How Fast Should You Shoot?

I came up through field archery and didn’t shoot with a clock running until I had been shooting quite a few years. Boy, the first time I did it made me very nervous. (I am one of those people who shows up early for everything; you know the type.)

So, after ending up a nervous wreck from my first exposure to a shot clock, I felt I had to do something about it, so I did.

Most youths who grow up with a clock running don’t have my problems, in fact the clock almost never affects them, because they shoot like Machine Gun Kelly, rat-a-tat-tat; a 3-arrow end takes 24 seconds, a 6-arrow end is done in a minute and a half.

Since archery is a repetition sport, tempo is a key factor in how consistent we can be. If one shoots too quickly or too slowly (than your optimal tempo) your scores will go down. So, a scoring strategy must not interfere with keeping a consistent shot tempo. For example, some recommend a 6-arrow end be broken into two 3-arrow ends with a short rest in between to recover the energy lost from shooting the first three. But, if after shooting three arrows quickly, one takes a break and then shoots the other three arrows quickly, one ends up shooting the first arrow of an end twice and the first arrow does not have a very recent shot to imprint upon. The natural timing of a shot generally sets the second arrow to be shot within 30 seconds of the first because there are limitations to how long you can hold a feeling or thought in memory (and I think, but cannot prove, that 30 seconds is pushing it). If you cannot use the last shot as an example for a pre-shot visualization, you are left with using something you’ve cobbled together from long-tem memory, which is generally considered to be less accurate and therefore less helpful. Because of this limitation, most elite archers shoot each arrow the same way in the same time and one after the other until done with the end.

Most young archers do tend to shoot too quickly but that is a relatively simple problem that involves no particular strategy (like shoot three, rest and then three more). To help deal with time pressure, it helps all archers to know how much time a let down costs. A let down takes about as much time as a shot, so if a three-arrow end (2 minutes allowed) takes 60 seconds to shoot your three arrows, for example, you have enough time to execute three letdowns, but not a fourth before time will run out. I can remember feeling that letdowns cost way more time than they did and I started to feel time pressure very early in the end (clocks are not always visible, especially if one is left-handed). For this reason I measured how much time it took me to shoot three and six arrow ends and then figured out how many let downs I could safely make without fear of running out of time. (For me it was one and two, respectively. If I made two let downs in a 3-arrow end, I had better hustle on that last arrow and it … must … be … shot.) I also taped a count down timer to my spotting scope tripod which I triggered as soon as the “shoot” signal was given. That way I would know how much time I really had.

With regard to actual shot tempo, there is a way to find out if you are shooting too quickly and if it is affecting your scoring. Label a set of arrows (1, 2, 3 …) and then shoot them in a practice round in that order. Record the score of arrow #1 of each end in the first box on the score card, arrow #2’s score goes in the second box, etc. (Not from highest score to lowest, just in the order they were shot.) When done with the practice round, average all of the box’s scores giving you an average score for your first arrow, your second arrow shot, etc. If the scores steadily decline, you are shooting too fast, consuming too much energy that is not being replenished before you shoot another, digging yourself an energy hole that guarantees poor scores later in the round.dual_vegas_fntdual_vegas_fnt

We are not robots, so you might have to do this drill several times to see if you are being consistent. Of course, one must also avoid other sources of score variations while doing this (pressing to get better scoring arrows, struggling with the clicker, etc.).

It is not a simple prospect, changing your shooting tempo. The reason for this is that tempo is one of the last things addressed when building a high quality shot. (Who cares how fast you are shooting
if you are shooting incorrectly in the first place?) So, by the time most archers get around to addressing tempo they have shot many thousands of arrows and have constructed a shot with a “normal tempo” that is based on who know what. The simplest approach to making a temp change is through feedback. If your normal shots take 10 seconds, for example, from release to release but you now have evidence that is too fast, pick a new time frame, say 15 seconds, but give yourself a range instead, like 15-20 seconds (or 13-17, etc.). Any shot made within that framework is considered “good” during this exercise (we are not robots). Have somebody time you. If you shoot in less than 15 seconds, your timer tells you “too soon.” If you reach 20 seconds, your timer tells you “let down” and you must let down. Don’t try to “do” anything, just take the feedback and let your subconscious mind do all the work. All you need do is be disappointed when you shoot too soon or not soon enough, do not try to do anything
else. (Try? There is no “try.” Do or do not. Yoda)

Obviously the time frame you choose can be too small or two large and you may need to refine it. This is how that is done: the above exercise is probably best done blank bale because the arrow scores are not really the point. But when you have achieved some consistency there are still two questions: “Am I still shooting too fast?” and “Is this my optimal shot timing?” For the first question you have the practice round drill above, for the second, that requires a target. I will use the example of 6-arrow ends and since it is indoor season, we will shoot indoors. You can obviously adjust this drill for any distance you prefer.

