Monthly Archives: October 2012

Q&A Brace Height Tuning and String Twisting

Marcus Valdes writes back to ask about brace heights: “A fellow broke his bowstring a couple of weeks ago at our club and last night he was attaching his new string. He shot it for a few ends and then took it off and put “twists” in it to adjust the brace height. How do I figure out what my brace height should be?”

Brace height tuning is a bit advanced for where you are at the moment. My best advice is to set your brace height (string height) to what the manufacturer’s specs are and just leave it there. New bowstrings (especially Dacron ones!) stretch some when shot the first 100 or so times. This necessitates having to twist them to make them shorter (actually back to their original length). Some twists are needed, and somewhere between “too few” and “too many” is “just right,” which is not easy to find—so just use the manufacturer’s specification until you shoot well enough to notice the difference between two brace height settings.

Recurve archers check their brace height everytime they brace their bows as a measure of “string health.” If you form a habit of doing so, you will never be surprised by a string that creeps it’s way to failure.

There are right and wrong ways to check your string height. The simplest is using a bow square. Once you have the brace height you want, cut a standard mailing label in half lengthwise and place it centered on that number on the “rule” part of your bow square. Place the T bar end into your bow’s pivot point so that the rule part makes a 90 degree angle with the string and draw pencil marks on both the front and rear edges of the string. Then, to check your brace height, slap your bow square into the pivot point and see if the string falls between the two marks and you are good to go. (You don’t need to measure the actual number, just see if it is different from before.)


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Q&A Blank Bale Practice?

Q&A Marcus Valdes of Georgia writes “I saw this picture of two archers at the Olympic Training Center. Looks like they are blank baling at about 15 feet. My thinking is that if it is good for them, it’s good for me! No?

It is good for you, yes!

The bulk of a competitive archer’s practice is done blank bale. The word “blank” means “no target” because the target gives you feedback you cannot ignore and that feedback is seldom on what you are working on right then. The “close in” aspect is that you don’t have to walk as far to retrieve your arrows and you can get back to shooting quickly.

This is often mixed with “blind bale” practice, shooting with your eyes closed, to emphasize the other senses and to focus on the “feel” of your shots.

The visual aspect of aiming really takes little practice because it is based on functions of the brain that are hard wired in. Learning the “sight picture,” what the bow sight and it surroundings look like when properly positioned, therefore takes much less training than all of the rest.

This kind of practice is highly recommended.

A fine point—since these archers are training for Olympic competition, their target stands are often about 1.5 feet taller so when they direct their arrows to the middle of the target, their bodies are in about the same posture that they would be in shooting at a target of standard height at the Olympic distance of 70m (or they shoot at the top half of the target butt). Since they will only shoot that distance, why practice anything else?

Of course, if you shoot field archery you will have to shoot uphill and downhill and so some archers will hang a target bag on a pulley and cable so they can raise and lower it to shoot at different angles. One must always practice in the mode one will be competing in.

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Q&A Still Confused About the Beginner to Intermediate Transition

Marques Valdes writes “I don’t have it clear in my mind yet the proper progression for taking someone from beginner to intermediate status. For example, our local club keeps trying to get us to attach a bow sight, but it is pretty clear to me that we shouldn’t be doing that yet.”

I have previously indicated that I think introducing a sight too soon can undermine the acquisition of good archery form. Folks who are pushing the use of sights probably have a preconceived notion that sights are necessary for accuracy (they are not) or that they provide accuracy (they do not).

Aiming off the point typically suffices for elevation aiming, but windage is controlled to a great extent by a host of factors: form, execution, arrow stiffness, etc. If you were using equipment not fitted to you (as borrowed equipment always is) then there is zero chance that arrows aimed at the center would land there. You would have to aim off left or right and up or down. The use of a sight can provide better accuracy with unfitted equipment which may be why they are recommending them.

Our definition of what constitutes an intermediate archer is one who owns his/her own equipment and has had it fitted to them. Now, you may think, cool, I’ll just have all of my students buy their own gear and Voila! they are all intermediate archers!

