Monthly Archives: June 2015

Coaching Cheap Thrills

I just received a notice of another follower of this blog. (There I’ve told you there aren’t so many followers of this blog (there are 142 of you to date), if there were I would have turned off that notification long ago, otherwise one’s Inbox gets swamped.) The new follower is “rosecityarchery.” (Be still, my beating heart.) For those of you who don’t know Rose City Archery, it is the premier producer of wood target archery shafts and arrows. They may also produce the world’s best hunting shafts, but I cannot attest to that as I have never hunted with wood arrows.

Rose City Archery is located in Oregon and they claim to be the world’s largest wood arrow and shaft manufacturer. I have no way to verify that, so I take them at their word. They have been in business since the early 1930’s.

If you are interested in traditional archery and wood arrows, check out their web site and their blog ( You will find not only the highest quality products for sale, but also some high quality information about building them.

Also, there are a great many false claims made about wood arrows, such as they can’t be shot from compound bows safely, so that if you decide to “go wood” you will need to educate yourself. Traditional archery icon Dan Quillian wrote a series on such myths for Archery Focus magazine a while back (all back-issues are available for free with a subscription for the next six new issues).



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An Indisputable Relationship

I was watching the 2015 U.S. Open Golf Championship this past weekend and something unusual happened: quite a few players criticized the putting greens. Basically they complained that the balls were not rolling true. This was observable even on TV. And, yes, they were all playing the “same” course so the competition was “fair,” that is not what their complaints were based on; their complaints were that the scores weren’t meaningful, that is they were not reflective of how well a golfer played.

Putting is a very complicated task. A golfer must judge the path to the hole. Is it flat or is it sloped? Are there multiple slopes? Does the grain face toward or away from the golfer (this affects the speed of the roll). Is it uphill or downhill? Then the golfer has to visualize a path the ball might take to the target, a path which is speed dependent. (I once saw a golfer sink four putts from the exact same point using four different ball speeds on four different paths (faster putts are straighter). And this is complicated by the fact that as the ball slows down (as it does the entire way to the hole) it “takes the break” more and more.

The course being played was a new course and the golfers had very little prior information. Golfers take copious notes of green conditions in their “yardage books.” Now they are even given “green guides,” that golfers of old would have loved to have, guides that graphically show the slopes on the greens, but sometimes greens don’t “read right.” Golfers see the path breaking to the left and their ball rolls to the right. These inconsistencies are the subject of notes as they gain experience. These, of course, were lacking in a course new to them.

So, what were they bitching about? They were bitching about the fact that the balls were not rolling true, meaning the ball would roll along a well-read path, at the right speed, and then take a slight jog off line for no reason visible to caddy or golfer. This, in effect, takes some of the putting (roughly half of the strokes in a round) out of the area of skill and puts it into the realm of chance.

You are by now wondering what this has to do with archery. We have little that is similar to these complaints (although we do complain enough to keep up) especially since archery golf seems no longer to be played. Possibly the closest we have to golfing situations is field archery. And the only thing comparable to putting surface conditions we have is wind. Irregular winds can wreak havoc with a round score. And, such do inject chance in the place of skill.

“My point is it is a fundamental principle of coaching that our most important job is to create ‘an indisputable relationship between an archer’s expertise and his results.’”

But this is not the point. My point is that a critical concept for archery coaches is displayed by this: that, as John Holden put it in his book on archery equipment (Shooting Straight, 1987), there needs to be an “an indisputable relationship between an archer’s expertise and his results.” Putting, like shooting arrows, is a largely subconscious effort. Like archery, golf does a lot of conscious planning (golf more so) but when it comes time to shoot, it is a matter of “feel” and this is the realm of the subconscious mind. We ask our subconscious minds to block out irrelevant information but to suck up relevant information. So, we spend time on the practice facilities judging the “speed of the greens” or the “wind at the targets.” And how do we do that? Golfers putt and seeing the result of a putt, putt again, and again trying to accommodate their putting stroke to this week’s surface, be it fast or slow. Archers do the same thing. They shoot and then aim off and shoot again. For golfers and often archers, everything is different about this venue from last week’s venue, but the variations in wind and light are the ones archers focus on. We don’t, for example, usually have to worry about the size of the targets as they have been made standard, just as golfers always are putting toward a standard 4.25˝ cup.

