# 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.

Dear 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.

Thanks

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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.

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.

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!