Hooray! Announcing the Archery Coaches Guild!

For the longest time we have needed an organization to support the work of archery coaches and now we do … starting today. This group is just getting started and upon the right foot. They are actually asking coaches what they want! (Amazing idea!) So, if you go to the site, be sure to fill out the questionnaire. You can join for free (for now, there will be dues later, but you get to decide whether to continue or not; you will not be asked for a credit card or any other payment for the time being).

Here is the “press release.”

New Archery Coaches Organization Formed

The Archery Coaches Guild has been formed to serve the needs of archery coaches at all levels wherever they may be in the world. The organization centers on its website (www.archerycoachesguild.org) and membership is free during the initial phase. The organization is being built with input from archery coaches., so the ACG Steering Committee asks that you fill out a questionnaire when you join to provide the necessary direction.  Your participation will ensure that the organization has the best chance to realize its potential. If you join or send an email to info@archerycoachesguild.org, you will receive emails updating the construction progress as they “Build the Guild”. (Email addresses will be used for no other purpose.)

The Mission of the Archery Coaches Guild is: “… to support archery coaches at all levels by providing forums, information, discussions, conferences, connections to other coaches and any other service that will advance the coaching of archery.”

For more information, go to www.archerycoachesguild.org or send an email to info@archerycoachesguild.org.

Addendum The email link does not seem to work but the web site URL now does. (Cinco de Mayo 3:33 CDT)

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I’ve Got Rhythm . . .

QandA logoI have a student struggling with his shooting rhythm. He will be shooting fine and then his rhythm will slow, sometimes substantially and his arrow scores drop with his rhythm. In working through the problem I mentioned that I have portable metronomes (even one that raps around one ear) and he replied that he had an app on his phone he uses (Kids these days!). He went on to suggest “Maybe using a breathing cycle focus as another way to get back in rhythm?”

This whole topic might be of interest to you coaches (shooting rhythm is a keystone of shooting and scoring consistency) and you may have some good advice for me (Please!) so do not hesitate to “comment” if you have something to contribute.

Here is my response:

* * *

My inclination is that breathing may be too slow and also possibly too variable. Consider that in a rock ’n’ roll band it is the drummer’s job to carry the beat. They may not be totally accurate in doing that but they are usually very consistent (our goal) and I believe they use the music itself (and experience through repetition . . . and structures created in the process of drumming) to find the beat for each song. I am pretty sure they are quite focused on the rhythm most of the time. So, if you can find your rhythm (and I think we established a reasonable zone for it with the stopwatch but we can do that again) and if there is a piece of music that has that rhythm, then when your rhythm seems to falter a little, “hearing” that song in your mind’s ear should be able to get you back on. I really like drum music, so I tend to favor music with strong drum lines (but then I go back to Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and awesome big band music).

musical-notes-symbols-clip-art-sign-black-music-note-outline-symbol-sketch---public-domainMost people think of drummers/musicians tapping out a rhythm with their feet which is obviously not an option for archers but a number of drummers establish a rhythm with … wait for it … their teeth. By clicking their teeth together, they can establish a learned rhythm that they can hear through bone conduction that no one else could. This is a possible option, not to be used continuously but when help with one’s rhythm is needed.

If your breathing rate is stable no matter how perturbed you get (mine is not) then using a metronome set to some reasonable multiple of that rate should be a way to practice. You can also just turn on the metronome and adjust its rate until you find something that matches your shooting rhythm (it will seem to “fit” or not, you can trust your sense of rhythm). Then some mental routine could be used to get you back in rhythm when you get off (if you’ve played a musical instrument, counting 4/4 time or some such might do it, e.g. counting 4/4 with 1/16th notes is usually done: one ee and duh, two ee and duh, three ee and duh, etc.; with only eighth notes it is one and two and three and four and one … basically find something that “clicks” for you. Music is universal and most people have a great many songs in their heads and on game day you can set your portable music player to loop your tempo song to reinforce it’s rhythm.

* * *

Please comment if you have something to contribute! Steve

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I Have Questions for You!

QandA logoI was having an on line discussion with another coach and a question came up, namely: what is a Level 2, or 3 or 4 coach? Currently, in this country, when you pass a coach training course and wait some time (1-2 years) you are eligible to take the next course. So, what does it really mean that you are a “Level X Coach?”

More importantly, what kinds of things should be happening between these trainings? How does one gain experience coaching? How does one continue one’s education? How does one create a coaching practice? (etc., etc.)

I will start off the discussion with a couple of suggestions.

