Getting Serious: Helping Them with New Arrows, Part 3

Helping Them with More Advanced Tuning

When your archers have mastered basic tuning, they often are curious about more advanced tuning. Let’s jump to the end of the line to look at the Cadillac, no the Rolls-Royce, of tuning: group tuning.

Preliminaries to Group Tuning
This is something an archer shouldn’t undertake unless they have reached a stage where they are consistently grouping well at all distances they are competing in. Since this process is quite laborious, to attempt it before the preliminaries are in place will be a great waste of time. So, this is not for beginners or even intermediate archers.

What Group Tuning Accomplishes
There is a short list of things that group tuning accomplishes. In the early stages it confirms the quality of the tune at all of the competing distances. Later, it is used to expose very small improvements that can be extracted from an archer’s equipment.

Getting Started—Proportional Group Sizes
If a your or your student’s bow and your arrows are tuned well, then consistent groups should be possible and observed. And because arrows are fairly simple projectiles they should show some consistent behavior, one of which is that the sizes of the groups should be proportional to the distances shot.

For example, if your archer shoots three dozen arrows at 30 meters and the diameter of the group is 20 centimeters. If that process were to be shot at double the distance, 60 meters, the diameter of the group should also double, so the group should be 40 centimeters across/high. At triple the distance, you should get groups three times as large, etc. Of course, this is on a windless day with no other influences upon the archer.

So, other than the archer, why might one not get proportional groups? Two common problems are excessive drag and clearance issues. If the arrows themselves have excessive drag associated with them (often this is attributed to poor fletching but it would have to be really, really poor to be the main cause because the drag associated with the shaft is far, far greater than of the fletches), the excessive drag will slow the arrows rapidly and as their speed is lost, the arrows become less stable and groups expand. If this is the case, the grouping at longer distances will be larger than expected. Clearance issues are issues in which the arrow, as it is leaving the bow, strikes something on its way out. That something can be a fletch or even the arrow itself. The thing it hits can be the riser or the arrow rest. It can even be the string dragging on the archer’s chin as the shot is loosed. These issues cause unstable arrow flight from the beginning, which the fletches can damp out over time. This results in groups at the closer distance being bigger than expected when compared with the sizes of the groups at longer distances.

Testing for Proportional Group Sizes A perfect place to do this is the practice butts of a field range because there are almost always a wide choice of target distances already set up. If you are at a target range, you will have to set up targets at the distances your student will be shooting. You will need three, better four, target distances and it makes things simpler if you choose easy multiples of the smaller distance, e.g. 20, 40, 60, 80 yards/meters or 15, 30, 45, 60 yards/meters. You can do it at any four distances, but then you will have to do some math. It is also easier if you use the same size target face.

The process is to shoot enough arrows to establish a reliable group size (you can disregard obvious mistakes). You can determine the group sizes either from the rings on the target (use decimal scoring) or by wrapping a string around the arrows and measuring the length of the wrapping string (a rough circumference of the group). Obviously if you don’t have many arrows, you will need to shoot a number of ends and the string technique is a bit messy (if you have four groups of six arrows, you will have four circumferences and you can just average those). The circumference or diameter (width/height) of round groups are direct measures of “group size.”

It is best if all of the arrows are shot on the same day so that the same conditions exist as well as the archer being whatever they were on that day (no day-to-day variations in mood or physical ability).

Making the Comparisons If you were able to pick four easy distances (20, 40, 60, 80 yards or meters) then the groups sizes should line up as well. The smallest one should be able to be multiplied by 2X, 3X, and 4X to get the other three (or close enough). Do not expect these to be exact. The 40 group size might be exactly half of the 80 with the 60 exactly half way in between, but the 20 group size is off. If so, this means that either the test was a bit iffy (you can just repeat that distance to confirm the number) or you may have a clearance problem.

You may have to do this a number of times to get a set of group sizes you feel good about and are “believable” as to what they are telling you. But when you have done this, you will feel that you have a good idea of what your expected group sizes are at those distances (you will know what is “normal” for you).

And That Was the Easy Part
The basic group testing is to make sure that there aren’t any glaring problems with your setup or tune. Once that is done we can get into fine tuning.

