Monthly Archives: December 2010

Coach, Coach, Can I Shoot My Bow?

by The AER Staff

If this question hasn’t been directed your way yet, it will be soon. Your student, youth or adult, is looking to you for a good answer here. The scary thing, though, is that you have no idea where this bow has come from. Maybe they just bought it . . .  or maybe it has been in Aunt Delia’s attic for the last 40 years. So, what do you do?

There are two parts to an answer to this question: #1 Is it safe for anyone to shoot this bow? and #2 Is it suitable for this particular student? We’ll look at both of these in some detail and give you some tools to work with.

Is it Safe for Anyone to Shoot this Bow? If the bow was just purchased, the odds the bow isn’t safe are very low. And, yes, this does happen, students show up to class with brand new bows and they didn’t ask you anything about what is involved in buying one. And we don’t have time during Class #1 to include the message “Please don’t go out and buy a bow just yet, we will give you information about that later.” Just last year we had two boys come to their second class with bows their parents had just purchased for them. So, if this is the case, that is you have new bows to deal with, you can just skip down to the next section.

If the bow is clearly not new, then there is a greater concern as to whether the bow is shootable. Of course, you want to ask about the bow: “How did you get it?” “How old is it?” “Where has it been stored?” and while you are getting the story, do a visual inspection of the bow. If the bow has wooden parts, are there any cracks or splits in the wood? If there are metal parts, do you see any corrosion or other damage. Check all cables and strings for fraying and broken strands. Check the limbs for stress cracks (small cracks parallel to the edge of the limb) and delaminations (separations of the layers of a limb). Small stress cracks are usually not a problem but delaminations make the bow into a “wall hanger,” that is suitable to be used as a decoration only.

What you are looking for does depend on the kind of bow. Compound bows have cables and slides and cams that are all moving parts. Recurve bows and longbows have very few moving parts. Most serious damage is hard to pick up by eye: this is because if the bow were obviously damaged, most people wouldn’t even ask you to check it.

Now the bow has to be tested in action. Under no circumstances are you to try to pull a suspect bow using normal archery form! Instead, if the bow is a recurve bow, it is time to try to brace it. If they brought it in already braced, ask them how long it has been braced. If it has been braced a long time, it is far likelier to have suffered some damage than if not. The bracing itself is not a problem if the limbs include fiberglass laminations; it is just that if the bow has been subjected to extreme temperatures and/or humidity’s while braced, it is more likely to have suffered damage.

Use a bowstringer and slowly and careful see of you can get the bow braced. Listen to the bow as it is bent. If you hear any creaks or cracking noises, stop, back up . . . and tell the bow’s owner that you don’t think the bow is safe to shoot. They might want to get another opinion from a bow mechanic or other expert.

If you can brace the bow, then you can do a draw test. On a rug, or folded towel, place the bow (back down) on the padded surface. Place your foot on the grip area where your bow hand would normally go. Then draw . . . slowly, slowly . . . the bowstring straight up (see the photo). Again, you are listening for creaks or cracking noises. If you hear any, tell the bow’s owner that you don’t think the bow is safe to shoot, but they might want to get another opinion from a bow mechanic or other expert. This is done this way so that if the bow does break catastrophically, the pieces will be flung into the floor/ground rather into you. So, It is a good idea to keep spectators back 5-6 feet for safety.

If the bow is a compound bow, the test is the same, again you listen carefully, and you need to look to see if all of the moving parts are moving and moving freely. If anything looks at all suspicious (parts sticking, creaking or cracking noises, etc.), err on the side of caution and tell the bow’s owner that you can’t tell if the bow is safe to shoot, and they will have to get a good bow mechanic or other expert to examine it and clear it for use. (Tell them they will be charged for that service including charges for any replacement parts needed.)

While this took quite a while to describe, it only takes a few minutes or so to check out a bow.

At all times, you must be aware of your own limitations. If you have little experience with compound bows or older wooden recurve bows, whatever the case, it is best to deflect the question to a skilled bow mechanic at a good archery shop. If there is no such shop nearby, maybe somebody at a local club can help them out. I say “them” as this is not “your” issue. If you take such tasks onto yourself, remember that people will hold you accountable for any mishaps in the process (and probably won’t pay you for your time and effort, either).

To Check An Older Bow for Safety

1. Do a visual inspection.

2. If a recurve brace the bow (listen).

3. Do a draw test (listen).

4. Err on the side of caution.

Now that the scary part is over (having a bow disintegrate at full draw is very dangerous and should never happen during a class you are running) let’s look at the other part of the question’s answer.