#1 Every chance I can get a lesson from a good coach, I do so. I actually get double my money’s worth as I get help with my own shooting, but I also get to see a quality coach at work and see how they work.

#2 If you have students, see if you can book an out of town coach to come in and offer lessons. It provides some different feedback for the archers in your community and you can sit and watch your guest work and get a master class in coaching just by watching.

What are your thoughts? What do you want in the way of training? experience? learning?

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I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Advice

QandA logoThis is a question from a frustrated coach on a topic you may have some experience with.

Dear Coach Ruis,
In the past, I’ve dealt with students who wouldn’t follow all of my advice. But now, I have a student who not only doesn’t follow even half of my advice, but also argues with me constantly. She always finds an excuse to not do what I want her to do, even if I am able to prove her ideas wrong. How do I deal with students like her?
Thanks

* * *

It is the teacher’s role to teach … and the student’s role to learn.

And, since this is a voluntary arrangement, I would simply not spend any more time with her. You are providing a service, if someone doesn’t want what you are providing, you don’t help by irritating them by insisting upon it.

At a deeper level, my coaching philosophy involves helping all archers to become independent, to be able to take or leave coaching as they see fit. I can’t do that by taking away their autonomy, by telling them they must do as I say or I will take my marbles and go home.

I suggest you respect your student’s right to ignore you. The flip side is I certainly do not want to spend time with people who ignore my advice and/or cherry pick my advice, distorting it into something it is not. If I must continue to work with such people, I tend to get more formal and less casual and instead of making statements, I ask questions. If they are insisting on doing everything their way, I honor that by making them do it. I can help by asking questions that lead them to think, but I cannot do their thinking for them.

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Midnight Flyers (Black and Blue)

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
I keep having one arrow fly into the blue or black (3 o clock or 9 o clock) almost every single end. It’s not a specific arrow as I’ve tried using different arrows. It’s also not sequence specific. Sometimes it’s my first arrow, sometimes it’s my second arrow, and sometimes it’s my third arrow. The other two arrows are almost always within the red, if not, then in the yellow. But somehow I manage to get one in the blue/black regardless of how well the other arrows do. I think it might be form, but I have no clue what part of my form is flawed. What should I do?
Thanks

***

I can’t say for sure. One possible source of this could be a lack of good “line” that is alignment of the string arm with the arrow/string plane. (The Two Pillars of Consistent Archery are: soft hands and good full-draw-position, aka “good line”.) If you are still consistently not having good “alignment” then you will be basing your performance on athleticism more than having structured it into your body. (You are depending on muscles and timing rather than bone structure and posture.) When this happens you will have dramatically different “good days” and “poor days.” What this will manifest as will be: on good days, your groups will be smaller. You said that recently you have been pounding the middle. But on bad days, your groups will be poorer: meaning some blues and blacks will occur normally. Yes, I said “normally.” A shot not based on secure body posture will have quite variable groups sizes and you will normally have arrows in the blue and black.

Having said that, it is quite common for people not getting to full draw to miss left and right, so maybe that is a hint. Either have a shooting partner or use a mirror to check your alignment. One quick way to do this is to draw looking directly into a mirror. If you get into good FD position, you will be able to see your back in the mirror as your shoulders should be 10-12 degrees closed to your aiming line.

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Arrow Rest Basics

A question came in regarding the differences between recurve and compound arrow rests.

I have a different approach regarding arrow rests than some other coaches, which I will explain after some background.

Background
When an arrow is loosed, it flexes. This is because the force acting on the arrow through its nock is not lined up exactly with the axis of the arrow’s shaft. In a finger releases, the string is sliding off of the string fingers toward the archer. This causes the arrow to flex, first into the bow and then back and forth as it flies to the target. The arrow’s fletches damp out most of this flex within the first 20 yards of flight. The flexing of a shot arrow is mostly horizontal when shot with fingers, hence the use of cushion plungers to absorb much of those horizontal forces while the arrow is still on the string. Since the arrow is bowed in toward the bow, as it slides forward on the rest, it pushes up against the arrow rest, which necessarily (action-reaction) pushes back. On modern recurve bows, a cushion plunger as used to absorb some of that force and to control the amount of “push back.” A stiff arrow rest (usually a stiff wire) is used to maintain the elevation of the shaft as it slides forward, very little flex is allowed for in the vertical plane of the bow.

Compound arrows, shot with fingers, behave in the same fashion.

Compound arrows shot using a release aid flex much less and mostly in a vertical plane, making the use of a plunger ineffective and a stiff arrow rest less than effective. Rests designed for compound bows have most of their

The blade of this launcher rest (left) acts just like a diving board at a swimming pool.

