Monthly Archives: November 2014

Why I Follow Golf Coaches (Part 2 of ?)

I was watching another video by one of my favorite golf instructors (Don Trajan) recently and he said something quite profound. He was addressing the relationship of foot position to the golf swing and brought up the example of Ben Hogan. If you are not aware of Mr. Hogan, he is a golf demi-god, in the Hall of Fame, etc. But in discussing Mr. Hogan’s golf swing with a biomechanics specialist it was felt that Mr. Hogan was also one of the most supple and flexible golfers ever to have played the game. The estimate was that there are only about a half dozen golfers in this country who have the same degree of flexibility as Mr. Hogan did. Now, Mr. Hogan’s instructional book (Five Lessons: The Fundamentals of the Modern Golf Swing) is an instruction classic with almost a million copies in print. This means that all of the golfers using his book are The Five Lessonsfollowing the advice of someone who has abilities they do not have.

Coach Trajan’s statement was “When you read things and want to do things, do you have the physical attributes to do them?” Brilliant. Obviously this applies to the developmental arc of all archer-athletes who are striving for elite status. They do not have all of the attributes needed to support elite archery technique, so they work on their cardio fitness, they build strength and flexibility, and they refine their form so that they will. But what about the rest of us?

The example I refer to so often is the open stance adopted by so many. Realize that whatever is happening with regard to where your feet are positioned, your upper body has to conform to certain requirements: you have to be a full draw without fighting to keep your bow “on target” for enough time to establish your aim and that you are not moving before you can finish your shot. Whatever you do with your feet, it cannot disrupt your upper body geometry.

SAWModern American Olympic Recurve archery form was developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s by Rick McKinney and Darryl Pace. They won everything in sight and by so doing attracted the most people emulating them. Part of their shots was a quite open stance. McKinney mentioned in his classic book, The Simple Art of Winning, that he felt the open stance helped him to “get into his back” muscles better. Later, people reading his book (including me) took that as “an open stance facilitates use of the appropriate back muscles.” This turns out to exactly demonstrate the statement of Coach Trajan above.

It is my belief that this is an exactly 180 degrees incorrect interpretation. The reason I believe this is that in Olympic Recurve archery, the shoulders have to be rotated to be roughly 10–12 degrees closed. Rotation one’s feet in the open direction opposes the needed shoulder rotation and so cannot help accomplish that. So why did McKinney and Pace do it? My understanding is that they were both very flexible and could get their draw/string elbows considerably past being in line with their arrows. This is a source of variability that is not desired. The open stances restricted their ability to get past good alignment and helped them to become more consistent thereby. So, what help is this for people struggling to get to “good line?” None whatsoever. This is why I so often close up my student’s stances until they can establish good line and then, from there, go on to experiment with other stances.

So, when you read things and want to try things, I recommend you follow Coach Trajan’s advice and consider whether “you have the physical attributes to do them.” If you do not, either you have to commit to creating those attributes or (more often) consider other options. It is probably inimical to good form and execution to assume that just because Coach XYZ recommends this or that, that doing it would be good for you. Everything has to be explored and adopted based upon whether it fits your body and your mind and your goals before such a commitment can be made. A great help in that determination is a good coach. This is one of the main reasons I am working hard to become a good coach.




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When to Aim?

Whenever one of you signs up for this blog, I hie myself over for a look at yours (if you have one) to see what you are interested. I get a number of topics upon which to write for this blog in this manner. One such topic is “when to aim?” which, as it turns out is a topic of one of the chapters of my latest book (Still More on Coaching Archery, Watching Arrows Fly, 2014). Here is an excerpt from that book on this topic.SMOCA Front Cover 10%

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The Overaiming Meme

Olympic Recurve coaches have a meme that is considered a cardinal sin if you break it: “do not overaim.” This admonition permeates the writing of recurve coaches at all levels. The USA Archery Level 2 coach training manual, for example, includes a shot sequence with one of the early steps labeled “not yet aiming.” I think this warrants a closer examination.

