Monthly Archives: September 2012

Getting Them To (and Through) Their First Competition!

Every archery student who makes it past four or five lessons is generally keen to go to a “real” archery competition . . . and we think they should be encouraged to do so. This article is about what coaches can do to help beginners, no matter how old, to enjoy and learn from that first experience.

Where to Start
We believe people should start small as the more local the tournament, the more relaxed the environment. Throwing newbies in with archers trying to grind out a state championship can be traumatic for the newbies (and irritating for the potential champions). Since your students are not likely to be able to find notifications for local shoots, it is up to you to inform them. We like to encourage archers to make their first shoot an indoor competition because of the distance and relatively small number of shots needed (30-60). That doesn’t mean you can’t start them outdoors, just keep in mind that they probably have little experience shooting longer distances and high arrow volumes. Local club shoots, especially fun shoots, are also a good place to start them.

You will have to explain that every archery competition is sponsored by an archery organization (USA Archery, the National Field Archery Association (NFAA), IBO, ASA, etc.) and a local archery club. They do not have to be a member of the organization or a member of the club to participate because almost all archery competitions allow anyone to participate as a “Guest.” We strongly recommend that they take this route (registering as a “Guest”) even though they will not be able to compete for medals. That’s right, to win medals/trophies they must be a member of the sponsoring archery organization. (Think about it! If this weren’t a requirement, few folks would join and pretty soon there would be very few clubs and very few tournaments.) If they find they really like competing, then it is time to join an organization (there are dues) and a club (more dues).

Preparing Them to Go
It is always reassuring to have had a rehearsal of any complicated event. This is one reason we recommend you put on mock tournaments in your classes. Students will learn how to score, to not touch arrows or targets while scoring, how the whistle system is used to control a target event (but not field), how to deal with dropped arrows, and shooting line etiquette.

If you have an indoor timing system, try to work it into one of your mock tournaments. Have a colleague role-play being a Judge. Play it to the hilt. Obviously, you would not do all of this for your first mock tournament, but certainly by the third or so, it is time to ramp it up.

You may want to prepare some handouts to give to students to read (or share with parents if they are young, covering the topics in the next section. Also obviously, if you hear young students talking grandiosely about winning, you might suggest that their goals be to: #1 Have fun! and #2 Learn about competitions.

Getting Them Ready to Go
There are always some preliminaries to take care of. First, archers need all of the equipment necessary to compete: bow, arrows, tab, quiver, everything. If they don’t own their own equipment, it may be possible to borrow some from your program, but they should be taught not to expect that as it is unusual. It is also almost guaranteed that the tournament hosts will not have equipment to lend or rent. The assumption is that they always have all of the archery equipment they need to compete.

They will probably have to fill out a registration form for the competition, typically available on the Internet, but sometimes a spot can be reserved by a simple phone call. If you want to print out registration forms and pass them out, that would be helpful, too. Do not wait until the last minute to do this as there can be limited spaces to shoot (especially indoors).

Your students will have to arrange a ride to the event, if they don’t drive. Possibly the tournament host could locate another competitor in your neighborhood who is willing to give them a ride, but that is a long shot. There is a tradition of coaches giving rides to students, but as suing people seems to have become our largest national sport, we are recommending that our coaches not do this. (In many states, the volunteer driver is taking full responsibility for the behavior and welfare of minor invitees.) Plus, parents need to know that their child’s participation in archery will involve them, too (at a bare minimum as “driver”).

You do want to encourage your students to check as to whether the tournament host will be serving food (for lunch or snacks) and what they will be serving. As an example of why, if they are just serving hot dogs and someone doesn’t like hot dogs, they will have to pack a lunch. Especially if they have special dietary needs (gluten free, no peanuts, etc.) they will need to take care of their own food.

If the shoot is outdoors, they will need a hat and probably sunscreen. If rain is expected, they will want some rain jacket or other they can shoot in and a towel to dry off their equipment. Try to get them to think about all of the things that could happen on a day outdoors and how they should prepare. If they are on medication, for instance, they need to take it with them. Try to get them to think of everything so their day isn’t ruined by an ordinary thing they forgot to bring. Something they may not realize they need to bring is a folding chair to sit in (for outdoor target events). Many outdoor target events don’t provide chairs (or enough chairs).

They do not need to memorize the rule book of the parent organization. In fact, the easiest way to get all of the help they need is to tell everyone who will listen that this is their very first competition. They will find all of the officials and their fellow competitors will help them out if they get confused. As we often say, archery is a social sport! In a section below we have a “rules primer” that will mostly keep your students out of trouble.

On the Day
Strongly recommend that they have a good breakfast on the day of the competition. If they will eat what is being served at the site, they need to be sure to have enough money to pay any registration fees and get something to eat. If they are packing a lunch, they must be sure to take it with them! As an exercise you may want them to make up a list of everything they want to take with them to use as a checklist when they are packing to go, so they don’t forget anything. Alternatively, you may want to prepare a checklist for them as an example of what to bring (and how to remember to take it with them). They need directions which can often be had from a website or a computer map program and they are off!

When they get to the shoot site, they need to unpack. Outdoors, they will be given a shooting lane assignment and will want to pile their gear up close by. In field events they need to be prepared to carry everything they will need on to and around the course. Indoors, everybody will be in the same building and often they will be just looking for a place to put their stuff down. Because indoor events take place in the winter, people not only have their archery gear but bulky jackets, hats, gloves, etc. Recommend they try to keep everything in one place so they can find their gear when they need it.

Competing archers will need to check in at the registration desk and pay any fees they need to. They will get scorecards to fill out. (Don’t forget to have your “newbies” tell them “this is my first shoot” and they will get extra help.)

In USA Archery sponsored events they may also have something called “equipment inspection.” Probably your brand new competitors will be registering as “Guests” and Guests usually are not required to go through equipment inspection, but doing so will give them that much more experience for the next time. The one thing that often catches people is that every arrow has to be identical and uniquely identified as being theirs. Most people write their name or initials on their arrow shafts with a Sharpie, or other permanent marker. If their arrows are black, they make silver Sharpies. Having this done ahead of time is just one less thing to worry about on “shoot day.”

Almost universally when it is your time to shoot, they will be allowed two “practice ends.” Often there is a place to shoot some arrows to warm up before then but sometimes not. The two practice ends aren’t scored, but give them the opportunity to meet the people they will be shooting (and scoring with). Explain to them (and incorporate into your mock tournaments eventually) that for scoring purposes, typically four archers are grouped together: two become scorekeepers, one becomes the “caller” who reads the arrow scores out to the scorers and the fourth is there to be used to break disagreements. If they say to everyone “this is my first shoot” they will probably be given the easy job of being the fourth in the scoring group, but maybe not. (Did they bring a pencil to score with? and mark arrow holes with?)

The shooting line is controlled by the whistle system except during field shoots in which people just take turns. They should be familiar with the whistle system, as we usually teach it in Lesson 1.
When they are finished shooting, their scorecard must be signed by the archer and by both score keepers, but only after the archer has checked the math (they are responsible for their score card and any errors on it). There are penalties for turning in incorrect scorecards so if they need a calculator to check the math, we hope they brought one. When they turn in their scorecards, they will be checked to see if all of the signatures are present and that the scores (and X counts, etc.) all agree. Then they will be given one of the cards as a record of their performance and the tournament people keep the other for their records.

There may be breaks during the shoot (or not). These will be explained before the shooting starts, so encourage them to listen up for all vocal directions provided.

A “Rules Primer”
Many beginning archers worry about violating the rules. We don’t think worrying is helpful. Usually, Judges and fellow competitors will cut newbies some slack. (They did tell everyone “this is my first shoot,” didn’t they?) But, if they violate a rule over and over, they should expect to pay a penalty.

Here are some “rules” that, if they follow them, they will be very unlikely to encounter any trouble.

Straddle the Shooting Line Not all of the archery organization’s rules require archers to straddle the shooting line while shooting but all of them allow it. So, if they do this, they cannot be faulted. To straddle the shooting line, archers must have one foot in front of the line and one foot behind (neither is “on” or touching the line).

Shoot After Someone Else Does There are penalties for shooting too soon or too late in timed events, so we recommend that at the beginning of each end your newbies wait to raise their bow to shoot until someone else launches an arrow. This may cost them a second or two, but is cheap insurance against shooting before the time allowed. New archers generally shoot quite fast, so there is little danger that they run out of time.

When Scoring, Don’t Touch! Touching (yes, just touching) an arrow or a target before the arrows are scored can incur a penalty! The safest thing to do is to touch nothing and only pull their arrows after someone else has.

When Not Scoring, Don’t Touch In some organizations there is a penalty for even touching someone else’s equipment without their permission. Official rules aside, this is rude; tell your students “don’t do it.” If they see a really cool bow, it is okay to “look but don’t touch.”

When in Doubt, Ask! If your archers are unsure as to what to do, have them ask their fellow competitors. (Obviously they do not want to ask any of them a question when they are at full draw.) All archers are welcoming of “newbies.” They will be welcome, too.

This may seem like a lot of “dos” and “don’ts” but when competing you don’t want your students to be thinking about anything but shooting. An event is much more fun when they have everything they need and don’t have to worry about getting a ride home, or whether they have enough lunch money, or anything else. And, we want them to have a good time and attend other competitions so they can fully enjoy our wonderful sport.


