Sources of Inconsistency, Part 3

Note If you haven’t read parts 1 & 2 yet, please do so, it will make this more understandable.

So, my student and I found some time to work together this past weekend and to make a long story short: mystery solved (we think).

The issue is a lack of consistency indicated by a drop in scores on the NFAA indoor 300 round (60 arrows, 5-1 scoring) from the 270-280 range to the 240-250 range which had to have a cause. In all such cases, there is the question: “Is it me or my equipment?” So, my student took his backup bow to league just before the lesson and shot a score in the 250s, so we know that the problem wasn’t based entirely in the equipment.

But a sound approach is to remove all of the equipment issues first as it is then easier to focus on the form/execution issues with the bow giving good feedback. After shooting some to warm up we did a bare shaft test (three fletched, two bare) while I watched his arrow flight. There was definitely some poor arrow flight involved in the vertical plane and the bare shafts were higher than the fletched group. So, the suspect was a “too low nocking point;” measurement also indicated that it was on the low side (and the nock locators were too easily moved, which was likely the source of the problem). We replaced the top nock locator, tying on a new one with each loop cinched tightly. (This keeps the locator from moving until it is glued down or turned on purpose.) This locator was moved up by about one-eighth of an inch compared to the old one. A retest showed the bare shafts grouping and closer to the fletched shafts (but still slightly high) with the arrow flight improved. We could have continued in that vein but there was something else: a form issue.

At full draw my archer’s shoulders were slightly tilted (front shoulder high). This can happen even to the most serious archers who also have real lives. Family and work intrudes upon our archery and we lose focus and continuity. By this I man we have a mental and/or physical break from practicing our good form. Slight changes drift in and are accepted as normal. As I watched, the subtle shoulder tilt was causing his draw elbow to move as much down as around during followthrough. This, I suspect, is also a contributor to the high bare shafts. If the shoulders are tilted, the drawing forearm is out of line with the primary force line (PFL) we desire. In this case, it is below. This changes the angle the draw hand and fingers make with the bowstring (slightly) causing the string to be pulled a little more down, in this case, rather than just back along the PFL. This cause shots to go high.

So, I asked my student to thrust his “away” hip back and to exaggerate it. His first attempt got his torso vertical, his shoulders level and his arrow into the X (just luck but bolsters coach’s reputation in any case). My student reported that he though he had pushed his “away” hip a great deal whereas he had moved it only a smidgeon. This is a phenomenon reported by both golf and archery coaches, “you have to ask for a lot to get a little.” (This one is going into Volume 3 of The Principles of Coaching Archery!)

We therefore devised a little experiment. He has a mirror set up where he shoots at home to check his posture. With a vertical tape line or a plumb line hung just in front of it he is going to work on getting his spine plumb and his shoulders level. Then we are going to recheck his bare shaft test. This may well get us a perfect test and no further adjustment of the nocking point locators will be necessary. If not, then additional nocking point tuning is needed. When this is all done, I think this student will be back to championship level form.

To Summarize

It is not uncommon for a small flaw to creep into an archer’s form. Elite archers have to practice many days a week to ensure that this does not happen, and then it even happens to them from time to time.

Competitive recreational archers face all kinds of distractions: job/school changes, significant other changes, births of children, etc. All of these are opportunities for their form to become different. Since we all age and change with age, such time related differences are to be expected and the others just fit into this normal trend. Very good archers experience only small changes but because they expect relatively good scores, these still show up on their score sheets.

The issues involved are what I call “Bell curve” problems. If you take any parameter of form, execution, or equipment, you will find there is a range over which its setting provides optimal performance. In this case, nocking point location” like brace height or any other parameter would show this behavior:

Tuning Graph (150 dpi)If the nocking point is way too low, we would get very poor performance; at just to little too low, we would get something better but still poor; at just a tad low we would get good performance. Spot on would give the best performance; slight higher would cause the performance to fall off a tiny bit and the farther it got in the “too high” direction the worse things would get. We have just described a performance hill (a bell-shaped curve). Some parameters have more than one such hill (as alluded to in the diagram). Nocking point location probably has just a single hill and single hilltop. The center of that hilltop is where we want to be. The reason for this is the tops of those bell curves are relatively flat. If you have a slightly flawed execution, such as pulling down or up on the bowstring when the arrow is loosed, you subtly change the actual location of the point in space the arrow comes off of the string. If the fixed position of your nock locators, though, puts you in the center of the performance hilltop, a slight shift one way or the other doesn’t affect performance all that much. But, instead of being “top dead center” you are at the edge of the top (left or right, high or low), a slight change in another parameter can produce a relative large loss of performance.

In this case, a combination of a too low nocking point (a relatively recent change in the equipment) combined with a slight shift in form brought about a 20+ point drop in 300 round score. I suspect that the shoulder problem was there first and then when the nocking point locator moved … ooops!

What to Do In order for an archer’s equipment to be in order, they must tune it by shooting (and they can’t tune any better than they shoot) so the two are intertwined. When they achieve a stable state for their equipment and are shooting acceptable and consistent scores, they must document the heck out of their rig. You should insist on this. (I have a form I email to my students for this purpose. If you want a copy, send me an email at asking for one and I will send it to you.) Having this record means that when things go wrong, you can measure up their rig to see if anything has gone wrong. (Some of these things are invisible (cracks in interior limb laminations, broken threads of bowstring material under the center serving) and may show performance effects before measurable manifestations of them show up. But these are rare.)

If you can correct any equipment flaws and the problem goes away, much the better. If it does not, then you must look to the archer. It is not uncommon for the problem to have multiple causes as did this one (I think).

Oh, did I mention that leveling my students shoulders (subtly) required his clicker to be moved? We moved it out about an eighth of an inch, later it will need to be refined. Shifting shoulders up and down, even subtly, affects draw length. All such changes go straight into the archer’s notebook to document them.

If you change one thing …


Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

2 responses to “Sources of Inconsistency, Part 3

  1. butchduryea

    I appreciate your insights! You do a true service to the archery community.


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