So what constitutes aiming? Is it just the act of aligning a sight aperture with a point of aim? Clearly this is not the case. Aiming starts from the very beginning of the shot cycle when the archer takes a stance. A condition for accuracy is that the arrow must be in a vertical plane going through the target center for it to hit the center (absent wind effects, etc.). When an archer steps onto a shooting line and effects a square stance, you can see that a vertical plane going through the arrow also goes right across the archer’s shoe tips. This is why we recommend a square stance to beginners, it is a natural aiming stance in that by aligning one’s shoe tips up with the target center, one is also aligning the arrow up with target center. If you take a square stance and get into reasonable T-Form at full draw, you will be aiming right down the middle. So, aiming begins with the stance.

Later in the cycle the bow gets raised, but how far does it get raised? What I teach my students is that it needs to be raised to a height such that when the draw is made and the anchor position is found, the sight aperture is naturally centered on the gold (or wherever the archer is aiming). Higher than that or lower than that results in the archer having to move the bow a substantial amount at full draw, a clear waste of time and possibly a use of the wrong muscles. So, raising the bow is an aspect of aiming. (It has been referred to as “pre-aiming” in the past.)

So, is this too much or too soon? Is this overaiming?

No. Here’s why.

What’s Special About Aiming
As an archer moves through her shot sequence, her attention focuses on just one thing, one thing after another, but just one thing at a time. When taking a stance she focuses on just that. When nocking an arrow she focuses on just that. Beginners have to focus more in that they do more consciously, they have to check the index vane, they have to check that the arrow is nocked snuggly under the top nock locator, they have to be sure the arrow is on the rest and under their clicker (if used). This is all done in a trice and without conscious thought by the expert archer, but it is done and all are attended to.

So, all through the shot sequence the archer’s attention is focused on one and only one thing . . . except during the “aiming” phase. During the aiming phase, the archer must divide her attention between two things: the visual matching of the aperture with target center (or point of aim) and some aspect of her form involved in completing the shot (the draw elbow, tension in the back muscles, etc.).

This is the only time during the shot sequence that the archer’s attention gets divided: during the “aiming” step. The admonition to not overaim is not helpful as it violates the coaching dictum of “tell them how to do it right, don’t describe how they are doing it wrong.” It also is vague and hard to understand. Just what are the characteristics of “overaiming?”

Instead . . .
Instead of this admonition, archers need to learn how to divide their attention during that step.

One simple drill is to have them hold their bow up in an American-style “Raise” position. I ask them to focus on the aperture on the target and then switch to focusing on their bow hand, then their bow arm, then their shoulders, etc. all the time keeping their aperture on the target. (You must include rests because the arms get tired holding the bow up.) Just ask them to move their attention and focus around. After just a few minutes of practice, they get pretty good at it. Then ask them to focus on their aperture and without losing that focus, include their bow hand, or their bow arm, or their shoulders, etc. Then ask them to practice doing this (which they can do at home) with the key being able to focus their divided attention on aperture and their back muscles (some coaches substitute a focus on the draw elbow for the back). Note My piano teacher taught me this. You can’t play different notes with both hands until each hand has learned to play it’s notes by itself.

Another activity/drill that will enhance an archer’s ability to divide their attention is “slow shooting.” This is just working through a shot but at a substantially slower pace than normal. Instead of a shot requiring 6-7 seconds, it takes 30-40 seconds done this way. The archer must also focus on what they are supposed to be focusing on. Mindless drills may tone the body but do not sharpen the mind. You must caution them to avoid flitting back and forth between the two task (maintain sight picture, finish shot, maintain sight picture, finish shot, . . .).

Another drill might be to ask them to focus only on their aperture position while shooting an end. On the next end they are to only focus only on completing their shot and not at all on their aperture. A third end they need to divide their attention between their aperture position and finishing their shot. This drill is based on the Goldilocks’ Principle: the first end is too much aperture focus, the second end is too much body focus, and the third end is “just right” or at least close to it. Often the third end shows a much better group than either of the other two (as it should).

