Monthly Archives: December 2014

Ah Hah! Aye, There’s the Rub!

One of my very best students send me the following “Someone has posted now a link at ArcheryTalk to this blog post (the previous post, SR), so I have to ask, with all due respect: isn’t this just free advice? I thought a cornerstone of your teaching was that archery coaches should be paid like ‘real’ coaches.”

* * *

My student is quite correct. I do not recommend coaching for free (except to rank beginners on some special occasions, e.g. fun shoots, etc.). This is part of an effort on my part to make the coaching of archery more “professional.”

That being said … modern marketing requires a bit of stuff to be given away. We are in the age of “loss leaders.” (If you are not old enough to remember these, “loss leaders” were things stores sold at a loss to entice you into their stores. This practice was outlawed in some U.S. states as it gave an unfair advantage to very large stores.) So, think of it as I am building a mailing list or a marketing base. Plus I am not against or above doing pro bono work. Many of the archers in the broader archery community are in countries in which coaching is harder to find than it is here. Heck, in my state of Illinois there are a grand total of two Level 4 coaches listed on the rolls and soon there will be only one, so getting coached even here is very hard and you can’t get one before you know there are coaches (I didn’t know there were archery coaches until I was in the sport for 5+ years!)

Please also consider that coaching it is not a zero sum game. You cannot give away so much that you have little left to offer, otherwise coaches, like KiSik Lee and others, wouldn’t write books. Instead there is an infinite amount of nuance and detail.

From my point of view, I have already answered a real, paying student’s question and now I am using that answer to make even more money (well that and I like helping people). From this blog I have already gotten a remote coaching student (for pay) and a number of book sales. Plus I get ideas for articles going into Archery Focus magazine and into my books from doing this.

For those of you who are grateful for what this blog provides, you can show your gratitude by buying one of my books (Steve Ruis’ Amazon Authors Page) which are available in most of the English language “Amazon.coms” around the world.

And please don’t feel embarrassed about the question, it is a good one. I am going to blog on it … here.





Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

In Which the Coach Touches on Myriad Things

QandA logoI have gotten a second question from the same student before I answered the first, but they are on the same topic, so . . . here are the questions and my responses.

* * *

I have been sick and on deadline so I haven’t even answered your last question, so I will address that first, then move on to this new one.

Your last question: “Okay, I figured out what I was doing wrong on Friday. During practice today, I had the exact same issue surface. I was simply letting go of the string instead of using my back for the release. To fix this, should I just shoot blank bale for an hour or so? Also, what could trigger me to have this issue?

I think you are making a fundamental mistake: you are trying to tinker your way to a good shot. The first goal of any serious archer is to “find his/her shot.” Please realize that one can look quite good shooting in a wide variety of ways, all of which look quite the same to an outside observer. If you settle into a shot that is suboptimal for you, you can tinker away making minor improvements for years and find your scores peaking out below that of which you are capable. The real challenge is to find your optimal shot.

I think I have told you the story of Simon Fairweather, which was told in some detail in an article by Rick McKinney in AFm. Simon had been World Champion in Olympic Recurve in 1994 (I think). He then began in sink in the rankings, every year he was ranked lower and lower. He became noncompetitive. A year and a half before the 2000 Olympics he decided to rebuild his form from the ground up under the guidance of KiSik Lee. This is a massive undertaking because of all of the practice he had taken with his “other” shots. One must focus intensely for innumerable hours of practice to accomplish this change, let alone achieve championship form. He ended up with individual gold in the Olympics (in his home country). So, even when you have found a good shoot, one that can take you to a WC (harder to win than the Olympics), you can tinker yourself out of championship form.

I am encouraging you to look at your form and execution as a whole and that when you make a change, you are changing the whole thing. Since you are an intellectual, you could/should write down an accurate, detailed description of your shot (one for each style you shoot). Then when you make a change, e.g. the most recent change you made in arm slot, write a new description (in toto) and label it v2 (or v10, whatever). Once you find the shot that seems to work best for you (there is no real way to tell, ask Simon F.) you must commit to that as “your shot” and only shoot that shot … with no “tinkering!”

