Should We Coach Male and Female Archers the Same Way?

I have had this question in mind for quite some time. I have even asked a couple of authors to tackle the topic. Most seem to think of the topic as a land mine they do not want to step on. But, as is said, fools rush in where angles fear to tread.

Let’s tackle this topic!

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There are some general observations that I can pull out of my head that apply to this topic. For example, we don’t seem to coach youths and adults the same way. Both groups have special needs. There are some indications that boys and girls on team sports need to be addressed differently. If you look to the world of professional sports, female athlete earn less than male athletes, universally. Is this a form of prejudice or is there something there?

One of the reasons offered for why these disparities continue to exist is a gender difference in the “willingness to compete.” This has actually been studied and proves out across cultures and around the world: men tend to be more willing to compete than women are. On the other hand, every prediction I have read about women participating in sports has been woefully wrong (women were not strong enough to run long distances like marathons, too genteel to participate in boxing, wrestling, MMA, etc.)

That said there are real physiological and psychological differences between men and women. One of these I used to characterize as “there are very few women who want to be recognized as the baddest dude in town.”

There are group dynamics studies that I find fascinating. A number of these studies addressed how people behaved in single sex group conversations (imagine a circle of friends standing around chatting). These studies seemed to conclude that men saw their participation as a way to show that they were superior to that group and didn’t really belong there, they were just “slumming.” An example of this is a group of guys telling jokes. There is definitely a competition going on and everyone is trying to be the most compelling story teller (a symbol of their superiority?). Opposed to this the dynamics of women in a group is a model of inclusiveness. Rather than trying to prove themselves superior to the group with their conversation, they seem to be trying to prove that they indeed belong in that group. I guess it is easy to see why at parties, the guys often end up sitting around a TV swapping sports stores while the gals end up in another room telling stories that bond them to that group.

Interestingly, when women were asked to compete just against themselves and not against others, they showed as much competitive will as do men. Why is it that women do not choose to compete against others, but are eager to compete when the opponent is themselves? Anybody who tells you they know the answer to this question is probably fooling themselves and possibly you, too.

Archery is a sport in which archers compete against themselves (there is no defense, they cannot affect how the other competitors perform, they can only compete against themselves), consequently my guess is that women are as competitive as men in archery.

So, should men and women be trained the same way … in archery?

The floor is now open!

I really want to hear from any of you who have something to say on this topic. If your comments are illuminating, I may write this discussion up for Archery Focus and you will get your name up in lights! (Yes, you can contribute anonymously, but I am suspicious of any comments that even the author doesn’t want to own.)

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24 Comments

Filed under For All Coaches

24 responses to “Should We Coach Male and Female Archers the Same Way?

  1. Randi Smith

    We were discussing this earlier today – and I’m going to go with what Larry would call an “on the fence” answer. I’ve coached a lot of athletes and I don’t think I’ve coached any two of them the same. I don’t coach Boy A the same as Boy B and I don’t coach them the same as Girl C. I find some girls are very competitive and some boys are not. The important thing is to get to know the athletes and find out what works for them.

    One thing I do find on a regular basis is that girls (and women) are not taught to take care of their own equipment. Whether it’s a male being “nice” or “helpful” or the girls thinking they are not “mechanical” enough, it does a disservice to the girls out there. Knowing their equipment, being able to make their own adjustments, helps make them responsible for their own success.

    On a related note, I’ve often found that when archers are having issues, the boys are more likely to blame the equipment and girls are more likely to blame themselves. Is that because the girls don’t know their equipment?

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    • I don’t think that all. I think males tend to externalize their thinking more and women tend to internalize their thinking more. But I also think every archer needs to learn to take care of their own equipment (within limits). I think there is confidence in knowing that you have your gear set up well and doubt when you are not sure. It was Larry who taught me to make my own bowstrings because he felt that if there were to be a problem, he wanted to fall in his lap and not be blaming “others.” That’s a level of accountability I like.

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  2. You know my feelings about this already, I think. But I sincerely believe that individuals, both men and women, require different forms of coaching. Archery is a very intellectual sport. What your brain does (or doesn’t) can directly effect the outcome of each shot. How an individual responds or reacts to bad shots or adverse environmental conditions will affect how they shoot. And we don’t react the same to those things. Therefore we need coaching to address our individual weaknesses and enhance our individual strengths.

    I also think that women are more willing to collaborate with their coaches, which with the right coach can lead to great improvement and success. But with the wrong coach can lead to an erosion of confidence. Men are less likely to feel that erosion of confidence as keenly and more willing to move away from a coach that isn’t serving their goals at that moment in time.

    Physiologically, women have a wider array of body shapes than men and are more likely to have posture that is not as straight due to a variety of environmental conditions. A coach that can recognize this and help an archer towards straightness rather than one who focuses on tuning the equipment when it’s posture causing the problem is necessary in a situation like that.