Is the Bow Suitable for This Particular Student? This is potentially a tougher question to answer. Remember that you are provided program equipment where everything was predetermined to work together for students like yours. When somebody brings their own equipment, you have no idea if it is so matched, so it must be checked. Let’s look at each particular concern and how you can go about checking to see if things work for your student.

Is the bow too heavy?
If the bow is too heavy for the student, it can’t be shot with good form, so it is a detriment to learning archery. To test whether the bow is light enough to hold up at arm’s length, we recommend the Is the Bow Too Heavy? Test.

Is the Bow Too Heavy Test
Have the student lift the bow straight out to their side with one arm (where it would be if they were shooting) and then count to five . . . slowly. If they can’t hold the bow up for that length of time then the bow is too heavy. If they can get to five . . . slowly . . . then the bow is okay.

Be aware that a very enthusiastic student who fails this test will say, “Let me try again, I know I can do it.” If it were easy (as it should be) they would have done it the first time. Trying to wield a bow that is too heavy or has too much draw weight, or too much of anything is very unwise.

Encourage the student, if younger, that he can try again . . . in six months. “You are just going to have to grow into it.” Practice this sentence, you will say it more than a few times.

Is the bow too big or too small?
With recurve bows and longbows, the height of the bow is a factor in its ability to be shot well. The test is to put the tip of the strung bow on the student’s shoe top and then see how far up the other tip is on his/her body. The other tip should be somewhere between chin and nose. It can be lower or higher, but if much lower (5-6 inches or more) the bow is being overstressed by a too long draw and there is the possibility of the string coming off of the limb tips at full draw; if much higher (5-6 inches or more) then the bow’s limbs are not working effectively (getting less energy out of the bow while the archer is doing more work than necessary). It is not dangerous to shoot a bow that is too long, it just doesn’t work as well as a better fitting bow. In this case, we try to talk the student into continuing to use the program bows until they had grown some, but if they insisted there is no harm in shooting the bow.

Does the bow have too much draw weight?
Having too much draw weight kills archery form. It is as simple as that. Ask the archer to draw the bow using their best form (remind them of the danger of dry fires first) a couple of times. If they seem to be straining at all with the draw, you can do a more formal test. Here is a test to tell if the bow they want to use has too little, too much, or just the right amount of draw weight. This test was developed by Coach Kim, H.T. of Korea:

The Draw Weight Test
Draw your bow to anchor, hold for seven seconds comfortably, then let down to predraw position (3-4 inches of draw) for two seconds. If you can do this eight times in succession without strain, your draw weight is correct. If you can only do this 3-4 times, it will be difficult to learn to shoot well. If you can do this ten times, your draw weight can be increased.

Note that at no time during the test does the student get to rest or even get back to brace height. This test was developed for archers who already had good form so you don’t have to be too strict in its interpretation. Five or six reps using good form is probably a passing performance.

If you have a compound bow, this test doesn’t work, so simply ask the student to draw the bow on the level using their best form and then do a let down back to brace, rest for two seconds and then redraw. The same numbers of repetitions should be good indicators of whether the bow is easy enough to draw.

To Check Bows for Fit

1. Do a “Is the bow too heavy?” test.

2. Check for adequate length of recurves and longbows.

3. Do a draw weight test.

4. Err on the side of caution.

Are the student’s arrows the right size and in shooting condition? Your student may also present some arrows for you to examine. If they are willing to continue to use our arrows, all you have to check is whether there is good nock fit (see below) (Generally we are more comfortable with the student using our arrows, but it may be important to the student to use his/hers.) If they absolutely want to use their own arrows do a visual inspection of the arrows that came with the bow. Look for bends (aluminum), cracks (carbon, fiberglass), and broken nocks, loose points, and missing vanes (all). After being found fit to be used, the two most critical aspects of the arrows are length (for safety) and nock fit.

Are the arrows of a safe length? Just do the same arrow fitting routine you were taught in your Beginner Course class (see photo and your Instructor Training Manual).

Is the nock fit okay? To test if the nocks fit on the bowstring acceptably, do the Nock Fit Test:

The Nock Fit Test
To test for nock fit, snap an arrow onto the bowstring and allow it to hang straight down. If you slap the string right next to the arrow with a couple of fingers, the arrow should fall off. If the arrow won’t hang at all, the nock is too loose. If it won’t come off when the string is struck in the test, it is too tight.

If the nocks are too loose, the string can be replaced with one of more strands, or re-served with thicker serving thread. If too tight, larger grooved nocks can be used, or the string can be replaced with one of fewer strands, or re-served with thinner serving thread. The book Simple Maintenance for Archery has an easy procedure for adjusting the diameter of a bowstring upward (the most common fix needed) that only uses some dental floss and which can save time and effort.