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Why You Need to Teach a Shot Sequence

What’s the most important aspect of becoming a good archer? Our answer to this question is: the essence of being a good archer is being able to relax and focus under the tension of the draw. But focus on what? The focus needs to be on what is being done at every moment during a shot. And stray thoughts will keep jumping into your archer’s heads when they are shooting, so how do you help them focus? This is done by teaching them habits of body and habits of mind. And the framework for all of these is called a shot sequence.

What Is a Shot Sequence?
We assume you already know what a shot sequence, also called a shot routine, is but a little review can’t hurt. A shot sequence or shot routine is just a series of steps an archery shot can be broken down into. The exact number of steps in the sequence isn’t important. What is important is that everything done and thought be on the list. We know of someone who thinks four is the correct number of steps for a shot sequence. During Step One, there are all of these things one has to do: step to the shooting line, take a stance, nock an arrow, and more. Clearly this is not just one step. Inside this step are other steps, we might call them sub-steps. The same is true for the nine step shot sequence we recommend to beginners. Our step “Nock an Arrow” includes quite a number of details: with the bow held vertical (#1) and in front of you (#2), fit the nock of an arrow right under the top nock locator (#3) with the index/cock vane pointed away from the bow (#4); listen for the “snap” of the nock (#5) and place the arrow onto the arrow rest (#6) and, just for good measure, if you are using a clicker, slide the arrow under the clicker (#7).

You can see that the claimed number of steps is not at all important, but all of the steps (and sub-steps, and sub-sub-steps) have to include all of the things your archer does when making his/her first shot. Consequently each of your archers may have a different sequence.

Why a Shot Sequence?
There are a number of reasons why a shot sequence will help your archers perform. Here are a few.

It Creates a Common Set of Terms
When you are discussing their shots with your students it would be hard to have any kind of discussion if you are saying things like, “Well, the thingamajig fell off the whoseewhatsis and fouled up your whaddyacallit.” Having names for parts of the shots allows you to discuss your student’s shots in more detail.

It Creates a Framework for Coaching
Too often archers think that archery practice is just getting to the range and shooting arrows. This will work; they will become better archers; but this is also the slowest and hardest way to become a better archer. They basically are asking the bow to teach them how to shoot. There are easier ways; like getting the help of a coach like you. But how are your opinions and recommendations to be formed?

The basis of helping your students to have good archery performances is you want all of the parts of your student’s shot to be equally good. Having them working really hard to have a world class stance when the rest of their shot is kind of “iffy,” is not a recipe for success. Instead of working too much on one aspect, it is better to move on to another part of the shot. The rule is archers work on their weak points until those are as good as the good points in their shot, then they move on to something else. And, since everything that happens during a shot is dependent on what happens before, you recommend they work on things in the order of their sequence. Working really hard on the end of a shot when the beginning is no good is probably wasted work because when they fix the beginning parts it changes what happens at the end.

This provides organization to your form and execution recommendations (do things in the order of the shot sequence) as well as provides a guide as to how much work needs to be done to improve any particular aspect of the shot (until it matches the level of quality of the rest of the shot).

It is the Foundation for Mental Programs
What your archers are thinking is roughly equally important to what they are doing physically while shooting. If while drawing the bow they are thinking about where to put their trophy in their bedroom, or wondering whether their stance is really right, or wondering whether they have enough time to do their homework tonight, they are doomed! To shoot well, their minds must be thinking only about what they are doing right then, as they are shooting.

“A shot sequence combined with the Rule of Discipline
form the core of all mental programs.”

Because of this we ask students learning a shot sequence for the first time to do it rather deliberately, with each step separate from the others, by creating a very short pause between each step. This mode of introduction establishes clear boundaries to each step, so that the actions and thoughts associated with, say, “drawing the string” will be confined to just that step. If they are thinking about “drawing the string” while they are taking their stance it is impossible to focus on getting their stance right.

A shot sequence combined with the Rule of Discipline (If anything from a prior step or from the environment intrudes during your shot, you must let down and start over.) form the core of all mental programs.

A Shot Sequence to Start On
In the AER Basic Instructor training, we provided a model shot sequence. You may want to use this, too. We are providing a free handout on our website (under development) for you to print and hand out to your student-archers. Using the sequence terms (follow through, set your hands, etc.) will reinforce their learning. In our recreational curriculum, we ask them to state and demonstrate the steps with a stretch band as an indicator of whether they have learned it or not. This is not a bad drill to perform.

“Learning a shot sequence is even for recreational archers?” you ask. Our philosophy is not to train recreational archers just as we do competitive archers, but to train them so that, if they decide to become competitive archers, they will not have learned anything wrong. A shot sequence is so important to successful archery we teach one to all archers at the intermediate level.

“If you haven’t been using a shot sequence in your own archery: coach teach thyself!”

Final Thoughts
If you haven’t been using a shot sequence in your own archery: coach teach thyself! We continue to insist that if you want to coach intermediate archers, you need to be an intermediate archer (or above). Experience can’t be learned from books. Intermediate archers need to learn a shot sequence because they need it to perform and you need it to help them perform better.

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Emphasizing The Importance of Having Your Own Equipment

After your students have learned the basics of shooting arrows from a bow we recommend that they get their own equipment. Now if your students are young, the thought of getting their own bows and arrows can be intoxicating, but recently we have encountered a great many adult beginners and, possibly because they are paying their own bills, they are, shall we say, less enthusiastic about spending a couple of hundred dollars on archery gear. In this post I will explore this recommendation and your role in helping them with the transition.

Photo by Andy Macdonald (Australia)

Common Sense Concerns
Regarding the cost of the equipment, we recommend that beginners buy less expensive “beginner level” equipment and not just because it is less expensive. More expensive equipment can be more difficult to shoot and is better left to those more expert. We also recommend “beginner level” equipment to beginners because their archery form is not yet settled. As they practice and learn, their draw length changes, the amount of draw force (i.e. draw weight) they can handle changes, and sometimes their taste changes. Possibly they thought shooting a recurve bow would be nice, but they changed their mind when they had the opportunity to try a particular brand of compound bow. Many of our recent Olympic teams have consisted of archers who started with compound bows but switched to recurve bows because the Olympics doesn’t allow compound bows.

Spending substantial funds on archery equipment that will need to be changed in a short amount of time is not a wise use of your student’s money. Also, they may not have fully committed to archery as an avocation and that equipment may end up sitting on shelf in their garage (next to the hockey skates, the …). These are pragmatic concerns but there are others concern how you learn to shoot and shoot well.

Technical Concerns
An even more compelling case to have one’s own gear is that equipment borrowed or rented is rarely sized well for them. Archery class bows are generally of lower draw weight and of middling sizes. Arrows are chosen to fit so much as for safety and durability, that is they are extra long and tend to be heavier than properly fitted arrows.

So, why does archery equipment have to be fitted? Basically arrows and bows and archers have to suit one another. A bow that has too much or too little draw weight is harder to shoot. A bow that is too short, too long, or too heavy is more difficult to shoot. So, a bow must be found that is in a range of sizes and draw weights your archer can handle successfully and then arrows that match have to be selected.

The arrows are critical. If the arrows are too stiff they will tend to fly off the bow to the left (for a right-handed archer). If they are not stiff enough (we say they are “too weak”) they will fly off to the right (again for a right-handed archery; reverse “left” and “right” if they are left-handed). The reason for this is that a bowstring released off of fingers slides off of those fingers forward and sideways. The arrow is therefore getting a force applied down the shaft but onto the outer half. Since the front of the arrow weighs more than any other equal length segment of the shaft, it resists movement more than the rest of the shaft so the result is the shaft bends, first into the bow and then away from it. (It continues to flex back and forth for many yards of its flight!) If the bend is not enough the arrow will shoot out away from the bow (to the left for a right-handed archer). If the bend is too much the arrow will bend around the bow and shoot off to the right (for a right-handed archer).

Now here is the key point: arrows can be adjusted so that their response to being shot is just right.” But your students must buy arrows that have characteristics that are very close to the right ones because the amount of adjustment is quite small. Buy the wrong arrows and they are flat out of luck; they will not shoot well This is why we certify AER Archery Instructors as Bowfitters (and, well, Arrowfitters). We are working to get much of this training available online. Check our website for details.

Tuning In a Bow
A simple way to “tune in” a bow so the arrows are positioned “just right” is called the bare shaft test (also called the bare shaft planing test). This is done by taking one (better: two) of their arrows and stripping off the vanes or feathers; they can be “refletched” later. If they don’t want you to do this to their brand new arrows, they can approximate this by taking a short piece of transparent tape and wrapping it around the vanes of one or two of their arrows, flatting the vanes down, reducing their effect.) The idea is to remove the error correcting ability of the vanes.

To perform the test, first have your archer shoot until they get warm. Then, shooting at a relatively close target, like 10 yards/meters, have them shoot three fletched arrows and one (better: two) bare shafts. If the fletched shafts don’t make a nice group, it is a “do over;” they must shoot them all again. The advantage of shooting two bare shafts is if they don’t “group,” then they were not shot the same and the test must be repeated because you can’t tell whether either of them was shot well.

When they get the three fletched shafts to group and the two bare shafts to group, you can then interpret the test. Here is what you can learn from a bare shaft test (all for a right-handed archer, reverse “left” and “right” if they are left-handed):
• If the bare shafts strike the target above the fletched group, the nocking point is too low.
• If the bare shafts strike the target below the fletched group, the nocking point is too high.
• If the bare shafts strike the target to the left of the fletched group, the arrow rest is too far from the bow.
• If the bare shafts strike the target to the right of the fletched group, the arrow rest is too close to the bow.
• If the bare shafts strike the target anywhere else except as part of the fletched group, a combination of adjustments is needed.