The blade of this launcher rest (left) acts just like a diving board at a swimming pool.

flex in a vertical plane. The most popular rests used by compound-release archers are called “launcher rests” which are like diving boards. They allow flex, resisting it gently, in the vertical plane but have little effect in horizontal planes because there is so little flex involved. Common launcher blades are made of spring steel with little notches at the end to keep the arrow from sliding off.

 

My Approach
I put a simple, screw-in plastic arrow rest on my student’s bows when they buy their first bow, compound or recurve. I do the same for my own bows. (My last new bow was a Hoyt GMX and I fitted it with one of those $2.95 plastic, screw-in rest. With the threads, I can set the centershot fairly closely and the rest has flex built into it. Very simple. (When the bow was shooting well because I had a good basic tune, then I installed a plunger and rest.) With students who are building releatable form, I only recommend a plunger and steel wire rest when they will benefit from it (almost always quite late). Otherwise, a complicated arrow rest is just an added expense that produces no benefit, plus they make the bow heavier and require a lot of adjustment. The same is true for my compound students. I tell them that the first perfect NFAA Field Round was shot by a professional compound-release archer using a springy rest (Terry Ragsdale), a rest that is much like the cheap plastic rest I recommend now. A launcher rest comes much later when there will be a perceived benefit from its use.Springy Rest Montage

Basically my point is why use something that is much more expensive, more complicated, harder to adjust when there is very little chance of that piece of gear allowing an improvement in performance (basically by supplying better feedback to the archer)?

Plastic Arrow Rest

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Scoring Well

Every year, the team I coach acquires new archers, many of whom have very little experience. I wrote the following handout on how to begin to score well for them and I decided to share it with you. SPR

Scoring

When you first seriously undertake learning to shoot your focus is upon your form and execution. Form being your body positions (foot positions, hip positions, shoulder positions, full-draw-position. etc.) and execution being the movements made to get from one position to the next. This is necessary. First you must build your shot, then through repetition you come to own it.

Then if you find you like competition, another aspect arises—scoring. Being able to shoot repetitively, creating nice tight groups is one thing, scoring well is another. An example is a student I had who worked very hard to make sure her sight settings were good and would go to a competition and shoot tight groups but not score well. On one occasion, her arrows were bunched well below the center of the target. She kept shooting, hoping things would work out and when we asked her why she didn’t adjust her sight so the arrows would land in the highest scoring zone, she answered that her sight marks were good, she must be doing something wrong and she just hadn’t figured out what. Compare that behavior with the 2000 Olympic Gold Medal winning archer, Simon Fairweather. After warming up and shooting two ends of three arrows in his gold medal match, he shot his first arrow in competition. He looked through his spotting scope, then reached up and adjusted his sight setting. The lesson? If you want to score well, put the damned aperture where it needs to be to make the arrows go in the middle.

Even if everything were perfect during practice and warm-ups, when competition pressure builds up, you change making things different. tension makes muscles shorter, making it more difficult to get through your clicker or into your full-draw-position, for example. This changes the feel of your shot. It doesn’t feel right any more. This is the challenge: making whatever changes needed to score well without trying to invent a new way to shoot in the process.

Here are some suggestions on how to score well:

  1. You must “trust your shot.” Improvising new techniques to score well is counterproductive. This can happen subconsciously!
  2. If your arrows are grouping off center, change your point-of-aim, crawl, sight setting, etc. so that your groups become centered. This is a basic condition for scoring well.
  3. Know thyself. Learn about how you respond to competition pressure. Take notes. If you shake more at full draw under pressure, note that (it doesn’t necessarily affect your scoring much), etc. Learn about what you need to eat and drink and do during a competition to perform your best.
  4. When things go wrong, troubleshooting must address whether the problem is your equipment, the environment (includes your target), or you. If you get the source of your problem wrong, you will not have solved the problem but probably also made an unneeded “fix” that makes scoring worse. I had a young student who was given a target with a soft center (they thought she would hit it much so it shouldn’t be a problem). End after end, she found arrows in the grass she was sure should have hit the target. Those arrows were going through the soft spot unnoticed and received scores of zero instead of 10s, 9s, or 8s.
  5. Track your competition and practice scores and compare them. If you are scoring 10% below your practice scores in a competition and you think that is a problem but it is, in fact, normal for you, you just created a problem that doesn’t exist and any “solution” to that problem will make your scoring worse.
  6. At the end of every competition, make two lists of at least three (3) items each: #1 Things I Learned and #2 Things I Will Do Differently Next Time. Do this within 24 hours of the end of the shoot. Read these lists to develop practice plans and to prepare for the next shoot.

