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.



Filed under For All Coaches

2 responses to “Leaning In

  1. Interesting observation. I had the opposite problem. I changed from a walking shoe with a slight heel to a flat shoe that is advertised as giving “more feel of the ground”. This redistributed my weight towards my heels and culminated in my back feeling very tired as I unconsciously thrust my hips forward to compensate. This meant I couldn’t fully engage my long back muscles, and my shots were all over the place. Fortunately I was able to figure it out by looking at my logbook. I put on my previous style shoes with the prior lift, and all was well. Which underscores what you said about the importance of the shoe bed in weight distribution for archers.


    • Yeah, a bit of heel helps. My hope for the Archery Coaches Guild is that we can collect some of these “stories” together and see if we have a consistent narrative and then ask some university research teams to see if they can help confirm them or at least provide a scientific footing for them (no pun intended).

      Raining like heck here in Chicago, Sue, good weather in Eugene?

      On Mon, Jun 15, 2015 at 4:22 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



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