Uh, not so fast. In order to have archery gear fitted properly, you must shoot fairly well. (Otherwise the odds on that equipment actually fitting when your form comes together is quite small.) By that I mean you can shoot good groups at short distances somewhat consistently. I imagine you might be thinking “Does he have an exact standard for that?” and my answer is “no.” But I do have a standard that tells me whether someone is ready to be fitted for their own gear. I measure their draw length consistency. I give them a very light drawing bow. (I use a 10# bow, but any will do as long as it is light drawing.) I ask them to adopt full draw position (typically on the shooting line with an arrow and target butt to prevent accidental “dry fires”). I check out their alignment from face on and from the rear and if it is good I ask them to let down. I then ask them to draw again and settle in at full draw. I want to see the arrow slide back and stop without any other movement. (If the archer is moving the arrow a great deal at full draw I ask them to relax and just try to get from “raise the bow” to “full draw” with a minimum of movement.) I then place a marking pen dot on the arrow shaft near some recognizable point of the bow, like opposite the arrow rest hole. I then ask them to let down. I repeat this until I have 3-5 dots on the arrow shaft. If the farthest dots or over an inch apart, then the student’s form is not quite there yet. If the farthest dots are much less than an inch apart, then he/she is good to go.

In order to achieve good archery form, an archer must be able to get to full draw position with relatively smooth, relaxed motions and end up in a fairly relaxed state. If his/her bow hand is tense one time and relaxed the next, there can be over a half an inch of draw length variation from that alone.

Archery is a repetition sport and consistency is the foundation of good performance. Hence, that is the measure of the status of an archer—consistency (in this case of draw length). Later we substitute scores as they are a measure of archer consistency.

Having one’s own equipment, properly fitted to you, is the foundation for getting arrow group sizes to talk to you about consistency. With properly fitted equipment, the size of one’s groups is a measure of one’s ability. The ultimate goal, of course, is to have group sizes smaller than the highest scoring ring on the target.

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Q&A Should My Bow Match My Dominant Eye?

Marcus Valdes wrote in with this question: I was relieved that I bought the proper handed bow. Turns out my daughter is right-handed, left eye dominant. So is my wife. So should I be buying them left-handed bows?

This is where a coach needs some discernment. Just because one is cross dominant (right-handed/left-eyed or left-handed-right eyed) doesn’t mean they have to go with their dominant eye.

A good argument can be made that being cross dominant is best, even though way less than 10 percent of the populace is. That argument is you want the most important arm (the bow arm) to be your stronger arm and the most important eye (your aiming eye) to be your stronger eye. Since most people are right-right or left-left (hand-eye), this leaves them out. Only the cross dominant qualify for this setup. And then I am entirely backwards. I am right-handed and left-eye dominant and shoot right handed. (Figure it out . . . I’ll wait.) Yes, bow arm and aiming eye are both the weaker of the two.

Realize that, as a coach, you have to discern who your audience is. If I have an archer who is a gung-ho competitor, wants to be world champion, etc. I am going to treat them differently from an archer who “just wants to have fun.” If my archer is a recreational archer, I am going to use their comfort while shooting as a guide, not some theoretical best case anatomical scenario. If my archer is hell bent on winning, we will discuss how best to shoot, including the complete roles of eye dominance and handedness. (They still get to choose, which is my coaching style.) And . . . if they have been shooting for 20 years, you have to consider whether the effort required is worth the gain.

You can have the best of both world’s, though. If you have suitable low draw weight bows for them to try, let them try both ways and then they can choose what works best for them—trust me, they will have a preference. (This is also congruent with our “try before you buy” philosophy.)

Also, there are signs that one’s eye dominance is problematic (pulling the string to the wrong side of the face, shooting very wide to the left (RH archer), etc.) and we generally don’t switch beginners over until we see one of them (or the archer expresses a preference) and sometimes not even then—there are ways to cope with using one’s less dominant eye (close it half way while shooting, put a piece of cellophane tape across the glasses in front of the non-aiming eye, use an eye patch (Arrrh, pirate archery!), and there are even some commercial devices that attach to your cap or your bow sight.

Anyone else want to chime in on the role of eye dominance in beginning archery?


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Q&A Let Me Ask You

One of the persistent questions I have regarding coaching archery is how to adapt so-called “standard” archery form to people who can’t quite execute it for physical reasons. I am not addressing adaptations as is done for disabled archers, I am talking about archers with minor physical limitations.

