Monthly Archives: May 2014

Q&A The Compound Archer’s Trapezoid?

QandA logoI got this rather excellent question (questions, really) from a Level 3 Coach Candidate in Great Britain.

I am presently studying for my AGB County (Level 3) Coach. A preliminary exercise was to study the 2014 Men’s Compound World Cup Final. Both archers aligned their shoulder line parallel to the arrow line (top/rear view). My question is “why?”
Biomechanically the shoulder line and bow arm line is more efficient if they form one straight unit, bone on bone. Yet, in “Even More on Coaching Archery” in chapter 22 “The Lines of Archery,” after describing, with illustrations, the efficient shoulder/bow arm alignment you write “For compound archers, this line is generally parallel to the arrow (or a vertical plane including the arrow).” At the back of my mind I recollect that this is repeated somewhere in Archery Focus magazine with the comment that most high end compound archers adopt this stance and that it might be due to the number of arrows shot in practice with high poundage (compared to recurve) and the reduction of injury.

EMOCA Cover (10%)
So why? Why do “most” compound archers adopt a biomechanically inefficient stance, especially if they are “top end”—is there a benefit?
Is it to avoid injury, and if so what injury is being avoided?
How do we coach stance to new/intermediate archers? Are we advised to coach efficient alignment only to change when/if they progress to higher levels or start with an inefficient stance? Chapter 23 is “How Compound Bows Mislead Beginners!”
Is it just because it is so common that archers (and coaches) have not looked at the stance critically?
I am not critiquing anyone here, just curious about what appears to be an anomaly.


To which I responded:

Glad you noticed that compound archers don’t adopt the well-known “archer’s triangle.” This is so common I am now referring to the compound archer’s trapezoid (or parallelogram). Basically the answer to your question is “because they can.” The reason they can is because of let-off.

Almost everything with regard to how we shoot is a trade-off, that is there are pluses and minuses to everything. The archer’s triangle gives recurve archers the bracing needed to hold the bow at full draw for the second or two or three needed to make a good shot. This bracing is needed because the full draw weight of the bow is being held in that position. Compound archers, on the other hand, are holding only a small fraction of their bows “peak weight” in that position. (A Recurve archer with a 50# bow is holding 50# at full draw (or thereabouts); a compound archer with a 60# bow is holding 18# (approx.).) Consequently compound archers can adopt a more comfortable position as less “bracing” is needed.

The plus is that the comfort comes from not having to turn one’s head so far at full draw. With the shoulders being 10-13 degrees closed in the archer’s triangle, the recurve archer’s head must swivel on his neck to close to the edge of its range of motion. This creates a great deal of neck strain and contributes to instability in head position (also headaches according to some elite recurve archers I have spoken to, also mentioned in Kisik Lee’s second book, I believe).

On the minus side, since the bow arm necessarily must be coming into the bow at a steeper angle, pre-loaded handle torque is a problem. Compound archers compensate by using thin or no grip (shooting off of the riser) with nothing sticky where their hand touches the bow.

So, compound archers spend more time at full draw but because they are under less tension from the draw they can afford a more comfortable body position, even though there are trade offs. A key element to success in compound archery is the ability to be relaxed at full draw.

PS The above is the result of my own analysis, I did not read this in a book. I just saw what I saw and then looked widely at the best archers I could see and this is what they were doing. Why they were doing it was from my own personal experience and analysis (I am primarily a compound guy.).

Regarding the rest of your question:

Is it to avoid injury, and if so what injury is being avoided?

Nope, just comfort.

How do we coach stance to new/intermediate archers? Are we advised to coach efficient alignment only to change when/if they progress to higher levels or start with an inefficient stance? Chapter 23 is ‘How Compound Bows Mislead Beginners’!

This is my recommendation. Stance is a minor factor when compared to upper body alignment (as long as it is consistent). My goal with a new serious archer is to get them shooting with good upper body alignment and relaxed hands. Anything else is of lesser importance. These then must be maintained when other body alignments are explored. Commonly I am recommending a closed stance to recurve archers who are struggling to get that good alignment. They tend to adopt an open stance because they are told that is “correct” but the open stance shortens draw length making it harder to get in line. The popularity of the open stance in Olympic Recurve dates back to Pace and McKinney (whose stances were then copied by the Koreans and have since become dogma). Those two were so flexible that they could swing their elbows several inches past line, which was not conducive to consistency, so they opened their stances making it harder to reach line and thus made it easier to feel when they had. Beginners with open stances are almost never in line. I close their stances, they get in line, and later they can play with other stances (although there is nothing wrong with the closed stance).