My point is it is a fundamental principle of coaching that our most important job is to create “an indisputable relationship between an archer’s expertise and his results.” If a student shoots an arrow correctly, but the arrow is bent, the result is not a consequence of their execution. What can that archer’s subconscious learn from that? Answer: nothing good.

The bow and arrows teach the archer. We, for example, spend very little time observing any student- archer’s performance. I coach a team of about 12 archers. In a two-hour practice that means that I spend an average of 10 minutes observing each archer. But their subconscious minds are observing 100% of their shots. Even if you coach an individual, they spend many hours in individual practice between lessons, no? (I am convinced that a part of Korea’s success in international archery competitions stems from the fact that each archer is being observed to a much greater extent than ours are.)

By focusing on creating “an indisputable relationship between an archer’s expertise and his results” for our archers, we are ensuring that when our student-archers do something, the arrow and target are giving them “good feedback,” accurate feedback from which they are learning to correct and/or minimize their mistakes. Just like golfers who want greens that give their subconscious minds “good feedback,” archers want the same from their venues and their equipment. It is a coach’s primary job to get our archers into adequate form and execution with equipment set up so that the feedback it provides from shooting reinforces positive improvements and not confusion.

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Leaning In

I had a lesson yesterday with one of my favorite adult Olympic Recurve students (state championship level). When he stepped up to the line, I immediately saw something different. This faculty of coaches (to immediately “see” differences) reminds me of chess masters who can play multiple games of chess and win all of them. Most people seem to think they keep all of the boards in memory, but that is an entirely different skill (which some do possess, being able to play games blindfolded). These masters of their craft step up to each board and “read” it. They may or may not recall their last move or their opponents last move, they are irrelevant, they can see the board and all of the situations upon it knowing that the next move is theirs. Then they go to the next board and read it as if it were new, etc.

Studies of various levels of chess players indicate that these chess masters are no better in many ways than are lesser players; they consider about the same number of moves when trying to estimate counter moves, for example. What these masters have is the ability to “chunk” the information into scenarios and sub-scenarios at a glance. When chess masters and much less experienced players were asked to recreate a board after looking at it for just seconds, the masters were much better than the beginners. But when the boards were set up randomly, with no set relations between the pieces, both types of players were equally inept. These latter boards had no normal chunks to “see.”

I find coaching to be similar. We expect to see a kind of “normal” form and when something is “different” it really stands out. In this case, my student seemed to be leaning onto his toes more than he had in the past. not dramatically so, but certainly recognizably so. I commented on this and he said that possibly it was because he wasn’t yet warmed up, so he finished his warm up, and “it” was still there.

He asked if his shoes could be a source of the difference. He mentioned that he wasn’t all that comfortable shooting in the shoes he was wearing. We had had a change of season, so people were no longer wearing the boots of winter. He had switched to a pair of “trainers,” which is not a good idea.


Cross-trainers … bad!

When I was young (long ago and in a galaxy far, far away), there were “tennis shoes” and “basketball shoes” available to sporty people. These tended to have flat soles. Then some genius figured out that fortunes were to be made selling specialized sport shoes. Now there are myriad choices, many of which are specialized. (One of my favorite pairs of shooting shoes were “bouldering shoes.” They had flattish soles and steel shanks making them very stiff.)

Trainers or “cross-trainers” have soles that are quite curved. This is not desirable when shooting. Archers need to have a flat(ish) soled shoes that are quite rigid. If you are a field archer, you probably need a lugged sole, too, for good traction on sloped surfaces. These shoes give consistent feedback to the wearer about their weight distribution. The “curvy-soled shoes” are curved to control changes in weight distribution while running (heel to toe), etc.

While we were on the subject I went on to explain my theory regarding weight distribution. The books recommend a 60% forward, 40% rear weight distribution (as well as 50:50 left-to-right). I think this came about because some enterprising science-minded archery bloke measured the fore-back weight distribution using force platform insoles and discovered the magic ratio (60:40, toes–heels). The mistake was made when archers tried to establish this ratio by doing something, which almost always resulted in too much weight forward. Coaches made the mistake by recommending or implying this was something “to do.”