To fine tune your bow-arrow system by group testing, the procedure is the same for nocking point height adjustments and centershot adjustments, even button pressure adjustments. You establish a repeatable group size at one of the longer distances in your “suite.” Then you make a minute change in one of the variables, for example, a 1/32ʺ (0.5 mm) change in nocking point position, and then you check the group size again. Another little change, another test, and so on. You are looking for the group size to shrink when it hits a sweet spot. Obviously you need to test changes both up and down in the nocking point, testing each change. After, say, making four 1/32ʺ downward changes in your nocking point, you need to go back to normal and try making upward changes. Ideally we would see the group sizes shrink and then go back up in size around the “sweet spot.” But we don’t know exactly where we are in that scenario, so we have to feel our way along. And, “ideally” doesn’t come around very often, so we take the best we can get.

Clearly this is laborious and should only be undertaken when your archer has settled form and a settled draw weight and a settled draw length. If your student is still growing, don’t do it. If they are thinking about changing bows, don’t do it.

There Just Has to Be Something Easier!
There are quite a number of intermediate tests that are substantially easier to perform, but are not as fine. We will cover a couple of these next time: Shooting at Vertical and Horizontal Tapes and French or “Walk-Back” Tuning.

 

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Getting Serious: Helping Them with New Arrows, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series I pointed out that arrow purchases are often quite bewildering to newbie archers and that you will be called upon to help. Obviously if that is not your strong suit, you could pass your students onto those who have those skills, but we think it is important that coaches of serious archers learn as much as they can about this topic as it is one that is critical to acquiring well-tuned equipment. Even if you are not much of a DIY person, understanding what needs to be done is really important, even if you are not the best person to do those things. (This is the difference between a professional and a technician. The technician needs to know “how” to do things, the professional needs to know “how” and “why.” Typically the technician is more adept at the doing as they get more practice, but coaches need to know how to “do” because of the paucity of archery shops now in existence.)

A New Arrow Setup Protocol
You need to select out a set of five arrows or arrow shafts as a “test” set for this procedure. Two of the five need to be bare shafts, the other three are fletched. And, your arrows need to be ordered uncut (aka full length) so that you can do this procedure.

Bare Shaft Test the Uncut Arrows  At a very short distance (5-8 paces) perform a bare shaft tuning test. (If you start at a greater distance, you are taking the chance that you will break your bare shafts.) If the three fletched and two bare shafts don’t form two groups, repeat the test until they do. Since these shafts are going to be cut to get the right amount of shaft they are, by definition, too long. Because they are too long, they should also be too weak. This means that the bare shaft tuning test should have the bare shafts grouping to the right of the fletched shafts (if you are right-handed; the opposite if you are left-handed). Note: we will continue assuming you are right-handed. If you are left-handed, reverse all right-left references.

So, the first BS test should confirm your arrows are now too weak. Note carefully how far to the right of the fletched group the BS group is. For this description we will say the BS group starts out at six inches (6ʺ) to the right of the fletched group. Then you have to make a first cut.

To cut the arrows shorter, you really need the use of an arrow saw (see photo). If you or your coach don’t have one, possibly your club does or you can borrow one. The first cut needs to be significantly less than the cut you would make to get the arrow to your draw length (the “arrow length” the spine charts are based upon). If the spine chart indicates your arrows should be cut two inches (2ʺ) to get to your “correct” arrow length, start with a one half inch (1/2ʺ) cut. Something nowhere near the chart value is desired. Cut just the five test arrows. Note to do this you must remove the points, cut the shafts, and reinstall the points. If you do not know how to do this we published an article in Issue 23-2 on how to do just that.

Then repeat the BS test. The BS group should now be closer to the fletched arrow group. If the one half inch cut is, say, one quarter of what we need to actually cut, then the second test should see the BS group close the gap between it and the fletched arrows by one quarter of that 6ʺ leaving a 4.5ʺ gap. If the gap is now just 3ʺ instead of the 4.5ʺ expected, then another half inch cut might do the job. Do realize these tests are not all that exact. Therefore, we are going to sneak up on our final cut. This is because if our cut isn’t far enough, we can cut again. If our cut is “too far” we may be heading back to the store to get more arrows. Note: actually this is why we only test a minimal set of arrows (5). If we mess up we have the remaining set of seven to make a usable set of arrows from.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s say that a half inch cut got our BSs half way to the fletched ones. So, we are pointed at another one half inch to our final cut, but being cautious we make a one quarter inch cut (1/4ʺ) instead and test again. If the BS test shows the gap closed again, roughly proportional to the amount of the cut, then we can try another quarter inch cut, or if you want to be even more careful, an one eighth inch (1/8ʺ) cut and test again.

