Monthly Archives: September 2015

Fitting Young Recurve Archers

QandA logoThis begins often enough with an email:

Good Morning Steve,
My daughter met with you a few months ago for one session and she said that you mentioned the wooden riser she has is lighter than the ones being purchased today. Her coach has recommended a new 23˝ riser for her and an increase poundage with new limbs. My daughter wanted me to run this by you and ask what type of riser would you recommend? The one she is being recommended to purchase is <link provided>. Which riser would be good throughout her growth? She has also had another coach tell her that magnesium risers are lighter and would be good for a long time. Will she always outgrow a riser? Please let me know your thoughts.
Thank You in Advance,
<name withheld>

* * *

Equipment purchases are a minefield for archery parents, which is why I am sharing this rather normal request and my answer. (The student in question is a rather new and young but promising and enthusiastic archer. Also, her coach is a friend and student of mine.)

I have a prejudice I must admit to: young archers are attracted to the “bling” of a metal riser. Metal risers are what all of the best recurve bows sport, and for good reason: the heavy metal riser is a major contributor to being able to hold the bow still while it is being shot (the largest contributor in fact). But there is a cost to that stability. The stability comes from the riser being heavy. The heavier the riser, the less likely it will be to be moved while the arrow is leaving the bow.

The conflict is with the muscle development of young archers. The muscles needed to hold the bow up (and steady) are primarily in the upper arm (the deltoids). One of the last muscle groups that get developed as a youth makes the transition into their adult strength is … drum roll please … the deltoids. So getting a young archer into a heavier bow too early creates a situation in which they are unable to shoot correctly, so all of their practice involves the creation of bad habits (dropping bow arm during shot, etc.).

Wooden Riser recurve Bow

What’s wrong with this bow? (Absolutely Nothing)

Now, having admitted that to you I will address your daughter’s case: I have no idea whether she is ready for a heavier bow. There is a test, though. Let us say that her “new” bow and stabilizer, and sight, and … and … weigh in at about five pounds (adult rigs are heavier than this, 6-9 pounds). So, here is a test: take a five pound hand weight (you can substitute a plastic milk jug with five pints of water in it) and ask her to pretend it is her bow and ask her to stand in her normal “full draw position.” She should be able to hold this weight up while you count (normal speed) to five (simulating the time needed to take a shot). She should be able to do this repeatedly without getting tired (short rests in between, <10 sec, simulating the time it takes to load another arrow and prepare to shoot).

If she passes this test, then a metal-risered bow should be okay. magnesium risers are marginally lighter than the “ordinary” aluminum risers (wood is lightest, then polymer, and finally the metal risers).

If not, then either wait and/or order heavier drawing limbs for her current bow if that is desirable. An alternative is to do some exercises to build up the upper arm muscles (both arms—and be aware that if she has not gone through puberty, such exercises are less effective).

Whether she will outgrow any new riser depends. How tall is her mother? Typically children exceed the height of their parent of the same gender somewhat. If her mother is of “ordinary” height, then your daughter will probably be somewhat close to that height when she is fully grown and a 25˝ riser would be appropriate (23˝ risers are for shorter adults and youths—they are lighter but also have a smaller “window” to look through, which can be a problem for taller archers). Waiting has the advantage in skipping over the 23˝ riser if it has the probability of being a source of problems. (Many of the Korean Olympian females are 5’6˝ or even shorter and many of them shoot 68” bows which are recommended for archers 6’ tall. There are some advantages to having a longer bow (created with a longer riser and/or longer limbs) but, of course, that is predicated to being able to handle the mass of those bows. Of course, if her mom is short, she may find a 23˝ riser perfectly appropriate.

Regarding models, I would follow her coach’s recommendations as he is closer to that market at this time than am I. Be sure that you share your recreation budget limitations, etc. to help him give you the best recommendations. Part of his thinking may be “why buy new limbs for a bow she will give up when she gets strong enough for a metal-risered bow” (this is the same thinking as buy shoes a little large for a growing child). Talk to him about this.

And, if you are looking for a performance boost, the best source of that is providing a set of arrows fitted to her bow and skill, not a new bow per se. These do not have to be expensive arrows, just arrows of the right size and length (and fitments) to match her bow and skill. Of the two (bow and arrows), the arrows are by far the more important in delivering consistent accuracy.