As to what could trigger you to “have that problem” please recognize that we are by and large subconscious entities: most of our bodily functions are governed autonomicly or subconsciously. The simple act of choosing to use one particular muscle rather than another takes years to learn (ask any body builder) because conscious control of our musculature would have doomed our species from the beginning, e.g. if a lion roars behind you, you will be running at your utmost speed while your conscious mind is still trying to process what that sound was. So, “how do things pop up in your shot?” They pop up because they can. The only way to keep these “improvisations” from appearing is to program your subconscious mind to do exactly as you wish and then you must monitor it continually as the subconscious mind cannot be contained, it is designed to improvise, to deal with unforeseen situations.

* * *

Moving on to your current question: “Under normal practice conditions, 75% of my arrows land in the yellow, and the remaining 25% always land within the red – so I am very well set in terms of consistency. But during practice today, I already had jitters for the upcoming Iowa Pro-Am, and the only way I could recreate my consistency is with subconscious shooting.
For my last practice on Thursday, should I:
A) Practice like normal by focusing on my shot sequence
B) Practice blank bale on focus on form
C) Practice with my mental program and let my subconscious do all the work

First, I urge you to avoid conclusions like “I am very well set in terms of consistency.” I’d prefer you to think that this level of consistency is “acceptable for now.” And, yes, the words you choose do determine your behavior to some extent (look up neurolinguistic programming).

That aside, the comment “the only way I could recreate my consistency is with subconscious shooting” is telling. You are always shooting subconsciously. I doubt you could shoot at all consciously. As an example, compare anyone’s driving ability the first time they are behind the wheel of a car with that of a twenty-year driver. The newbie will be sweating bullets and wildly erratic because they are largely acting consciously. (We even have a cultural icon in the “new driver,” e.g. you aren’t even safe on the sidewalks!) I tend to think you are describing shooting mindlessly, which is an over correction (see previous Q&A). You need to be focused consciously on what you are doing, but not guiding or controlling it in any way. If your conscious mind isn’t engaged in your shot, it will do what it does—look for patterns to predict the future—which is exactly what we do not want to happen. We need to be in the present to shoot well. You are so far out of the present, you are in the tournament you are attending next.

There is a practice technique to use for tournament preparation and that is to vividly imagine yourself at that tournament, on the shooting line, and shooting under real pressure, e.g. you are in a shoot off. (You can see the value of experience in this.) Your goal then is to learn to shoot your shot while all of that extraneous stuff is in your mind, without it interfering with your execution. Note that thoughts of that tournament are already giving you “the jitters,” exactly what you do not want to happen when you are there. Your response to those jitters, I believe, was to empty your conscious mind. Rather I would have you fill it with your shot sequence, but not in a mechanical mindset. You need to just have a “watchers” mentality, seeing the shot occurring in front of you and your job is to just monitor what is going on. Since you know what is going to happen it is easy to let your attention slip. When it does, your conscious mind goes back to what it does best “looking for patterns …” and your performance is doomed.

The phrase “Practice with my mental program and let my subconscious do all the work” shows the problem. Once you devise a mental program, you must commit to using it on every shot thereafter. You do not “practice” it. You implement it. Again, this program is something that is best written down and, if you decide to change it, that the whole thing be rewritten (labeled v12, etc.). This emphasizes that it is a “whole” thing and the effort extended to choose the right words to describe it are often sufficient to help you remember it. It can also be clarifying.

I recommend that some of your practice always include some “blank bale shooting focusing on your form.” I think this should be included in your warm-ups and as a closing activity to any practice session. By doing this you reinforce the ability to remember your form the next time. By doing it during warm-up shooting you are deliberately trying to remember the feel of that shot you want to use for that practice, the shot you were trying to memorize at the end of your least session. In this manner one practice is linked to the next and more rapid progress is made.