A Fine Point
When writers do address this topic (almost never directly) they tend to mention visual focus on the aperture, which is correct, and a visualization involving the draw elbow or scapulas a means of making sure execution of the shot is continuing, which is incorrect. The power of visualizations is that they involve the brain triggering the same muscles that will be used during the activity visualized, so they are great for rehearsals. But the visual cortex is being asked to do two visual tasks in this approach, which has to lead to some confusion. Instead the visual focus on the aperture’s position needs to be combined with the tactile sensations in the back or draw arm that can be associated with correct execution.

But . . . Isn’t this a Form of “Multi-Tasking?
Recently psychologists have studied “multi-tasking,” that is doing two tasks at once, and have argued that this is often not what people think. Instead of two tasks being done simultaneously, the minds of the people doing these tasks were switching back and forth between the two and each task thus suffered in quality. The simultaneity was an illusion. Examples are given such as trying to do math problems while listening to a Presidential speech and extracting salient information. I believe they had brain scans to back up their claim. But it is not the case that if this is true some of the time, it is true all of the time.

Arguments by example, how scientists explain complex things to ordinary people like you and me, can be opposed by counter examples, so let me offer a few. About in third grade most American kids are presented with the task of “rubbing their stomach and patting their head” (or is it the reverse?) from a “friend.” At first none can do this as it seems impossible. But after a short period of practice, many can do these two different tasks simultaneously (maybe not so well, but practice usual stops when the feat is achieved). Some of these kids may grow up to play the piano during which each of their hands is doing something different and simultaneous, or maybe a virtuoso rock ’n’ roll drummer who can play complex rhythms, sometimes with different meters, simultaneously with both hands and a foot.

To end this argument with a sports metaphor, consider a baseball batter. He might have to track the curved path of a ball thrown from a variety of “release points” at near 100 mph close enough to the batter cause significant bodily harm were he hit by the pitch while swinging a baseball bat to intercept that ball to hit it the opposite direction. If they can do those tasks simultaneously, I think we can do our task simultaneously, our target is not even moving! All it takes is practice.

Please note, I am not refuting or rejecting the psychologist’s research. I believe they are absolutely correct when it comes to two simultaneous and complex conscious tasks, but the subconscious mind seems capable of attending to a great many tasks simultaneously.

Perhaps it is time to bury the “overaiming” meme. It was never particularly helpful. It is not an instruction of “what to do” but rather “what not to do.” And I don’t think it accurately described the issue at hand.

There was a time in the late 60’s, early 70’s when the clicker was being adopted that a number of archers were using it as a draw check only and would hold for several seconds after the clicker “clicked.” Many of these archers were taking too much time at full draw and could be described as over aiming, but no one is doing that now.

Coaches inherit too much stuff that has outlived its usefulness and I think this is one of those.


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Competing While Injured—Just Say No

QandA logoI recently got a letter from a student addressing an injury and a competition: “I sprained my shoulder somehow. Anyway, I haven’t been able to shoot for two weeks (except for a fun shoot), and I don’t think I’ll be able to practice this week either. The Iowa Pro-Am is quickly approaching, so I was wondering how I could get practice in without actually practicing. I’m thinking about using 18 lb limbs for practice, but I’m still afraid that it might be too much for my shoulder.” There are a great many things I write about … and this is one topic for which I am definitely an authority. (I am currently recuperating a shoulder injury incurred last June—this is November; I don’t heal as fast as I did when I was younger.)

* * *

I am going to go straight to the bottom line: It is inadvisable to attend a tournament with unstable form, it will only burn bad habits in that will take a lot of training to remove. Competition intensity makes “learning” faster.

Unless you can draw without pain, I would forgo the tournament.

The idea of using very light drawing limbs when you start up again is a very good one. Go for form first, strength second. I would start, though, with mimetics to see if I experience any pain while in ordinary archery postures. If I do, I would continue rehabbing and forgo shooting completely. If I can do the mimetics pain free, then I would start work with a stretch band. If I can do the stretch band exercises pain free (for more than one session, don’t rush it—the pain may not show up until the next day), then I would try a light drawing bow.

