Monthly Archives: September 2014

Pushers and Pullers and Pullers and Pushers

More letters are coming in; this is good. If you have a question, send it to me at The most recent question is:

Awhile back I was reading Rick McKinney’s book (The Simple Art of Winning Highly Recommended! Steve) and he mentioned that the shot execution is a 50/50 effort between pulling and pushing, but he tended to focus on the pushing. This sort of reminds me of the pushing technique that the Koreans and many of the European countries seem to be teaching (see The Heretic Archer by Vittorio and Michele Frangilli, 2005). What are you thoughts of taking focus off the pulling effort and placing it on the pushing effort?SAW

Also, I have experimented with the closed stance, but I really haven’t noticed a big difference yet. Maybe it’s just one of those things that needs an adjustment period.


Regarding Pushing and Pulling This is mostly psychological. Physically, if you are pulling a 40# bow, you will measure a 40# push and a 40# pull! Think about pulling on both ends of a rope or a piece of pipe instead of a bow. If the push were at all different from the pull, you would have imbalanced forces and the rope/bow would move. So, if the bow (itself) isn’t moving at full draw (and it isn’t; you are still) then the push = the pull. This is where the 50:50 description comes from, but physically it is really 100:100, that is the “push” is 100% of the “pull” and vice-versa.

In essence there is no push and no pull. (Yes, Grasshopper, and there is no spoon.) The force we feel as a “push” is really the resistance of our bow arm to being compressed. (Think about it. If you extend your arm fully to the side, how are you to “push?” When you want to push something, you use a bent arm and straighten it, or you lean into a straight arm. You do neither of these in an archery shot.) The “pull” we feel is not a pull per se but a rotating of our upper arm around the socket in the draw side scapula. The muscles in our back are working to pull the draw scapula closer to the spine (and the draw scapula is connected to the upper arm). So, we do not feel back tension (physically) but back compression, in that the muscles feel tightly bunched up. The tension referred to is “muscle tension,” not physical tension.

So, if psychologically we think of our arm as pushing, we are a “pusher.” If we think of our draw arm as pulling, we are a “puller.” What is actually needed is a focus on keeping the bow arm in proper conformation (without allowing it to be pulled back or bow shoulder raised, so “extended” is the word used) while at the same time being focused on our draw side rotation (some archers focus on the muscle tension in their back, other archers focus on moving their draw elbow in its arc—both of which require muscle activity in the back, they are just focal points).

THA Cover (small)It is at this point in the shot cycle that an archer’s attention gets divided (and only at this time): part of our focus is on aiming and part on completing the physical requirements for the shot. If, while you are aiming, you are also focused on keeping your bow arm extended, you are a “pusher.” If you are aiming and focused on your muscle tension in your back or on your draw elbow, you are a “puller.” Nobody I know is capable of splitting their focus into three parts: bow arm, draw side, and aiming, so one of those has to be treated with “set it and forget it” (and it ain’t going to be aiming). Either the bow arm configuration is set and then left to its own devices (by “pullers”) or the draw side/tension is so treated (by “pushers”). Neither approach is superior, but you may prefer one to the other; use that one, if so.

Re the Closed Stance You need to have somebody check your alignment (looking for the Archer’s Triangle). Often one’s “line” is much better with a closed stance (as it puts the shoulders into their full draw position with no fighting per se) than with an open stance. If so, shooting with a closed stance and good line, you can get acclimated and accustomed to shooting “in line” and then you can experiment with different stances later, all the while maintain your good line. Having “good line” is one of the most necessary aspects of shooting form to achieve good results; it is far more important and any stance. If your line is no better with a closed stance (and still not “good”), you need to look to potential flaws in your hip or shoulder positions.

Hope this helps! Let me know.


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You Say to Keep a Journal … But How?

QandA logoI got a letter from a new friend in Canada who had this question:

Hey Coach,
I was wondering if there is a good set of templates for keeping that archery journal you suggested I use? I saw the “Mental Management Performance Analysis Journal” by Lanny Bassham on the web, and I liked it but I wanted to create my own.


That is indeed an excellent journaling system. It is also a tad expensive.

