This question came in to the blog:
“Need a coach. Looking for a coach in or near NE Indiana (Ft. Wayne-ish). I’m finding limited results; some Level 3’s and more Level 2’s. What is the best way to vet out a good coach for indoor and outdoor Olympic recurve? I don’t want some body that hunts with a compound bow, just passed a test, and knows little to nothing of proper form and release of a recurve bow. Please help steer me in the right direction.”
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This is a common question which highlights a common problem and I wish I had a handy solution for you.
Since you are aware there are some L2 and L3 coaches in your vicinity I assume you have consulted USA Archery’s Coach Finder function on their web site. Since the recent explosion of interest in target archery, there are many, many more coaches available which is a good thing, but the questions are still: how do you find a good one and how do you find one that has the skills and knowledge to help you, specifically as an Olympic Recurve archer?
Obviously you do not want a compound coach, but do realize that the demand for compound coaches is far, far less than for recurve coaches. (Trad coaches are in even less demand.) I came up through the compound ranks and because I took coaching seriously, I spent a great deal of time to learn both Olympic Recurve and Barebow Recurve. Because I have never competed in Olympic recurve, though, I tend to encourage my more advanced students to try other coaches and do, in fact, hook them up with other coaches. It is flattering that after seeing high level coaches, some of these students return to me for coaching but that may be because I am “local” and hence more available to them.
This is part of the problem, the very, very good coaches are quite spread out, so you need to establish your need. Are you an advanced archer or aspiring elite archer? If so, you are going to have to travel some to find the people who can help you. If you are an aspiring advanced archer, i.e. not their yet, you are much more likely to find help locally.
Another option is remote coaching. Recently I have been coaching archers as far away as Portugal, Germany, and Iran. This is done by the archers sending in video clips, often taken at my direction, and me sending comments back. Follow-up discussions are via email or phone. One of my regular students is three states away for the summer and we have been working together this way through the summer. (And for the curious, yes, I do charge for such lessons … but not always.)
How to Find a Good Coach
Step 1 Find a coach.
Step 2 Determine if he/she is a good one.
Both of these steps are somewhat difficult. If, in your case, you think an L3 coach might be helpful and they are local, you have completed Step 1. (The original design of the L2 training program was to create coaches for youth groups, and not to train them for individual coaching. That training has undergone a recent overhaul, but I suspect it is still much the same, so if you are looking for an individual coach (to work with you one-on-one), the L3 training is the first one to address that need.)
The second step is harder. Even highly credentialed and experienced coaches may not be right for you (or you for them!). So, some “sounding out” is needed and you can do much of this via email, text, or over the phone. Do ask your prospective coach about their experience in archery, both as a coach and as a competitor. It is not a common practice but you could ask for references. (I would like to see this become commonplace. Because it is not, us coaches don’t keep references handy and prospective students aren’t offered them.)
Ask if they have had successful students. It is important to consider what you determine as success. If you are on the hunt for championships, you should look for a coach who has coached many champions, no? If you are looking for equipment help, maybe having champions as students is not so important. I currently have a student who aspires to be an Olympian. I have never even attended an Olympic Games, let alone coached an Olympian, so after a while I hooked this student up with a colleague who has coached on the field at an Olympics archery competition. (There is no substitute for experience.) There are not a lot of these coaches available, so I suggest you will not be able to be very “choosy.”
The key aspect of an archer-coach relationship is whether you communicate well. This can only be found out by working together, so if you find a coach acceptable on paper, you need to arrange for a lesson to “give it a try.”
Some coach’s and archer’s personalities clash. Some can’t hear one another. Some fit together “like hand in glove.” To find out about this, listen careful to how this prospective coach says things. Do they make sense to you or do they tend to confuse you? Is there a fit between your needs and your coaches skills? Maybe your largest needs are in equipment or in the mental game, and so is the coach knowledgeable about those topics? Have they had any specific training or just the general training that comes in those rather short coach training classes? Ask lots of questions and see if you get clear responses. As a coach, I am also interviewing you. I want to know as much as you want to know whether we can work together.
Make sure you talk about availability and fees. Does this coach insist upon frequent lessons or occasional? Which do you want? Are his/her fees reasonable? Can you afford them?
A key factor is that the two of you agree upon some common metrics. If you are a compound archer chasing perfect scores on the NFAA five-spot indoor target, you have an obvious metric: the score in that round (and X-counts and …). If you are an Olympic Recurve archer, the metrics are less obvious. (Simon Needham and I are currently writing a series of articles regarding what it takes to get to various scoring milestones in the 72-arrow Ranking Round (500, 550, 600, 650, etc.) so you may have goals that allow that metric to be used.) If you have no idea where you are going, how will you know whether you are making progress?
One of the questions I ask all new students is “Why do you want to be coached?” The younger students often shrug and say something like “to get better.” I follow with “What does that look like to you?” In order for me to help I need to know two things: where do you want to go and where are you now. (It is a little like asking for travel directions.) I can evaluate where you are at now in our first lesson, but I also need to know where you want to go to serve you well. You need to know the same things. So, a good sign is if your prospective coach asks telling questions, questions that a “good coach” wants to know (in your opinion, of course).
It would be helpful if lists of prospective coaches also included statements of their specialties, experience, qualifications, etc. but unfortunately we are just getting started in learning how to be good coaches, so those aren’t available yet.
Let me know if this helps.