A friend and fellow coach Tammy Besser asked for some advice on teaching the finger release. She commented on one young man who was shooting a compound bow with “fingers” and was a real “plucker.” Once she tried to correct him when he plucked wildly and his response was “But I hit the bulls-eye.”
This is a not uncommon problem. It is exacerbated in this case and many others by the fact that the young archer will receive advice from all and sundry, much of it being conflicting. I fervently wish that all well-meaning archers when tempted to give unsolicited advice to either refrain or ask “Do you have a coach?” first. Since I do not believe in miracles, we teach our students what to do when they receive unsolicited advice. We teach them to say “Gee, thanks, Mister/Ma’am, I’ll tell my coach the next time I see him/her.” This phrase is magical. It gets the youngster off of the hook in that they don’t have to immediately take the advice of a senior, and it satisfies the advice giver, possibly because somebody is working to help the young archer.
Back to the issue at hand: how to teach the release to youngsters. Here is what I recommend.
“I fervently wish that all well-meaning archers when tempted to
give unsolicited advice to either refrain or ask ‘Do you have a coach?’ first.”
When working on the release:
Don’t Work on the Release Yep, don’t even mention it. Work needs to be done on what will result in a good release, namely good alignment and relaxed hands. So, is their elbow in line? If not, how can they get it in line? That needs work. A “flying elbow” guarantees a pluck, while an elbow “at or past line” almost cannot result in a pluck. You can try asking them to rotate their elbow back around at full draw and you will touch it as a signal that they can release the arrow. Getting them to focus on the elbow will result in progress. Focusing on the release almost never does, because it creates an urge to “do something” with the release hand which is not what is needed. What is needed is the relaxation of the muscles in the forearm that are creating the finger hook. You can’t address that intellectually with a young archer, so you have to get them into a position where a good release will happen automatically.
Develop Their Awareness Young archers tend to focus on all of the wrong things. (How could they know what the right things to focus on are?) Typically when they release an arrow they are focused on where that arrow lands. (All beginners shoot arrows to find out where they will land. Experts know where they will land once shot.) But archers need to develop the awareness to know, for example, where their string hand ends up after the shot (and bow arm, too). If they learn to recognize when their string hand ends up in a wrong position, they will realize that they made a mistake (probably an alignment one) they need to correct. This requires a great deal of reinforcement in the form of questions: Where did your release hand end up? Did you notice where your release hand was at the end? etc.
Take the Target Face Down! Beginners think a good shot is one that goes into the center of the target face. When working on any part of their shot, they need to shoot “blank bale.” The target gives feedback that cannot be ignored (not by them, not by you, not by me), it must be removed. Then the young archer has to evaluate what a good shot is without an arrow score. This will move them into developing their body awareness.
There are more advance techniques, but those probably aren’t appropriate for beginners.
Tammy, I hope this helps!