Does this make sense? Does this help?

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Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


Filed under Uncategorized

Shooting Stress/Intensity

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,

Today, I accidentally stumbled into an archery tournament, so I decided to participate. At the start of this tournament, I was not under any stress at all. During the first two ends, I scored low even though I didn’t have any sort of tournament jitters. I had so little stress that I couldn’t activate my mental program. However, I decided to start putting pressure on myself by shooting after 15 – 30 seconds had passed every end. With this amount of pressure, I was able to activate my mental program and score the highest I’ve ever scored at tournament (234 / 300). Based on this experience, it seems like not having any stress at a tournament is as bad as being stressed out at a tournament. Is this a common problem?

On a different note, I decided to participate in the second competition. However, I did not perform nearly as well as I had during the first competition. I was missing and scoring 16/30’s. Again, I was not stressed, but I felt panic every time I was about to release the arrow. This caused me to flinch and hook the string. This is something I have never experienced because I only ever feel panic when it is accompanied by stress. What’s going on?


* * *

Ah, so many discoveries, so little time! The word you are using, “stress,” is unhelpful so I will not use it. What you experienced is very common but many archers do not even notice what is going on. To shoot well requires focus and attention. For the purposes of archery, focus is largely a subconscious thing and attention is a conscious thing. You have trained yourself to “attend” to what is important, when it is important. This is the purpose of your shot sequence. You learn that sequence in practice and then through repetition you make it easy and largely under the surface of your thoughts. If your thoughts wander or your attention is captured by something happening that is not relevant, that is you are distracted, you are not attending to what you should and you will shoot poorly as your timing and other important aspects will be disrupted.

At the same time as you are attending to your business, you must be focused. If you are present and operating mindlessly, as if you were on autopilot, you will also not shoot well. You can be calm and not feel any “stress,” as you put it, but you will not shoot well. Rather than being mindless, you must be mindful, and bring a certain level of intensity to your focus on your shooting.

Once you discover what these are, for you, then comes the hard part: you need to create these mental conditions when you want them and do it consistently. This is what your mental program is supposed to be designed to help you with.

The fact that you struggled in the second 300 round is not surprising. Until you have found these states of mind, when you miss, it creates anxiety, then you shift into troubleshooting mode to figure out what you are doing wrong. Unless there is something wrong with your equipment, or in your reading of your environment (sun, wind, etc.) you should not be in troubleshooting mode. What you are doing is trying to “fix” your shot in real time during a competition, a recipe for disastrously low scores.

What you need is a different mindset. Right now, you are accepting shot results as if they reflect on who you are as a person, instead of presenting an opportunity to learn. The first mindset is a dead end and calls into question your skills and reputation every time you shoot. The second is the path to excellence. If you shoot two 9’s and then a 6 during an end, the ideal mindset is a touch of Mr. Spock, a la “Fascinating.” You just gave yourself an opportunity to learn. It doesn’t say anything about your progress as an archer, or as a person, or really anything outside of that shot.

So, to be a very successful archery, Grasshopper, you must “bring it” when you compete. Every shot requires a less than 10 second period of intense focus (subconscious) while you attend (conscious) to that shot. It flicks on, then off, then on, then off. Trying to be “on” for the hours required to shoot a round would exhaust anyone and would be counterproductive. Some people use triggers to start the process: golfers use their first step from behind their ball to setting up to hit it as their trigger, for example, some archers often use a key word (Commit!) just before they raise their bow, others have just learned to turn on their focus automatically through experience.

If you want to know what it looks like, here it is. (I believe he was mentally reviewing his last shot which requires one to recreate one’s mental state.)

Butch (Lloyd Brown) v3

Butch Johnson (Photo by Lloyd Brown)




Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

Just So There Is No Misunderstanding

I just sent an email to USA Archery asking to be removed from their list of coaches. Since I am aware that I may be a subject of conversation I thought I ought to go public with my reasoning.