Injuries are common amongst archers but how to rehab them is not common knowledge. One of the bedrock principles of any rehabilitation program is to never compete when injured. Of course professional athletes do this all of the time . . . and then they re-injure the same body part or, worse, because they are compensating for one physical weakness, they overload another physical system and injure that. All kinds of subconscious processes will be invoked to minimize any pain you are in and, voilà, you will have a new shot in short order, one you did not design.

Also, do not take pain killers to allow yourself to practice or compete, even aspirin or other OTC analgesics. They will mask the pain and allow you to worsen your own injury. Pain is your body’s way of telling you to do something different. The best you can do is rest and follow a good rehab program (I am currently using the “Fix My Shoulder Pain” program which seems reasonable).

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Tabs or Gloves (for Target Archers)?

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
Why do a lot of hunters prefer to use gloves over a finger tab? Wouldn’t everyone benefit from a finger tab due to it creating a smoother release? Also, are there any Olympians who use gloves?

* * *

Many hunters who shoot with “fingers” (as opposed to with a release aid) prefer gloves over tabs as you can’t drop and lose a glove that is Velcroed or strapped to your hand. Shooting without finger protection, especially in cold weather, is not necessarily an option, so losing it is an expensive proposition as it may ruin an entire hunting trip.shooting glove

To reiterate the advantages of a tab over a glove for target archers, the three fingers used in the typical Mediterranean string grip are held together by a tab (so much so that many prefer a rigid metal tab body to shoot with). This encourages the three fingers acting together as a unit, giving a cleaner release of the bowstring. The fingers in a shooting glove are not so connected by the glove. Also, the tab surface, while flexible, is flat, as opposed to the rounded finger stalls of a shooting glove. This promotes a cleaner slide of the string off of the fingers. Well-used gloves also tend to show a deeper indentation where the string sits that creates a larger paradox during the loose of the string.

Regarding Olympians using gloves, the only case I am aware of was Michele Frangilli who used a glove and a tab at the 1996 Olympics, but he was fighting a bad case of target panic at the time, I believe. Other than that, I haven’t heard of any serious Olympian preferring a glove over a tab.


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Plateaus in Progress

One of my students has taken on the task of coaching up a college archery team (Yea!). Here’s his latest question.

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
I have started seeing a pattern in how people progress through Recurve Barebow archery. From my observations, people score all over the place as beginners, but when they become an intermediate archer, they consistently score around 350. Not only did I observe this with myself one and a half years ago, but my students seem to level off at 350, University of Chicago archers seem to all level off at 350, and other barebow shooters I know level off at 350. Once a barebow archer breaks 400 consistently, their scores once again become scattered all over the place—410, 440, 470, etc (I scored a 437 at the Turkey Trot). With major tournaments, the people that win in Barebow have 400+ scores all over the board, unlike intermediates that always seem to group around 350. 

Is this phenomenon just based on faulty observations, or is there a reason behind this?

My hypothesis is that because Barebow is so difficult, people level off at 350; once an archer becomes an advanced shooter, their skills, methodology, and etiquette allows them to well exceed other archers, resulting in a large skew.


* * *

I do not know about the 350 (out of 600?) scoring plateau you mention as I have seen far fewer than 100 barebow archers as a coach (beware the law of small numbers!). But plateaus are normal. I assume you are familiar with the “learning curve.” Near the peak of any such curve you will get a leveling off that, if one stops working at that point one will generate a “forgetting curve,” that looks like the opposite of the learning curve. If one does keep working, though, the tendency is to “plateau,” that is work is done, but little progress gets made.learning-curve

For serious archers, the first major plateau is, I think, a manifestation of the Pareto Principle, also called the “80:20 law or rule” (80% of the progress on any task is made with the first 20% of the effort; the remaining 20% of the progress requires 80% of the effort). Basically, as a beginner the rate of progress is quite great, a little work creates a substantial amount of progress, but as one continues the rate of progress declines. More and more effort is needed to make less and less change. If you are using a 300 round score as a gauge of progress, for example, the first 100 points come fairly easily, then 150 comes soon, getting to 200 is a lot more effort, getting to 250 is even more effort than it took to get to 200, etc. Getting to 290 requires a great deal of effort indeed.