I believe this “balance” situation happens automatically. Since the student’s bow was sitting on the floor between us (stabilizer sticking straight up), I reached out to pick up his bow via the stabilizer illustrating my point that one’s balance point shifts forward when we pick up our bows. What I hadn’t noticed before is that I could feel that shift when I picked up his bow (the bow being right next to me but hanging from the stabilizer.

Flat-soled shoes ... good!

Flat-soled shoes … good!

So, I asked my student to repeat this drill. I asked him to stand close to the bow and get as balanced as he could be (at least as balanced as the wrong shoes would allow). Then I asked him to pick up the bow the way I did while concentrating on what happened to his balance. He felt the shift forward also. (I haven’t proven this yet, but I am becoming more and more convince this is at last approximately correct. I have a science study indicating that a weight shift forward occurs whether the weight is place in front or in back of the bearer, but they used 20 kg weights which is far greater than the weight of a bow, so there may be differences due to that.)

One of the most common mistakes archers make (coaches, too) is in confusing things that “happen” with things needing to “be done.” Common examples are guiding the bow into a perfect roll over during the release instead of letting it do that on its own, trying to remove the string fingers off of the string rather than relaxing them and allowing the string to flick them out of the way, etc. This 60:40 rule is another of those. Those archers who were shooting well, were not shooting well because of a 60:40 weight distribution, but in spite of it. The weight of the bow held out in front of our body causes this shift, we need do nothing.



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Getting Through the Clicker

This question came through as a “comment” on an older post. I have added a little to it and put it up here in the cue where people can find it. (You can sort through these posts by clicking on any category or tag in the “clouds” to the right. The posts that have those categories/tags applied to them will then burble to the top of the stack.) Also, when you send in questions, please indicate what style you shoot and any other particulars you think bear on your problem.

QandA logoHi Steve, have you got any advice on overcoming mental blocks? I often struggle to commit to squeezing the arrow through the clicker. I’ve worked on the mental program stuff from Lanny Bassham but I’m not quite there.

This is hard to answer without watching you shoot.

The whole purpose of the clicker is to remove the decision of when to shoot and place it onto the clicker and training (clickers are not just triggers). My first suspicion is you don’t have your clicker set up correctly. Here’s a test to check that. Have a mate watch your clicker as you draw through it. (Be sure you are well warmed up.) The drill is: draw through the click, but when you hear the click, continue to expand as hard as you can without losing good form. Do not let the string slide back on your face or do anything else you would not normally do. Ideally, your arrow point should only be able to get 1/4˝ (0.5 cm) past the rear edge of the clicker. If you can get farther than that, your clicker is too far out. If you can’t get that far, it is too far in.

The point here is that the clicker needs to be set very close to the edge of your range of motion (in the funny motion we can drawing at anchor). Since you are so close to not being able to move farther, you will feel a great deal of discomfort in your back (if you are using the correct muscles there). That discomfort is what your subconscious mind uses as a guide to what makes a “shot going well.” Without that guide, getting through your clicker becomes an athletic event. On good days you will get through your clicker in good order, on bad days you will either pull through too easily (if you are feeling frisky) or struggle to get through at all (if feeling sluggish).

Ch 09 Clicker (Andy M)When the clicker is set right, a short training cycle should get you synced up: it helps to have a mate work with you. The drill goes like this: you will either let down or shoot or count to 1, 2, or 3 seconds and then shoot. I suggest that you let down about every other shot at the beginning and mix in the others randomly. As you work through the drill, reduce the number of let downs until they constitute their ordinary share of the five different possibilities. Your mate tells you which of these to do before you do it. (I have typed out sheets of these instructions, randomly sorted after the initial 20 shots or so (which are let down “heavy”) for students working alone to remove the decision making.)

The purpose of this drill is to give you control over your clicker. The two conditions for a correct release are the clicker clicking in good order and everything else is good. So if you are aiming dead center and the clicker clicks but you don’t see gold through your aperture, you must let down. If you make your response to the clicker clicking a conditional response, that arrow is going to be shot and is going to land poorly. This latter drill creates a space in time after the clicker clicks in which this decision is made, so make sure you confirm the good sight picture after the clicker clicks. In time your subconscious mind will take this task over and it will happen with lightning speed.

An elite archer pulls through their clicker almost every time in a clearly defined rhythm … I am sure you want to do this, too, but you have to get there in control of a correctly placed clicker.

