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.



Filed under For All Coaches

3 responses to “When to Aim?

  1. Yod Cai

    Can you elaborate on American Style “Raise”?

    • In American-style archery, the “Raise” is simply the act of raising the bow into position to be drawn. This is done while holding a 1-2 inch (3-5 cm) draw to provide enough draw force to keep the hands in position on the grip and string. later, many elite archers blend the raise and the draw together (I do not recommend this for less than advanced archers as it can lead to physical and mental errors). In the U.S. National Training System (NTS) the bow is lifted in the Setup step and ends with the bow already drawn about 2/3 of the way and the “Draw” begins from there.

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