When the bare shafts are grouping with the fletched shafts, we can move back to 10-15 paces and repeat the test to confirm that the BSs are grouping with the fletched shafts.

Once you have confirmed this, then you can cut the rest of your arrows to this length and you now have a properly fitted, aka tuned, set of arrows!

This is just a basic fitting. You should shoot your new arrows and see how well they perform. There are other tests, none of which is perfect.

What To Do, What To Do?
Your students will expect you to be competent in this, so if you have no experience in doing these tasks, it behooves you to seek opportunities to learn them. We have found other archers and coaches to be very generous with their time and skill in helping us learn what we needed and we expect you will, too.

To do this task you will need a number of tools: an arrow saw, a small propane torch, and a pair of pliers. You will also need “point cement” to reattach arrow points removed to make cuts. (Use a hot melt variety, not an epoxy variety, as you want to be able to remove and reattach the arrow points multiple times.) Note to do this process you must remove the points, cut the shafts, and reinstall the points. If you do not know how to do this we published an article in Issue 23-2 on how to do just that.

The Arrow Saw Arrow shafts are made of various materials. We will focus on only carbon and aluminum (and aluminum-carbon) and ignore the others for now. To cut these shafts we need a “high speed abrasive cut off tool.” Commercially these are sold as “arrow saws.” Every possible alternative has been tried to using this tool: pipe cutters, scroll saws, lathes, table saws, hacksaws, getting a beaver to gnaw a bit off, everything has been tried and virtually everyone says now that you need a high speed abrasive cut off tool. Many of us made our own using something like a Dremel Rotary Tool with an abrasive cut off wheel chucked in it. (AF recently published an Archery DIY article on how to do just that.) You can do the same, but if you are serious about archery and coaching, buying your own arrow saw will pay off in the long run.

Commercial saws provide a high speed motor, a larger abrasive blade (larger blades wear more slowly that smaller ones, like the Dremel blades, which are really small), a support for the arrow and a cut stop that ensures that all of the arrows cut end up the same length. They also supply safety guards and often a vacuum attachment to suck up the dust. You do not want to be breathing aluminum or carbon dust! (If we have to cut a lot of carbon shafts, we wear a dust mask.)

When using these saws, when you turn them on, allow them to get up to full speed before starting a cut. (You can tell by the sound the motor makes, just like with a car.) The arrow shaft is fed in sideways until the blade cuts through the material of that side and then rotated slowly into moving blade to complete the cut. This procedure provides for the end cut being perfectly perpendicular to the length of the shaft. An arrow cut at a slant will have the shoulder on the point touch just a small part of the shaft and you can expect cracks to form right there. If you just slide the shaft across the blade, the end of the arrow travels in an arc (making a slanted cut) and it also creates stress on the blade (which is spinning at thousands of revolutions per minute). The blades, being abrasive, are somewhat fragile; you do not want one of these to disintegrate on you. Safety Note You also do not want bits of stuff flying up and hitting you in the eye, so you must wear safety goggles when operating an arrow saw. Ordinary eyeglasses will not suffice, they are wide open from the sides and above and below, with many paths straight into one of your eyeballs that grit could take. Proper safety goggles wrap around your glasses, if you wear them, and block access from all sides to flying bits of matter.

 

Always, always, always use safety goggles when operating an arrow saw. A metal or carbon splinter can cost you an eye.

It really helps, if you have no experience doing this, to have an “expert” show you how it is done. After you have done it a number of times you will consider the process simple.

Everything Else Everything else, craft-wise,  is covered in that article in Issue 23-2.

The Bare Shaft Testing
The reason we didn’t address this topic before and we waited until this series transformed into the “Getting Serious: . . .” version is that it can’t be done without some sort of successful arrow test. Our choice is the Bare Shaft Test as it is the simplest and likely the one you and your archer have had some experience with.