The left and right bare shaft indications are reversed if you are left-handed. And the farther out the bare shafts are, the bigger the problem. When both are right, the bare shafts and fletched shafts make one group.

Making Corrections—Nocking Point Location
As a general rule, adjust the nocking point first. When the nocking point location is correct the bare shafts in a repeated test will land at the same level (up and down) on the target.

If the arrow rest needs moving, if they took our recommendation and installed a screw-in arrow rest, the “in-out” position of the rest can be changed by loosening the lock nut and either screwing the rest in closer to the bow or screwing it out farther away from the bow. If they don’t have such a rest, you may have to improvise. If a “stick-on rest is being used, you can move it farther from the bow by using additional layers of double stick foam tape, for example. When the arrow rest is in the correct position the bare shafts in a repeated test will land in the same plane (left and right) on the target.

Making Corrections—Centershot
It is strongly recommended that while your students are learning to shoot their bow, that they use an inexpensive plastic screw-in arrow rest. If they want shoot with a metal arrow rest and cushion plunger, they may, but they are 20-30 times more expensive than the quite adequate screw-in arrow rest and far more complicated to adjust. Centershot adjustments are made by loosening the lock nut on the outside of the bow and screwing the rest closer in or farther out and retightening the nut.

The basic rule when making changes: make them large (at first). If you are sneaking up an a big problem with itty bitty changes, you are going to be at it a long time. If their rest is too far in, make a big change and then it is too far out. Good! You now have outside limits for your adjustments. Split the difference between those two settings, then between that one and one of the others until you get what you want. So, when adding or removing “turns” to your arrow rest, start with four or five turns, later you can try, two, or even one turn at a time. But, start with a big change and retest. If there is no effect from the change, maybe that’s the wrong “fix.” If these changes don’t work, then it is likely the arrows are in need of adjustment or replacement.

Tuning Their Arrows
If you make centershot changes and the arrows don’t test any better or get worse when a change is made that should make it better, it is possible that the arrows spine is incorrect. The spine of an arrow is a gauge of its resilience when being flexed, some people say it is a measure of the arrow’s stiffness.

Warning—You should not perform these procedures unless your student’s draw length is settled. To test this, as them to draw their bow and examine their full draw position. If they have a close approximation of good T Form, have them let down and rest for 15-20 seconds. Have them draw to full draw again, but this time you are going to use a marking pen to put a dot on the arrow shaft where it lines up with the arrow rest hole. Do this at least two more times. Then examine the three, or more, marks. If they are over an inch apart at their farthest, maybe the student should practice some more before you attempt this. If the range of dots is well less than an inch, you are good to go.

Making Corrections—Arrow Spine
In making changes in arrow spine, you again need to consider their equipment carefully.
• If their bare shafts hit to the right of the fletched arrows (right-handed archer), even when the arrow rest is adjusted quite far from the bow, it is likely that the arrows are too weak (spine is too high).
• If their bare shafts hit to the left of the fletched arrows (right-handed archer), even when the arrow rest is adjusted quite far into the bow, it is likely that the arrows are too stiff (spine is too low).

Stiffening Arrows If they need a stiffer arrow, you are in luck: arrows are easier to stiffen than to weaken. The simple things you can do to stiffen arrows (in order of the effect) are:
1. Cut them shorter (a big effect).
2. Use lighter arrow points (a smaller effect).
If these don’t work, they may have to buy new arrows. (Buying new arrows isn’t uncommon for beginners, because as they change draw weight, they need stiffer arrows to handle the increased forces.)

The rule on cutting arrows is a little at a time, so cut a half an inch off of a small set of arrows (include the bare shafts) and retest. If you cut them too short, they can only be given away as they will be of no further use. Also, too short arrows are a safety hazard! Another text should tell how great an effect was made. Maybe another half inch cut is needed, or even a quarter inch. If the effect was in the right direction but small, maybe a larger cut is needed.

Weakening Arrows Weakening arrows is harder because there is no opposite to “cut them shorter.” Making them longer will certainly weaken them but you would have to be a magician to do it! Here are some basic things you can do to weaken your arrows:
1. Use heavier arrow points (a small effect).
2. Switch to feathers or Mylar vanes from plastic vanes (lighter vanes weaken arrows—a smaller effect).

Making Corrections—Draw Weight/Arrow Spine
One of the options you have with modern recurve bows (and even more so with compound bows) is that the draw weight can be easily adjusted over a small range of values. An alternative to adjusting the spine of their arrows, which requires tools and knowledge and time, is to use their bow’s draw weight adjustments to make the changes. Here is how it is done:
• If their arrows are too weak (low spine), lower the draw weight.
• If their arrows are too stiff (high spine), raise the draw weight.
This is done simply by turning the limb bolts of the unbraced bow inward (to raise the draw weight) or outward (to lower the draw weight) and retesting. Read the bow manufacturer’s instructions to find out exactly how to do this.

If this adjustment has an effect but after changing things as much as is possible it is not enough to fully tune the bow, changing the draw weight farther involves acquiring new limbs. Moving down in draw weight is not generally a good idea because it costs them performance. Moving up in draw weight can also be a problem because, if you increase the draw weight more than just a little at a time, it can seriously distort your archer’s form. The rule of thumb is to change an archer’s draw weight (upwards) only a little at a time (two pounds maximum). If they were planning to go to higher drawing limbs, this may be a good time to do it. The general approach is to see if you can borrow a pair of higher drawing limbs to test. If the change to more draw weight has no effect (you made the limb change and retested and no improvement) then this is probably not the solution to the problem. If the change does make things better, they should return the borrowed limbs and acquire their own, then acclimate themselves to their new, higher draw weight. Your coach can assist you in this.

Generally, new arrows are less expensive than new limbs, but they can get bargains from other archers who have grown out of their equipment.

A Caveat: Beware Unsolicited Advice
If your archer talks to a more experienced archer about what they are doing, they may well receive some advice that typically sounds like this: Ideally, you want your bare shafts to land a little low and left of the fletched group (for a right-handed archer, reverse left and right if you are left-handed). They are not wrong. For many archers, having bare shafts land a little “low and left” means that their nocking point is a tad high and their arrow a tad stiff. Both of these create a bow-arrow setup that is somewhat more forgiving of slight execution arrows by the archer. But. . . .

But . . . your beginner doesn’t shoot that well yet. And they may go crazy trying to get their arrows to behave that way. For right now having their bare shafts and fletched shafts landing in roughly the same group is the goal. They can worry about fine tuning later.

A great many expert archers keep a couple of bare shafts available at all times as they can help diagnose equipment malfunctions. But if your students are on a tight budget, they can use the tape trick, or get their bare shafts refletched so they have the maximum number of arrows to shoot.

Properly fitted and tuned equipment is a joy to shoot. And if your archers have such and an arrow doesn’t land well, it is highly probably due to something they did and not due to their equipment, so they get cleaner feedback from their shots, an absolute must if they want to progress.

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Is it Them or Their Equipment?

There are two times during which it is important for archers to determine the causes of poorly shot arrows: during competition (right after having shot a poor arrow) and when they are considering equipment upgrades because they think their equipment is holding them back. We look at both of these situations. Here. Now.

Troubleshooting Between Shots
Real time trouble shooting between shots is a necessary skill for archers. If you start doing something wrong, should you just keep practicing it or should you correct it before shooting more arrows? This sounds like a dumb question because the answer is obvious, but we believe this is the source of the difference between archers who get good basic coaching when they begin and archers who do not. Archers who learn on their own are predisposed to making mistakes and then practicing them until they are very hard to fix (the dreaded “bad habit”).

“For any particular “bad” shot, there are three possible causes:
the archer, the archer’s equipment, or the archer’s environment.”

This is critical when archers are just getting started and a lot falls on the shoulders of coaches to nip bad habits in the bud. But as archers progress, they need to develop their own skills at troubleshooting. During competition, or a practice round, or even just practice everybody shoots arrows that don’t land where they should. For any particular “bad” shot, there are three possible causes: the archer, the archer’s equipment, or the archer’s environment (wind, twigs overhanging the flight path of their arrows, sun in their eyes, etc.). If they have a poor shot and guess wrong as to its cause and make a correction based on the wrong source of the problem, they are just going to make another mistake, and another, and another. . . .

Archers will learn how to do this troubleshooting but, as we have insisted before, experience is a brutally tough teacher. Coaches can make this experience much easier by providing a little instruction. The first thing an archer needs to check when troubleshooting is whether or not you they were the source of the problem. They have a couple of techniques available to help with this task: one is to be able to replay the previous shot in memory. This is worth spending some practice time learning. Students take shots and then pause after each one to remember what that shot looked and felt and sounded like. Often they will get a clue from such a replay as to what they might have done wrong. You can pair up your students and have them shoot an arrow and immediately close their eyes. They need to then tell their shooting partner where on the target they think their arrow hit and whether they think they did anything wrong. After some practice, archers can recall the position of their aperture (or arrow point) in their sight picture upon release, the feel of the bow in their hand, the feel of the tension in their back upon followthrough, a truly amazing amount of detail. And it takes only a little practice to achieve this.

