Monthly Archives: July 2014

We Get Letters, Lots of Letters (Well, not Lots …)

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,

I am happy to report that I have just obtained my Level 3-NTS certification. However, a lot of the details I learned in the class are confusing me.

The NTS tells archers to use an open stance. When I asked the instructor about closed stance vs. open stance, she told me that closed stance should never be used because it’s “not as stable” as the open stance. I didn’t understand why, and I don’t really buy that argument, but I am inclined to believe it. What can you tell me about the credibility of open stance versus closed stance? I remember you advocating for a closed stance because it helps people reach full draw, but does it really make you less stable than open stance?

Moreover, I learned that the NTS tells archers to forcefully curl their fingers to feel tension in their bow arm. But isn’t the bow arm and hand supposed to be completely relaxed?

Finally, the course PowerPoint mentioned that archers should constantly buy equipment to keep up to date with new advances in equipment. But if equipment works perfectly well, isn’t there no need to update it?

On the side, the instructor told me that limbs must never be twisted to any degree, and that they must be in perfect alignment. But I remember you mentioning that twisted limbs were acceptable; now I am confused. Are there times when twisted limbs should never be used? Should I buy a riser that has adjustable pockets to fix my twisted limbs?

Thanks!

***

Gosh, where to start? Let’s see: BS, BS, BS, BS. That about sums it up.

I attached an article I wrote about the closed stance, that might help. Currently there are few archers who have tried such a stance and even fewer who have thought about the benefits of one. To say it is “not as stable” is ridiculous/ludicrous/stupid in that NTS (National Training System) is supposed to be steeped in biomechanics. If it is less stable, they should be able to state biomechanically why it is less stable and that they do not. The NTS states that by taking an open stance and then twisting one’s torso, you make a more stable platform from which to shoot (true). My assumption is that the instructor made the leap from the open stance + twisting = more stable, to closed stance = less stable (unproven). But, what about closed stance with twisting? Would not that be as stable as open stance with twisting? I could argue that it would not be because the shoulders are 10-12 degrees closed to the target (Olympic recurve) so a 30 degree open stance requires the shoulders to be twisted 40+ degrees, but a 30 degree closed stance would only require 20 degrees of twist (the shoulders already being 10 degrees closed) … but that is not an argument you were given, no? Plus, if things are different, so what? Are they significantly different? Do the differences show up on a score card? If they don’t, then such things are just differences and not improvements. If the 20 degree twist is insufficient to make the desired stability, how about a 40 degree closed stance? Realize that from the sternum up, the archer’s triangle must be preserved and we are only talking about what happens below.

I have read both of Kisik Lee’s books a number of times and I can’t remember where he said that (about curling the fingers), plus I don’t think that it is true. The muscles that curl the fingers have nothing to do with making the arm straight or stiff, so what possible advantage could there be? The disadvantage is unwanted tension. Those who currently curl their fingers generally do so fairly gently, I believe. The purpose of that curling is to position the bow on the pad of the thumb, not for bow arm enhancement, in any case.

The equipment quote is brought to you by your training’s commercial sponsors! Think about it. If an Olympian wins a medal and he/she is using a three-year old bow, how does that look to the bow’s manufacturer? Consequently, when an archer gets close to the ability to win such medals, they become sponsored, which means they get their equipment at no or much reduced cost. A condition of those sponsorships is that the archers use the most current equipment (the equipment that is being sold now, not three years ago). It is easy for ordinary archers to believe that archers win because of their equipment, hence the marketing stance, but this is not true. All of the top coaches admit that bad or poorly set up or poorly tuned equipment can prevent good performance but good equipment can’t cause it; that is what the archer does. So, not only is the claim untrue, it is demonstrably false. At worst this is an attempt to shape coaches attitudes to push/sell gear. At best it is a naïve belief.

I believe the 1990 World Champion (I am working from memory here, so …) had limbs so badly twisted that people shooting next to him were fearful that the string was going to come off at full draw. (That can happen, by the way; it has happened to me.)

All a bow does is give an arrow a consistent initial speed (called the launch velocity) in a consistent direction. It is up to the archer to point the arrow correctly and operate the bow consistently to score well. All the bow does is push the arrow. Period. So, if a limb is mildly twisted, you may not get 100% of optimum performance, you may only get 99% or 98%, something you could correct for by increasing the bow’s draw weight a pound or maybe even less. Ideally, do I want a bow with untwisted limbs? Yes. But if my bow has slightly twisted limbs, is it dangerous? No. Will that fact alone limit my performance? My guess is that unless you were an elite performer, you would not notice any limitation. My guess is that before you personally would notice any such limitation, you will have worn out or out grown those limbs.

Also … I know of no limb pockets that correct for limb twist. Twisted limbs can be corrected (sometimes) by twisting them in the opposite direction and heating the limb with something like a hair dryer (then held in that position until cool). This is tricky and risky. The glues that hold the layers together are softened by the heat, allowing for some minor movement, changing the internal structure of the limb. But you could weaken the limb or cause it to delaminate (one layer separating from the next), so if you try this, go slowly and use the minimum amount of heat to get results. My recommendation, again, is to ignore it until you shoot well enough for it to be a factor (you are not “there” yet).