If the arrows are unbroken, long enough, and have adequate nock fit, they can be used.

To Check Older Arrows for Safety/Fit

1. Do a visual inspection.

2. Check for adequate length.

3. Do a nock fit test.

4. Err on the side of caution.

Your ability to answer the “Hey, Coach, Can I Use My Bow?” question is always limited by your experience and knowledge. We recommend you err on the side of caution and if you have a good local archery shop, it doesn’t hurt to drop by or call them up and ask them whether they will perform this service. If they do so for a reasonable fee, it is strongly recommended you defer to their expertise. If there is no such shop available, it may be up to you and as long as you are cautious, you will serve your customers well by following the practices outlined above.

If you want to coach the intermediate AER Curriculum, the one in which all of the students eventually must get their own bows and arrows, you need to take the Intermediate Instructor training course. We will have an article on that training soon.


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The New AER Archery Curriculum

December 2010

Archery Education Resources (AER) is in the business of supplying the structure, information, and support for developing archery programs for youth and adult beginners. When developing archery programs, though, the immediate question is, “What do we teach the participants?” There are myriad archery classes going on in the country: at summer camps (private, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, church camps, etc.) and there are school programs again (Yeah!) and the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) is introducing large numbers of kids to archery. But these programs often teach just a few lessons. The archery experience at many day camps is a “one time only” experience. And, while a few summer camps have JOAD programs built into them, they are still programs, like NASP, that only last a couple of weeks.

AER feels that, in order for kids to stick with our sport, there should be some kind of curriculum (a teaching plan) that takes them from the beginning onward until they are quite advanced. Without such a teaching plan, young people move from Lesson 1 to Lesson 3, then back to Lesson 1 next summer, etc. Now archery is being taught as a diversion, not as any organized effort.

If you examine youth baseball or soccer or any other youth sport, there are all kinds of teaching materials available, targeted at formalized age-groups as well. But we have been able to find only a few snippets of archery curricula, most of which never got formally published (in which case you had to know somebody to get a copy). Almost all of these were designed for archery classes, often college classes that lasted 16 weeks with class meetings once a week. (And most of these included lessons on the history of archery, which is really useful on the shooting line.)

What is needed is not a set of lesson plans (Lesson 1 The Safety Rules, Lesson 2 The History of Archery, etc.). What is needed is a set of instructions that tells an archery class instructor what to teach, how to teach it, and when to teach it. Oh, I can hear a number of you instructors bristling with indignation in that you don’t like being told what to do. Well, neither do I, but 35 years as a classroom instructor has taught me that having something to guide the instruction of new archers is infinitely better than having nothing. And no one will be forcing you to use our curriculum. And if you do, there will be no curriculum police to check to make sure you are doing it “our way.” What we will be providing is a way to teach archery. If you think you have a better way than our way, we are going to ask you to post “your way” on our website so other coaches can try it and if “your way” proves to be better than “our way” we will change out curriculum to reflect your better practice (and give you full credit, in print).

When I last taught, the audience for my classes was predetermined, as was the subject material. The textbook was already chosen by departmental committee. On file (for public inspection) was a formal curriculum outline. Available to each student (and online to the public) was a complete syllabus including every learning objective on which students would be tested. This was normal. Inside such frameworks, teachers exercised their own personalities and teaching gifts by individualizing instruction, and exercising their presentation skills, examination drafting skills, and evaluation skills, etc. This level of structure acts as a support, not as a straight jacket.

So, why couldn’t archery have the same level of support? Why hadn’t somebody done this already?

Obviously it was time to roll up our sleeves.

Creating An Archery Curriculum
All of those aspects of formal classes (pre-determined audience, formal curriculum outline, etc.) don’t exist for archery classes, so we had to start at square one and proceed from there. But anything we come up with has to have certain attributes. The list includes:
• the curriculum must be published so that people can find it
• the curriculum must be affordable
• the curriculum must support the instructors greatly
• the curriculum must support the participants greatly
• the curriculum must be transportable (like transferring credits when switching schools)
• the curriculum must be customizable (to fit widely different audiences)
• the curriculum must be dynamic (that it can be improved over time)
• the curriculum must have a simple, clear, effective evaluation system built in (so that the instructor doesn’t have to make one up)
• the curriculum must be individualized (students don’t start archery all at the same age, some start at 8, some at 80, it is not like you can teach multiplication only in the fourth grade)
• the curriculum must be comprehensive (cover the needs of all styles of archers)

Whew, we looked at this list and said to ourselves, “This can’t be done.” And, as usual, it could be done, it has been done; it just took a couple of weeks longer than we thought.

