Monthly Archives: February 2015

Scoring Well

Every year, the team I coach acquires new archers, many of whom have very little experience. I wrote the following handout on how to begin to score well for them and I decided to share it with you. SPR


When you first seriously undertake learning to shoot your focus is upon your form and execution. Form being your body positions (foot positions, hip positions, shoulder positions, full-draw-position. etc.) and execution being the movements made to get from one position to the next. This is necessary. First you must build your shot, then through repetition you come to own it.

Then if you find you like competition, another aspect arises—scoring. Being able to shoot repetitively, creating nice tight groups is one thing, scoring well is another. An example is a student I had who worked very hard to make sure her sight settings were good and would go to a competition and shoot tight groups but not score well. On one occasion, her arrows were bunched well below the center of the target. She kept shooting, hoping things would work out and when we asked her why she didn’t adjust her sight so the arrows would land in the highest scoring zone, she answered that her sight marks were good, she must be doing something wrong and she just hadn’t figured out what. Compare that behavior with the 2000 Olympic Gold Medal winning archer, Simon Fairweather. After warming up and shooting two ends of three arrows in his gold medal match, he shot his first arrow in competition. He looked through his spotting scope, then reached up and adjusted his sight setting. The lesson? If you want to score well, put the damned aperture where it needs to be to make the arrows go in the middle.

Even if everything were perfect during practice and warm-ups, when competition pressure builds up, you change making things different. tension makes muscles shorter, making it more difficult to get through your clicker or into your full-draw-position, for example. This changes the feel of your shot. It doesn’t feel right any more. This is the challenge: making whatever changes needed to score well without trying to invent a new way to shoot in the process.

Here are some suggestions on how to score well:

  1. You must “trust your shot.” Improvising new techniques to score well is counterproductive. This can happen subconsciously!
  2. If your arrows are grouping off center, change your point-of-aim, crawl, sight setting, etc. so that your groups become centered. This is a basic condition for scoring well.
  3. Know thyself. Learn about how you respond to competition pressure. Take notes. If you shake more at full draw under pressure, note that (it doesn’t necessarily affect your scoring much), etc. Learn about what you need to eat and drink and do during a competition to perform your best.
  4. When things go wrong, troubleshooting must address whether the problem is your equipment, the environment (includes your target), or you. If you get the source of your problem wrong, you will not have solved the problem but probably also made an unneeded “fix” that makes scoring worse. I had a young student who was given a target with a soft center (they thought she would hit it much so it shouldn’t be a problem). End after end, she found arrows in the grass she was sure should have hit the target. Those arrows were going through the soft spot unnoticed and received scores of zero instead of 10s, 9s, or 8s.
  5. Track your competition and practice scores and compare them. If you are scoring 10% below your practice scores in a competition and you think that is a problem but it is, in fact, normal for you, you just created a problem that doesn’t exist and any “solution” to that problem will make your scoring worse.
  6. At the end of every competition, make two lists of at least three (3) items each: #1 Things I Learned and #2 Things I Will Do Differently Next Time. Do this within 24 hours of the end of the shoot. Read these lists to develop practice plans and to prepare for the next shoot.

There is more … much more.


Filed under For All Coaches

Sticking with Strings

QandA logoAs a follow-up on my last post about waxing bowstrings I received a query about breaking in new bowstrings.

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First, a separation must be made between modern and post-modern bowstring materials (my definitions). I say this because no one is using traditional materials (silk, hemp, linen, cotton, sinew, etc.) in target archery so we do not need to talk about them. (Yes, primitive archers are using such materials but not to seriously compete against others in ordinary target archery venues.) And, there is a big difference between the first-generation modern string materials and those that came after.

So, the first “modern” string material and the only one worth considering is Dacron® (still available for purchase, by the way). Dacron® was much stronger than most of the materials and cheaper and more regular, etc. But Dacron® was also “stretchy.” So, when a new Dacron® bowstring was placed on a bow, several procedures were used to remove some of the stretch. One common technique was to place the strung bow, back down, in one’s lap and press down on the limbs. After some of the stretch occurred, the string would be twisted up and shot. Unfortunately, Dacron® never stops stretching so one needs to keep twisting over the life of the string.