Take me, for example. As I have gotten older I find myself increasingly unable to look over my bow shoulder without discomfort. Consequently, either I have to tilt my head to get in line (which causes me to lose depth perception and physical strength) or keep my head erect but have my draw elbow short of being in line (which is what I do). I have tried stretching, massage, etc. with no real effect so far.

Do you have any ideas on how archers can compensate for physical limitations (mine or anyone else’s)?

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Q&A What to Do About Lousy Practices

An unidentified writer states “A recent practice session was going poorly and the harder I tried, the worse it got! What can I do?”

This is an excellent question from a reader apparently shy about being identified as someone who has had a poor practice session, like I never have. (I never have … honestly . . . and if you believe that I have some prime real estate in the Everglades I think you will be interested in!)

Okay, grasshopper, you missed the lesson entirely. Let me ask you: “What does it mean “to try harder”? Huh? Just what do you think “trying harder” consists of? How do you do it . . . as an archer? I think your best bet is to equate “trying harder” with “screwing up,” because in general that’s what you’ll get. When you make a rash of mistakes, you need to train yourself to relax and get back to your shot routine, not “try harder.”

If you do just that: relax and just let your shot happen, and things don’t get better, quit. Yes, I said quit. Quit shooting anyway. When this happens (not “if” but “when” because it will) and you try to relax into your shot and nothing seems to be working . . . do . . . not . . . try . . . to . . . force . . . things . . . to . . . happen! Nothing good will come from that. Maybe it is a good day to have a mental skills intensive, or heck, read a book (I have several for sale).

In archery you must trust your shot and let your training run your execution. If it is “not working,” forcing yourself to do “things” will only result in bad habits being burned into your subconscious mind (due to your intensity) which will cause you to have to do even more work just to get back where you were.

Relax and focus on your shot sequence. If that doesn’t work, do something else.

And, by the way, if this happens, you aren’t “there” yet. All of the top dogs seem to be able to pull it together when needed. This doesn’t mean they don’t have days that are a little better or worse than their norm, they just don’t lose their shot like this. So, if this happens to you, there is more work to be done on your shot. You don’t fully own it yet.

Hope this helped!

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Q&A What to Do With Too Many Kids and Too Much Time?

Kim Hannah of Chicago emailed another question, one similar to her last one: “What are some good ways to keep kids engaged in archery beyond the initial appeal of shooting something? A lot of the kids at the park were super excited at the beginning, but then they started getting bored with it. My solution would be to not make them come to the class twice a week (which the park does), but sometimes the park doesn’t have enough staff for the kids to be elsewhere.”

This is a tough one. If you have kids coming for a strictly recreational archery class, twice a week for an eight-week session, then you have to come up with 16 fun things to do . . . at a minimum.

I am sure you have many things of this nature already, the foremost almost everyone does is shooting at balloons. But even shooting balloons seems to lag if done too often. So, what to do?

I want to eventually create a list of such activities to be posted on our website ( but I don’t have that done yet. One good source of such ideas is the Texas State Archery Association website, specifically: 

Here are a couple of their ideas (one good, the other bad):

Speed Shoot
Last shoot of the day it’s good to do a Speed Shoot.
How many arrows as you can shoot in 30 seconds? Four carefully aimed vs. seven random shots is usually close. Note I would add to this that “if you completely miss your target, you are done” to discourage silliness or deliberate outrageous behavior.

William Tell
Get a cheap foam wig stand and put an apple on it’s head. Small crab apples for Compounds, Big Cookers for kids. First to shoot apple wins. If you get a head shot – you’re out. Note This is a truly horrible idea that could lead to kids putting apples on their little sister’s heads, etc. I do not recommend this.

I gave you two examples, so that you could see that, whatever the sources (and the TSAA is a really good one), you must discriminate the good from the bad.

Another source is the book “Archery (Backyard Games)” by Steven Boga. If you look, you will find quite a few things to do.