The biggest shortcoming in this whole procedure is sloppy test results resulting in poor estimates of how much to cut. If your archer can’t shoot well enough to shoot tight groups at 5-8 paces, then they are not ready for this level of equipment fitting. Consequently if your capable archer shoots some half-hearted groups and you base decisions upon those, you are failing your archer. Your job is to get them focused in to create good tests. If you are unsure of the results, have them shoot again, as many times as it takes to be convinced you are getting a valid test result.

Where the bare shaft groups land, relative to the fletched shafts tell you a lot. If the BS land high or low the nocking point needs to be changed. If they land left or right, a number of things can be wrong.

The reason you shoot three fletched and two bare shafts is that three arrows is the minimum need to identify a group at all. And if the bare shafts don’t hit in similar positions, they were shot differently and therefore a re-test is needed. (Since the bare shafts do not have the built-in launch angle correctors we call fletches, they tend to fly more erratically and therefore asking for beginning serious archers to get three of them to group is a bit much.) All shots need to be made identically. For this reason, we regularly ask that the arrows be shot: fletched #1, bare #1, fletched #2, bare #2, and fletched #3. The “normal” inclination is to shoot the three fletched to see if they group (because if they don’t, why continue?) then shoot the two bares. This pattern is more conducive, however, to the five arrows being shot differently because of the archer getting tired toward the end or thinking the bare shafts are special or. . . .

Finally
Some of these tiny details are not always necessary, but remember that every time you walk a student-archer though one of these procedures, you are teaching them. How many times you get to “teach” them one of these procedures is always iffy, so you end up looking for a balance ending up at just enough detail, avoiding both “too little” and “too much.” Too little leaves out important things (Safety is always important and must always be taught.) and too much results in many things not retained (and you don’t have control over what gets retained and what doesn’t).

Consequently, we are in favor of providing a written procedure to our serious students “for future reference” because we know they probably won’t read it now. If when presented with the need to do this by themselves, if they kept that sheet of instructions, they have a boost up on having a successful procedure. If they didn’t, well, you tried.

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Getting Serious: Helping Them with New Arrows

I have been very busy getting out some new books (more on those later), so I kind of fell behind in my posting, so this is the first of a series of three posts on the same topic, in an effort to catch up. Steve

Of all of the minefields in archery equipment, the absolute worst is arrows. Many archers with decades of experience seem not to know the basics of arrow selection and tuning. This is why you will be called upon, often, to help serious new archers in getting new arrows.

New Arrows
When archers become serious about the sport, they are often improving at a rapid pace. Part of that improvement involves draw weight increases and also draw length changes, even if they are not still growing (developing form generally leads to a different draw length). All of these changes will eventually require a different arrow, how different depends on a great many things, things like the student’s budget for archery gear, the student’s competition venues (indoor and outdoor archery have different requirements as do 3-D and target).

When changing from one type of arrow (say aluminum shafted ones) to another type (all carbon or aluminum-carbon) is basically like starting from scratch. There is a long list of information needed to make any arrow purchase. Here’s a list:

  • What kind of bow do you shoot (recurve, compound, longbow)? If it is a compound, what kind of eccentrics are on the bow (high, medium, or low energy)?
  • What is the draw weight of your bow at your draw length? If it is a compound, they want to know the “peak weight.”
  • What is your draw length?
  • What shaft manufacturer do you want your shafts from?
  • What size shaft?
  • What “cut length” for those shafts (how long do you want them to be)?
  • What kind of arrow points do you want installed?
  • What weight of arrow points do you want?
  • What kind and size of nocks do you want?
  • What color nocks do you want?
  • What manufacturer and kind of fletches do you want?
  • What size and color of fletches do you want?

And, if you order wrong, the sellers are under no obligation to take them back. The error is yours, not theirs. This is not an impossible task, but you will need help. Everyone needs help from time to time, even us.

If you have a high quality archery shop in your neighborhood to send your students to, they can solve most of these things for you. They can show them all of their choices and then can build the arrows you need. Be sure to have them take their bow along because some things need to be measured.

They Will Need Help
Even if there is a quality shop nearby, there are still myriad problems. Have you seen how many arrow shaft makers there are? How familiar are you with them?

We have a base set of manufacturers we recommend as we have experience in working with those shafts and can thereby help more effectively. Of course, if a special deal shows up on another brand, those are always worth considering but caution is always needed in that case.