The first post-modern string material (in my scheme of things) was Spectra® marketed under the brand name “Fast Flight.” This string material was primarily ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, a slightly modified version of the material used to make black plastic garbage bags. And, there was Kevlar® (poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide—Aramid fiber), and yes the stuff used to make bullet proof vests, but Kevlar strings had the nasty habit of breaking … at full draw so achieve only a temporary popularity.Recurve bow string

Most newer bowstring materials are made from two such materials, their fibers twisted together to make “blended string materials.”

The point here is that once you get past Dacron®, the “stretchiness” is much, much less. (There are technical terms used, such as “creep” which have technical definitions (stretch that doesn’t recover, stretch that does recover, etc.) but my argument doesn’t require a foray into the itty-bitty details.) Because of the low level of stretch in these materials “string break in” is a simple procedure: string the bow and shoot it.

The “old” rule of thumb (Fast Flight came out in the late 1980’s, so we are talking about the last 30 years or so) was 100 shots and you were good to go. Basically 30 will probably do it. After that adjust your brace height or eccentric positions and you are good to go. Yes, you still need to check these things regularly because things do go wrong, but don’t expect large changes after break in, they just don’t happen with these “post-modern” materials.

And, if you keep your ears open you will hear old-timers talking about things like “sinking in” their new bow by shooting their heaviest arrows. These are traditional self-bow archers who are not talking about their strings so much as they are their bows. But keep listening, just be sure you associate what you hear with what is really being talked about and don’t just extrapolate that to you and your archer’s archery.

PS I still use Fast Flight string material for compound strings and cables and the occasional recurve or longbow strings. Good stuff. But (Warning!) do not use modern string materials on older recurves or longbows that do not have limb tip reinforcements. These materials are so unyielding that they can cut right into the bare wood of such bows. Most archers use dacron strings on those older bows as the springyness of the string lessens the shock on the limb tips. (No charge for that tip.)







Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

Waxing Poetic

QandA logoHi Steve,
One of my young archers asked if they had to use special bow string wax. He wondered if he could, in a pinch, use Chap Stick, lip balm, bees wax or something more readily available on his bow string. He readily ruled out candle wax, it didn’t feel the same, but I didn’t have a good answer for him on his other suggestions … do you?

* * *

Okay, is he a recurve archer? Recurve archers do not generally wax their strings, unless they are expecting to have to shoot in the rain. Wax increases the weight of the string, slowing it and the arrows attached to it down. Water in the bowstring will do the same thing, so the wax is preferred over the water as being less variable. The amount of waxed used then becomes a variable, which …Chapstick

If he is a compound archer, well, they do wax their strings, maybe once a year. So, what kind of a pinch/emergency are we talking about? ;o)

I remember a young JOAD archer who was earnestly waxing the string and cables of his compound bow and I asked him why he was doing that. His response was that he was told to “keep his string and cables well-waxed.” The fact that he already had enough wax on his bow to polish a good sized gymnasium floor was not considered a sign of “oops, too much.”

Modern string materials are made out of stuff very similar to that used to make plastic garbage bags (high molecular weight linear polyethylene being one the first such materials). Wax is not needed, per se, as these materials do not absorb water. Some wax, though, keeps grit from getting between the individual strands of the string which keeps that grit from abrading the individual strands, thus preventing premature string failure. Any soft wax will do, which is why candle wax did not feel right (too hard). Beeswax has been used on bowstrings since prehistoric times, I believe. I suggest playing it safe and using a commercial product as the ingredients in lip glosses, for example, may soften the string material leading to string stretch which changes a whole bunch of bow parameters. If the commercial products had any such negative effect, the obsessive-compulsive archers would have pointed that out already.