Realize that this is true on all three fronts: physical, equipment, and mental. So, a score of 100/300 can be had with quite basic equipment, which is set up okay and with the focus on the physical aspects of shooting alone (basic T-form, etc.). Getting to 200/300 will probably require fitted equipment, tuned somewhat well. The physical aspects of shooting are more demanding (physical fitness level, timing, etc.), and the mental game is involved at some level. To get to 290/300, you need very good equipment (not necessarily elite level), that is carefully tuned, and you need strong physical and mental games to go along with it.Forgetting Curve

Do realize though, that as you gain expertise, you will become more consistent. (It is a sign, Grasshopper!) The exception, I suspect, is when you break through a plateau, you are still inconsistent in the new things that got you out of that “slump,” so things will be variable for a while and then settle down. It is rare for a Barebow archer to be as consistent as top compound archers, though, as this is the nature of the style.

Plateaus are normal. Coaches should expect them. Staying on a plateau for very long, though, indicates a lack of effort or the wrong kind of effort on the part of the archer. The archer is responsible for the amount of effort, the coach is responsible for guiding the right kind of effort. So if a plateau exists for long, something significant has to change. If you want inspiration, look up the story of Australian archer Simon Fairweather.

I do hope this helps!


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Rather Fight than Switch?

QandA logoHi,
I was reading your blog site and wanted to ask a question. Like many people I’m naturally right-handed but from an early age I taught myself have a level of skill with my left hand. Though not completely ambidextrous I can write, shave, saw, etc. with either hand.

Recently I’ve been coaching a number of left-handed students so I taught myself to shoot left-handed. I wonder has anyone else done this? Don’t think I’ll win any medals but it has helped with coaching and course laying. I found it a very educational process as you reapply learnt and known skills but reversed or, rather, flipped.

It also means the students don’t have to try to learn from you whilst trying to flip round everything in their heads. So I was wondering, have you or your readers done this?
Thanks for all the articles and posts.


Rob, I will get around to answering your question (I promise!), but first a couple of comments (I am, if nothing ellse, long-winded).

I am strongly in favor of coaches trying everything, especially if you want to coach it. Much of archery applies across the board, but if you haven’t experienced it yourself, you can make some really bad mistakes (I can attest to this). In my “career” as a coach I have learned Barebow Compound, Barebow Recurve, and Olympic Recurve, and Longbow, first hand because (a) I was curious, and (b) I wanted to coach these.

Since I took these up rather late in life, I am not very good at any of them. In fact, I don’t think you have to be particularly good at all of the “styles” you attempt, but you do need to be good at one of them (my primary style when I was younger was Compound Unlimited, now it is Compound Barebow). If you never achieve expert status in any style, it will be hard to work with advanced or elite athletes, not just because you will have no “standing” as someone who never achieved in that style, but because you will lack understanding of the nuances and commitments involved.

My favorite story about deciding to “stand on the other side of the bow” was from George Chapman, a champion archer and champion coach (associated with PSE because he was there at their beginning). He won the Indiana State Championship shooting right-handed and then because of some reason (injury, target panic, ?) he switched to shooting left-handed and won the same title the very next year! For people considering the “right-left” change, please be aware that “results may vary!”

Now, to answer your question, I have tried several times to shoot left-handed (from my “normal” right-handed shooting) but never to the point of any proficiency. Now, I think I am too old and clumsy to pull it off.

But … (you knew that was coming, no?) it is a good idea to at least try it. One of the better tools in a coach’s tool box is “mirroring,” which is standing face-to-face with your archer on the shooting line and demonstrating (mimetically) what you want them to do as they shoot. This has to be opposite-handed to what they shoot so that you look like a mirror image of what they are to do. If you have not actually shot that way, your body positions when “mirroring” may be faulty, so at least some practice that way is wise.

Check out Rob’s blog where he will repost this article and answer the question for him!