I want to reinforce that her coach <name withheld> is a reliable source of equipment recommendations, I just always have the concern that youth archers not get into a too heavy bow too quickly.

Steve

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An Epic Problem that May Require an Unusual Solution

I have a student who is struggling and has been struggling for a long time with target panic. Recently he wrote me at length and I got his permission to share part of what he wrote with you. I know it is long but that is part of my point, so please bear with him and me. Here is his letter:
“Let me mention where I’m at with things. I hate to admit it but I’ve failed being able to shake the apprehension on the shot using a thumb trigger release. It’s rare I fail at something. I’ve spent weeks and months at a time doing holding drills, blank bale shooting, combinations of both many different ways. I just can’t hold on a target, thumb on the trigger knowing I’m actually going to make a shot while I can hold on a target for 8-10 sec knowing I’m not going to take the shot. I’ve had some fantastic days where everything did work but never got more than a couple of days of that if that much.
“I see there’s about five different ways people use back tension to release the thumb trigger release. One of them is squeezing your hand and the trigger gets pushed while using back tension to pull back. I believe that’s how I’ve been doing it. I’m unable to just wrap my thumb around the trigger and pull back and have it go off. The index finger keeps that from happening and it bears most of the weight. About a week ago I tried to shift the weight from the index finger to the thumb and ring finger as I’ve read is another method. I practiced that for days on the FLT & Rope first. Now I’ve seen first hand how you can’t concentrate on two things at the same time in archery. Trying to shift the weight made things bad enough where I let the release go, this time realized exactly how that happened. Tried to just shift the weight to the thumb and out of my hand it went. Luckily I had the lanyard you recommended. I’ve spent the past year at least, trying to change things, no actually shooting for fun. We have fixed a lot of things though, just not the apprehension described.
“My plan if this didn’t work was to revisit the T.R.U. Sweet Spot BT Release w/lock you recommended since I have it. I don’t really want to use this type of release but I looked at a note I sent someone in 2013 while I was experimenting with it and having a really good day. When I dropped down and got above the gold @ 40m, I clicked off the safety and when it dropped in the center released the shot. Sounds like I was punching with a BT release now that I fully understand punching. I had adapted the BT release to my style of offhand rifle shooting I’d been using in archery for a long time. We’ve come a long way since then and I don’t need to drop into the bull any more. Also back then I was only going out one day a week and now I can shoot every day in the garage. Several weeks ago I tried the Sweet Spot release and didn’t experience any apprehension.
“My final game plan is to work with the BT release for a month. If I see improvement over the apprehension, I’ll continue otherwise I think it’s time to put the bow down and move on to other things.
“I’d like to get together and make sure I’m using the BT release correctly so I don’t spend a month or more doing it wrong. I don’t think we’d need to spend a lot of time since I already know how to use it. Seems there’s many ways people use them. Squeeze shoulder blades together, squeeze right back muscle towards center, tighten your fist, rotate your hand, just pull back and the list goes on. Most big name archers who have videos on YouTube mention just pulling back until it goes off, no real mention of back tension or squeezing back muscles or shoulder blades. Viewing videos of these guys in the matches, they all seem to have their right elbow end up down after the shot, not straight back.
“For the past week using the T.R.U. release, I’ve been anchoring using my back muscles, squeezing more with the right side. Seems to go off nicely that way. Did try the squeezing both shoulder blades together and I seem to get tired out faster using that method. When I get tired out I don’t get a smooth release. I’m using a blank target right now with my eyes open, 30 shots a day. Between sessions I use the FLT a couple or more times a day.
“I’ve given it a good try. I’ve never shot the bow this much, even bought another Morrell Super Duper target. Got both stacked in front of each other. Since I’ve wasted the entire season, I’m willing to give it one last try, after all everyone says to beat punching/TP use a BT release. Being only 15 or 30 feet away with a large piece of one inch plywood behind my target my problem doesn’t seem fear of missing the target.
“Sorry for the epic,”
<name withheld>

***

Your epic is … epic! It is rare for an archer to document what lengths they have gone through to deal with an issue. At some point it would be wonderful for you to write up your entire journey regarding your TP, but first I have to share with you something that happened to me.

