. But, if after shooting three arrows quickly, one takes a break and then shoots the other three arrows quickly, one ends up shooting the first arrow of an end twice and the first arrow does not have a very recent shot to imprint upon. The natural timing of a shot generally sets the second arrow to be shot within 30 seconds of the first because there are limitations to how long you can hold a feeling or thought in memory (and I think, but cannot prove, that 30 seconds is pushing it). If you cannot use the last shot as an example for a pre-shot visualization, you are left with using something you’ve cobbled together from long-tem memory, which is generally considered to be less accurate and therefore less helpful. Because of this limitation, most elite archers shoot each arrow the same way in the same time and one after the other until done with the end.

Most young archers do tend to shoot too quickly but that is a relatively simple problem that involves no particular strategy (like shoot three, rest and then three more). To help deal with time pressure, it helps all archers to know how much time a let down costs. A let down takes about as much time as a shot, so if a three-arrow end (2 minutes allowed) takes 60 seconds to shoot your three arrows, for example, you have enough time to execute three letdowns, but not a fourth before time will run out. I can remember feeling that letdowns cost way more time than they did and I started to feel time pressure very early in the end (clocks are not always visible, especially if one is left-handed). For this reason I measured how much time it took me to shoot three and six arrow ends and then figured out how many let downs I could safely make without fear of running out of time. (For me it was one and two, respectively. If I made two let downs in a 3-arrow end, I had better hustle on that last arrow and it … must … be … shot.) I also taped a count down timer to my spotting scope tripod which I triggered as soon as the “shoot” signal was given. That way I would know how much time I really had.

With regard to actual shot tempo, there is a way to find out if you are shooting too quickly and if it is affecting your scoring. Label a set of arrows (1, 2, 3 …) and then shoot them in a practice round in that order. Record the score of arrow #1 of each end in the first box on the score card, arrow #2’s score goes in the second box, etc. (Not from highest score to lowest, just in the order they were shot.) When done with the practice round, average all of the box’s scores giving you an average score for your first arrow, your second arrow shot, etc. If the scores steadily decline, you are shooting too fast, consuming too much energy that is not being replenished before you shoot another, digging yourself an energy hole that guarantees poor scores later in the round.dual_vegas_fntdual_vegas_fnt

We are not robots, so you might have to do this drill several times to see if you are being consistent. Of course, one must also avoid other sources of score variations while doing this (pressing to get better scoring arrows, struggling with the clicker, etc.).

It is not a simple prospect, changing your shooting tempo. The reason for this is that tempo is one of the last things addressed when building a high quality shot. (Who cares how fast you are shooting
if you are shooting incorrectly in the first place?) So, by the time most archers get around to addressing tempo they have shot many thousands of arrows and have constructed a shot with a “normal tempo” that is based on who know what. The simplest approach to making a temp change is through feedback. If your normal shots take 10 seconds, for example, from release to release but you now have evidence that is too fast, pick a new time frame, say 15 seconds, but give yourself a range instead, like 15-20 seconds (or 13-17, etc.). Any shot made within that framework is considered “good” during this exercise (we are not robots). Have somebody time you. If you shoot in less than 15 seconds, your timer tells you “too soon.” If you reach 20 seconds, your timer tells you “let down” and you must let down. Don’t try to “do” anything, just take the feedback and let your subconscious mind do all the work. All you need do is be disappointed when you shoot too soon or not soon enough, do not try to do anything
else. (Try? There is no “try.” Do or do not. Yoda)

Obviously the time frame you choose can be too small or two large and you may need to refine it. This is how that is done: the above exercise is probably best done blank bale because the arrow scores are not really the point. But when you have achieved some consistency there are still two questions: “Am I still shooting too fast?” and “Is this my optimal shot timing?” For the first question you have the practice round drill above, for the second, that requires a target. I will use the example of 6-arrow ends and since it is indoor season, we will shoot indoors. You can obviously adjust this drill for any distance you prefer.

So, set up two three spot target faces, so you have six spots, one for each arrow. Have your “timer” play the same role as in the previous drill except this time he/she must keep track of three categories: shots that are “too quick,” shots that are “too slow,” and shots that are “just right,” no “let down” commands are given. These ratings can be coded on a score card by your helper. Record the arrow scores for each arrow so that you know what the shot timing was as well as the arrow scores. Then you must compile the average arrow score for each of those three categories. If “too quick” and “too slow” got significantly lower score averages than “just right,” then “just right” is probably about right. If “just right” timing got the highest average but “too fast” was almost as good and “too slow” was way behind, then maybe you would benefit from speeding up a tad. There are far too many possible outcomes for me to go through all of them but I hope these examples are enough to give you an idea of how to proceed.

I hope you realize that you have to shoot fairly well to address the topic of shot tempo. If you do not shoot relatively small groups, adding a concern about shot timing may cause your groups to degrade until the results of these exercises are all by meaningless. In the drill just described, compare your group sizes with your normal group sizes (or score the first 30 arrows, or …) to see if they are roughly the same. If so, then you know that the focus of the drill/exercise isn’t adversely affecting your shooting.