Another technique is for archers to maintain a mental checklist of their personal “most common mistakes.” These are generally categorized according to where the arrows miss (Why I Generally Shoot High, Why I Generally Shoot Right, etc.). If your archer shoots a low arrow, their mental check list comes to mind and if they did any one of the things on that list it will generally jump off the list! It helps if you can get them to write these things down in a notebook.

The reason that archers need to check themselves first is because short term memory is volatile and if they put it off, they will lose the memory of the feel of the shot quite rapidly.

Generally it is easiest to check one’s shooting environment. For example, at most target competitions pennants are placed on top of the target butts to help archers gauge the wind. The archers on the shooting line use them to gauge the wind at the target and there are often bushes or trees along side the range to help gauge the wind in between. It is highly unlikely that they would have missed a wind stiff enough to cause a significant miss, but they can double check this. People have used binoculars or spotting scopes to discover their arrow impaled a bird on its path to the target, so strange things can happen. In NFAA field shoots, bystanding archers tend to watch arrows fly because if one hits an overhanging obstruction (like a twig or leaf), a remedy is available.
Checking one’s equipment generally requires an archer to look at their bow to see if anything has moved (smart archers use a fine pointed marker to mark the positions of bow sight extensions, clickers, compound bow eccentrics, anything that moves—this is something you can teach them). Have them rap their bow and limbs with their knuckles and listen. Loose parts will rattle or buzz. Have them check knobs that tend to loosen to see if they are still tight. Have them wiggle things like their sight bar, their arrow rest, and other critical parts to see if they feel loose. If they find something loose, could it be the source of the problem? If not, they need to keep looking. (This is quite hard to learn so most of this is learned by trial and error.)

This troubleshooting skill is not just for problems. Champion archers compare their assessment of a shot with the outcome (from binocular or spotting scope checks of every arrow). If it felt like a good shot and it scored as expected, the next shot is just a “do over.” If it felt good and scored poorly, then troubleshooting as described here begins. If it felt like a poor shot and scored poorly, that is to be expected. The absolute worse case scenario is the shot was awful but scored well. What? One gets lucky and this is the worse case scenario? Yes! Your archer has just imprinted his/her subconscious mind that shots that score well can be improvised. While this may be true on very rare occasions, it is not true in general, so archers must really focus on getting back to their practiced, regular shot as soon as possible, and the one shot they can easily replay in their minds, the one they just messed up, is not a good model.

So, archers have to think their way through a competition and their conscious thinking has to be confined to the time between shots, otherwise it will distract the archer from making good shots. Assessing shots and troubleshooting them is a vital skill for consistently high quality shooting.

Now let’s switch our focus to a broader aspect of “is it them or their equipment?”

Managing Equipment Roadblocks
When an archer comes to you and says “I think my equipment is holding me back!” (or some equivalent), what are you going to say? What we think you should say is “Well, let’s look at you and your equipment.” Now this may not be possible during a group class and may require a private lesson on the side. Coaches may choose to do a cursory once over and if something obvious is found (bent arrows, for example) you could deal with that during class and, if nothing is glaringly wrong, maybe a private lesson will be needed. (Obviously if the student is underage, parental approval is needed to set up and pay for such a session.)

First Things First
We like to at least make a cursory equipment inspection to rule out obvious problems like a rotated or bent arrow rest (very common), or mismatched or bent arrows or a broken bow string (Only one broken strand will cause the string to stretch, continuously!). If nothing glaring is found, move on to assessing the archer. The archer is primarily responsible for accuracy (contrary to what equipment manufacturers suggest, but give them a break, they are just trying to make a living) so the place to start is with the archer. Start by asking your student to shoot some arrows at a quite close target. Observe their grouping: where is the group located, are there “fliers,” how small is the group, is the group “round”? If there are fliers, remove those arrows and ask them to shoot again. If there are no fliers upon reshooting, possibly the removed arrows are defective.

Have them then shoot at a substantially longer distance. Often young and physically weaker students have to hold their bows at a very high angle to shoot longer distances (short draw length, low draw weight, heavier arrows all limit arrow speeds). This higher angle often distorts their form sufficiently to degrade their scores/group sizes). At this longer distance you need to examine their grouping as you did before. If the archer and his/her equipment are okay, we expect that they will be able to shoot round groups, centered on the target, and that their group sizes would be proportional to their distances. So if your archer shot at ten yards and 40 yards, the group at 40 yards should be four times as wide and four times as high than at ten yards (four times the distance means four times the group diameter).

If there are significant flaws in the form or execution, a prescription for drills to correct those flaws (Drills are available in the Coach’s Guide to the AER recreational Archery Curriculum.) needs to be given and then another check after sufficient practice has occurred is also necessary. (Doctors who don’t check back after they treat us for something are considered very poor doctors. Same is true for coaches.) If you feel their form is solid and execution consistent, then their equipment is probably responsible for any variations from these expectations. (Note The most common need is for arrow adjustments but young archers can and do outgrow their bows.)

“The world of archery equipment can be baffling to archers,
so the help you give them will be greatly appreciated.
If not, you are free to charge the ungrateful ones more.”

If their groups are round and centered and proportionally sized, the archer may be complaining that his/her groups are larger than they have been. We hope that if your archer is at this stage of awareness he/she has learned to keep notes. One of the handiest ways to keep track of group sizes is to use the target circles. If using standard FITA targets, phrases like “holding the red,” or “holding the 6-ring” to indicate that the vast majority of arrows are in those rings or closer to center. (If a group is a little off center, one can use one’s imagination to determine which ring it would fit in it were moved to the center. This isn’t an exact science. This also assumes a fair degree of consistency, so records of shooting are very helpful.

A lot of archers have phones with cameras in them, so one way to keep track of practice shooting is to start with a fresh target and then take a picture of the target after practice, which shows where all of the arrow holes are. (Obviously labeling the picture with date, numbers of shots, etc. would also be helpful.)

One of the things that trips up young archers is that target face sizes change with distance. Obviously shooting at the same target face, say an 80 cm FITA target, at two different distances would be comparable but what if one distance were shot at an 80cm face and another at a 122cm face? Here is a cheat sheet showing the diameters of all of the rings on four different sizes of FITA Targets.

If World Archery/FITA could have just seen fit to make the biggest target 120 cm, all of the target sizes would be perfect simple multiples of one another. (The 122 cm target is almost exactly 48 inches wide, which was the standard target size for centuries.) As it is, they are close to being simple multiples for these purposes.

Digging Deeper
If an archer is stalled in making progress, or getting worse, there is a cause. If you can’t find a form or execution cause, we must look deeper. One place to inspect carefully is your archer’s finger tab. A well worn tab will usually show a fairly precise dent in its top layer from where the string presses (over and over and over). If there are two such dents, then maybe there has been a change in the way the string hand has been positioned on the string. This changes a great deal in that the archer’s string finger pressures are changed, as well as is the draw elbow position and any number of other things. If the tab “tells” on the archer, ask them to use a back up tab or new tab and to place their fingers very carefully. Hopefully, the old finger position was drilled much more than the new one and they can “recover their shot,” so to speak.

Another possible sleuthing tool is to provide other arrows. They don’t necessarily need to be an exact match to the archer, they just need to be close to a good match and consistent. These arrows won’t impact in the same places as the others but, if the archer’s grouping improves, you know that it is time for new arrows.

Recurve bows, especially ones with very light drawing limbs are somewhat notorious for either “fatiguing” or “breaking down.” Recurve bow limbs are laminated and if there is a flaw in one of the laminations, the limb will bend more at the point of the flaw, further weakening that spot. Well before you can detect the flaw by eye, the bow will become unstable and poorer groups result. Of course, you should check to see if the brace height and tiller are within manufacturer’s specifications. If you don’t have access to the manufacturer’s specs, we provide common values for these measurements for various length bows in the appendices of the Coaches’ Guide to the AER Recreational Archery Curriculum.

If you can borrow another pair of limbs, swapping out your archer’s limbs for the different ones should show if there was anything wrong with the original pair. If you can’t find another pair of limbs, borrowing a different (but similar) bow and asking your archer to shoot groups for you may be telling.

Most archers overrate the role of their equipment in their performance. Consequently many have equipment far better than they can benefit from (they “over bought”). You need to be able to determine when their equipment is substandard but also if it is too advanced for them. Kids trying to shoot grownup bows that are too heavy for them is one simple example. And high end equipment can be temperamental (archers say “critical”) and require an expert to shoot it well, in which case it is providing an archer of less prowess no benefit and actually becoming a barrier to progress.

The world of archery equipment can be baffling to archers, so the help you give them will be greatly appreciated. If not, you are free to charge the ungrateful ones more.

A Note on Defective/Flawed Arrows
Some factors affecting the behavior of arrows can be quite hidden from view. For example, aluminum arrows that have been bent and then straightened a number of times will stop grouping with the other arrows of the set. (When an aluminum tube is bent the metal on outside of the bend is stretched and the metal on the inside is compressed. Look at any knuckle on your fingers: the outside surface has extra skin to allow for the stretch and the inside surface has creases to facilitate the compression/buckling that occurs there. Put on a pair of gloves that are too tight and you will have trouble bending your fingers as there is no extra material allowing for the stretching at each knuckle.)

Similarly carbon arrows can crack on their inside surfaces and thus weaken the shaft even though there is no visible flaw. Two arrows can also look the same but weigh quite different.