To lay out your own journal (I use spiral bound notebooks—they lay flat and are cheap. Plus if you get the tabbed ones, they have some structure to them.) make a list of all of the things you want to keep records of. When making lists, don’t give up when you first stall out. Wait a bit and a number of additional things will come to mind. Then when you stall out again, again try waiting to see if additional items come up. None of us think in continuous streams, instead we think in short bursts, so make sure you allow for a minimum of three such periods to make sure your list is as complete as you can make it.Notebook with Tabs

The largest section in your “journal” will probably be for practice plans and records. Each practice session should have a plan, even if it is just a list of things you want to do or accomplish. On any day on which you shoot a practice round, you need to allow for a number of notes (distance, face used, weather, temperature, wind, lighting, distractions, your own mental state, the type of round, the equipment used to shoot the round (yes, all of that, in three years will you remember what arrows you were shooting that day or how hard the wind was blowing?). You will also need a record of your scoring. (Some people take a photo of their target post round and store it for future analysis—of course for this to be valuable you need to use a fresh target face, otherwise the holes will represent … what?) You need to keep both Practice Round scores and Competitive Round scores. Entering these and their dates into a spreadsheet allows you to plot both against a time axis to see whether you are making progress. Also, you can tell a lot from the two trends. If your practice round scores are going up, but not your competitive round scores, then you probably have a mental problem, etc.

You will also need a section for mechanical data regarding your bow and arrows: tuning information, arrow lengths, masses, spines, fletching, point weights, draw weight in hand, draw length, etc. You will be amazed at how easy it is to forget such data. Every change you make in your physical setup needs to be logged here, e.g. Put a half turn on the top limb <date><time>

You will need a section for goals (outcome and process). I strongly recommend that you read all of your process goals (basically the things you are working on) before you shoot a single arrow … always. If you think “I’ll just warm up and then review my goals….” you will be making a mistake because as you warm up you will find yourself reinforcing your old shot, not the new, improved one, simply because the old shot has been practiced more than your new one.

You might want to have a planning section, where you can list the shoots you want to attend and the milestones you want to achieve.

How well/carefully you do this is up to you. After doing this whole process for a year or so, sit down with your journal and evaluate what works for you and what does not. If something doesn’t seem to have a positive effect, but you still think you need to keep a record of what that thing was supposed to describe, you need to come up with a new way of doing just that. Don’t just stop doing anything without a careful evaluation.

And <shameless plug> more detail on much of this is available in my book Winning Archery.

Let me know how this works!


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A Variable Draw Length Problem

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
Right now, I draw to what I believe is full draw. However, when I get tired, my draw length shortens a tiny bit to something more comfortable. As a result, my crawl changes by half a stitch. Should my draw length be the same regardless of how tired I am? Additionally, should I slightly shorten my draw length so that it starts out the same as when I’m tired?


To be able to find your full draw position, it is generally created very close to your maximum extension, that is the end of your range of motion with all other aspects of your shot in good order. This is embodied in the “clicker check” in which you pull through your clicker without shooting and, while maintaining good form and your normal anchor position you expand as far you can. The arrow tip should not get past the clicker more than one quarter inch. Being this close to the end of your range of motion allows you to find your full draw position by feel (that uncomfortably tight feeling in your back). If you are shooting short of that position, you may be more comfortable but your draw will be more variable and will be even shorter (and more variable) when you tire. This is why recurve, especially Barebow Recurve is such a demanding discipline. You must be fit enough to not tire away from the full draw position that you can find. (Compound bows, on the other hand, have draw lengths built into them.) To ensure this your practice must be more demanding than competition. If a competitive round requires 30 quality shots, your practice rounds should involved 45-60 quality shots. In days past the “normal” time in which to shoot a FITA Round (144 arrows) was a single day. Consequently in order to be able to shoot that round without tiring, people shot 200-400 arrows a day in practice as preparation. (Not every day, but often enough.)

Dennis T near Full DrawAs Aristotle told Alexander, “There is no royal road to geometry,” the same is true for recurve disciplines. In many of the very old sources, much attention was placed upon building strength, so that very high draw weight bows could be used, and in those descriptions they assumed that the reader understood that these would be at high volume, so this has been known for quite some time. Today, with modern equipment, the emphasis is not so much on building up to very high draw weights but high shot volumes must still be incorporated into practice.