I was shooting (compound release) in a July 4th fun shoot (900 Round) and at 40m (122 cm target) my groups blew up to the size of garbage can lids. (I was capable of 280-290+ scores at that distance at that time. I responded the way we all do … I panicked, but when I settled down and looked at my shooting analytically, I discovered that my bow hand was becoming more and more tense at full draw. Fiddling with it, trying to get it to relax at full draw didn’t help much but I got through that shoot. I then began a process that involved years of attempts to deal with this problem. (I never found out the root cause; it was just something I did. I also didn’t know a coach to consult.)

At one point I took off 1.5 years from shooting hoping my bow hand problem would “go away.” I ended inserting two steps into my shot sequence, both were “relax bow hand” one during the “set your hands” step and one just prior to “aim.” None of this worked.

What worked is I got busy and forgot I had the problem. (Although I still can feel echoes of it happening when I “look” for them.)

Basically I think that I paid way too much attention to my “problem” and made it more real than it was. Possibly you are doing the same. Possibly you should just try turning your mind off and shooting “automatically” for a while, with and without a target face. Each time you have a thought … of any kind … mentally brush it away (I visualize a broom) and go back to shooting “mindlessly.” As a long term approach I do not recommend mindless shooting as being much less effective than correctly engaged shooting (aka mindful shooting), but when our own minds may be reinforcing a problem, they need to be pushed out of the way a bit.

Now, I do not “know” this is the case for you, but it is a possibility. If you think it is, you might have another option for a way forward.

Steve

PS regarding “Most big name archers who have videos on YouTube mention just pulling back until it goes off, no real mention of back tension or squeezing back muscles or shoulder blades.” This is the problem with video and book advice (it is one-way) and in this case, it was way oversimplified. This is indeed what it feels like to the archer, but it not what is happening. If you pull straight back with a standard triggerless release aide, it will not go off, because the tripping of the release is based upon the release rotating relative to the direction of the pull. When you are “just pulling back” correctly, your draw arm is rotating around toward your back (because your draw shoulder is doing the same) and that motion causes the release to trip at the right point if it is set up correctly (I can’t emphasize this enough; too many release aides are not set up correctly).

PPS Regarding “Sounds like I was punching with a BT release.” This is why I do not refer to such release aides as “back tension” releases, instead I call them “triggerless” (no release aid requires back tension to use it and all release aids can be used with back tension). Most archers trip their triggerless releases by hand movements, that is they rotate the release in their hand, rather than rotate their hand by rotating their arms around toward their backs. This is the equivalent of “punching a trigger,” if you were switching from the correct operation of the release to a faster hand manipulation. I do not know that you were doing this. It is entirely possible that your arm was rotating your hand and release while you were dropping down into the middle and just tripped when you got there. (I recommend getting your aperture on center before starting the final approach to the release tripping.) Note that triggerless release archers do not shoot any slower than triggered release archers. They have just trained to do the correct movements in the minimal amount of time at full draw. There is no advantage to spending more time at full draw than is needed.

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Helping Shape Archery Attitudes

Note If you are serious about coaching archery, please go to http://www.archerycoachesguild.org and consider joining The Archery Coaches Guild. We are days away from a formal launch of the website, but most of it is already there. We are creating a space in which coaches can interact with other coaches to help solve problems and grow as coaches. Come join us.  Steve

Helping Shape Archery Attitudes

If you have been coaching for some length of time it is almost guaranteed that you have encountered student-archers who had “bad attitudes.” Since your standing with those archers is not very high, there doesn’t seem that there is much you do to shape better attitudes. Let’s talk about this.

It probably is not helpful to tell your charge “you’ve got an attitude,” for that is shorthand for “you’ve got a bad attitude,” and it may not hit home. It may rather say “I don’t like you” and the response may be dislike in return.

Just so we are talking about the same thing, the “attitude” we are talking about here is “a mental position with regard to a fact or state; for example a helpful attitude, meaning a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state.” If that doesn’t help, we are talking about “how” people achieve their goals. Maybe their goal is they just want to shoot a good score or a score good enough to win a local competition. Important questions regarding achieving those goals are: what is their opinion regarding, say, “practice” with regard to achieving their goal? What about “talent?”