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The Elements of Good Practice

In a previous post the topic of practicing at home (or wherever) safely was addressed. Before I leave that topic I am going to expand on this for you because, as a recent question pointed out, it will sometimes be the case that one of your recreational archers is really a competitive archer in disguise. Please remember that our definition of a competitive archer is one who is practicing to learn how to win, whereas purely recreational archers are practicing to participate, that is “to have fun.” The core difference between these two types of archers is that competitive archers will practice even if it is not fun. To serve these students you may have to give them something to do that your other students would balk at (because it is not fun). So in this article we address what constitutes good practice (fun or not).

Practice Must . . .
Most competitive archers learned by standing and shooting . . . a lot. This is not to be sneered at as being uninformed or unscientific; it is just boring and not particularly effective. Practice can be made more effective through observance of a few simple concepts. Simply put, practice must be: frequent, varied, repetitious, and most important . . . focused.

“Simply put, practice must be:
frequent, varied, repetitious,
and most important . . . focused.”

Practice Must Be Frequent
If a self-described rabid archer only wants to practice once a week or even less frequently, you can be sure that he/she is really a recreational archer. Competitive archers want to practice all of the time. The question is really “how often should a student practice.” This cannot be answered definitively and probably should not be. Beginning athletes are often quite literal and if you say “practice two times a week,” they will do that instead of what they would rather do. Top competitors practice several times a week, many do daily practice and some practice more than once a day. A practice routine will evolve and we recommend young archers be encouraged to “find” theirs. Initially I do not recommend practicing every day of the week. At least one day a week needs to be an “off ” day. Weightlifters and bodybuilders often work out daily but are careful to change which muscle groups they are working so that they don’t do heavy workouts on the same muscle groups on consecutive days. This gives time for the muscles to heal (strong exercise promotes muscular micro-bleeding) between being worked. Now archery does not involve so much exertion, so frequent practice of the same activity can be done but, at least initially, practice should not be uninspiring. Boredom is not a bad reason to quit a practice. (You may want to work with such an archer to teach them more about how to vary their practice routines and avoid boredom.)

“Boredom is not a bad reason to quit a practice.
(You may want to work with such an archer to
teach them more about how to vary their practice
routines and avoid boredom.)”

Practice Must Be Varied
I will make the point that being focused while shooting and practicing is the most important aspect of archery (as it is in every other precision sport). But on what must we focus? The answer is simple: we focus on what we are doing now. Archers need to live in the present, in the “now,” as nothing happening in the past or the future will help them execute their shots. This realization leads to having a shot sequence. In order to be able to shoot well and practice well, an archer really needs a shot routine or shot sequence. This is not to say an archer cannot achieve his/her goals without one, but why handicap oneself and deliberately do something the hard way? A shot sequence provides tremendous support to both archer and coach, so much so that we consider it indispensable. The shot sequence provides an important framework. Each element of the sequence can be evaluated as to its form and execution. As a general rule, we want the quality of each element/step to be the same as the others. Any element that is sub par needs to be worked on. The order they need to be worked on is the sequence of the steps: stance first, etc. If all of the steps in an archer’s sequence are about the same quality and an improvement is desired, a total overhaul is needed—each step needs to be brought up in quality. To guide the archer, we recommend the “One Next Thing” strategy (see below also), which is that one, and only one, thing should be focused on at a time when you are practicing. And when evaluating a shot while working on that one next thing, the only thing that should be evaluated is whether “the thing” was done right, nothing else. This is why so many archers shoot “blank bale” when working on their form: the score of the arrow is irrelevant, so why waste a target face?

Practice Must Be Repetitious
Archery is a repetition sport, like bowling. One basically repeats the same activity over and over with minor variations. The variations are minimal in target archery and much more extensive (distance, angle to target, angle to the sun, different footing, etc.) in field archery, but in all cases one does just execute making a shot over and over. So, the key skill of “making a good shot” must be accompanied by “being able to shoot consistently.” Consequently both factors have to be major parts of any competitive archer’s practice. Just standing and shooting arrow after arrow will work in time but the sheer repetitiousness will lead to boredom which leads to a lack of focus (see below). So, the real question is how to include the repetitions without getting bored. One simple technique is to double or triple a form element while shooting. If one were trying to learn to draw the string more smoothly and with greater power, one could just stand and draw one’s bow and let down, draw and let down, draw and let down. After sufficient practice, more draw weight can be provided with an added elastic band or by using a heavier bow. This will work, but archers not quite committed to learning to win might just get bored enough to quit. It is also being done outside of the context of making a shot. A more effective technique is “double draws:” while on the shooting line, the full shot sequence is executed but the draw is executed twice. So, after the string is drawn a letdown is performed and then the string is drawn again and the shot finished. Every activity is in context. The “draw” form element is highlighted in one’s subconscious mind by being done twice and the muscles used in making a smooth strong draw are invoked twice as much as the others.

If working on a new stance (open, closed, oblique, whatever) step off the line and step back to take one’s stance for every shot instead of for just the first shot. A three shot end therefore gives three reps of “take your stance” instead of just one. Of course, elements like the release and followthrough can’t be doubled/tripled but these elements are determined mostly by what comes before them rather than needing to be practiced as something one does.

Practicing can be entirely mental and removed from a range. One can practice taking one’s stance or the archer’s “T” position of full draw (with or without a stretch band to provide resistance) while waiting for a bus or while watching TV.

Practice Must Be Focused
In conversation, Rick McKinney, three time FITA World Champion and two-time Olympic Silver Medalist, commented that when he was preparing for such major events it was not uncommon for him to make 400 shots per day. He emphasized, though, that the hard part wasn’t making the 400 shots but  “being focused on each and every shot.” It takes hours to make 400 shots and it would be easy to let one’s mind wander to more pleasant topics while doing something so monotonous. But focus on each and every shot is needed.

What is being focused on is what the archer is doing “now.” Here is another benefit of having a shot routine. Each step must be focused on as it is executed and then one’s focus must shift to the next thing in sequence. This is not an intense concentration but the kind of focus that is involved in tying one’s shoes . . . after you have made a mistake tying them. There is no step-by-step sequence being muttered in the background, there is simply an attention to the task and nothing else. The key to making this work is the “Rule of Discipline” which states: if anything, anything at all—mental or physical— intrudes from a prior step or from your environment, you must let down and start over. Of course, a loss of focus is just such a reason to let down. A student who commits to the Rule of Discipline will make faster progress than one who does not.

Practice Science
There are any number of aspects of practice that are subject to science. (Don’t worry, we will not be going into them all here!) One of those aspects is that the subconscious mind (responsible for physical performances) is trained by the conscious mind, but the conscious mind can only be focused on one thing at a time. This is the basis for the “One Next Thing” approach. By only “working” on one thing at a time, the subconscious mind is being trained effectively. Focus on many things and only confusion and poor practice occur. There is a common saying “that it takes 21 days to create a new habit.” We wish there were some scientific basis for this but, if there is, we cannot find it. Still it will take many days of training to “correct” a bad habit, which is why focusing on getting one’s shot right (right as it can be at any stage of development) should precede volume shooting (which is drilling that shot into memory). This doesn’t mean a student can only work on one thing at a time, more advance students can do two, but this is hard. All one’s focus must be on practicing one of those things without any consideration of the other. And then, after sufficient practice has occurred, a switch is made to practicing the other without any consideration of the first. Obviously, early on, archers should focus on “just one thing” at a time.

Part of any practice regimen should be the shooting of practice rounds (for both the experience and for the feedback the scores provide). Process goals need to be set for whatever the archer is working on and evaluated after every end of shooting. It is also important that scores be tracked. This can be done as simply as by keeping a score sheet (and recording the scores for comparison purposes) to more complicated schemes such as printing out a paper target and writing the positions of the arrow hits on the target. Someone can track your arrows by writing the shot number on the paper target after scoping the target (1, 2, 3, . . .). If you are scoring yourself, you can write 1s in the positions of your first end’s arrows, 2s in the positions of your second end’s arrows, etc. What you are looking for is whether the groups are round and symmetrical. To check for roundness, draw lines quartering the target and count the holes, there should be the same number (or roughly so) in each quadrant. To be symmetrical, the size of a group is roughly the diameter of a circle containing 90% of the arrows and the sizes should be proportional to distance; for example, the circle at 50 yards distance should be twice as wide (and high) as the circle at 25 yards distance. If an archer’s groups are neither round nor symmetrical, there is a problem. Also if the archer’s groups wander (the 1s start in the middle then the 2s, 3s, etc move further left) there is a problem. These problems can’t be identified without record keeping. And, of course, the score of the round is an indicator of progress.

Tracking arrow impact points can really help evaluate problems. In this practice round, the second round ’s arrows (the 2s) tended to be low-left, but since the third round ’s arrows were centered, it wasn’t an equipment problem but something the archer was doing (same arrows different result). The impact points of the fifth (the 5s) and sixth (the 6s) ends tended to be low, a sure sign of fatigue (and dropping of the bow arm). Not just the score of this round is worth noting. Tracking where a student’s arrows land, even on a crudely printed paper target can provide a great deal of information.

If you have an archer champing at the bit for more practice, you may be dealing with a competitive archer. By focusing on the archer’s shot sequence, you can give such an archer practice tasks that test the archer as to whether they will perform tasks that aren’t fun. If your archer thrives on such activities, you will have to change the way you work with them. They need more practice, more often, with specific drills to help them improve. And those don’t have to be fun.