I am glad you got your Level 3-NTS certification. And I am glad you had questions. I strongly recommend that you never accept anything at face value, including what I tell you. Think about what you are being told. Work through it yourself. Form your own opinions. Also avoid the temptation to give BS answers (like the closed stance one). Three words you need to be able to say are: I don’t know.

 

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Why Buying the Very Best Sometimes Is a Bad Idea

Guess what? When it comes to equipment recommendations, you are Number One! Now, don’t get a swelled head, we just mean that you are the first person your students will consult regarding getting their own equipment or an upgrade of their own equipment. No matter how good you are at giving such advice, something happens between your advice and the purchase. What happens is the student-archer does his own research on the Internet or through catalogs or, sometimes worse, a salesman comes in between.

We have created a form for giving such recommendations and the stimulus for that form being created was a student we sent to a good archery shop who came back with a bow with 15# too much draw weight and about 2˝ too much draw length. But it was a very high quality bow, discounted heavily, and it had red and gold flames on it. Yep, you got it, a discounted high end bow that hadn’t gotten sold got fobbed off on our student. We were upset with the draw weight and draw length mismatches, the two most critical fitting criteria, but not so much about an expensive bow being bought as that student’s parents were quite well-to-do and could afford it. Now we realize that buying higher end equipment before it is appropriate can actually inhibit the progress an archer is making.

So, we recommend that you actively sell your students in avoiding buying top-of-the line gear before they are ready. We do this by recommending they buy equipment that matches the level of their shooting. Beginners should buy beginning-level equipment. Intermediate archers need intermediate-level equipment. Advanced archers need high end equipment (how high is a tough question).

Realize that this runs counter to conventional wisdom. Home craftsmen are best off buying the best hand tools they can afford: they work better and last longer. Cooks are encouraged to buy the best cookware they can afford for the same reasons. Most people think that if their archer had better equipment, they would shoot better. This is not necessarily the case. This is the same kind of thinking as when people think that a 60# bow should shoot arrows twice as fast as a 30# bow (not even close). And going against the grain of “common knowledge” is a tough sell.

The Reasons
There are a number of good reasons for the equipment purchasing scheme described above. Here are a few.

Budgetary Reasons We’re talking the family budget here. Many a family has a garage full of sports equipment purchased when one of the kids (or Dad or Mom) was excited about a new sport but then dropped it a couple of months later. There is the $300+ baseball bat, the $250+ hockey skates, etc. High end equipment has high-end price tags and investing a large sum of money in equipment before a significant commitment to a sport is made is probably a recipe for wasting hard-earned money. Our suggestion is to have youths earn their better gear through participation. This runs counter to the current trend in which parents try to encourage their kids by buying them stuff, but our recommendation has a better foundation in psychology.

Another consideration for growing kids is they can grow out of things quite quickly. For example, we do not recommend carbon recurve limbs for kids for that reason. The wood-fiberglass limbs give quite adequate performance and, as the youth grows, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg every time they need new limbs . . . or new arrows, or. . . .

Such equipment purchases can also create envy in students of lesser means but that is hard to control.

It Isn’t Necessary Many of the young Olympic Recurve archers we see can’t wait to get out of a wood-risered recurve into one of the really pretty metal-risered recurves. Turns out there is no significant advantage to the archer. What about the new equipment makes it more consistent or accurate? There is very little difference and there may be actual negatives (see below). What young archers need is a good tab, properly fitted to them. (We see way too many youths with rigid, metal-frame tabs, usually the wrong size and in the way; we recommend you keep them on a soft tab until they are quite close to their full growth.) Then they need good arrows. Carbon arrows? No, good aluminum arrows are fine. The best reasons for buying carbon arrows rather than aluminum are: you have no access to an arrow straightening jig or you need lighter mass arrows to “make distance.” The worst reason is “they’re cool.”

If they are using a bow sight, a decent bow sight might be next. Only after whatever makes for a full kit for the archer is had is a move up to a better bow warranted. So, a beginner-level setup can be upgraded one step at a time, by buying a better <insert whatever accessory or bow here>. The old accessories, for example, will fit on a new bow but the new bow need only be the next step up (beginner to intermediate to advanced to expert/elite).

It May Inhibit Progress Buying higher-end gear for a less than appropriate archer can have drawbacks. The aforementioned metal-framed tabs are one example. If not fitted perfectly, the tab creates awkward, rather than relaxed, string hand fingers which inhibit clear finger releases. Same goes for release aids.

We have seen way too many youths, especially girls, rushed into a metal-risered recurve bows (or full compound) with the result that since they do not have enough shoulder development to hold the bow up through a shot, they get months and months of practice dropping their bow arms! You can ameliorate this a little by widening their stance until their muscles develop, but there is only so much adjusting that can be done. The wood and plastic resin risers on beginner bows have the added benefit of being quite light weight. The metal bows, not so much.

Conclusion
Whether working with parents or adult students, avoiding buying mistakes is a tough one for us coaches. Making sure the person with the purchasing ability knows that buying higher-end equipment is not necessarily a good idea is important. You may want to print out copies of this article or draft something on your own as a handout.

We are busy trying to put together an online course of how to fit students with appropriate archery gear so as to help you help them get the gear that will keep them in the game. Look for it on the AER website. We will announce the course here.

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