There is more … much more.

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Sticking with Strings

QandA logoAs a follow-up on my last post about waxing bowstrings I received a query about breaking in new bowstrings.

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First, a separation must be made between modern and post-modern bowstring materials (my definitions). I say this because no one is using traditional materials (silk, hemp, linen, cotton, sinew, etc.) in target archery so we do not need to talk about them. (Yes, primitive archers are using such materials but not to seriously compete against others in ordinary target archery venues.) And, there is a big difference between the first-generation modern string materials and those that came after.

So, the first “modern” string material and the only one worth considering is Dacron® (still available for purchase, by the way). Dacron® was much stronger than most of the materials and cheaper and more regular, etc. But Dacron® was also “stretchy.” So, when a new Dacron® bowstring was placed on a bow, several procedures were used to remove some of the stretch. One common technique was to place the strung bow, back down, in one’s lap and press down on the limbs. After some of the stretch occurred, the string would be twisted up and shot. Unfortunately, Dacron® never stops stretching so one needs to keep twisting over the life of the string.

The first post-modern string material (in my scheme of things) was Spectra® marketed under the brand name “Fast Flight.” This string material was primarily ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, a slightly modified version of the material used to make black plastic garbage bags. And, there was Kevlar® (poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide—Aramid fiber), and yes the stuff used to make bullet proof vests, but Kevlar strings had the nasty habit of breaking … at full draw so achieve only a temporary popularity.Recurve bow string

Most newer bowstring materials are made from two such materials, their fibers twisted together to make “blended string materials.”

The point here is that once you get past Dacron®, the “stretchiness” is much, much less. (There are technical terms used, such as “creep” which have technical definitions (stretch that doesn’t recover, stretch that does recover, etc.) but my argument doesn’t require a foray into the itty-bitty details.) Because of the low level of stretch in these materials “string break in” is a simple procedure: string the bow and shoot it.

The “old” rule of thumb (Fast Flight came out in the late 1980’s, so we are talking about the last 30 years or so) was 100 shots and you were good to go. Basically 30 will probably do it. After that adjust your brace height or eccentric positions and you are good to go. Yes, you still need to check these things regularly because things do go wrong, but don’t expect large changes after break in, they just don’t happen with these “post-modern” materials.

And, if you keep your ears open you will hear old-timers talking about things like “sinking in” their new bow by shooting their heaviest arrows. These are traditional self-bow archers who are not talking about their strings so much as they are their bows. But keep listening, just be sure you associate what you hear with what is really being talked about and don’t just extrapolate that to you and your archer’s archery.

PS I still use Fast Flight string material for compound strings and cables and the occasional recurve or longbow strings. Good stuff. But (Warning!) do not use modern string materials on older recurves or longbows that do not have limb tip reinforcements. These materials are so unyielding that they can cut right into the bare wood of such bows. Most archers use dacron strings on those older bows as the springyness of the string lessens the shock on the limb tips. (No charge for that tip.)

 

 

 

 

 

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Waxing Poetic

QandA logoHi Steve,
One of my young archers asked if they had to use special bow string wax. He wondered if he could, in a pinch, use Chap Stick, lip balm, bees wax or something more readily available on his bow string. He readily ruled out candle wax, it didn’t feel the same, but I didn’t have a good answer for him on his other suggestions … do you?

* * *

Okay, is he a recurve archer? Recurve archers do not generally wax their strings, unless they are expecting to have to shoot in the rain. Wax increases the weight of the string, slowing it and the arrows attached to it down. Water in the bowstring will do the same thing, so the wax is preferred over the water as being less variable. The amount of waxed used then becomes a variable, which …Chapstick

If he is a compound archer, well, they do wax their strings, maybe once a year. So, what kind of a pinch/emergency are we talking about? ;o)

I remember a young JOAD archer who was earnestly waxing the string and cables of his compound bow and I asked him why he was doing that. His response was that he was told to “keep his string and cables well-waxed.” The fact that he already had enough wax on his bow to polish a good sized gymnasium floor was not considered a sign of “oops, too much.”