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Helping Them to Practice

Now that your student has acquired his or her own equipment and you have it set up just for them (see those two posts on this blog), your student is bound to ask: “Can I practice at home because my class is only one time a week?” So, what are you going to say to them?

A Prickly Situation
Just to show you what can happen, consider a true story of a student of ours who took his first lesson and was so enthralled that his grandparents took him to a local Kmart store and bought him his own bow and arrows. They then took him to state park and walked along a hiking trail with Junior firing away at random targets along the trail. They all said they had a great time. When told this story we were horrified. We realized then that they were totally ignorant of the laws making what they had just done a crime. In most communities, one cannot shoot arrows on any public land without permission. In many communities, it is illegal to shoot on public and private land without a permit.

So, coach, if you say nothing this is what can happen. If you forbid all practice except during classes, you squelch youthful passion, so what do you do?

We think that you must educate your charges. At the first level they can only shoot at your range because you control all of the equipment. This changes when they acquire their own equipment. Accordingly, when they acquire their own equipment, something needs to be said to students and their parents, if they are underage. Possibly you could give them a copy of this post or make up a handout, even one requiring the parent’s signature (acknowledging they have read the handout) and return (in which case you need to provide two copies, one for them to return and one to keep). Here is what we recommend.

Shooting Arrows at Home
There are a whole bunch of reasons why one might not be able to shoot arrows at home. Some communities classify bows and arrows as “firearms,” which is probably just lumping archery in which other activities involving launched projectiles. Most communities do not allow the discharge of firearms in residential areas and, therefore, it might be illegal for you or your students to shoot your bows in your own back yards!

Setting aside the legal issues, think about how their next door neighbor might feel if he finds one of their arrows sticking out of his garage door. Unless you have some pretty wide open spaces at home, maybe with a hill to shoot towards, and community laws that allow this, shooting in your back yard is probably out.

Some people solve this problem by shooting in their garage, basement, or even a back room of their house. Obviously the shooting is at very short distances, but this is not only not a problem, it can be an advantage. Most professional archers spend a great deal of practice time shooting at very short distance without a target. The only thing left out of this practice routine is aiming, but aiming is not something that needs a lot of practice. In fact, eliminate aiming and your archer can focus better on how good shots feel. Plus they only have to walk a few feet to retrieve their arrows, so shooting any number of arrows takes less time because it eliminates the walking back and forth to the target.

But . . . this is not to be recommended except for fairly expert archers because a loss of focus can cause an arrow to miss the target and arrows can penetrate walls fairly easily. So, if you have a basement with a concrete wall to shoot toward you do have this option, but under no circumstances should you, the coach, “authorize” this activity for one of your students. (Yes, we are back to legal issues.) If you tell your student this is a good idea or worse, you drop by the student’s house to check out their “range” and proclaim it “safe,” you open yourself up to all kinds of misery in the case of an injury at that location. Unless you enjoy being sued, we cannot recommend that you suggest this to your students. (If you are working directly in one of our programs we forbid this. We don’t want to get sued, either.) Prudence suggests that shooting arrows should generally be kept to proper archery ranges. So, this mean that archery at home can be practice, just without shooting any arrows.

Here are some things you can recommend.

Practicing at Home without Shooting Arrows
Shooting arrows is the fun part, but if your student has discovered that they are a competitive archer and they really want to get better, there are any number of things they can do at home to improve. Archers who get serious about competing do serious training, that is they do things that aren’t fun. If they find training at home to not be fun and they don’t want to do it . . . recommend that they don’t do it. Archery as a hobby is supposed to be fun. If they become serious about our sport, though, like every other serious athlete they will have to do things that aren’t fun. If they don’t want to do the “not fun” parts, then they probably aren’t a serious archer. It is always okay to just go to class and have fun (on our part, but parents may have other ideas or promises may have been made, so be aware of this).

If your students do want to do some training at home to make themselves into better archers, here are some of the things you they do.

Physical Training
If your student is struggling with the sheer heaviness of their bow (this is common when they get their first metal-risered bow), they can do “side lifts” with a small hand weight (a plastic milk jug works great because you can control how much it weighs by how much water you put in it—a gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds, so a quart is 2+ pounds, and a pint is 1+ pounds). Just lift the jug up like you would a bow. Start with a few reps (e.g. five) in sets of three and work up to more (e.g. ten reps). Once at ten reps for three sets, add weight and go back to five reps, work up to 10, etc.

If they want to build up to a higher draw weight, they can use their bow. Just have them draw their bow (using good form, of course) and hold for five seconds, then let down. Start with five repetitions. When they can do ten repetitions without struggling, go back to five reps but this time holding for a count of ten. When they can do ten repetitions without struggling, go back to five reps but this time holding for a count of fifteen. If they do this exercise every day, they will be up to a higher draw weight in no time. (The British call this exercise “Reversals,” why I don’t know.)

There are other things they can do, so you might want to research this topic before they ask.

Stretch Band Work
If your student has a stretch band, they can practice good archery form with it. If the band provides enough resistance, this constitutes physical training as well as form training. Stretch bands come in a variety of resistances. For example, TheraBands™, available from medical supply shops, and online (, come in a range of resistances which are color coded:

Tan Extra Thin
Yellow Thin
Red Medium
Green Heavy
Blue Extra Heavy
Black Special Heavy
Silver Super Heavy
Gold Max

These bands, which are tied to make a loop so it can stretch to a simulated full draw position, provide not only practice opportunities but also are useful when warming up and stretching to get ready to shoot. Your students can even “shoot” the band (but not at people!). If they execute a good shot, the band should shoot straight out from their bow hand. This can be made more helpful with a mirror.

Mirror Work
One of those cheap wall mirrors you can get at the local hardware store can provide good feedback for their form practice. They must stand in front of the mirror so they can see themselves practice drawing with either a stretch band or their bow (but with no arrow—accidents do happen!).

Shot Simulators
If a student has enough money in their archery budget, there are devices called “shot simulators” or “air bows” which when attached to a bow allow you to simulate actual shots. Most of these consist of a tube wrapped around an arrow. When the arrow is shot, it pushes the air in the tube out a small hole and the air resistance stops the arrow before it reaches the end of the tube.

Practicing Away from Home
Obviously, if there is a permanent range nearby which has rental lanes, you can refer your students to that facility for practice between classes. Check it out ahead of time to see how student-friendly it is. If they have brochures explaining their policies and rates ask for copies to pass out to your class members. They will probably appreciate your referrals.

Some guidance from you on what a practice session consists of will probably be welcome. Certainly work on the student’s “one next thing” is warranted as are practice (scoring) rounds.

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Helping Them Set Up Their New Equipment

Previously I we discussed how to help your students buy archery equipment. Now let’s look at getting their “new” gear set up. We recommend that you consider these situations as prime “teaching moments” in that archers need to learn at least a little about their own equipment so they can maintain it and deal with equipment malfunctions while shooting. Any client who doesn’t want to know and just wants you to “do it for them” is asking you for a service you can charge for. It might be wise to schedule a private lesson for students needing such services as they can be time consuming and trying to do this “on the fly” while running a class is probably not a good idea.

Unless you are a very knowledgeable about archery gear, we generally don’t recommend you do much work on your student’s bows. Limiting yourself to the basics is a good idea. If you have a good archery shop behind you, you are in luck and can refer your students to them. You may even be able to work out a deal to get your student’s a small discount on services when you refer them. Talk to the shop’s owner.

New or Used?
Buying used gear is a way to get much better equipment for the money spent. But one can inherit a bunch of problems doing so. At a minimum, the buyer needs to be ready to make small repairs and replace worn out parts. We start with helping your students set up new gear first then switch over to setting up “new to them” gear aka used stuff.

Setting Up New Recurve Bows
After the new bow is unpacked it is important to make sure all of the parts work together. If the limbs attach with limb bolts (turn, turn, turn. . . . ) rather than clip on, you need to make sure those bolts turn in and out easily. Have your student carefully turn the bolts all the way in and then all of the way out. The danger here is cross threading, which is getting one side of a bolt one thread lower than it should be; this will mess up the threads on both bolt and riser and require an expensive repair. If the student reports that the bolts don’t turn easily, try them yourself. If you meet very firm resistance—stop!—and back that bolt back out. If you know how to use a tap wrench, you might be able to clear those threads. (If not, send them to a shop, even an auto or machine shop can do this.) If you have the appropriate tap and a tap wrench gently run the tap in and out of the threads in the riser. If the threads on the bolt are damaged, try running a die up and down them (there is no standard but often the threads are 5/16NF18). “Chasing” the threads this way very often fixes the problem.

Another danger spot is in the limb tip notches. Mass produced bows/limbs often have small burrs or other sharp defects hiding in those notches or on the edges of those notches that can cut right through a bowstring in only a few dozen shots. These can be cleaned up with a fine round file (of about the same diameter as the notch) or a curled piece of sandpaper (good additions to your coaching bag).

Setting Up a New Bow String Have your student put 8-10 twists in it when he/she first strings the bow. (If this is their first recurve bow, you will probably have to teach them how to string their bow.) The general practice is to slide the top loop over the top limb tip and rotate the bottom loop, counting the number of twists (complete rotations of the string). Many people feel that the twists should go in the same directions that your fingers curl around the string. It is a good idea for your student to learn that writing down all of these numbers in a little notebook is a really good idea. (Some coaches buy a bunch of small inexpensive spiral bound notebooks (I got my supply on eBay.) and present one to each student getting a new bow as an incentive to adopt this good practice.)

