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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