We have an entire process when fitting students for a new bow (Bowfitting) or new arrows (Arrowfitting) which we have written about before. We use a form and fill in all of the information above as we go (not necessarily the colors). This involves measuring their draw length and draw weight, and determining whether these are going to change in the future and by how much.

We do this and encourage our students to get archery catalogs from online retailers, like Lancaster Archery Supply, so they can look things up and educate themselves. They can also go online and check out the retailers there. If you do have a good local shop, we urge you to recommend them, even if they do not have the best prices your students can find scouring the Internet. They have something to offset the best price and that is personal service. You get very little of that, or none, when buying remotely. And, basically, if enough of you do not support your local shop, it will cease to exist and you will not have that option any more. Of course, if they provide poor service and outrageous pricing, they do not deserve your student’s patronage. As coaches when we refer students to shops, we follow up and ask if they felt they were well-served. If not, we stop making recommendations of that shop. We also suggest you go to the shop, if you haven’t already, and introduce yourself and see what they can offer your students. Some shops specialize in serving bowhunters, many fewer specialize in serving target archers, a few try to do both. Many owners are quite cooperative and will work with you to stock a few things commonly needed or to make things easier to order for your students. Some even have specialist employees that you can direct your students to when they visit the shop.

If they cannot manage to get arrows custom made, someone will have to assemble them. You will probably be called upon to do this many times for many students, if you have the skills involved, but we suggest you also teach them how to do this for themselves. It doesn’t require much equipment or skill, just some practice and a few supplies and tools. And they will be able to do repairs for themselves and possibly make their own “new” arrows in the future.

Tuning Them In
Tuning arrows to an archer and his/her bow is making minute adjustments to the arrows so that they perform as well as can be. This is where being able to assemble arrows, at least in part, is very valuable. The most important tuning parameter for any arrows is shaft length. The basic tuning procedure for new arrows involves buying the arrows or shafts full length and then cutting them in stages until they perform as well as can be. We will address that in the next issue.

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You Cannot Unsee What You Are Looking At

I was reading a piece in The Guardian about the protests in Hong Kong, including horrific battles between the protesters and police involving tear gas and Molotov Cocktails . . . and a new weapon which had been introduced by the protesters: bows and arrows. (Target bows and arrows, I saw no hunting equipment in the videos).

So, in the top of the article photo, here are protesters, looking like paramilitary troops with body armor, helmets, and such and one person holding a bow with an arrow on it.

What is the first thing I see?

The “archer” is shooting a right-handed bow . . . left-handed.

That was the first thing I noticed consciously.

Sheesh.

Once you have trained yourself to see what an archery coach must see, you can’t “unsee” it. This ability, which must be trained in, also has some drawbacks. What you “see” automatically, can push aside other things that are important but take more effort to see, analyze, and understand.

This is something you might want to keep in the back of your mind as you progress as a coach, that you can train yourself to see just certain things and other things get pushed into the background, things that can be important. So, pausing to take a deeper look may be a good coaching practice.

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What Constitutes a Safe and Effective Warm Up for Archery?

From a blog I follow comes this tidbit:

“What most people do to warm up before a workout actually relaxes your muscles and decreases your power and energy . . . which decreases your performance during your workout, and the gains and benefits you get from it, and increases the chances of you getting injured during your workout . . . because your muscles and joints just aren’t ready!”

So, if you conclude we shouldn’t warn up before shooting I think you are getting your exercise by jumping to conclusions. The key words here are “What most people do to warm up. . . .” The person who wrote this is suggesting we are doing it wrong.

So, what constitutes a safe and effective warm up for archery?

Does anybody know?

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Less is More . . . More or Less

A question asked of coaches often enough is “How much should I practice?” and “How many arrows should I shoot?” If you work with youths (I recommend this as it keeps you fresh and immersed in the fundamentals if nothing else) you often find yourself just encouraging them to practice more. So many kids will attend a group lesson, say, once a week and that’s it. But this is not what I am addressing here. Here I am addressing this question as if it were coming from a serious archer, one who is going to try whatever you recommend. In my parlance, a serious archer is one training to win.