The starting point in developing this curriculum was the question: “Who is the audience?” If you don’t know who you are addressing, you are in deep, deep trouble to begin with.

Who’s the Audience?
Currently a serious competitive archer starts with trying archery for fun. Then they get good enough and are encouraged . . .. or are dragged . . . to an archery competition. At that competition or competitions some of these young archers do well and have the thought “If I try harder, I could be good at this. I could win.” or something equivalent. They then undertake some program of advancing their skills. If they achieve success, however they define that, they continue down that path. If they aren’t happy or particularly successful, they might go back to shooting for fun, but very many drop out of the sport.

All of this told us that there are, in this country, two main audiences—recreational archers and competitive archers. Here are our definitions of the two audiences we identified:

Recreational archers are training to participate.
Competitive archers are training to learn how to win.

Our opinion is that if you try to train a recreational archer like you would train a competitive archer, you will fail (certainly way more often than not). Conversely if you try to train a competitive archer like you would train a recreational archer, you will fail. This must be taken into account in any archery curriculum developed.

The Two Audiences

At any archery competition, paradoxically, you will see recreational archers competing with competitive archers. Since archery is an open sport (anyone can enter and compete in almost all competitions) you can and will see all kinds of archers, including these two types, in the same competition, even competing side by side. One would think that because they are all competing, that they are all competitive archers. We don’t think so. There is a vast difference between the two kinds of archers. And even though there are archery competitions which have cash awards, and recreational archers do enter them, they have a vanishingly low chance of winning any money. Recreational archers are motivated by the participation . . . by having fun. If they enter a “money shoot” it is because if they get lucky and win one of the cash prizes they will be able to brag to their friends about their archery prowess. It is not about the money. It is about having fun. And if it isn’t fun, recreational archers generally won’t do it.

Competitive archers are training to learn how to win. They will often do whatever it takes to improve their chances of winning: physical training (weights, cardio workouts), nutritional programs, sports psychology programs, expensive coaches, purchasing the finest possible equipment, and lots and lots of practice shooting arrows. Many of these activities are “not fun.”

Going to competitions does not make you a competitive archer; seriously trying to win them does.

Being a Recreational Archer Recreational archers enjoy shooting arrows: some shoot in their backyards, some shoot with organized clubs, some attend a great many competitions year around while others never attend competitions, some competed in the past but don’t any more. To be a recreational archer means that you may go to a competition and compete, but the highlights include getting to see your archery friends and experience the competition and maybe challenging yourself, but winning is not anticipated.

Recreational archers don’t have to practice much, they only need to shoot enough arrows that they stay in “shooting shape,” which can be loosely defined as being “not too sore” after a competition. A great many recreational archers compete with just themselves in that they keep track of their personal best scores and try to better them. If they dream of winning a big tournament, it does not supply enough motivation to train hard.

Being a Competitive Archer Competitive archers range from archers determined to make an Olympic team and who have focused their whole lives on that goal, to family people who are just passionate about their sport and who want to explore their own abilities. You will find very young and very old competitive archers. These are people who spend a significant amount of time each week practicing, refining their technique and equipment, and thinking about their sport. Competitive archers seek out coaching and advice from doctors, nutritionists, and chiropractors about their physical fitness. They are serious about their sport—serious, not humorless—competitive archers like to have fun as much as anyone, but part of the fun (a major part) is shooting and competing well.

Competitive archers really can’t get enough: enough practice, enough equipment, enough coaching, etc. Competitive archers focus on identifying their mistakes, not as an exercise in self-loathing (“I am so stupid!”), but to identify things they want to correct. Some keep log books of data and notes to help them get better. These are behaviors we are teaching our coaches to look for in identifying prospective competitive archers.

AER’s Curriculum is Directed at . . .
So, we decided that AER’s audience is . . . drum roll, please . . . recreational archers. Because, right now, there is almost nothing for them. They are also an audience sufficiently large to supply the financial incentives to create the teaching materials, websites, support, training, etc. for the effort to succeed. Competitive archers have a number of systems in place to meet their needs (although it still seems much to difficult to identify those systems, but that is for someone else to tackle).

What we are trying to do is expand the participation of people of all ages in the sport of archery. If they participate. If they have fun. If they are encouraged to attend competitions. If they go to a competition. If they do well . . . they may just decide they are a competitive archer and will want to start serious training.

Until then, we are developing a complete curriculum that will take student-archers from not having shot an arrow to competing at the national level. This curriculum has all of the criteria described above and will be published sometime in 2011.

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