Modern string materials are made out of stuff very similar to that used to make plastic garbage bags (high molecular weight linear polyethylene being one the first such materials). Wax is not needed, per se, as these materials do not absorb water. Some wax, though, keeps grit from getting between the individual strands of the string which keeps that grit from abrading the individual strands, thus preventing premature string failure. Any soft wax will do, which is why candle wax did not feel right (too hard). Beeswax has been used on bowstrings since prehistoric times, I believe. I suggest playing it safe and using a commercial product as the ingredients in lip glosses, for example, may soften the string material leading to string stretch which changes a whole bunch of bow parameters. If the commercial products had any such negative effect, the obsessive-compulsive archers would have pointed that out already.

Recurve bow stringIf any such substitute string “wax” is used in “a pinch” I would replace it with commercial bow wax at the earliest opportunity. Just wax over the area with the “good wax” and then loop a strand of serving material around the string, pull on both ends and slide it up and down. This will remove the excess wax. The “dewaxing” could be done before as well as after the correct waxing, first to remove the “bad wax” and the second to remove the excess. A couple of repetitions of this procedure will result in the “good wax” replacing the “substitute” almost completely.

Recurve archers can be obsessive about their strings up to weighing them to make sure they are identical in every way, down to the very small amounts of wax used on them.

Good question!

 

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There are Archery Coaching Principles

I was watching a teaser for Hank Haney’s instructional video “Lessons Learned from Coaching the World’s Greatest Golfer” and Coach Haney brought up something I had already recognized as a basic principle for coaching archers. When I recovered from the cheap thrill, I realized that he had expanded upon that principle in a way I had not.

The Goldilocks Principle
I have recommended “the Goldilocks Principle” to many coaches, the basic thrust of which is when you are looking to make a change, exaggerate at first. Goldilocks comes into it because if something is too low and you effect a change that moves you to a position of being too high, then you now have boundaries, between which you will find “just right.” (This porridge is too hot. This porridge is too cold. This porridge is just right. Ah.)

An archery example of this occurs while sighting in. If your first sight setting results in your arrow hitting the target very low, you could put a couple of “clicks” into your sight and shoot again. The result will be the arrow will land slightly higher than the first one (if you moved the aperture the right way, of course). Instead, you should move your aperture down quite a bit, hopefully so that your next shot is too high. Once you know where “too low” and “too high” are on your sight bar for this distance, then try half way in between those. If that isn’t very close, then half way to one of those boundaries (depending on where the next arrow lands) until you are very close, then you can go a couple of clicks at a time to fine tune your group location.

Coach Haney referred to those “boundaries” (e.g. too hot and too cold) as being “parameters,” a fine Latin term which means “to be measured against” but there is really no difference between what he was teaching and what I am. But Coach Haney indicated that working with Tiger Woods taught him a great deal. One of those things he shared in his sales pitch for the fill video, namely Tiger’s father, Earl, taught him that “there is a big difference between feel and real.” So Tiger would do a lot of mirror work, trying very hard to exaggerate any change he was making. The reason for this is that when you have practiced something until it feels natural, something I call the “Old Normal,” if you deviate just a little bit it feels like you have deviated a lot. This is why when you ask a student-archer to do something differently, they will move only slightly away from what has been tried and true for a long time. You have to ask them to exaggerate, as Coach Haney said “I have to ask for a foot to get an inch.”

So Tiger would do mirror work when he was trying a change a bit of his swing or he would ask his coach when his club (or hand or …) was in the right position. Then Tiger could associate that particular feel (which always felt very exaggerated to him) with the real position he was trying to create.

In other words, he used his own sense of the feel of things to calibrate the change.

This involves the athlete more actively in making the change. They are not just being a good soldier, doing everything (or trying to do everything) commanded by their coach. The coach is there is provide the feedback the athlete needs to match up the “feel” he is having with the “real” situation. This puts the athlete more in charge of his training, which I believe is always a good thing in an individual sport.

 

Conclusion
I believe there are Principles of Coaching Archery. I believe we share some of these with other sports. What I call the Goldilocks Principle is used in golf and, I suspect, other individual sports.

If you look at these two sports (golf and archery) both have been around for very long times. So why is golf so much farther advanced when it comes to coaching than is archery? I am sure that it has something to do with golf being restricted to the well-to-do by and large and that the wealthy would pay for instruction where the poor and middle class could not afford it. But there is more. Part of it involves the transmission of information between and among golf instructors and coaches and the codification of that knowledge. Now, I really don’t believe everything the PGA teaches about coaching golf is correct, but at least you can acquire those teachings. You do not have to start from scratch.

I think it would be a “good thing” if us coaches were to make a list of as many of these archery coaching principles as we can identify. I can think of no better information to pass along to the next generation of coaches. As it has been, we have left each new generation to learn what they could on their own. We can do better.

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