An Aside—If you aren’t sure what kind of archer you are working with, give them an extensive, preferably boring, drill to do. If they don’t do it, they are a recreational archer (who only shoot for fun and drills aren’t fun). If they do do it, they are a competitive archer. If they email/text you between coaching sessions asking for what else they can do, they are probably a serious competitive archer.

There are some discussions available in the literature regarding arrow counts and training loads. Archers are encouraged, for example, to vary their shooting loads (aka number of arrows shot per day) in “high, medium, and low” sessions. I use as a rule of thumb that a high load day is at least twice as many arrows as you would shoot in one day of the competitive rounds that are current. But there is a large scheme at work here. Consider the three phases of learning archery:

Phase One—Creating Your Shot
One could get the impression form all of the how to shoot books that an archery shot is like a suit of clothes. You find one that fits your needs and then you try it on and wear it. In reality, you have to make your own suit. An archery shot is personal. And, while there are many, many similarities in archer’s shots (created by the use of common equipment and the laws of physics) everyone’s shot is unique to them (some being uniquer than others).

So, Phase One is always the creation of a shot. This is best done using dedicated practice techniques involving low volumes of shots but high intensity of focus. Errors are corrected immediately. Drills are often done for extensive periods. (If a coach is to be employed at all, this is the best time.)

Phase Two—Memorizing Your Shot
Once you have created a consistently accurate shot (a sign of which is shooting consistently good groups) it is time to memorize your shot, that is learning it to the bone. In this phase you will shoot “your shot” so often that it becomes second nature. I should be able to wake you up at 3 AM and shove your bow into your hands and you should be executing good shots immediately because it is “normal” for you to shoot that way.

This memorization process involves shooting high volumes of shots. This is the first time high volumes of shots are to be attempted. Important Point—If volume shooting is a memorization technique, why would you do this before your shot is built? You would just be memorizing something you will be changing shortly.

This is not the mindless flinging of arrows so often mention as something to avoid (rather, one should never do this) but shots with full focus. How many shots per session is a variable to be winkled out. There are no tables to consult here! Archers are too variable in size, strength, ability to focus, etc. Arrow counts might stay low while the archer does physical training to increase strength or stamina. One has to feel one’s way along here. Archer’s need to learn to monitor muscle soreness; it’s location and intensity. (The wrong muscles being sore indicates the wrong muscles are being used!)

Phase Three—Maintaining Your Shot
Shooting high arrow counts is not done forever. Once an archer’s foundation is built (this often takes years, estimates I have seen being in multiples of 10,000 shots) the arrow volumes are cut back. First, there is no need for memorization and second, you risk repetitive stress injuries from over work. Occasionally, in preparing for major events, high arrow counts may be brought back as stamina tests and to reassure the archer that they still have it, that is the ability to function consistently during a long competition.

And . . .
Throughout all of this there are minor technique tweaks, often significant equipment changes, and injuries to work around, but these are all performed in the context of “your shot.”

You have probably heard the admonition to “Shoot your shot.” This is a warning to young archers to avoid improvising, to shoot the shot they have practiced. For a serious competitive archer, we try to help them make “not shooting their shot” difficult, abnormal, awkward, etc. And this does not necessarily involve high volume arrow shooting, which is only done when it is appropriate and is not a virtue in itself. (Yes, I am talking to you, Macho Man Archer.)

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Cute or Horrifying?

Consider the photo (Source: Facebook) below. How do you react to it?

I found the photo charming, darling even. My partner found it horrifying. As background, you should know that when we were teaching youth archery classes, we actually created a class for the younger brothers and sisters of the students in the classes who desperately wanted to participate. Typically a child needs to be about eight-years old to participate in archery. This is for physical reasons but mostly because the child needs to be mature enough to understand the safety rules and be trusted to follow them … and we were going younger. We roped in child development specialists to help in the effort, as well as a small army of coaches to coach our “Hot Shots.” Each session ended with a flag ceremony (to the Olympic movement TV theme); we laid it on thick.

The kids were well behaved. They shot. No one got hurt. And we decided to never do it again. It just took much effort on our part to pull such a thing off. We did get some cute photos.

So, my comment on the photo (top) was that there were no arrows in evidence and we do not know where they were going or what they would be doing. For all I knew they could be going to a park for a Spring Bow Dance. But my partner’s point was more than apt. The whole purpose of a bow is to launch arrows. Archery is weapons training.