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Warm-up Requirements

QandA logoI recently got this question from one of my favorite coaches:

Hi Steve!
Here is my coaching question: I am coaching a young archer who needs to shoot 18-30 arrows to truly warm up and shoot consistently. This, of course, is problematic for tournaments and other competitive events where there are usually just two warm-up ends of 3 or 6 arrows. How do I help/coach to decrease the number of warm up arrows needed? Any advice on exercises/drills/mental techniques would be much appreciated!
Tammy Besser


Tammy, first off, let me say that shooting 18-30 arrows for a warm-up is not excessive. And, to be perfectly honest, the “two end” warm-up that is traditional (and in the rules) for competitions is insufficient. The purpose of the two ends of “warm-up” is really just to acclimate oneself to one’s position on the shooting line. Some archers shoot for the better part of an hour before their shoot times.

I remember attending my first “Star FITA” competition that attracted largish numbers of USA Archery Team members. As I pulled into the parking lot I was astonished to see that there were a number of archers shooting arrows into the trunks of their vehicles! Upon further examination, they had foam block targets in their trunks, they were not shooting into the padding of the back seat. As it turned out, there was insufficient “practice” targets at that competition (due to a very large turnout), so people were getting their shooting warm-ups done “off line,” as it were.

All that aside, it is often the case that at indoor competitions, there is no practice space per se and the two ends of warm-up is all you get. (You may shoot more than the number of arrows in a normal end in most cases, though, but if you are on a timer (not unusual) you may end up screwing up your normal shooting rhythm to get all of the shots in you want in those two ends, so, just filling up your quiver is not necessarily a solution.

It is often the case that we end up telling our athletes what to do. Since my objective is to get them to become independent, how about asking this young person: “What are you going to do when … (explain the indoor scenario, two ends, etc.)? Give them some time to think about it and try some things. I wouldn’t be surprised, though if the archer’s answer is “I dunno…,” so you need to have a few things up your sleeve to recommend. Here are a couple:

  1. Have them do some experiments. Using a short practice round (10 ends of three arrows), have them shoot rounds with (a) all the warm-up they want, (b) two ends of warm-up arrows (6!) only, and (c) one end of warm-up arrows (3!) only, and (d) no warm-up arrows at all. It is best to compare the average of several scores, but it is a start. You can spice this up, by being in charge of the scenario (One time it is “Hurry, hurry, you are late and you missed all of the warm-up period, you are shooting for score right now! another time …)
  2. A surprisingly effective method is to have your archer mentally shoot a dozen arrows before stepping to the line for the two practice ends. Have him/her stand opposite his/her target (behind the waiting line, of course) and vividly visualize shooting arrows into that target. Since this is a mental exercise, all of the arrows need to go into the center, but more importantly the focus needs to be on the feelings involved. They need to imagine the feel of the muscles being used. If the bow being used has little tics in it, those are included. The sounds involved (the arrows hitting the matt, etc.) are involved. The feeling that “this is for score” should be cultivated. Then they go ahead with the practice arrows.

I hope some of this helps!


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Ear Gear: On or Off?

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,

Lanny Bassham mentions how the mental program forces your conscious mind to pay attention to the mental program, thereby allowing your subconscious to shoot for you. In that case, couldn’t I listen to music during tournaments? Wouldn’t music allow me to concentrate on the music, while allowing me to shoot subconsciously? If so, I am allowed to have earphones/ear-buds during tournaments?


USA Archery expressly forbids the use of “electronic devices” on the shooting line, so the answer is “no” there at least. A lot of people have, though, used headphones/ear buds as the universal sign saying “Don’t Bother Me” between ends to avoid getting into distracting conversations.earbuds-blue

I think the research is still out though on the use of music while shooting. And, time and technology march on—only recently have wireless ear buds become available. Prior to this, all such devices involved bulky headphone ear shells which create a balance distraction and/or cables which create another distraction.

All of that aside, we do not want “mindlessness” while shooting, otherwise we could just practice blanking out minds.