So, set up two three spot target faces, so you have six spots, one for each arrow. Have your “timer” play the same role as in the previous drill except this time he/she must keep track of three categories: shots that are “too quick,” shots that are “too slow,” and shots that are “just right,” no “let down” commands are given. These ratings can be coded on a score card by your helper. Record the arrow scores for each arrow so that you know what the shot timing was as well as the arrow scores. Then you must compile the average arrow score for each of those three categories. If “too quick” and “too slow” got significantly lower score averages than “just right,” then “just right” is probably about right. If “just right” timing got the highest average but “too fast” was almost as good and “too slow” was way behind, then maybe you would benefit from speeding up a tad. There are far too many possible outcomes for me to go through all of them but I hope these examples are enough to give you an idea of how to proceed.

I hope you realize that you have to shoot fairly well to address the topic of shot tempo. If you do not shoot relatively small groups, adding a concern about shot timing may cause your groups to degrade until the results of these exercises are all by meaningless. In the drill just described, compare your group sizes with your normal group sizes (or score the first 30 arrows, or …) to see if they are roughly the same. If so, then you know that the focus of the drill/exercise isn’t adversely affecting your shooting.

A basic aspect of “getting good” at archer is that it takes more and more time to do less and less for your shot. Progress gets made in leaps and bounds when you first start shooting, but the rate of progress slows to a crawl as you reach a high level of proficiency. One example of that is the amount of practice needed to move you from a score of 100 to 110 in a 300 round compared to the amount of time need to move from a score of 280 to 290 in a 300 round. Both changes are just ten points, but the first challenge is blown through, while the latter one defeats some archers altogether.



Filed under For All Coaches

4 responses to “How Fast Should You Shoot?

  1. Krish Rama

    What a great question.
    The answer lies within a combination of form, muscle memory and mindset.
    When I first started archery, I was completely confused both mentally and physically.
    After 3 months, my coach wanted me to compete, I refused as I did not feel that I was there (in my mind) yet.
    I started to shoot at home on 18 metres and developed a tunnel vision.
    My first real competition was at 18metres, I used a bare bow and achieved a gold medal.
    For every one, it is different. My mind can block out all but the actions that I need to perform but for others’ it is not the same.
    Repetition develops muscle memory and also mental acquitty.
    Focus is the key, allowing your body to perform the actions is the second key and timing is another key.
    Before I left my last club, I was told off by my coach for shooting too quickly. The arrows were in the 8 – 10 and I was happy (30 metres).
    Now I shoot even faster and my arrows are in the 9 – 10.
    I coach archery and often have my students shoot quickly. I also make them perform actions in slow motion. I do this so that they have no time to conscientiously think and also to make them over think during slow motion shooting.
    Their bodies have been trained, they know the objective, it is up to them.
    They have many seconds to release the string
    but …………………………….. what comes next ?

  2. There are some data (reproduced in Kisik Lee’s first book) that indicate that if you shoot more quickly, you will be more consistent. But, of course, what is “too quick” or “too slow”? We all have different internal clocks and what is too quick for one may be too slow for another.

    You had the strength of character to go against what was recommended to try what you felt was right for you. This is very important. We both need to try and have methods offered that allow us to evaluate fairly the results of those attempts. Most of archery was “I tried that and it didn’t work” with the “try” lasting a few minutes at best. This is not the path to better archery.

    • Mr. Krish Rama

      The devil is in the detail as all coaches know but try explaining that to your student and the response is a blank stare.
      I am currently introducing a slowing down of actions and my students hate me. They know what I am doing but are finding it tough.
      Some of them are releasing based on my timing and others are using their own timing.
      I am the one learning about their internal clocks in some cases and also those who have not developed an internal archery clock.

      • If your students are serious challenge them to prove that shooting faster (slower, whatever) is better. Don’t let them get away with sloppy thinking. If they think shooting faster is better have them to the drill I described to prove it. So, much of archery learning is based upon belief and conjecture. I had a student respond to me regarding a suggestion I made “But I like doing it my way!” My response was, “Okay, it is your sport.”

        I also don’t want to spend a lot of time working with unreceptive students. Serious students listen carefully and assess what we are saying and give recommendations a fair chance because change takes time. They ask a lot of questions. Non-serious students make statements, don’t listen, etc. This si why coaches are admonished to not give advice until it is asked for. I have been talking about situations in which advice was requested than ignored.

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