Of course, I would be remiss to not mention Archery Focus magazine as a good source of such ideas (I know, I know, I am the Editor; that doesn’t make it wrong!). I suggest:
“JOAD Games” by Jim Coombe (in Vol 10, No 6)
“Want to Play a Game?” by Tim Scronce (in Vol 10, No 4)
“Some Archery Games” by Cécile Lafaurie (in Vol 7, No 4)

One of my favorites is a bit on the dangerous side, but if you have the space, you can do it safely. I have even done it in an adaptive PE class, and that is:

Flight Shooting
See how far you can shoot an arrow.

Note Obviously you need to test your bows and arrows to see how far they will shoot at the maximum. Also obviously, you need a really secure field (really, really) to do this in. You can have contests for the farthest arrow. You can have a contest for “closest to the flag/stick” where you put a stick or a stick with a flag on it at some distance reachable by all (this is called “wand shooting” and has a long history). I have never found any student young or old who didn’t enjoy this.

There are many more possibilities: team competitions; have them shoot arrows until they hit the gold and then run around the field and then shoot again until they hit the gold . . . for time (a mini-biathlon); etc.

Make a list of all of the activities you find, test, and approve and keep them handy in a notebook, because my experience is that no matter how much you prepare, there will be days in which your class whips through what you prepared and you have half of your class left with nothing planned.

Again, I would appreciate all you coaches out there chiming in with your favorites. I will give you credit when I put together the list, so add your name and home city/state with your comment.

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Q&A How Do I Keep Them Motivated?

Kim Hannah
of Chicago emailed: “When kids really enjoy shooting (and shooting for their harder JOAD pins), how do you keep them motivated when they are frustrated about not getting better and not getting their next pin?”

Since I am somewhat long of tooth, it took me a while to adjust to the environment today’s youths find themselves in. It started when we put on a clinic for the Air Force and kids asked whether after the clinic they would get to keep the bows. Now, that would never have happened when I was growing up. Today kids get trophies, big ones, for coming in last in their hockey or baseball league, so I realize times have changed.

But I don’t think kids have changed all that much.

My suggestion is to involve them in the process of getting better. The expression of wanting to get better, or get better faster, even in the form of frustration is a teaching moment. But, if they are unwilling to do anything that is not fun, then they are still a recreational archer and you can’t ask them to do boring drills. If they have a real fire in their belly about getting better, and they are willing to do some things that aren’t fun, a whole additional bunch of activities/drills come into play. You need to assess this to know which situation you are in. In either case, you can introduce them to a shot sequence, for example.

Here is one idea: if you have enough coaches to take this archer to the side for a few minutes try having them shoot with their eyes closed. Put a target up close (a big target). Have them draw and settle and then close their eyes. You then count to three and they can shoot anytime after they hear “three.” After several arrows to get the hang of it, if they are shooting off to the right, have them reposition their stance a bit to the left. If they are shooting off to the left, have them reposition their stance a bit to the right. (Fighting your stance is a major source of inconsistency.) Whatever they are doing, what you have just done is remove “aiming” (whatever that means to your student) from their shot. Many students shoot amazingly well with their eyes closed! In any case, you have things to talk about with your young (or not so young) archer, especially the role aiming plays in shooting well (a smallish part, to be sure).

How about it all of you coaches out there—do you have anything to contribute on this topic? Comment on this blog post and I will post your comments.

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Q&A How Do I Make the Transition from “Non-sights” to Sights” and When?

Marcus Valdes
wrote asking “when and how to make the transition from ‘no sights’ to ‘sights’”?

Good question. There is no one “right way” to do this, but I will explain how we do it and why we do it that way.

You can start a student with a sight on the bow, but we feel that since a goodly part of an archer’s attention must be on their own body, and a sight takes away that focus and puts it on the target, so, we . . .

#1 Start with Instinctive Aiming “Instinctive aiming” is a misnomer, it should be “learned aiming” or some such. In any case, we just instruct students to “look at the spot you want to hit” which is typically target center. The advantage of this is that if (and it is a big if) they can get their minds out of the way, the simple desire to have the arrows land in the center will trigger subconscious processes that will “make it so.” This is an important lesson in itself. Interestingly, almost every student, young and old, goes through a phase where they try to invent an aiming technique, typically by looking down the shaft of the arrow (this is called “shotgunning”). And when they do, their accuracy and group sizes immediately go into the dumper.

