How Many Things Can I Work On at a Time?

QandA logoI got a query from one of my students which asked:

That leads me to something I meant to ask in the last email … what happens when you have a list of things to work on? I know from our lessons you can only effectively work on one thing at a time. So how do you choose what? The thing that is most wrong? The thing that is earliest in your shot sequence? The thing you think will give you the most bang for your buck (or time spent working on it). There are so many aspects to a shot sequence it seems inevitable that you will end up with a list of things. Oh, and, of course, each step builds on the previous, so if there is something you are working on early in your shot sequence it has to be there, done the new/different/correct way in order to practise something else.

* * *

I have the most wonderful students! (Good students ask good questions, that’s one of the ways you can tell which are the good ones.)

There is a common misconception that equates “work on only one thing at a time” into “work on only one thing until it is better before you tackle another,” which is wrong. You can work on many things at once, just not two at once. It has to do with feedback.

If you try to work on your bow arm and release at the same time and a group of arrows is better than before, was it due to an improvement in your bow arm or release or both? A potentially awful outcome is that one of those changes made it better and the other made it worse but not enough to not make the whole group better. In this latter case, you are getting a mixed message. When we do something differently we only have a “better” or “worse” outcome to judge whether the change we are exploring is a good one or not. We want to be able to attach those “better or worse” judgments to just one thing. This is my definition of getting good feedback.

So “work on only one thing at a time” limits how many things you can work on simultaneously but not how any things you can work on concurrently. (Sorry for the big words, but being accurate sometimes requires them.)

I do not have any good science to back up my recommendations but here is what I recommend: keep a list of things you think need work but limit those you are working on currently to three. I also recommend that before you shoot an arrow during any practice or competition session that you read that list, the whole list. When you are “warming up” you want to pay special attention to the three items you are trying to change at the moment. If you do not do this and just “warm up,” you will end up gravitating back to the shot you have practiced the most, what I call your “old normal” shot and you will then be send this message to your subconscious mind “it is normal that sometimes we shoot the ‘new shot’ and sometimes we shoot the ‘old shot’.” We want, rather, the message to be “we are committed to the ‘new shot” and no longer shoot the ‘old shot’.” So, read the list with special attention to doing the top three the new way … do it … do it every time you shoot.

As soon as you are warm, the best time to spend working on your top three items is right away. This will lay a foundation for the rest of the practice session being based upon your new shot and not your old one.

Now, as to what order to take on these changes in your shot, you have some choices to make. There is logic and some science behind each of these and I haven’t been able to determine which is better, so my default position is “whichever feels better to you.” My thinking is if you think something is the right way to proceed, you will make better progress than if you are not sure, certainly better than if you are convinced you are going about it the wrong way.

Here are the two approaches that seem wise to me.

Tackle the Changes from Greatest to Least Effect If we could put a score impact rating on any prospective change, under this rule, you would tackle the issue that would have the greatest positive effect on your score first. So, if Change A would improve your score by 7%, it is more worth your time than Change B that might only improve your score by 1%. What this means practically, is that the effect of Change A would also be easier to see while it was happening and that improvement would strongly guide the process and supply motivation. Something with a tiny 1% improvement potential would be hard to see in the first place and would provide little motivation.

This plays out, interestingly, in the history of each and every serious archer. When they first begin, their scores are quite low and they make progress as they learn in leaps and bounds. As they get better, though, it becomes harder and harder to improve and each improvement requires more and more effort. This is, in general, why there are so many really good archers, but few great ones.

The hard part if you adopt this order of making changes is how to assign a scoring improvement potential to each potential change. If you figure out how to do this, please, please let me know!

Tackle the Changes in the Order of Your Shot Sequence This option, I think, benefits archers who most recently have chosen to become serious archers. The previous procedure, I think, benefits archers who have established their shot and are making smaller changes therein. The reason I believe this is twofold: for one you will be making improvements in your scores that are substantial as you work anyway; for another since you don’t have a settled shot yet, you do not want to be practicing a later aspect of your shot that will be changed when an earlier step is modified.

This approach, of course, makes it much easier to identify which you do first, second, third, etc.

When I work with a new Recurve student (my questioner is an Olympic Recurve archer) I work from what I call the “Three Pillars.” The three foundations (aka pillars of support) for consistent accuracy are a relaxed bow hand, a relaxed string hand, and good full draw body alignment (in this case delineated by the archer’s triangle—see illustration). So, the thing I most often address with a Recurve archer first is his/her … stance. It seems that most beginning Recurve archers have been told that an open stance is somehow required. But rotation your feet counterclockwise when your shoulders need to rotate clockwise to get into good FDP is working against what you want. A closed stance, at least to start with, doesn’t result in an archer’s shoulders fighting with his/her stance to get into position. So, I work to get their hands relaxed, and their body in position. (The same is true for compound archers, with a few details being different).force-triangle-finished

If  that archer is still building his/her shot, I then work through the shot sequence, helping them find their form as they go.

So, you have to decide which route you want to take and commit to it … and … (you knew there would be an “and” didn’t you) I think the best way to proceed is to make an improvement and then move on from each thing on your list. You do not need to make something perfect. If you think you do, you will be spending a great deal of time working on just a few things and you will feel as if no progress is being made.

Make an improvement and then move on. Your shot is an organic whole; you cannot change part of it in isolation and like a chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link, so think of the changes you are making as being on an upward spiral. You will go around and around, through your shot, paying extra attention to each part over and over. But you will feel the progress being made (the list of items you have crossed off as having improved should not be discarded; it is an indicator of progress made). And, each time you come back to the same item (e.g. I need to improve the solidity of my anchor.) it is not an admission that you didn’t fix it before but that you have made sufficient improvements that your improved anchor is no longer quite good enough (Hooray!). Having to work on items again are indicators that you have reached another level.

In order to tell whether you have reached another level or are just going “round and round getting nowhere” you have practice and competition round scores. If they are getting higher or more consistent where they are, you are making progress.

I hope this helps!


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