Is your student someone who people say is “talented” when it comes to archery? If so, do they believe those claims? And what does that mean to them? There is a trap in believing you have a “talent for archery” (we recommend that they don’t believe that as there seems to be no basis in fact for such a thing) and that trap is the fact that a talent is . . . what? Is it anything they can do anything with? Or is it just what it is, something fixed in them that they have no control over? If they believe the latter, studies have shown that people who believe they have an innate talent in them are often afraid to challenge themselves because if they fail, what does that mean about their “talent?” Did they run out of talent? Did it fail them? These are pretty scary situations because they mean something about, well, them. And they have no idea whatsoever what their talent is.

You can also easily see backhanded criticism of professional athletes, by endowing them with “natural talent” (“he has prodigious gifts” or “he is a huge talent”) as a way of saying “it is not him, it is a gift he was given; he didn’t earn it, it was a gift”). This statement ignores the amount of hard work needed to acquire any skill, implying they just naturally knew how to do those things instead of earning them through hard work. Conversely other athletes are described as “hard working” and “the first to come to practice and the last to leave,” implying that they “earned” their skills and weren’t just gifted them.

Some interesting studies about talent addressed student’s attitudes toward learning math. It seems to be true that everyone can learn math and that some learn it more easily than others. But many young people experience the following when they first begin to struggle: a parent or other adult says something like “That’s okay, kiddo, I didn’t have a talent for math, either.” This seemingly consoling statement is, presumably, meant to relieve the young student’s anxiety. Basically, they are saying “it is not your fault, it is because of nature or something (genetics); some people just don’t have what it takes to learn math.”

The problem with this “attitude” is that it offloads responsibility for performance onto something that probably does not exist. In other cultures, when a student struggles the parent/other adult reassures them by saying “you will just have to work harder, but I know you will succeed; you can do it.” Which of these two attitudes is more likely to result in a better outcome, do you think? And shouldn’t the same be true for archers?

Does practice help?

“Gee, I go to archery practice every week, I wonder why the others are getting better and I am not. Maybe I need better equipment.” We hear this from too many young archers. Just showing up is not “practice.” Showing up is a requirement for practice to occur, a minimal requirement. If they don’t show up when a range is made available for them to shoot on and you are also available to coach them, it will be much harder to get better. But there is no guarantee that if they do show up, things will get better, either. Practice, rather, is what you do to get better. If they are not getting better, then they are not really getting any practice, or certainly not any effective practice.

To become better, they must do things that make their scores better. If they adopt the attitude that “practice is what you do to get better,” and you have the goal of getting better, then there are some consequences. First they have to have some indicator of what “getting better” means. If they have a fair number of competitions where they are, they might be able to use their competition scores. If not, they might use scores on practice rounds. Whatever they choose to indicate their progress, they will have to keep track of those numbers. (Having a notebook and using it well is an absolute necessity for serious archers.)

You, as coach, can be helpful in determining things they can do to get better. But you can only make suggestions; we do not recommend making demands. Practice is not just showing up, but showing up, doing things differently, and noting which things work better and which don’t. This is why it is strongly recommended that each archer keep a list of the things they are trying and always (Always!) read that list before they start shooting, otherwise they could easily fall back into their “old normal” shooting and lose any progress they might have been making. You can help, by recommending the list, asking if they have read it (over and over and over—hey, it is a repetition sport!). We even go so far as to give out small spiral bound notebooks that students can keep in their quivers.

Coaches can also provide drills, with each drill described and a plan made, for example: “do this for two weeks and then we’ll check to see if you are better.” This drill then becomes a part of what they do when they attend your lessons (and hopefully if they are able to practice between lessons). Whether that drill is kept in their practice routine depends on whether it makes them better. You have the capacity to show them how those tests are made and whether or not their work is being directed correctly.

Don’t confuse an unwillingness to do the drills you recommend as a sign of a bad attitude, it may be a sign of a recreational archer. If the program they are in is only for serious competitive archers, then maybe they are in the wrong program. Shooting for fun is not a mistake, it is what the vast majority of archers do and drills aren’t fun. And recreational archers tend not to do things that are not fun (drills fall into this category).

Attitude is an important factor in archery. Successful archers tend to have an attitude directing them to work harder and smarter, from which they get better. They are willing to let their performance dictate what they should be doing in “practice.” They don’t worry that they are running out of talent, because there is no such thing. Coaches can help shape these attitudes by recognizing the differences between “recreational” and “competitive” archers (AER terms) and making suggestions accordingly.

The first rule of getting out of a hole you dug yourself is to stop digging.
Anonymous

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