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.
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.
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.