A basic aspect of “getting good” at archer is that it takes more and more time to do less and less for your shot. Progress gets made in leaps and bounds when you first start shooting, but the rate of progress slows to a crawl as you reach a high level of proficiency. One example of that is the amount of practice needed to move you from a score of 100 to 110 in a 300 round compared to the amount of time need to move from a score of 280 to 290 in a 300 round. Both changes are just ten points, but the first challenge is blown through, while the latter one defeats some archers altogether.

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Anchor Positions (Finger Shooters)

John William's "center anchor."

John William’s “center anchor.”

I was struck by a photo of an archer from the recent past who used a center anchor to some effect, namely John Williams of the USA, the 1972 men’s Olympic gold medalist (see photo at right). Currently, there has been an almost universal adoption of the “side anchor” specifically the variant in which the string touches the corner of the chin, but not farther back (see photo below). This post is about why these changes have been made.

Most beginners think that these things are about string positioning but really they are about head positioning. By having the string touch certain parts of the head, at multiple points if possible, this guarantees that the positions of the head and the all-important aiming eye relative to the bow are made more repeatable. The archer must still try to endeavor to hold his/her bow in the correct orientation and hold their head in the correct orientation besides, but consistency is much improved by monitoring these other “touches” tactilely.

Brady Ellison's "side anchor."

Brady Ellison’s “side anchor.”

Very few people use a center of the chin anchor position any more because it often requires a substantial tilt of the head to line everything up. This we consider to be suboptimal because when we tilt our heads, there are physiological repercussions. When our eyes aren’t level, we lose some of the benefits of binocular vision, for example our depth perception and ability to estimate distance are degraded. For another thing, we actually lose physical strength when we tilt our heads because this is a submissive posture. Recall your posture when your Mom caught you with your hand in the cookie jar (or whatever). Dogs will actually drop their heads to the side exposing their jugular veins to convey helplessness to another dog. This is why people of power want you to bow your head; it puts you into a weak, almost powerless posture and your body and mind accept those positions.

Now look at the two photos; which of the archers has eyes that are level/horizontal?

The idea of the string touching your nose is also a head positioning element. If the nose and string do not touch, what should you do (or ask your student to do)? Certainly you do not want to tilt your head to make this happen for the reasons mentioned above. You also don’t want to move your anchor position back along your jaw. Since your fingers are curled around the string toward you, when the string it loosed, the act of the string pushing your fingers out of its way causes the fingers to push the string back (Newton’s third law). This means that as the string moves forward it also moves toward the archer. High speed video has shown that when the string is held against the face behind the corner of the chin, the string drags along the archer’s face as it leaves, causing ripples in the skin! This drag lowers arrow speed and is a source of variation we do not need.

Positioning the string at anchor at the corner of the archer’s jaw allows the string to leave its position without drag on the archer’s skin and allows the archer’s eyes to remain level.

If there is no nose touch or too much touch and some is desirable, it is possible to create what you want by changing the length of a recurve bow, for example. The Korean women, who have short noses, tend to use longer bows, which provide less acute string angles at anchor. Compound archers who use a nose touch have learned this the hard way as bows being manufactured now are much shorter axle-to-axle than they were in the past, making vastly more acute string angles at anchor, making a nose touch harder to achieve. Be aware, though, that nose touches are less useful to compound archers because they have peep sights, acting as an additional alignment point to the face touches. So, going to great lengths to get a nose touch on a short ATA compound bow is probably not worth doing.

Throughout archery’s history we have learned through trial and error and by emulating the more successful, a process I describe often as: monkey see, monkey do. We are now teasing out why the things that work actually work, which means we are reaching a level of understanding at which we will have more control than ever over what we do to maximize our own and our student’s effectiveness.

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A Follow-up to “Lessons from YouTube”

In this post I warned people to view Internet videos with a somewhat skeptical eye and gave reasons. I specifically mentioned YouTube videos by NuSensei, who has myriad instructional videos available, many of them suitable for beginners and developing archers. I went on to say “I do recommend Mr. Nu’s effort as his videos are mostly informative.” I then went on to point out what I thought were a number of shortcomings in those videos as examples of what one needed to watch out for in Internet-based instructional videos.

One of you wrote back that you thought I was too tough on NuSensei, that his videos are some that they recommended frequently.

I referred to the author of those videos as Mr. Nu, even though that is not his real name because that is the way he presents himself in his videos. I mean no disrespect to “Nu” and his videos are quite recommendable for beginners … and I still think that before you, as a coach, recommend any of those videos that you view it with a critical eye because you may find some things you might want to add to those presentations. I recommend this process for all instructional material you find on the Internet.

There are a number of sources of very good archery content on the Internet. They are few and far between in most cases. It is my hope that one of the tasks of the currently under development Archery Coaches Guild is that some sort of guide can be created of such videos for people looking for help. Current a broad spectrum search for content will produce as much chaff as wheat (actually more).

If David Nguyen (NuSensei) reads these posts, I mean no disrespect to him and I appreciate all of the work that he has put into making instructional content for beginners. I will add that if he wants to produce a book on archery, helpful to those he is focused on, I will publish that book willingly.

 

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