So, what do you think?

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The Bare Shaft Planing Test Had Two Fathers (At Least)

Actually I am guessing more than two, but the modern test seems to have had two.

Max Hamilton (1963) And the Basic Test
A gentleman named Max Hamilton is credited with having invented the basic test. This test is to shoot bare shafts (only) into a target about two paces away. The first thing to look for is are the arrows straight into the target or are the nocks high or low. In the nock high case, one concludes that the nocking point of the arrow on the string is too high; in the nock low result, the nocking point is too low. The nocking point is adjusted and the test repeated until the nocks are level with the shafts.

Then one examines whether the arrows kick left or right (if they do, this is ignored until the nocking point position is corrected). If the nocks of the bare shafts are to the right, this indicates that the arrows are too stiff for the bow, if the nocks are leaning to the left, the arrows are too weak.

Today we have a great many ways of adjusting the bows to make a spine match and get the bare shafts flying straight from the bow. Back then the options were more limited. (I know people who sanded wood arrows to make them less stiff!)

Obviously, if the bare shafts are leaving the bow in a “straight” orientation, there is less for the fletches to correct.

Ed Eliason (1960s?) And the Modern Test
The modern test is attributed to Ed Eliason, one of the U.S.’s most accomplished archers.

This is the test we are all familiar with. At short distance (< five paces) three fletched and two bare shafts are shot. We look to see that the fletched shafts grouped and the bare shafts grouped. If they did not, then that test is scrapped and a “do over” is in order.

The test is interpreted according to the relative positions of the two groups. If the bare shafts are higher or lower than the fletched, the nocking point position needs adjusting. This is always done first. If the bare shafts hit to the right or left of the fletched group, then the arrows are too stiff (left) or too weak (right). (Note These are all for right-handed archers. If your archer is left-handed, you need to switch all lefts and rights.) Shafts that are just a tad too stiff or too weak may be able to be adjusted using cushion button pressure. If they are more than that, almost all modern bows have adjustable limb pockets that allow for draw weight changes (too stiff arrows need more draw weight, etc.). Arrows can adjusted, too. They can be cut shorter to stiffen them, for example.

More Than Two Inventors?
The reason that I think there were more than two people whose fingerprints are on this bow-arrow test is I have read and heard considerable information from trad shooters who describe tuning by shooting arrows into loose piles of dirt or sand. They were looking for the arrows entering the pile straight. If the nocks kicked left, right, high, or low, they made adjustments.

Adjustments to all wood bows involved sanding/scraping the limbs to drop the bow’s draw weight, cutting the limbs off a bit to raise the draw weight, changing the brace height, sanding the arrows to make them less stiff, I even know an archer who added layers of arrow lacquer to his arrows to make them heavier.

Since these “tests” of the bow-arrow system go quite far back in time, and are known today, I suspect they were background knowledge for people like Max and Ed. Before these “modern” tuning tests were invented, what did people do to tune their bows? I have to assume they did something. And that the “something” was informed by what people did in their past.

 

 

 

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Archery, Archery, Archery All of the Time . . . Right?

As a coach who works with young people (and I hope that you do, too) I see and hear opinions regarding “commitment to the sport” and “developing a practice regimen” often. Just the trope “it takes 10,000 of practice to develop elite-level skill” urges us to practice, practice, practice. After all, the icons of sport seem to all have started very early. Tiger Woods, possibly the greatest golfer of all time, had a golf club in his hands before he was one year old. I have seen archers shooting before the age of two. Start early, block out everything else, and you have a shot at greatness.

So, is this a message to deliver to our student-archers?

Tiger ca. two years old.

I think this is not a wise approach. For one it is laden with survivor bias. We crave information about the Tiger Woods of the world. What made him so great? How did he achieve what he has? But we never seek to survey the entire field. How many athletes took Tiger’s route and how well did they do? How many dropped out along the way? Answer: we don’t know.

There are, however, counter examples. Consider Roger Federer of tennis fame. Arguably one of the best male tennis players of all time, certainly one of the nicest. Here is an excerpt from an article in The Guardian in which Roger Federer’s early “career” was described:

“This boy’s mother was a coach, but she never coached him. He would kick a ball around with her when he learned to walk. As a child, he played squash with his father on Sundays. He dabbled in skiing, wrestling, swimming and skateboarding. He played basketball, handball, tennis, table tennis and badminton over his neighbour’s fence, and soccer at school.