For archery, I distinguish “attention” as being a primarily conscious function and “awareness” as being a primarily unconscious/subconscious function. We want to focus our awareness on a bubble including us and our equipment stretching to the target, but including very little of the surroundings (that we do not want). We also want to pay attention to trouble spots in our shot and give minute corrections/exhortations (“strong bow arm”). Otherwise we want to make sure that our conscious minds do not get overly involved with our shots as the unconscious can do so much better of a job. The conscious part of ourselves serves as a mute observer who only offers mild encouragement at certain moments at most.

When I am shooting I can select and nock an arrow with no conscious thoughts at all … and I can feel an impression of my conscious self just watching, although this may be an illusion; I can’t tell for sure. The key point is you want to be in a heightened state of awareness focused on a small volume in space, paying attention to business. How does background music help with that?

Think about this this way: You are Captain Kirk. You are sitting on the Bridge in your chair while the Crew of the Enterprise is all over the ship doing all of the tasks needed to keep the ship on mission. The Bridge Crew (the conscious mind) has readings that tell them what is happening to the ship anywhere and everywhere, but not in infinite detail. The bridge crew scurries around monitoring what is going on, but the Decision Maker (Kirk) is not asked to make a decision during normal operations. The Captain is needed when things change (such as in archery when a wind comes up and must be compensated for). These decisions are best made when there is time and relative calm (no Klingon attacks, etc.—which for archers means “between shots”). The worst case scenario is when the Captain is needed and he is distracted or even asleep. He has to be brought to full attention and briefed in order to make a decision, which may take too much time, which is why the Captain (or whoever else “has the Bridge”) needs to be in the chair when mission critical events are taking place (shooting). Hence, attentiveness, not mindlessness is needed.

Does this make sense?

(And, yes, this is what Lanny means.)

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Making Changes: How Do I Know I am Good to Go?

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,

I’ve mastered a new anchor point where I am now “in line.” However, I still have a slight tilt to my head (and you said tilting my head was a “no-no”). Is it necessary to eliminate this one problem? I’ve seen people with horrendous form at tournaments, but they still end up winning. Additionally, I turned the center of the target to pulp today, as well as outscoring the three compound shooters I was shooting with.


It all depends on what you mean by a slight tilt. You do not have to do it “right,” meaning exactly as prescribed in the textbooks, but you do have to watch out for is something that you adopt that you can pull off based on you being a good athlete, because that will vary a lot day by day. We want to structure a good shot though body positions that support good shots and that require little athleticism for that reason. This makes our shots more repeatable.

So, is your particular adaption of head position “in” or “out?” To test it you need to shoot for several sessions (or many) to see if you are being consistent compared to how consistent you were before (hopefully you are more consistent). Do your group sizes/scores/whatever change dramatically between “good days” and “bad days?” If so, that is not acceptable. Are the variations day-to-day small and acceptable? If so, you are good to go.

“Are the variations day-to-day small and acceptable? If so, you are good to go.”

And you are right to conclude that “good form” does not equate to “success.” Many archers with poor form win and others with good form lose. Having good form has one major benefit: it takes less effort to learn. Anything you do suboptimally requires you to practice more to make it consistent. Most archers have quirks of form that are suboptimal, but they are generally small and only required a small amount of training to make them regular. At the same time, you will notice, as would an observer ignorant of archery, that all archers look alike. They stand, they nock, they draw, they loose, they follow through, etc. All archers are more or less close to the same form as what is taught/learned is believed to be optimal.


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Practicing Alone and Mental Programs

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
About a few months ago, I decided to start practicing by myself. About 90% of my practice is in complete solitude, and my practice has become extremely productive and efficient. However, is it bad to practice alone? My thought is that since I practice alone, I won’t get accustomed to other people; overtime, I’m concerned that this might spike my anxiety during tournaments, where there are lots of people.

Also, I’ve recently implemented a “mental program” as recommended by Lanny Bassham. Am I supposed to think about my mental program before I make each shot, or while I make each shot? I’ve noticed it’s almost impossible to do the latter.


Again, these are very good questions.