There are no inefficient stances, maybe ineffective ones. The open stance is being recommended because it requires the archer to twist back against it to create torsion in the trunk making the archer’s “shooting platform” less susceptible to wind etc. This alone tells you that the open stance fights against good alignment.

Is it just because it is so common that archers (and Coaches) have not looked at the stance critically? I am not critiquing anyone here, just curious about what appears to be an anomaly,

It is common that coaches who are experts about Recurve give advice to Compound archers and vice-versa. Sometimes this is based upon, shall we say, less than complete information. But, you’ll have to answer this one yourself. My “two cents worth” is that there is little serious discussion about shooting between and among coaches. I am trying to change this by creating a professional literature for archery coaches. To that end I am soliciting top archery coaches to write books to share their knowledge so that questions like the ones you ask become more common, leading to those more serious discussions.

Feel free to shoot back any further questions you have.

Your friend in archery,




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Helping Your Students with … The Mental Game

(from the May-June 2014 issue of Archery Focus magazine)

Note There is a great deal of talk about the Mental Game of Archery but almost none on how to get students started. Here’s two cents worth.


For beginning archers, the physical aspects of the sport dominate. There is probably very little room for anything else in their  minds. The phrase “archery is 90% mental,” is often heard in archery instruction circles, which is not at all true, although it is close to the truth when it comes to archery competitions. To become a good archer, many hours of practice, building muscles and  technique training and additional hours setting up and testing and tuning equipment all have to happen so that on competition day, the equipment and form and execution are unconsciously dependable. The remainder of the day is largely determined by our archer’s minds: how focused they are, how confident, how consistent they can maintain our performance, etc. So, how do you start helping your students with their mental games? When do you start?

The Mental Game of Archery
It wasn’t that long ago that there wasn’t any mental game recognized. Some archers did it, but most just practiced shooting arrows and making their equipment perfect and hope for the best. Today, all elite archers incorporate mental training in their practice and competition. Many young archers compete and win without a mental program but as they get older, they shouldn’t expect to be doing any “winning” when they are giving away such an advantage. Practice . . . mentally? Yep, do you ever expect them to do something well without practicing?

Getting Started A key to shooting well is your archers must focus their conscious thinking upon what they are doing “now” during any shot. If their mind wanders onto their stance while they are at full draw, for example, the outcome will be a bad shot. They must “pay attention” to what is happening . . . right now.

You probably know why. Archery is a repetition sport. If their minds wander it will (at least) change their timing and such shots will occur at a different pace than the previous ones. We want each shot to be their best shot and the next shot to be just like the last one. We know this from the fact that it is easier to do something you have just done than to do it new for the first time. It is more effective to “copy” the last shot than it is to make up a new technique while shooting the next one.

So what are they supposed to “focus on?” This is the role played by their shot sequence. Basically this is a list of everything they do to take a single shot. Their shot sequence puts names to things they will need to refine physically (improving their technique) but also it is a list of where their attention needs to be while shooting. When they are nocking an arrow, they need to pay attention to where the nock goes on the string, the sound and feel it makes when it slides into place, they need to pay attention to the way the “index vane” points, and they need to check how the arrow sits on the arrow rest (and under the clicker if they use one). They need to do this consciously (in practice) to train their subconscious mind to do it subconsciously (whenever they need it done) just like learning to tie their shoes or ride a bike (and later to drive a car). Conscious attention is needed to develop unconscious competence. Doing any of those things wrong can cost them points (e.g. if the arrow is sitting on the bow’s arrow shelf instead of the arrow rest, their shot will be low, very low).

The next thing they need to learn is the “Rule of Discipline.”

The Rule of Discipline If they follow this rule, they will learn faster than anything else you can do. Basically this rule says “don’t shoot shots you know are wrong.” Here it is in all of its glory:

If anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from the environment, you must let down and start over.

By following this rule they will train your subconscious mind to monitor their shooting and “urge” you to letdown when something is not right, even if you do not notice it yourself! While they are shooting, they are shooting by “feel.” Their eyes are focused on their sight or the target and not upon themselves. If their conscious mind doesn’t focus on what they are doing “now” the shot will be bad, so all they have is how the shot feels at the time. With repetition, they can learn how a good shot feels and use that as a guide to make this call, but the word “feel” is almost the total opposite of conscious thinking, so we use our subconscious minds to monitor those.