“His parents had no particular athletic aspirations for him. They encouraged him to try a wide array of sports. He didn’t much mind what sport he was playing, so long as it included a ball. Though his mother taught tennis, she decided against working with him. “He would have just upset me anyway,” she said. “He tried out every strange stroke and certainly never returned a ball normally. That is simply no fun for a mother.” Rather than pushy, his parents were, if anything, “pully”, a Sports Illustrated writer would later observe. Nearing his teens, the boy began to gravitate more toward tennis, and “if they nudged him at all, it was to stop taking tennis so seriously”.

“As a teenager, he was good enough to warrant an interview with the local newspaper. His mother was appalled to read that, when asked what he would buy with a hypothetical first prize money from playing tennis, her son answered “a Mercedes”. She was relieved when the reporter let her listen to a recording of the interview and they realised there had been a mistake: the boy had said “mehr CDs” in Swiss-German. He simply wanted “more CDs”.

“The boy was competitive, no doubt. But when his tennis instructors decided to move him up to a group with older players, he asked to move back so he could stay with his friends. After all, part of the fun was hanging around after his lessons to gab about music, or pro wrestling, or soccer.

“By the time he finally gave up other sports to focus on tennis, other kids had long since been working with strength coaches, sports psychologists and nutritionists. But it didn’t seem to hamper his development in the long run. In his mid-30s, an age by which even legendary tennis players are typically retired, he would still be ranked world No 1.I” From “Generalise, Don’t Specialise: Why Focusing Too Narrowly Is Bad for Us” by David Epstein in The Guardian magazine, July 12, 2019.

Some authoritarian countries have decided to fuel their Olympic teams by rounding up promising youths and taking them to “training centers” and having them train around the clock, starting as early as three years of age. (The parents are allowed to visit from time to time, as long as they don’t get in the way.) In these cases, athletes can be considered as disposable. If there are enough of them, those who burn out can just be sent back to their villages.

I argue that this is no way to treat a fellow citizen. None of the archers I have worked with has become a professional archer, so why would I train them as if that were their goal? All of my students were destined to be something larger than archery and if archery stays with them and contributes to their happiness, I’d consider that a success.

Urging youngsters to concentrate on archery, excluding other sports and hobbies, is a bad idea. First, it is unnecessary (or at least no one has made the argument that it is necessary) and second it cannot lead to well-rounded individuals. Were you surprised at Tiger Wood’s comeback from self-inflicted relationship wounds and then injuries? I wasn’t. What else was he going to do? What else did he train to do? What else provides his core happiness?

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Kids! Teach Your Parents Well!

Back when we were running youth archery programs a regular staple of our programs was a “Parent’s Day” in which the parents/guardians got to shoot some arrows. A key element of these sessions was, if at all possible, to have the kids teach their parents.

This was a deliberate attempt at some role reversal (usually it is the parents teaching the kids) but also it was part of our recognition that archery was one of the few sports that kids, especially teenagers (Gasp!), willingly did with their parents. If the parents could get hooked on archery, there would be a new born family activity. My tag line to the parents was “We can’t let the kids have all of the fun.”

And, of course, teaching something is a sure way to reinforce the fundamentals in the kids.

Sometimes this practice bore strange fruit. There was a lovely family that was coming to our 4-H archery Saturdays. Claudia, my partner, taught the two boys their first arrows and they loved the sport. Soon, both parents were shooting also. After about a year or so of shooting, the “mom” of the family was approached by a member of our club suggesting to her that if she were to switch to Recurve Barebow, she had a chance of making a national team. Less than a year later she was in Croatia representing the U.S. in the World Field Championships. Just a few years later, she was World Barebow (Field) Champion. Not bad for a mother of two, pushing 50 years old.

One of the boys went on to become a collegiate archer and both “boys” are now fabulously well employed and successful. This could be one of those “see what you get of you practice” stories but it is rather a “you never know what might happen” stories.

Our intention then as now was to encourage a whole family to participate in our sport. We think it helps the sport . . . and the families, and we encourage you to do the same.

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