It is a common mistake, though, for relatively new archers, in their enthusiasm, to shoot high volumes in practice before they have, as I say, “found their shot.” In essence, the high volume practice burns into the archer’s mind their “current” shot, a shot that in all likelihood will end up different, so they commit the mistake of “practicing doing it wrong.” You must be sure that the shot you have is the shot you want before you incorporate high volume practice. Since you are still working on your shot, you are not “there” yet. The focus has to be on getting it right before getting it down.


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Seeing Patterns / Reading Targets

QandA logoAnother letter brings up something that almost never gets touched upon by coaches or archery books.

Dear Coach Ruis,
About two thirds of my practice ends have arrows in two tight groupings (so tight the arrows touch). I practice with four arrows. On some ends, I have a group of two arrows about two inches away from the main group of two. Other times, I will have a group of three arrows, and then a lone arrow two inches to the left from the main group. No matter how much I shoot, two thirds of my ends involve this grouping pattern, and these groups are always two inches apart. Additionally, it is not a draw length issue as the arrows to the left are always in the same horizontal plane.
What’s going on here?


Just for reference, this archer shoots Recurve Barebow and Olympic Recurve; I don’t know which one is being shot during this issue. (It would have been nice to have stated the distance of the target also. I suspect it is 18m.)

Here is the answer to the question: we see patterns when there are none. Our brains are evolved to be pattern recognition machines. (We see pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary in grilled cheese sandwiches, for Pete’s sake.) Think about it. If you shoot decent groups and shoot four arrows, what will you see? Either all four will be in the same spot (possible but rare); all four will be in different spots (not a good group by definition) or you will get two groups of two or a group of three with one flier. The only high probability outcomes (once you get to the point of shooting “good groups”) are 2+2 and 3+1.


You need to shoot larger groups of arrows.

This is crucial because if you decide that the two arrows in the center (you decided to call those the “main group”) are the “correct shots” and the two out to the left are the “incorrect shots,” you may be making the mistake of choosing incorrectly. Maybe the ones on the middle are the mistakes and the ones to the left are the correct ones. For example, if your arrows are a tad stiff they will fly to the left normally. To get them to fly into the middle, you either have to aim off or do something “wrong.” So, it is crucial to not judge arrows from where they land.

I assume that you didn’t notice anything that would have “caused” the difference from the way you asked the question. The expectation is that all the arrows should land in the same place if shot the same way. Again, this is a false expectation. Shooting machines don’t shoot that well. Shooting machines shoot groups that show 2+2 and 3+3 patterns. And a 2˝ distance between groups is almost negligible at any reasonable distance.

One thing you could try is to make a list of things you might do “wrong” that would result in arrows flying to the left (or right, you don’t really know which is the “main” group) but neither higher nor lower than the others. In making this list you will at least identify things you might be doing wrong, so that if you eliminate those things and if the “problem” doesn’t disappear, you will know that such groups are natural.

I will share one personal experience, though. Back when I was shooting well, I decided to try shooting the FITA Round. This included the daunting 90m distance. Once I got dialed in I noticed that at one sight setting my groups were centered at 6 O’clock in the 9 with occasional tens. By adding a click of elevation, my groups were centered at 12 O’clock in the 9 with occasional tens. My solution? I bought a kit to convert my sight to a 20 click sight. That was a problem that had a solution. I suspect that yours is not a real problem.

Let me know what happens when you start shooting five and six arrow groups (do keep track of the subgroups so you will know how to answer).

And, if you absolutely, positively must have something to do to check your “issue,” check to see if the same arrows go to the left and to the right each time (number/mark them so you can tell them apart). If certain arrows always go left and others always go right, then you do indeed have an equipment problem (I suspect it would be with the arrows). If they do not, it is not the arrows or, I suspect, the bow. And it may not be you, either. It may just be your mind looking for patterns, always looking for patterns.

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Looking for a Remote Coach

QandA logoGot another letter with a very good question:

Hi Steve,
I’m reading your excellent Why You Suck at Archery and am wondering how to go about choosing a remote coach. I’m in Atlantic Canada and in my city there are no coaches higher than Level 2. So I was thinking about getting a coach through other means. Do you have any suggestions on what one needs to look for when looking for a remote coach?