Most archers practice alone, at least some of the time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But, if you never acclimate yourself to a noisy venue, you may have problems blocking out distractions when they occur. One of the ways you can “practice” blocking out distractions, is to play music you do not like during practice, preferably loudly. Obviously you may not want to annoy your neighbors or others nearby, so you will be tempted to use headphones. If you do, be sure that the cables involved will not get caught during a shot. (The new wireless ear buds look promising for practicing athletes.) I would like somebody to put together a nice compilation for this: maybe some babies crying (loudly), fingernails on a blackboard, a bunch of pots and pans clanging together (loudly), etc. One year the French Olympic team practiced while drill sergeants screamed in their faces (with suitably bulging veins, if the photos were any evidence).

Another aspect of becoming a consistent winner is learning to monitor your personal space. Some venues have very narrow lanes, while others have wider/regulation ones. If you expect a crowded venue, practicing with others will help, especially if you can stand close to one another as you shoot. If you have no one available to practice with, try shooting close to a wall, or stack up some cardboard boxes as a stand-in for an archer “in your face.”

Something almost impossible to prepare for is rude or out-of-control competitors doing things in an attempt to put you off of your game. This is exceedingly rare, but it does happen. Experience is considered to be the best teacher, but it is also often harsh and brutal.

Mental Programs
Mental programs are quite various. There are programs you run when things go wrong in competition (usually called “recovery programs”) and planning (for practice, competition, equipment changes, etc.) is part of the mental aspects of the sport, etc. It seems, though, that you are asking about the mental processes that are run while shooting. If this assumption is wrong, let me know.

There is a dictum for archers: practice consciously, perform subconsciously, which you have discovered (“Am I supposed to think about my mental program before I make each shot, or while I make each shot? I’ve noticed it’s almost impossible to do the latter.”). So, during practice, you consciously think about what you want your subconscious mind to take over for you. This is done by only working on and focusing on, just one aspect of your shot at a time and linking the feedback you give yourself (a good shot … or not?) to that one thing. While working on your bow hand, if your bow hand was correct, whatever happens to the arrow just shot is irrelevant, that was a “good shot” (which is why we take down the target face while working on form—it can only provide mixed messages).

The foundation of  archery mental programs are:
(a) your shot sequence, which provides a framework for the physical shot and the mental steps that go along with them;
(b) what I call the Rule of Discipline “if anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from the environment, you must let down and start over.” If you override this rule you are telling your subconscious mind that it is okay to shoot bad shots, that it is okay to improvise, neither of which is good; and
(c) various bits and pieces that work for you.

Here is an example of a mental program, linked to a shot:
(a) You take deep breath or two and physically and mentally relax
(b) Some people use a “trigger” which is a word to get you started but it is just as easy to take an arrow out of your quiver as your trigger. (Do not use taking your stance as a trigger point here because you often only take your stance once in an end.)
(c) When you get to the point just before you raise your bow, make a first-person visualization of a perfect shot, including the arrow landing dead center. Include all sights , sounds, odors, everything you can; make it vivid! If you just shot such a shot, you have a perfect model; if you do not, you must use strong memory skills.
(d) During subsequent form steps, some people use key words to help with weaknesses they are working on; for example, I used “strong bow arm” while drawing for quite a while.
(e) At full draw, some archers use a memorized bit of a song to keep them on rhythm; they aren’t singing it per se, but that music is running through their head,
(f) Last is a mental evaluation of the quality of that shot, which is compared with the outcome (I shot a good shot, why isn’t that a 10? Oh, the wind picked up!) and a plan for adjustments to the next shot are made.

In order to link your mental program to your shot, you have to use it on every practice shot and every competition shot, starting … oh, I don’t know … how about NOW!

This is just one example of an “ordinary shooting” mental program. Everyone is different and may need different “pieces.” But all of them have your conscious mind focusing on things that will not interfere with your subconscious program, just supporting that programming from “afar” as it were.

I hope this helps.

PS I wrote an entire book on creating a strong mental program (Why You Suck at Archery). There are many reasons WYSAA described (with recommendations to correct them) but the primary reason (covered in the entire second half of the book) is having no mental program at all.

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