I am working remotely with three students now and one of them commented “By the way, your tip of rotating my left foot more to the right was a gem. I think it is helping with the problem of opening my hips.” What he is talking about is closing his stance. And this is almost always something I ask of Recurve archers … out of necessity.
Having an open stance has become dogma, that is no one questions it. It is taught, recommended, etc. as “standard form.” The unfortunate thing is this: in order to get into acceptable Recurve full draw position, one’s shoulders must point at the bow, this is a position that is 12°-13° closed to the target lane. Having a 20°-30° open stance places the feet 30°-40° away from the orientation of the shoulders. What this causes in most recurve archers showed up in a video of another of my remotely coached students. His feet were open, knees were open, hips were slightly less open, shoulders were even less open but they weren’t even close to being pointed at the bow. The problem with open shoulders is that you are unbraced and unstable at full draw.
The Cure As a fix for this tendency, I ask almost all of my Recurve students to close their stance up. If they were to adopt a foot position in which their toe line was 12°-13° closed, then their shoulders, hips, knees, and feet would be aligned vertically and in a very strong position (vertically). Because of the rule of coaching which says “If you want an inch, ask for a mile.” I ask them to close up their stance 20°-30°. A general tendency in any such changes is to drift back toward where you started (through end after end of shooting), so you want to start them past where you want them to end up.
What happens when Recurve archers close their stances is twofold: for one they get into much better full draw alignment (better “line” in archery jargon) and, two, their draw length goes up (so clickers need to be reset). Both of these things are “good” things. I tell my students that once they get used to shooting from good upper body alignment (called the Archer’s Triangle or Wedge) then they can explore other stances should they want to.
Open Stances There are benefits to open stances, the primary one being that the archer’s lower body becomes a more stable platform supporting the job the upper body is trying to do. But this requires a twist, a substantial twist, to occur in the archer’s torso. If this isn’t achieved the loss of good line is catastrophic to the chances of learning to shoot consistently well. So, I leave open stances for advanced archers, but only if they can achieve good (or great!) line with one.
A Fine Point I hear all the time from archers talking about their stance as something to do with their feet (“rotate my left foot,” etc.). It is not, it is a reorientation of their entire body. I wish I had a large Lazy Susan (rotating platform) that I could have students stand and shoot on. Set them up with a nice “square” or even stance (toe line pointing at target center) and then be able to rotate their entire body to new angles. The feet should always stay at the “normal” and comfortable angle to the leg that you are accustomed to. The problem with rotating the feet is if there is any rotation above them (and there often is) one leg ends up being “tightened” (more twisted) while the other is loosened” (less twisted). (Stand up and play with is concept, concentrate on how your legs feel as you rotate your upper body with your feet in various orientations. Notice how these things affect your balance (good balance is a requirement for successful archery). You can learn a lot about your own body and your student’s doing this.
So, the recommendation to the original student was to pick up both feet and point them in a different direction, it was not “rotate your left foot.” But in doing so, the student did rotate his feet, so I had to give him directions to get his feet back to their normal orientation … and that is how miscommunications occur. If you adopt the attitude that what your students hear and understand is your responsibility, not just what you say, you are on the right path.
In Passing While watching a student shoot from an even stance, lay an arrow or alignment rod across their toes. It should be pointing to target center. Then observe where the archer’s arrows are at full draw. You should see that the arrow and the alignment rod are in the same plane (with the target center, too). The arrow being in the same plane as the target center is a basic condition for accuracy. (The arrow moves up and down due to the angle of the arrow and gravity, but there are no sideways forces that will throw it off line.)
Most people say the square or even stance is taught first because it is “easy to teach” or “easy to remember.” Rather it is taught first as a basic component of aiming. Any archer in a square stance, using even modest form and execution will have no windage (or left-right) issues. This starts from the ground.