This is a very good question! I wish I had an equivalently good answer. The best I can do is point you to the Canadian Archery Federation ( but I haven’t noticed that they keep a list of coaches. Here in the U.S., you can look up coaches on USA Archery’s list ( Other than that, I do know that Larry Wise, M.J. Rogers, and I all do remote coaching. I am sure there are others, I just don’t know who they are.

With regard to negotiating to receive remote coaching, there are a few particulars that need to be covered. The usual things like fees, compound or recurve, etc. are the same whether you are physically together or not. The other ones I can think of are:

Technical Can you hook up in a meaningful way technically? Are you going to use Skype or some other teleconferencing software? For simple issues I have students send me video clips with questions and then I respond via email (I have never liked telephones for some reason and now that my hearing is going south, I like them even less.) The question is simply can you engage one another technically. Video clips, even large ones, can be sent privately via Drop Box or other file sharing programs.

Communication It is hard enough to communicate when we are face to face and we can shoot and physically demonstrate aspects of archery shots. When you eliminate the physical and, at best, muffle the audio and visual, a premium is placed upon being a clear communicator. This is something you will want to pay a lot of attention to while you are negotiating working together. Are communications concise and clear? Do you go back and forth resolving confusion or are you creating even more confusion? etc.

This is something that the archery organizations could do a better job for their members. If the organization trains individual coaches, they should make them easier to find (this is especially true for Canada which is always having to deal with members being spread out a great deal) and one of the particulars they could include on their coach listing is a detail like “Will Do Remote Coaching.”

I hope this helps.


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Shooting In Cool Weather (Guest Post)

I volunteer from time to time to work with local JOAD groups. We are blessed in the Chicago are with a number of very good JOAD coaches, one of who had this to offer his young charges as the weather turned quite cool here in the area recently.

Shooting In Cool Weather (Guest Post)
by Gabe Querol

Coach GabeLast evening we conducted our JOAD class in the first cool weather of the season. All the kids came dressed in a manner which made me realize I hadn’t done enough to teach them how to operate in cool conditions. I saw hoodies with draw strings, baggy coats, baggy sweatshirts and a young man with shorts and a teeshirt, who was shivering. Needless to say the practice was not productive for many, as some were hitting clothing on every shot and others were uncomfortable and didn’t much care how they shot.

Q: So how should an archer dress for cool weather? A: In layers.
1) The first layer should be a close fitting long sleeve shirt, like an Under Armour shirt.
2) The second layer is to trap warm air and be slightly looser than the first layer. I prefer a short sleeve teeshirt over my base layer.
3) Next comes some sort of jacket or vest. I prefer a convertible cycling jacket because the sleeves can be zipped off. I leave the sleeve on my string arm and zip off the sleeve on my bow arm. Some prefer a vest of some sort, with a compression sleeve on their draw arm. These compression sleeves can also be found at running or cycling stores. If you need a place to start, try Bike Nashbar. Since few jackets and vests are made specifically for archery, you’ll need to tuck in collars so they do not interfere with your drawing process.
4) Next comes a hat. Yes! I know some of you are loathe to wear a hat, but your body sheds an enormous amount of heat through your head. If you want to be comfortable, wear a winter hat or an insulated cap.
5) Keep your hands warm by wearing mittens or gloves when not shooting. Keep a chemical hand warmer in your pockets and keep your hands in your pockets to warm them when needed.
6) Depending on the temperature, wear thermal underwear or fleece-lined pants.
7) Wear shoes and socks which are appropriate for the conditions. Remember shoes which give your feet room to breathe will allow air to circulate and keep your feet warmer. 8) Keep a positive attitude. Shooting in less than ideal conditions is hard for everyone. Those who do the best are able to focus on the target and forget about all distractions. If you start shooting with a poor attitude, it will be reflected in your scores. This applies for wind, cold, rain, or whatever is thrown at you. A positive outlook is the most valuable arrow in your quiver.

Good advice from a good coach! Steve

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Helping Your Students by Booking Guest Coaches

We are currently providing our coaching venues with a guest coach for lessons. These are individual lessons in our case, but this works equally well with classes.