In archery the “mental” and “physical” aspects are stitched together and need to be address in proper context. This may be a “mental” problem or it may not be. As I said, it is hard to tell without watching you shoot and interviewing you.


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Exploring Balance

Many students, especially younger ones, do not appreciate how important balance is in making quality archery shots. I see this most often in young archers muscling around compound bows that are too heavy. Combine that with a bit too much draw weight and getting to full draw becomes a dance routine.

To help students with their balance, the first task is to expand their awareness. Archers focussed intently upon their targets aren’t getting the messages sent in by their balance system. Here are a couple of things for them to try:

  • Start by having them shoot with their feet together. If they do anything that makes them lose their balance, it will need to be adjusted. (For some skeptical students you may have to demonstrate you can do it.)
  • Have them take their normal stance and then pick up their “away” foot (also known as the back foot) and touch it down on its tip. Basically you are asking your student to shoot off of one foot (with but slight assistance from the other). Again, if they do anything that makes them lose their balance, it will need to be adjusted.
  • Or have them take their “toward” foot (also known as their front foot) and swing it around to the other side of their away foot and set it down. Then shoot again.

Each of these is a variation of the others (so you will probably need only one of these drills;; the others are for the case that one approach doesn’t work: the archer can’t do it, the result is not achieved, etc.). The idea is to make obvious the things the archer is doing that cause loss of balance. The goal is the make the archer aware of the balance issue.

The issue is important because the draw is a large scale movement of the body and the bow. Following those movements it takes some few seconds to resume a still state. (Shots taken while not still have been classified as “drive by shootings.”) The time required to become still is affected by how well balanced the archer is. Obviously, spending a greater amount of time under the stress of the bow because of a jerky or wobbly draw will lead to fatigue more quickly and scores will suffer.

The obvious solution to many young archers is to draw very slowly. This is not a good solution because a very slow draw lengthens the time the archer is under the stress of the draw, just what we are trying to avoid. The best solution is a smooth, strong draw, one that involves a minimum amount of movement getting to full-draw-position and which results in a sense of stillness in very short order. Being balanced throughout the shot gives your archer the best platform from which to perform this action.

But … if they still doubt that balance is important, have them shoot from tiptoes. That will convince them balance is important. (Be sure they are shooting close up because the arrows often go very far afield which is why this drill is not #1.)



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Archery Form … Is Overrated

I just watched a YouTube video of Oh Jin Hyek describing his form (, which includes poor shoulder alignment and a number of other flaws. Yes, this is the same Oh Jin Hyek who won gold at the 2012 Olympic Games (London). Also winning a gold at that Games was Michele Frangilli, whose form can best be described as idiosyncratic (and devastatingly effective as he has won everything in sight). And it was not that long ago that Viktor Ruban of Ukraine won an individual Olympic gold medal (2008, Beijing) grabbing the bow (no sling) and with his thumb behind his neck at full draw. The compound world is just as idiosyncratic.

So, why are archers and coaches so obsessed with describing and teaching and trying to adopt perfect archery form and execution? Clearly excellent, or even good, form is not needed to win.

I am not going to try to convince you I know the answer to this conundrum, but I do think we need to start discussing this because for all coaches, we need to know what to emphasize (as well as how to emphasize it and when).

How Could We Know?
I often wonder what climate change denying politicians are going to say when they are proven wrong. I imagine it will be something like “I am not a scientist, how could I have known?” (The cynical me would ask “You didn’t question why the energy companies were giving you so much money?) The same question occurs regarding archery form and execution: what should we be emphasizing? What are the roots of winning form and execution?

I suggest a novel approach: we could ask.

Lanny Bassham’s Mental Management System was created because he asked. He asked fellow Olympic medal winners what their mental state was when competing. He took what he learned and went out and won everything in sight, too, including the gold medal that eluded him his first time around.

We could survey Olympic and world championship medal winners and we could examine them. We could rate their form and their execution, describe their strengths and weaknesses (we have video of most of the competitions, no?). We could look at their performances before and after their winning such prestigious medals to see if the winning was part of a longer-term trend or a surprise.

We could ask. We could ask them and ask each other.

What role does confidence play? (Apparently a lot.)

