One of the difficulties coaches have to deal with is students who cannot “do it the right way,” that is the way arrows “should be” shot according to the instruction manuals. I recently received a request for help from a coach who has a student who is very large bodied. The student’s physical size and body composition affects everything about his shooting, apparently. There are a number of important points that arose in our email conversation that I want to share.
Recommendations Are Just That
Recommendations regarding how to shoot are just that: recommendations. They are not requirements. Many great archers, in the past and today, did and do not shoot like the standard recommendations suggest. Here is some of what I had to say regarding a stance difficulty.
“Regarding the stance and balance first. The form recommendations that are made are just that … recommendations. Unfortunately there is little in the way of coach instruction as to how to adapt those positions for those with either physical infirmities or just different bodies (morphologies).
“The key thing is for the archer to be balanced. If that requires a wider stance, fine, if that requires a closed or oblique stance, fine. The goal is to be balanced … and the reason for the balance requirement is for us to be able to be still when shooting. Your archer needs to know that so he can monitor his stillness at full draw. If he is swaying back and forth or slowly shifting from one position to another, something needs to change. What that is will have to be determined by experimentation.
“Regarding ‘Due to the large amount of flesh on his frame, he cannot rotate to the straight line position required.’ Body rotation is not ‘required’ but is recommended. The basis of the recommendation is to make a more stable shooting platform; stability leads to better balance and greater stillness at full draw. The objective is a good full draw position from the sternum upwards, so work backward from that. Don’t make him rotate to that position. Have him get to that position (I have archers use a very light drawing bow, e.g. 10#) and then move his lower body until he is most comfortable—without losing the good full-draw-position (aka ‘Archer’s Triangle’ aka ‘The Wedge’). That is the best starting point. After he learns to shoot from a good full-draw-position, he can then explore changes in his stance, with the only changes allowed being those that do not disrupt that full draw position (which means some stances will be possible, others not so). Please note that, in my opinion, the recommendation for an open stance requires a considerable rotation of the body in that the shoulders have to be 10-12 degrees closed at full draw. An open stance is fighting this position by positioning the feet rotated in the opposite direction (thus requiring a torso rotation for the shoulders to get there). Beginning archers do not need us making shooting more difficult. I suggest we consider doing it the easiest way and then adding “refinements (like an open stance) when the archers interest and body of work suggest it might be worthwhile.
“Regarding ‘He has been unable to find a set anchor point due to the fleshy area under his jaw line.’ You might want to consider using a kisser button. It may be that in the future he ‘finds’ a consistent anchor position but there are a great many archers who have a similar problem (often because their jaw lines are closer to vertical than horizontal). A kisser button can allow this archer to develop his form, enjoy the sport, and make considerable progress. If I am not mistaken, one of the current men’s Olympic team champions uses a kisser button. It is not a crutch, just an aid like so many other things.
It Is Best to Work Back from First Principles
When trying to fit what seems to be a square peg into a round hole (an idiom indicating an unwise effort to fit things that do not) it is better to work from first principles. Unfortunately coaching education doesn’t supply this framework and I am not sure that coaches have taken this to heart as professionals.
The “stance issue” is a clear example. Instructions are often stated as “you must do this” or “you must do that” regarding your stance. I have done this myself in my writings. It is done to impress the importance the writer places upon such things … but it conveys the wrong impression.
Let’s look at this working backward from what we want. We want high scores on archery targets. High scores are created by tight arrow groups in the highest scoring location. Arrow groups can be relocated (moved around) by aiming/sighting techniques, so our fundamental job as archers is to shoot tight groups. Tight groups come from being able to repeat one’s shot process accurately, many times. To be able to repeat one’s shot sequence accurately, one needs to be able to relax and focus and be still under the tension of the draw and then be able to execute a clean release. So, what has a stance to do with this?
Picture an archer on a rotating stand. He/she is in perfect full draw position. Off the arrow goes but misses the target three meters to the right? So what do you do? You rotate the archer so they are pointing more to the left. The next arrow just misses the butt to the left and…. You can see that the stance that holds up an archer so they can operate their bow with their upper body also plays a role in directing the arrows. (This is why I ridicule those who admonish archers to “not aim yet,” to only aim at full draw. Aiming begins with taking one’s stance and one would not set up to shoot arrows back into the spectators (those arrows wouldn’t score well) so we set our stance to make our arrows go into the target’s center. We aim our bows with almost every move we make.)
So, a stance has to provide stillness for the upper body and that stems from the archer being balanced. The stance also helps direct the archer’s bow toward the target. Current stance recommendations include stances that do not direct the archer’s arrows toward the target and require the archer to twist themselves to do so. This is clearly not necessary, especially so if the archer you are coaching cannot do the twisting.
If we start from those first principles (stillness, balance, focus, relaxation) and enroll the archer’s help, adjustments to standard form will be easier, I think.