Recurve bow stringIf any such substitute string “wax” is used in “a pinch” I would replace it with commercial bow wax at the earliest opportunity. Just wax over the area with the “good wax” and then loop a strand of serving material around the string, pull on both ends and slide it up and down. This will remove the excess wax. The “dewaxing” could be done before as well as after the correct waxing, first to remove the “bad wax” and the second to remove the excess. A couple of repetitions of this procedure will result in the “good wax” replacing the “substitute” almost completely.

Recurve archers can be obsessive about their strings up to weighing them to make sure they are identical in every way, down to the very small amounts of wax used on them.

Good question!



Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

There are Archery Coaching Principles

I was watching a teaser for Hank Haney’s instructional video “Lessons Learned from Coaching the World’s Greatest Golfer” and Coach Haney brought up something I had already recognized as a basic principle for coaching archers. When I recovered from the cheap thrill, I realized that he had expanded upon that principle in a way I had not.

The Goldilocks Principle
I have recommended “the Goldilocks Principle” to many coaches, the basic thrust of which is when you are looking to make a change, exaggerate at first. Goldilocks comes into it because if something is too low and you effect a change that moves you to a position of being too high, then you now have boundaries, between which you will find “just right.” (This porridge is too hot. This porridge is too cold. This porridge is just right. Ah.)

An archery example of this occurs while sighting in. If your first sight setting results in your arrow hitting the target very low, you could put a couple of “clicks” into your sight and shoot again. The result will be the arrow will land slightly higher than the first one (if you moved the aperture the right way, of course). Instead, you should move your aperture down quite a bit, hopefully so that your next shot is too high. Once you know where “too low” and “too high” are on your sight bar for this distance, then try half way in between those. If that isn’t very close, then half way to one of those boundaries (depending on where the next arrow lands) until you are very close, then you can go a couple of clicks at a time to fine tune your group location.

Coach Haney referred to those “boundaries” (e.g. too hot and too cold) as being “parameters,” a fine Latin term which means “to be measured against” but there is really no difference between what he was teaching and what I am. But Coach Haney indicated that working with Tiger Woods taught him a great deal. One of those things he shared in his sales pitch for the fill video, namely Tiger’s father, Earl, taught him that “there is a big difference between feel and real.” So Tiger would do a lot of mirror work, trying very hard to exaggerate any change he was making. The reason for this is that when you have practiced something until it feels natural, something I call the “Old Normal,” if you deviate just a little bit it feels like you have deviated a lot. This is why when you ask a student-archer to do something differently, they will move only slightly away from what has been tried and true for a long time. You have to ask them to exaggerate, as Coach Haney said “I have to ask for a foot to get an inch.”

So Tiger would do mirror work when he was trying a change a bit of his swing or he would ask his coach when his club (or hand or …) was in the right position. Then Tiger could associate that particular feel (which always felt very exaggerated to him) with the real position he was trying to create.

In other words, he used his own sense of the feel of things to calibrate the change.

This involves the athlete more actively in making the change. They are not just being a good soldier, doing everything (or trying to do everything) commanded by their coach. The coach is there is provide the feedback the athlete needs to match up the “feel” he is having with the “real” situation. This puts the athlete more in charge of his training, which I believe is always a good thing in an individual sport.


I believe there are Principles of Coaching Archery. I believe we share some of these with other sports. What I call the Goldilocks Principle is used in golf and, I suspect, other individual sports.

If you look at these two sports (golf and archery) both have been around for very long times. So why is golf so much farther advanced when it comes to coaching than is archery? I am sure that it has something to do with golf being restricted to the well-to-do by and large and that the wealthy would pay for instruction where the poor and middle class could not afford it. But there is more. Part of it involves the transmission of information between and among golf instructors and coaches and the codification of that knowledge. Now, I really don’t believe everything the PGA teaches about coaching golf is correct, but at least you can acquire those teachings. You do not have to start from scratch.

I think it would be a “good thing” if us coaches were to make a list of as many of these archery coaching principles as we can identify. I can think of no better information to pass along to the next generation of coaches. As it has been, we have left each new generation to learn what they could on their own. We can do better.

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