I have spent a great deal of money acquiring coaching certifications from USA Archery and other organizations. Each coach training I received I felt that I had got a fair amount of knowledge for the price. I have complained, though, that there is nothing else. There were no books, no online trainings, no newsletters, no nothing in the way of support for coaches. After making this complaint several times at various levels in the USA Archery hierarchy, for example, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and I started this blog, for example, and we also launched the Watching Arrows Fly Coaching Library, a series of books we hope archery coaches will find very helpful.

When USA Archery started requiring background checks when coaches recertified (every four years) I complained that it was an unnecessary expense because we were not employed by USA Archery and every organization who employs me has their own process, so I have to get checked again. I have been getting background checks for at least 45 years and recently I have gotten so many that I was glad of the new electronic fingerprinting machines as I was afraid my fingertips were going to be come stained from all of the ink pads. (Yes, I am being facetious.) So, this newer annual background check requirement is simply an annual fee I must pay to be a volunteer coach in an organization I am not a volunteer coach for.

Before I withdrew I completed the latest requirement, SafeSport certification, not because I needed the training (I was a mandated reporter in California for decades) but because a refresher every once in a while doesn’t hurt. Interestingly that certification is the only “add-on” I have gotten from the archery organizations and I think it was only because it was required by the USOC.

The reason I withdrew from their program is I was receiving too little back for the amount demanded. I also did not want to be “expunged” from the coaching ranks for not meeting requirements.

I wish USA Archery well. I still recommend that my students join when they want to compete for medals (apparently they have to join to compete at all now—at least temporarily—as USAA has apparently eliminated “guests”).


Filed under For All Coaches

How Much is “Enough?”

QandA logoI have a student battling target panic (TP) and he sent in the following question:

Do you think 1000 shots are enough to get the muscle memory for that good back tension release feel or is it more important on a certain number of days doing it? I’ve read one month, three months. I remember my martial arts instructor (early 80’s) telling me if you do a move 3000 times, it’s with you for life. Don’t know how that relates to archery shots.

* * *

The usual estimates are only estimates but it is more than 1000 shots. There are two phases, I believe, Lanny Bassham refers to the first as “Building the Base.” This is the phase requiring many thousands of shots. After that “Maintenance” requires fewer shots but you never get to “no practice necessary” because of the design of our brain software, manifested in the phrase “use it or lose it.”

Dave Pelz, the Master Golf Instructor, estimated that it takes 10,000 repetitions to learn a move and 20,000 to “own it.” With regard to your TP, what you are striving to do is get to “normal shooting” so that your practice is “normal” and not focused on TP. I know of no test one can do to see if one is “healed” from the TP malady, in fact I don’t think a “cure” is available yet. It seems to be something you live with.

You have to make the transition (from blank bale to “normal” shooting) along the lines of what you are doing and then see if you can handle normal shooting. (I recommend warm up shooting to start blank bale regardless—focus on the feel of shots to reconnect your thoughts to your actions.) If you have a relapse, then it is back to the blank bale, then the transition program, then trying “normal” shooting again.

This is why so many people fail to effect this process: the want to “rush” the whole thing to get back to normal. This is like someone taking antibiotics saying “the doctor said I need to take these pills for ten days, but I think I can do fine with just five.” Rushing such a regimen dooms you to failure. The unfortunate thing is we do not have a test to see if what you have done is “good enough.”

Interestingly, I knew a young lady who closed her eyes just before she released (This was mentioned elsewhere in this letter. SR). She shot better than I did keeping my eyes open. And I am not sure this is not a valid way to deal with a TP recurrence on the fly. If you get a touch of TP during a competition, you might want to try closing your eyes just before you shoot (as he described) and see if it “goes away.” TP is an anxiety disorder and this may be an effective way to deal with it short term. Of course, you have to be able to do it, and it seems you have established that. The key to success doing it is to be setup so that you are not fighting your body. Tom Dorigatti wrote a nice article in Archery Focus magazine on shooting with your eyes closed and adjusting your stance until, in the case of some of his students, they were shooting perfect 25 point ends on the NFAA indoor five-spot target.



Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

Communication is Hard and Then We Die

QandA logoI got a follow-up from that last post and I got something wrong (amazing isn’t it!). Here is the follow-up question and my response:

“What I’m having trouble with is the rotator cuff of my string arm. In order to ensure full expansion, I pull back until I feel an intense stretch in my rotator cuff. I’m pretty sure this is overdoing it, but to what extent should I expand?”

So, I got the shoulder with the problem wrong. First off you should not feel “an intense stretch in my rotator cuff” … ever! If you do, stop!Stabilizer + V Bars

There is a “slot” through which your elbow can go comfortably while making a shot. If your elbow is too high or two low, there can be a feeling of something “catching” … which is bad. How high or low your slot is depends on you. I have seen archers with quite high and quite low arm positions/slots.

You need to find your slot. With your lighter limbs on your bow try drawing (you don’t have to shoot) with your elbow way too high … then way too low. Focus in on the feeling in your draw/string shoulder. Then try draws at various other spots. Being of a systematic mind, I would go half way between “too high” and “too low” and then look to slots in the top or bottom half of that range depending on which seemed the most promising. So, eyes closed, focus on your shoulder, draw. Try different arm slots to see if you can find the one that works for you. It should be comfortable with no strain and no pain.

This is something I learned “along the way,” I don’t have any biomechanics to back this up. Let me know if you do.

Also, take it easy. You are still nursing an injury which you do not need to aggravate.


Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

Expand: How and For How Long?

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
I have discovered the secret to shooting small groups for me. All I have to do is ensure that I expand after full draw. I realized this a couple months ago, but I overdid it and tore my rotator cuff. How can I get the benefits of expansion without excessively straining my rotator cuff? Rather, how much expansion should I do and how do I know when I should stop expanding?

* * *

This student is a Barebow Recurve and archer and, for those of you on the compound side, the “expansion” is a euphemism for the compound term “back tension” which is a euphemism itself. I can remember a while back when, in compound circles, someone would use the term “back tension” and everyone would respond with “What’s that?” The idea of engaging the back muscles to draw the string of a bow has been around for at least 500 years, but our communication on these topics has been so poor, that generations of archers have had to learn this as if it were recently discovered. <sigh>

The “expansion” is really just the use of the back muscles to swing the rear shoulder around toward the spine so that the shoulder line ends up pointing at the bow. (These are the same muscles we use to eShoulder anatomy #1xpand our chests, hence the source of the term.) This shoulder alignment is required to make the now famous “archer’s triangle.” This flexing of the muscles in the middle of the upper back continues through the release with no let up. To make sure that it happens that way, most recurve archers continue that action all the way to the end of the shot (1-2 s past release). This, in no way, should involve the rotator cuff of your bow arm and only slightly affects the one in your draw/string arm. The purpose of the rotator cuff is to stabilize the upper arm bone’s position vis-à-vis the shoulder socket (which is part of the scapula). Only if these bones are poorly aligned do the rotator cuff muscles get invoked significantly.

At full draw, you should only have a small amount of movement in that direction left (see my former post on range of motion), so little should happen because of that (unless things are out of alignment in the first place). When the loose of the string occurs, though, the entire weight of the bow must be borne by the bow arm alone (prior to that it could be supporting as little as 50% of the weight of the bow) and if there is any misalignment there, a problem could develop.

Now, and of course, this doesn’t address the myriad things archers do post release. If this phase is done correctly, the shoulders squeeze a little closer together in your back and your draw hand moves back a couple of inches (finishing with the draw/string fingers under your ear). If your hand finishes in any other place, then you did something that was neither necessary nor effective. Paying attention to your body position post release is an essential skill for archers: you can decipher all kinds of things about how your body was aligned at full draw from where the bits and pieces ended up later.