When the bow is first braced, the brace height needs to be checked. If your student doesn’t own a bow square yet, this can be done with a ruler. Take the opportunity to teach your student that checking the brace height each time he/she braces the bow is a good check on the health of his/her bowstring. “If the string stretches, or worse, a strand breaks inside, the brace height will drop and you will notice.” The brace height should be compared with what the manufacturer of the bow recommends. If the brace height isn’t in range, you will need to help them adjust it.

If the brace height is too high, the string is too short. If the string is Dacron, it will stretch some. You can encourage the stretching by sitting the strung bow in your lap (string up) and pressing down on both limbs near the limb tips. It will also stretch when shot. If the string is made of a more modern string material, it will stretch very little. If the brace height is much too high, the string needs to be replaced. (This unfortunately occurs much too often.)

If the brace height is too low, the string can be shortened by adding twists. Add 8-10 more twists and rebrace the bow and remeasure the brace height. Repeat as necessary. If the number of twists gets excessive (the string will look bumpy when the bow is braced) that is an indication the string is much too long. If the brace height is much too low, the string needs to be replaced with a shorter one. (This unfortunately occurs much too often also.)

Setting Up a New Arrow Rest We recommend “press and stick” or “screw-in” plastic arrow rests for beginning to intermediate archers because adding a fancier arrow rest is unlikely to show a performance boost until their technique improves, plus they are way more expensive and are finicky to get adjusted. Be sure the rest is level with the arrow shelf. If the rest slopes down, arrows will fall off of the rest while shooting, which is frustrating. If it slopes up, the “finger” on the arrow rest will deflect vanes causing poor groups. If the “screw-in” type is being used, one of its weaknesses is its tendency to rotate so that it slants up or down. This cannot be “fixed” by using a lot of force on the locking nut, as it is only a plastic piece after all. You need to teach your student to check the position of the arrow rest frequently and reposition in and to “gently” tighten the locking nut as needed. The centershot position is not critical at this time but it can be moved in or out in one turn increments (or by using thicker or thinner foam adhesive pads typically supplied with the “stick on” varieties of rest).

Setting Up the Nocking Point Locator A good starting point for a recurve bow nock locator is 0.5˝ above square for the nocking point locator (this is another reason to recommend that your student acquire a bow square). You will probably need to help affix the nocking point locator. This is why it is a good idea to carry nocking point pliers in your coaching bag (and a few brass nocking point locators, too). Just a single nocking point is okay at this point, but if your student is stringwalking, you definitely need two.

Setting Up New Compound Bows
Compound bows are generally ready to shoot right out of the box, but . . . they still need to be inspected. The manufacturer may not have installed the arrow rest, for example, and almost none install a nocking point locator. Compound bows almost always come with a little book with instructions as to how to set up the bow (more commonly this is becoming a link to a PDF file on their website). If they did not, generally all you have to do is attach the arrow rest and place a nocking point locator (follow the instructions above, with the nocking point locator being in the same place if the compound bow is being shot with a tab—if a release is being used, it is more complicated).

Adjusting the Draw Weight One of the nice things about compound bows is that their draw weights are adjustable over a wide range. Have your student test draw their bow to make sure he/she can draw it smoothly and easily. This is a critical adjustment as being “overbowed” kills any chance of achieving good form and execution. If the draw weight needs lowering, this is done by rotating the limb bolts so they move outward (this is counterclockwise looking in at the bolt). Since there is no guarantee that the limb bolts were in a symmetrical position in the first place, most people screw them all of the way down (counting turns as they go!) and then backing each bolt out the same number of turns (more turns to make the draw weight lower, fewer turns to raise it). This is a good practice to emulate

Setting Up New Arrows
If your student bought new arrows, they are probably ready to shoot, but they need to be inspected anyway. Nocks are made of plastic and they can crack. Vanes are made of plastic which can tear. (Feathers are still suitable and are easily damaged). Something that frustrates new archers is they get brand new arrows that were set up for a different style of arrow rest, one which has the index vanes point down or up, for example, instead of outward. If the nocks are of the “press-in variety” and you have a nock wrench in your coaching bag, use this opportunity to teach your student how to line up the nocks with the index vanes. If they are “glue on” nocks, the nocks will probably need to be replaced by whoever sold them so have your student take the arrows back. He/she can shoot program arrows until the situation is corrected.

As an aside, please note that such arrows (with incorrectly attached nocks) can probably be shot “as is” at the current level of your students’ expertise. When arrows are shot with “fingers on the string,” the rear end of the arrow passes the arrow rest somewhat away from the bow. But one of AER’s coaching principles is too teach our students so that they will know what to do in the future and this would be a problem when their technique improves (and the arrows slide by the rest closer, more likely to hit something as they glide by).

Setting Up Used Recurve Bows
Before the bow was bought, we assume it was draw tested it to make sure it is okay; if this has not been done, go look at “Helping Them Buy Their Archery Gear” to see how it is done and do this test—this is a very important safety issue! All of the things done to set up a new bow need to be done for setting up a used bow, plus more. When the bow is inspected, badly worn or missing parts need to be identified. Bows can be missing grips, bowstrings, nocking point locators, even limb bolts. Missing parts must be replaced. If the bowstring looks at all worn, it is probably wise to start with a new string because one can’t know what the old string has be subjected to. If a replacement grip can’t be found, the grip area can be wrapped with a tennis grip wrap, available at almost any sporting goods store which makes the bow comfortable to be “shot off of the riser” (you do not want one that is tacky or “nonslip,” have them get one that is the most slick).

Setting Up Used Compound Bows
Before the bow was bought, we assume it was draw tested it to make sure it is okay; if this has not been done, go look at “Helping Them Buy Their Archery Gear” to see how it is done and do this test—this is a very important safety issue! All of the things done to set up a new bow need to be done for setting up a used bow, plus more. When the bow is inspected, badly worn or missing parts need to be identified. Bows can be missing grips, bowstrings, nocking point locators, even limb bolts. Missing parts must be replaced. If the bowstring and/or cable(s) look at all worn, it is probably wise to start with new ones because you don’t know what the old ones have been subjected to. This you will probably need an archery shop to do as a bow press is usually required (plus the new strings and cables).

Attaching a New Arrow Rest If the bow came with a rest and it is a simple press-on or screw-in rest, you are probably good to go. If it looks quite worn, it needs to be replaced (see the instructions above). If it came with a fancy arrow rest, it is probably wise to remove it and set it aside for the time when your student can benefit from such a rest. (Also people who shoot “fingers” use different rests from people who shoot with “release aids.”) You also need to check for proper nocking point locator position and reposition it if necessary.

Adjusting the Draw Weight If the draw weight needs adjusting, use the procedure (above) for a new bow.

Setting Up Used Arrows
If your student acquired used arrows, you will probably need to help them with their inspection. They need to be checked for broken nocks, torn vanes, and loose or loosened arrow points. Also, stand the bunch on their points to make sure they are all the same length! (Yes, this check is necessary!) If any are defective, they need to be taken to a shop for repair. If the lengths of several arrows differ a bit, they can be shot “as is” or taken to a shop to have the longer ones shortened to be the same length as the short ones. Obviously having arrows that are “too short” is not an option; this option is only for the case in which small differences in arrow lengths is noticed.

If the arrows are aluminum, they also need to be checked for bends. If your student has a very flat table top at home, they can lay the shaft (only the shaft) on the table and try to roll it along and edge of the table. If the arrow has a significant bend, it won’t roll, it will slide! If it has a very small bend it will roll noisily. If it is basically straight, it will roll smoothly and more quietly than the bent ones. For the ones they aren’t sure about, they may bring them to you to check. Use any of the techniques you have been taught to do this for them. (The Rolls-Royce of such checks is having an “arrow spinner.”)

You need to be leery of students asking you to straighten their arrows, if you possess the skill. Beginning to intermediate archers can bend a lot of arrows. If you have an arrow straightener, you may want to use a class session to teach them the skill, or straighten arrows during one class of a series/session only. Be aware that archery shops usually charge a small fee for arrow straightening.

If the arrows are carbon or carbon-aluminum, they need to checked not so much for bends, but for cracks and splits. Have your student first check them by eye and then bend each arrow just slightly and roll it back and forth in your fingers. If an arrow is cracked it will make, well, “cracking noises.” If it isn’t cracked, it will not make any noise. Cracked arrows, even suspicious arrows, should not be shot. Such arrows can spectacularly come apart into many very sharp strands when they fail. Broken carbon arrows must be disposed of where curious children won’t find the pieces and be temped to play with them!

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Helping Them Buy Their Own Equipment

What should I get? Where do I go? Where can I get a bow like Stephanie’s! Again, if you haven’t heard questions like these yet, you will and soon. Shopping for archery equipment requires quite a bit of technical knowledge. Whether or not there is an archery shop (also called an archery “pro shop”) in town, your help is going to be needed by all of your students desiring their own archery equipment. (The alternative is your students will go off on their own and buy equipment ill suited to them, and when that equipment doesn’t work well, they will share their unhappiness with you!)

Also realize that in the AER Recreational Archery Curriculum, you must have your own bow and arrows to start Stage II. The first Stage is the “beginner” stage in which we supply all of the equipment. The reason for this is a student can only go so far with borrowed equipment. To reach the intermediate level of archery, they need to have equipment that can be adjusted to fit them, which means, they need to have their own equipment.

The best case scenario is when you have a good archery shop nearby, so let’s look at that first.