We train our subconscious minds what to pay attention to by paying attention to it consciously while practicing . . . and that is exhausting. If you think about how you learned to tie your shoes or ride a bike, it was really hard at first but now it is almost effortless in comparison. That is because you now do these tasks subconsciously.

There has been some misunderstanding regarding the Rule of Discipline. It is not if the coach sees anything wrong, they must let down, but whether the archer thinks there is anything wrong. Beginning archers wouldn’t be able to get off a shot if they had to do it perfectly in the eyes of a coach. What constitutes “right” and “wrong” for an archer evolves as they gain understanding and develop the feel of their shot and the Rule of Discipline helps them develop that “feel” and understanding.

… And the Training?
You are dreading asking them to practice one more thing, aren’t you? To practice their shot sequence, start by using the appropriate terms for the parts. Ask them to make a list of the parts of their shot. Go over it with them. This has physical as well as mental benefits, so they won’t get antsy. From time to time, focus consciously on one of the tasks (not every single one, you’ll wear them out).

For the Rule of Discipline . . . have them use it. Every single shot. If they don’t know how to do a “let down,” demonstrate it for them (note the differences for indoors and out) and have them practice it a couple of times and they will be an expert in no time.

And, don’t worry, there’s more, . . . but only if they want to get better.

Coming Attractions
We follow on from here with the introduction of policing one’s self-talk, it being easy to teach: what it is, how to change negative self-talk into positive, etc. Then comes shot rehearsals/imagery, being the practice of imagining a perfect shot just before raising their bows.

There is much, much more. You can teach these things to your recreational archers as well as your competitive archers. There will be no harm done as the recreational archers just won’t do things they don’t find fun, and you don’t know what will trigger the conversion from a recreational archer to a competitive archer. It may just be that there is some serious, performance enhancing stuff being done here; archery is not just flinging arrows and hoping to win a medal.

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Kisser Buttons

QandA logoI had a coach I mentor ask me about kisser buttons and I did a Google search to find pictures I could refer him to. To my horror, a “kisser button” search came up with a large number of photos of compound archers using a kisser button with a peep sight. You do not want to use a kisser button with a peep sight! Let me explain.

A kisser button is either a tied-on plastic “button” or a large knot of thread (some even use a simple brass nockset) designed to be felt by the archer’s lips at full draw. Since the draw is determined in the back and the anchor position of the draw hand determined by the bones of the jaw or face, the kisser button helps to orient the archer’s head. If the archer’s head is not straight up and down (or at least consistently oriented), she will get left and right and even up and down errors, aka larger groups.Kisser Button

Kisser buttons are largely used by Olympic Recurve archers if at all.

Compound archers, using sights, are allowed a peep sight, which is a lozenge inserted into the string which has a hole in it that allows the archer to look right through the string (see photo below). Again, the draw is determined in the back (and also by the setting of the draw length in the bow) and the anchor position of the draw/release hand determined by the bones of the jaw or face. The head position is determined by the aiming eye being able to see through the little hole in the peep. Of course, the peep has to be set up correctly so this is possible.

Kisser Yes

Kisser Yes!

If the compound archer has both a peep and a kisser, he has two references as to having correct head position. That should be good, no? No. Consider the situation if either reference is set up incorrectly. Your archer will have one indicator saying “Here!” and the other saying “Here!” with the two positions different. Consequently he will most likely be switching back and forth between the two or finding some ill-defined middle position. Surely, you say, that can’t be a big error? Well, errors of rear alignment are larger than errors of front alignment (just because of the angle of the arrow) and compound archers generally shoot smaller groups, so in this context, even a small aiming error can cost your archer significant points.

Kisser and Peep? No!

Kisser and Peep? No!

What if both references are set up correctly? No problem there, right? Yes, problem there. On level ground there would be no problem (also not much benefit) but in field archery where uphill and downhill shots are common, there is a new problem. When shooting up- or downhill, you are to tilt at the waist to keep the upper body geometry the same as for level shots. Unfortunately, it is easy to say that but hard to do. Most archers tilt at the waist but also tilt at the shoulders a bit. This means that the bow is in a different position than in a level shot but the aiming eye must be able to see through the peep so if the bow is lower, for example, the anchor position must be slightly higher (and vice-versa). Everything rotates around the peep being exactly in front of the aiming eye. But, if the anchor position changes, so does the kisser button position and once again we have the peep and the kisser providing “mixed messages.”

Archery is hard enough as it is. Don’t make it harder by recommending both a peep and a kisser button to your compound archers. One or the other suffices (with the peep having far more secondary benefits).


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