Having a guest coach for your class or students individually is a wonderful idea. Having such a guest increases the focus of the students being taught and helps break up practice routines that might have gotten a little stale. Having a voice, other than yours, making the same key points as you do, can only help your credibility. And it is fine when you are preparing for the session to ask your guest coach to emphasize certain things.

Finding A Guest Coach So, where do you find these guest coaches? At some point, you will have been coaching archery for a long enough time that you will have become part of a network of coaches. Some of these coaches will be less experienced than you and some will be more experienced that you. All of these folks are potential Guest Coaches for your classes. You do not have to bring in a “star” even though that is a very cool thing to do. You might even trade sessions with another coach just like you, that is you both can be a ‘Special Guest Coach” for one another. This has merit because you get to work with students with whom you are not familiar. You will have to be on your toes to do a good job for them. Make the effort to plan something different for each group with your coaching colleague so that either something very important can be emphasized or something new can be introduced. If for no other reason that a different coach telling the athletes the same thing as their regular coach and thus giving credence to that teaching, this is worthwhile.

Sometimes, you can catch a “star coach.” A couple of years ago, we got Lloyd Brown, the 1996 U.S. Olympic Coach and current Olympic Coach for Great Britain to come out for a week and conduct some lessons. There was a fee for these lessons and we had no trouble booking him up and he even threw in a JOAD class session for no fee. The fees collected paid for his travel expenses and we put him up and fed him, so it all worked out.

So, how do you do this? We had the advantage of knowing Coach Brown but there is a simple process you can follow that often works: ask them. Yes, just email, text, or phone them up and ask them. This is not as simple as it is being made to sound here as many of these coaches are quite busy. Coordinating with their schedules is very important, but you will find that they can be very flexible and come back at you with, “I will be in your area on such-and-such dates, can we work out something then?” We have found that putting a spare bedroom at their disposal and feeding them at the family table can reduce travel expenses a great deal.

If your network doesn’t include a lot of coaches, check out any coach listings you can find. USA Archery maintains a list of many of their coaches, for example. Check out the names of the coaches in your area and see if you recognize any of the names. Do Internet searches on the names of the coaches in your area. Are they actice and involved in archery nearby? Often these lists include contact information. Connect with them to find out if they provide guest coaching services.

Will There Be Fees? Do realize that coaching archery is not a charity function (although it may feel like that from time to time). We assume that fees will be charged. Our current guest coach is charging $65/hr for adults and $50/hr for youths 18 and under. These are quite reasonable in our area. Coaches of lesser resume will generally be charging less. (we recommend that fees be adjusted to the loacl economy. If the area is not so rich, we recommend reduced fees. If affluent, well. . . .) One of our most gratifying guest coaching gigs occurred when we broached the idea with our JOAD program’s parents and one of them offered air fare vouchers he had accumulated and another offered room and board. A third set of parents offered to pick him up at the airport (45 minutes away) and take him back and drive him around in the interim. If you have a large program, you may experience the same generosity from your archery parents.

Preparing for Your Sessions If you book a guest coach, there is some preparation involved. If individual lessons are involved, you need to inform people of their availability and sign up takers for slots in your schedule. Make sure you tell people where and when and what the fees are and how they can pay for the fees (cash, check, PayPal, etc.). We provide our Guest Coach a schedule, all addresses, directions, etc. ahead of time if we can.

If the Guest Coach is coming to take your class(es), make sure that your students know that ahead of time and ask them to prepare. The simplest thing to ask them to do is to prepare a list of things they are working on. (Our lists are always a minimum of at least three things.) You might also ask them to prepare questions they could ask the coach. This is why a handout/flyer is a good thing for this event as you can provide some background on your guest coach, which can lead to good questions being asked.

What’s In It For You? We ask this question a lot. What is in this for you? This sounds like it is more work than doing your class or lessons yourself, and you are right about that. But if you manage to get a really good coach to come give lessons, this can turn out to be a master class in coaching for you! By all means, sit nearby and observe your Guest Coach working. (We recommend you don’t make comments unless asked.) Watching a master coach go about his or her business can provide a great deal of inspiration and ideas for you to pursue in your coaching. Take a notebook.

So, this is not all about “them,” this is also about “you” and how you become a better coach.


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