Working with an Archery Shop
If you have a good archery shop near you, you are in luck. They should have numbers of bows and arrows in stock, plus many accessories that your students will need or want to buy (quivers, tabs, bow sights, stabilizers, etc.). They should have at least a small space set aside to test shoot bows or at most even a full indoor range. In order to send them customers with confidence, though, you are going to want pay them a visit and check out their inventory. In the long run, having a good working relationship with a good shop will pay huge dividends for your students.

A quick survey of the shop will give you an idea of who they are set up to serve. Look at the bows on the wall. If they are all in camouflage color schemes, they do not have target bows in stock and they aren’t serving many, if any, target archers. If, on the other hand, you see a number of bows in “target colors” (black, white, silver, bright reds, blues, yellows, etc.), the odds are good that they are set up to serve people like your students. If you work primarily with kids, look for Genesis compounds or small brightly colored recurve bows. Some places don’t make any effort to serve youths, because there isn’t much profit in selling to them. Some places will tell you they can help, but if they haven’t committed to carry some bows in stock, you have to doubt how much expertise and/or willingness they might have.

If they have stocked several target bows, then you are probably in luck. If you don’t see what you are looking for, talk to the owner and see if he is interested in serving your students. Do realize that beginner level target equipment is lower in cost, so there isn’t as much profit in it as in higher priced stuff. But many shop owners will work with you if you can supply enough customers. If you can suggest products to carry, especially any you will be recommending, the owner may be willing to carry them for you. Also inquire into whether there is a staff person who is knowledgeable about target archery gear (especially for kids). If they do have someone, good; if they don’t, it may be possible to bring one of the staff up to speed with a little help from you.

No Shop, Yes Problem
As problematic as archery shops can be for beginning target archers, if you don’t have an archery-only shop, we do not recommend you suggest “big box” sporting goods stores, etc. without having checked them out carefully. They are unlikely to have any or enough target equipment to choose from. They are unlikely to have someone on staff who is a “target archery specialist.” They are also unlikely to have a place to shoot a bow to try it out. Now, we admit that some Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s stores do have archery ranges, but every time we go into such stores, we check out their archery holdings and the vast majority of what they offer for sale is for bowhunting only. So, what are you to do?

There are a number of Internet-based archery suppliers that can sell your students what they need, often at good prices. But the burden is going to fall on you to help them create a shopping list so they know what to buy, then to help them set their new equipment up when it comes in. If this is your situation, you need to offer “Bowfittings” as a service. A Bowfitting is a complete fitting session in the form of a private lesson that takes about 1-1.5 hours. You charge a flat fee for this. We are currently designing a web-based training program (www,—look for it) to teach you how to make all of the necessary measurements. For example, for arrow recommendations, you need to make shaft size recommendations, fletch material and length recommendations, nocks, and point recommendations. Our training will provide you with our recommendations, but you may find you can get some great deals working through a local shop or archery equipment vendor, so you won’t be limited in what you can recommend. You will also provide information on reasonable prices to pay and reputable online dealers from whom your students can purchase their gear safely, if a local source is not available. You can also offer a follow-up individual lesson to get your student’s new gear set up and shooting well. Or, they can bring it to class and you can work on it, time permitting. (You may need to explain that you cannot devote all of your class time to one student, so it will take longer this way.)

Getting a Bowfitting may also be the best way for your students to go to a shop knowing what it is they want. (If you want a sneak preview, check out the article “The Bowfitting” in Archery Focus magazine, Vol 12, No 2.)

Equipment Recommendations
While we will leave most of the specific recommendations to the Bowfitting course, there is one we can make easily. Parents often approach us and ask what they can get their child because “he/she loves archery so much.” If this child has been shooting a Genesis compound bow during class, this bow can be recommended without hesitation and without having to fit it. A recurve bow has many variables to be established: riser material (wood, polymer, metal), riser length (21˝, 23˝, 25˝, 27˝ and more), limb length (short, medium, long—this along with the length of the riser determines bow length), draw weight (14-50# in 2# increments), bowstring material (Dacron, Fast Flight, etc.), and arrow rest.
The Genesis bow comes with all of the decisions made for you with the critical factors being adjustable. All you need do is pick the color.
Not only that, but there is a Genesis arrow available which is “one size fits all” which, as we all know, “doesn’t really.” But the Genesis arrow can be shot by the kids and adults in the family, so they have that advantage. Another arrow recommendation is to simply have them buy the arrows they are using with that bow in class (typically a 1816 or 1916 Easton Jazz arrow).

Working with Parents
If you work a lot with kids, you will also be working with parents on buying decisions as they are the ones paying the bills. It is important that you let your parents know you do Bowfittings (if you do). It is important that parents become aware that purchasing a bow for a child has a great many parameters involved and that help is available. Even parents who are archers often do not have the all of the expertise needed to help their own kids buy archery gear.
Having handouts to give parents is a great way to communicate with them. If you deliver a wonderful talk to parents attending before a class session, just as you finish another will show up and ask you “Can you repeat that?” Having a handout to read on their own time is a courtesy to busy parents who can’t necessarily stay for a class session or whose kids catch a ride with another parent. We think you get the idea.

We hope to have an “exchange” section on the AER Web Site where AER Coaches can share copies of their handouts so you can have examples to make up your own from. Look for it!

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Q&A How Should a Beginner Approach Archery Practice?

Marcus Valdes of Georgia wrote asking “what drills are there for beginners to work on” and “what’s a good practice routine”?

These are both good questions for which there are not very good answers available! How you train depends on your goals. I had a student who was working with me drop the bomb that he wanted to go to the Olympics. Somehow this never came up; we were just working through his form looking for things to improve. Basically we started over and with ten pounds less draw weight!

So, I am going to reframe these questions into: How should a beginner approach archery practice?

First, your goals are important. If you just want to shoot “for fun” you will train differently than if you “want to compete and win.” So, I make recommendations based on both of these situations because part of the fun is shooting well.

There are a few simple principles that apply to all archery practice.

#1 Don’t practice shooting wrong.
This may sound a bit stupid, but when you are just beginning, you are still learning how to shoot. The jargon is you are “finding your shot.” So, you don’t want to shoot a great many arrows at a time as that is the process whereby you automate your shot, in effect, you memorize it. But you don’t want to do that until your shot is good, otherwise you are just memorizing wrong things. My rule is “get it right, then get it down.”

Your have to be focussed on learning “your shot,” which means you need to be trying to relax and feel all parts of your shot. There is a rule to help you in this and that is: While you are shooting, if anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from your environment, you must let down and start over. I call this “the Rule of Discipline.” If you willing shoot shots that you know are not properly executed, you are giving your subconscious mind license to improvise on the fly. Rather you want your subconscious mind to monitor your shots and blow a whistle when you do something differently from what you practiced. This rule applies in practice; this rule applies in competition. The closer you adhere to this rule, the faster you will make progress.

#2 The form/execution element being worked on must be done more frequently than when just shooting.
Example If working on a new stance, don’t just step up to the shooting line and empty your quiver. Step off the line after each shot and retake you stance. Example If your draw needs work, try “Double Draws.” This involves drawing to take a shot, then letting down almost to brace (or to brace if a compound with letoff is being shot) and drawing again and then finishing the shot.

#3 The only basis upon which a practice exercise/shot should be evaluated is the thing being worked on.
Example If you are working on having a soft, repeatable bow hand and you lose focus and put an arrow through an air conditioning duct but your bow hand was nice and soft, that was a “good shot.” This is why expert archers shoot without a target face (blank bale or even blind bale, that is with eyes closed) when working on form/execution elements. The target automatically supplies a judgment system that has nothing to do with what is being worked on. Do not give yourself mixed messages when you are working on your form and execution! Follow this rule, instead, and you will make rapid progress.

#4 Often when you change something significant, things often get worse before they get better.
Generally this is a matter of focus. The new form/execution element attracts so much of your focus, you lose some on other aspects of your shot. The only true measure of whether a change is successful is whether your quality indicators (practice scores, group sizes, etc.) get better after getting worse when you make the change. There is an oft quoted adage that “it takes 21 days of practice to create a new habit.” I have found no scientific evidence for this, but it serves as a reasonable (probably minimal) guideline.

#5 The most important aspect of archery to practice is relaxation. To be successful, archers need to be able to relax and focus under the tension of the draw. Any muscles tensed that aren’t needed to be tensed sap your energy, reduce your flexibility, and contribute to tension elsewhere in your body, including mental tension.

#5 If you want your mental program to work in competition, it must be a regular part of your practice. This sounds like an oxymoron but the vast majority of archers don’t do it. This is a big topic, so more will be found elsewhere.

Here are some key points regarding practice that are worth mentioning:
• Practice stands for so many things to archers that there is great confusion among archers about what it is.
• If you don’t know specifically why you are practicing, you are probably wasting your time and quite probably deluding yourself.
• Never, ever practice doing something you know is wrong; fix it first. (This is an aspect of what is called “deliberate practice.”)
• I do not believe that practicing for a set number of shots or for a set time can be right, let alone is right.
• A successful practice is one in which you accomplished what you were trying to accomplish. (‘Achieve, then leave.” Jack Nicklaus)
• It is very easy to delude yourself which is why you need an outside point of view (from a coach or experienced shooting partner).
• Bring your goals to you by using larger targets at shorter distances and practice being successful by shooting high score after high score, working your way back to standard distances and standard size targets.

I hope this helps. If not, send me another email!

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