What role does being comfortable on a big stage play? (Apparently a lot.)

What role does picture perfect form and execution play? (Apparently not so much.)

That these questions are not even current in coaching and archery discussions says a lot about where we are. (Hint: we have no idea.)

What Should We Know?
There are so many questions that need to be asked. What role does shooting distance play? This came to mind because the aforementioned Michele Frangilli still owns two world records for indoor rounds: for the 18m 600 round he shot a 597; for the 25m indoor round, he shot a 598. That’s right, move the targets back 40% and the WR goes up! (Was it the 50% increase in target size? Was it the difference between the magnitudes of two changes (distance and target size)? Were these just his very best performances or did he flirt with such scores regularly?)

I would like to know how best to teach archery 8-year olds, and teenagers, and adults and how to distinguish excellent archers from just the very good and … and….

I’d be interested in hearing from coaches out there about things you would like to know. If I get enough responses/questions sent in I will share them far and wide.

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Nothing Stays the Same . . . Nothing

I was watching the Memorial Golf Tournament this past weekend and one of the professional golfers, Dustin Johnson, mentioned that after two rounds in which he played fairly poorly, he saw a TV commercial he had made a while back when he was playing very, very well and recognized that he had changed his set up. So back out onto the practice range he went to get back to that set up and, bingo, he started playing well again.

“Instead of trying to emulate, to imprint on, some professional/elite archer, why not imprint on yourself, when you were shooting lights out?”

The point here is that, for archers as well as for golfers, nothing stays the same. Everything drifts . . . off. This is why so much practice is required. This basic fact behooves us to keep records. When we are shooting well, we need to take notes regarding our mental states, how our shot feels, everything we think is important. A series of still photos or a video can be invaluable. (A picture is worth how many words?)

Every high-powered sport is using video now. Baseball batters watch video of pitchers. Pitchers watch video of batters. Football players watch video of themselves and their opposition. Golfers watch video of their shots. Companies are now offering motion capture devices to add even more richness to the captured images.

Instead of trying to emulate, to imprint on, some professional/elite archer, why not imprint on yourself, when you were shooting lights out?

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Ow, Ow, Ow, My Neck Hurts!

QandA logoI had an Olympic Recurve student complain about her neck being sore after even a short practice session and she asked me what she could do.

Here is my response.

Be aware that the Olympic Recurve style puts considerable stress on one’s neck. To make sure you are putting no more than the minimum required stress on those muscles, you need to include in your awareness as you shoot whether you are adding to additional stress to that minimum. (It is not unusual for us to subconsciously flex muscles receiving attention; this is a normal response.) If you detect you are subconsciously doing that, you need to “train” it out. Training your subconscious is a lot like training a dog. Your dog doesn’t understand the words “bad dog” but it does understand your tone of voice. If you say “bad dog” while smiling and laughing and petting your dog, its tail will wag like crazy. If you say “good dog” in a scolding tone while frowning it will behave submissively. Training your subconscious mind is similar.

If you find your subconscious overusing your neck muscles, you need to stop what you are doing, i.e. you must let down. Corrections must be made in real time, just as is required to train a dog, because if you do not, the dog and your subconscious will have moved on and the correction will not be connected with the act it is supposed to address. So, let down and correct. The correction is in the form of mild disapproval, with maybe a rubbing of the offending muscle to get it to relax. You are saying, gently, “no, not ‘tense,’ but ‘relaxed.’” The emotional state of mild disapproval is sufficient. You do not want to rant and rave and throw your bow, that would not be a proportional response. Basically, if you don’t think your dog would understand, neither would your subconscious mind.

I did check your ability to turn your head toward the target, you have plenty of flexibility, but in Olympic Recurve (not so much in compound styles) one’s head position is near the end of the range of motion for turning your head on your neck, so realize that this strain is there and must be managed. Stretching, turning your head both ways, massaging your neck muscles, all seem to work. (By the way, having a helper for neck stretching is a good idea. By sitting in a chair and having someone gently turn your head, you do not have to flex the neck muscles to do that. You can focus on relaxing the muscles involved.) Even so, many OR competitors report neck strain, probably exacerbated by competition stress (when your focus is elsewhere, e.g. on scoring, other aspects of your awareness dim and drift a little from the norm).

I hope this helps!



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