PS How come I get all of these questions from recurve archers? Are there any compound archers out there? Steve

PPS I know that I just opened myself up to all kinds of snide comments about compound archers; please restrain yourself.

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I Want Your Help

I apologize for the shameless plug but we are, once again, trying everything we can to spread good information about archery.

This post concerns our first archery publication: Archery Focus magazine. This magazine was created shortly after the 1996 Olympics by Rick McKinney of the U.S. and Yoshi Komatsu of Japan. I became the Editor in 1999 and Claudia and I took over the magazine shortly thereafter. What I need your help with is we need a broader base of support. I ask you to consider subscribing or, if you are already a subscriber, that you go out and convince two other people that they need to subscribe. Here’s why.

Archery Focus magazine is the only archery publication in the world that is solely focused on publishing articles that help archers and coaches get better at their crafts. All archers (compound, recurve, traditional), at all levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced, elite), and all aspects (physical training, mental game, form and execution, equipment, etc.). With a subscription you get six new issues as they are published and you get access to all of the back issues for no additional charge. This means that subscribers have at their fingertips the world’s largest collection of archery instruction materials in that archive. We have an educational mission and we do not want to put needed information behind a pay wall, except to make the money we need to keep the magazine going.AF Cover 17-3

We aren’t going broke but we are barely breaking even (Claudia hates that when I say this to people, but it is true). I do not draw a salary. And we could use more than a few more subscribers, so I ask you to consider it if you have not already or, if you are a subscriber, if you would talk it up with people at your range, I will appreciate it.

Archery Focus magazine

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Should I use a Heavier Bow to Build Archery Strength

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
I recall that you previously discussed using heavier limbs during practice and then lighter limbs during competition. How many pounds heavier should my practice limbs be?

* * *

Using a heavier bow to train with has been a practice technique for a long time. I recently read a very old treatise on archery from China which indicated that once an archer learned how to shoot well using a “light-drawing bow” they needed to train to be able to draw much heavier draw weights. Please note that their example of a light-drawing bow was one of roughly 60 pounds of draw. The heavier bows were 80 pounds and higher.

So, advantages of modern technology have changed things and the requirements of target archery have changed them again.

Ordinary archers in ancient historical (means “for which we have written records”) times were in essence artillerymen. These archers lobbed relatively heavy arrows into masses of men and animals in the expectation that they would hit something because there were so many “targets” all clumped together. The actual “marksman” was quite rare. The accounts of extreme marksmanship usually came from martial arts schools (which can be trusted to always tell the truth, right?).

Trad Recurve

Any bow can be used for this kind of training.

So, to address the question of training using a heavier bow.

This is not a regular thing. This is done to increase stamina or to build strength to support a heavier bow during regular shooting. The vast majority of your practice should be at the draw weight you compete in. This is because archery is a “feel” sport and the “feels” of the two bows are quite different.

Consider the example of a baseball player in the “on deck” circle preparing to bat during a game. They often use a heavier bat or add weights to their own bats which gets their muscles warmed up and makes their regular bat feel light in their hands. But before they approach the plate, they swing their normal bat several times, often trying to synchronize their swings with the pitcher’s pitches. Imagine what would happen if the batter took a heavier bat into batting practice and batted with nothing but it. When the game rolled around he would find his timing destroyed and he would be unable to hit at all.

The occasional use of a higher drawing bow to develop stamina and strength is advisable. So, you might do ten minutes of reversals with the heavier bow (always focused on having proper form) every other practice or during a fitness program supporting your archery. Something like that. You could go on a more extensive regimen to prepare for a draw weight increase (which are limited to 2# at a time for recurve archers so as to not destroy the form already learned). The draw weight should be something you can handle but noticeably heavier than you are used to, e.g. 5-10#.

The reason we draw such lighter weights today is that for target archery, we are shooting very small targets (and one designated beforehand), we are shooting a great many more arrows, and our arrows are considerably lighter than those of antiquity, plus our bows are more consistent. All of these factors favor shooting with a lower draw weight over a higher one.



Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A