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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