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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Filed under For AER Coaches, Q & A

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