#2 Once Grouping is Good, Teach the POA System Once a student can shoot reasonably sized groups (at short distances) we teach them to shoot using a point of aim (POA). The sign is “consistently good groups” because that shows the student has somewhat good basic archery form and execution. Then by adding POA aiming they can learn a great deal about the process of aiming without the expense or the fiddling around required to learn to use a sight. (In addition, POA is very draw length sesitive, so it gives amplified feeback on draw length with is determined by having good form. We think this is a plus.)

#3 Once POA Comes Naturally, Introduce a Sight The sight can be as simple as a piece of foam tape with a hat pin in it or a full blown target sight or pin sight. We have them put on their sight (and set it up), then continue shooting “off the point.” After several shots that way, we ask them, once they have their POA and their arrow point is on it, to look at where the sight’s aperture pin is . . . several more shots. We then move the aperture pin (if a target sight) until it shows up at target center . . . several more shots. Then we ask the student “Could you use the sight aperture in place of the arrow point to aim with?” They almost always say “yes” and we ask them to do that . . . several more shots.

In this fashion we establish, in short order, that the sight aperture and the arrow point are equivalent aiming devices. We go on to teach “sighting in.” This may sound laborious, but in reality it goes very smoothly. This is, in part, because this parallels exactly how we introduce point of aim.

In a class situation, we don’t teach sights unless the archer owns them (we tried “loaners” and they are more trouble than they are worth). This process has the advantage that students can go back to aiming off the point and shoot well and that it emphasizes the actual role of the sight, which is simply to position the bow so that if a shot is well executed, the arrow goes into the center. It also allows the student to focus on becoming reliably repeatable in his/her shots before becoming significantly focused on aiming. (Even so, when sights are introduced, there is some initial degradation of group sizes.)

Our general approach is to break things down into “doable” chunks to create a ladder of success and also to show students some of the variations in the ways arrows are shot from bows.


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Q&A How Does One Develop a Consistent Draw?

Marcus Valdes
of Georgia (who seems to be willing to take advantage of this service . . . Hooray!) wrote asking “how does one develop a consistent draw”?

A consistent draw is not a thing in itself, it is a consequence of other things. It is important to distinguish between things “you can do” and things “that just happen.” The perfect example is the followthrough. The bow does what it does based upon the forces acting on it. All you do is let it do its thing. It is not something you do, it is something that happens. Why bother with it at all, the arrow is long gone? Because the bow is telling you what happened to it. If it behaves consistently, you are behaving consistently. If it behaves “correctly,” you are behaving correctly. It is an instant critique of each shot. (There are other reasons, too.)

A consistent draw requires proper and consistent positioning of both hands on the bow and string/release aid. It requires proper and consistent full draw body position. It requires drawing to the same point each time.

So you must focus on each of these in their turn. This is what a shot sequence does for an archer. It lists what is necessary to do and when it is necessary to do it. Can you think of reasons why it would be a bad idea to set your feet . . . last? (I’ll bet you can come up with quite a list.)

Some people think that putting a clicker on their bow will cause them to have a consistent draw length. I think this is backward even though a great many archers were trained this way. (And which is why clickers have the reputation of being pains in the keester.) This is using a clicker to force a consistent draw and, as I said, a consistent draw is a consequence of other actions, not something you want to try to create, so this is a mistake. We suggest that you need a consistent draw before you install a clicker. The test we use is to take a marking pen and ask the student to adopt their full draw position. we then put a dot on their arrow opposite the hole their arrow rest is in (or any other reasonable close recognizable spot). They let down, rest for 15-20 seconds and repeat. When I have 3-5 dots I look to see how far apart those dots are. If the farthest spots are an inch or more apart, no clicker. If the spots are well less than an inch apart, a consistent draw (by feel!) has been achieved and a clicker can be installed.

To achieve a consistent draw, a student needs to pay attention to their hands, their posture at full draw, and their draw hand anchor position. Trying to be consistent in those will result in being consistent in their draw length. A clicker can then make things even more consistent, but realize that we want a consistent draw length with good form, not just by itself. And you now have a test to see if your draw is consistent.

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