    Ultimately certain body types for both men and women have an easier time being straight. But I still don’t think that means those specific body types are the only ones which can develop competitively. It’s just going to take longer and require more effort from someone who isn’t already a rectangle, and also take more awareness of the geometry of the shot, the string angle into the body.

    I don’t think of archery as a gender disparate sport the way I think of say, football. I think both genders have equal opportunity to develop the “perfect shot” but I think individuals of BOTH genders require different styles of coaching and different methods to develop strengths and mitigate weaknesses. Perhaps more than many other sports, there is not a one size fits all approach once you’ve stepped out of the beginner phase and into intermediate and advanced.

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  3. I probably stepped in it with those comments so I’ll go find my flame retardant suit now..

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  4. kmartin

    I commend Steve for this post. It is good to discuss gender based on logic and data rather than emotion and prejudice.

    I don’t have a comment about coaching but rather a question. Why do men in the Olympic recurve category shoot higher scores than women indoors? There is no wind, so bow weight cannot be a big advantage. Consider the recent NFAA Vegas shoot. The top five men shot between 887 and 893. The top five women shot between 879 to 884. Why?

    One theory is that people live up to expectations. At one point the four minute mile was considered impossible. Then Roger Bannister broke the barrier and it became a regular occurrence. Could it be that women are not “expected” to be as good as men and therefore live up to this expectation? I wonder if a woman archer such as Ki Bo Bae or Choi Misun shot a higher score than Brady Ellison in competition if women beating men would become commonplace.

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    • I would add that the Olympic scoring records for men and women at the same distance aren’t much different. Also, this Vegas was a small sample. Were those archers of the same ranking. If the men were #1-#5 and the women were #2, #4, #7, #8, and #10, you would just be seeing the differences in their current states of accomplishment. You also need to look at participation rates. In this country the top five women and the top five men are of vastly different numbers of competitors. So, even if you are at the top of a mountain, if it is a small mountain …

      On Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 10:58 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:

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      • kmartin

        Are there indoor events at the world or national level where the women beat the men?

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      • On three occasions at Vegas, women have scored perfect 900s (3 x 300) which tied the men shooting the same score but shoot offs are by divisions, so we do not know how they would have fared in such an event.

        On Sat, Feb 25, 2017 at 9:48 AM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:

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      • kmartin

        My question was about Olympic recurve. See above.

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      • I don’t always see the whole thread when I am reading a comment. I do not know of any but I did take a look at the Olympic scoring records at one point and there was very, very little difference between the comparable records (all at 70m), so as far as peak performances go, there is little difference and I suspect that those differences are account for nicely by the levels of participation.

        On Sun, Feb 26, 2017 at 11:45 AM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:

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  5. Good article, both thoughtful and tactful in the approach!

    I feel it’s important to distinguish between a generalization and a specific judgment. I work with a JOAD club that attracts a steady number of beginner archers every week. In these classes I have noticed three trends (in a purely anecdotal sense; nothing scientific):
    – 60-70% of most classes will be female
    – Females tend to pick up the basics (stance, grip, anchor, posture, back tension) slightly faster than males.
    – Males usually have little to no hyperextension on their bow arm; it’s more common with females

    Note that these are generalizations, and while they may cue me to watch for certain elements in their shot execution, I would never use them to confirm or discount the potential of any archer. Personal observation trumps generalization every time, and I work very hard to replace expectation with observation at the earliest possible moment.

    However, I’m not above using these generalizations to good advantage. For example, if a girl is interested in “try it out” but the parents are skeptical if she can do it, I’ll say, “In my experience, girls tend to pick this up much more quickly!” Works like a charm!

    As with any generalization or snap judgment, anything said or done should be used to build up the archer, and not to detract.

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    • There have been more than a few publications claiming that girls are more “coachable” than boys. how to define that term is problematic but I think we don’t need to be so fussy in our deliberations. I think it is true that boys tend to be more “self directed” or should that be more “self-misdirected” thinking that they know more than they do (usually in competition with other bows as to who is the “best” at something or another. They are also more likely to act out and try forbidden things. Some of the attributes I thing need to be shared with with coach candidates in coach trainings but they must be shared in a way that doesn’t become dogmatic or concretized. We do not want to confuse tendencies with certainties, which was your point, too.

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  6. Tom Dorigatti

    I don’t have the sources (too lazy to look them up), BUT I have read in several different places that women have better eye-hand coordination, and slightly better response times than men.
    I have also read that women actually tend to be better “fighter pilots” than men due to the quicker response times and better eye-hand coordination, among some other factors.
    I think one big thing why the scores indoor and outdoors are lower for women has to do with the poundage that they shoot. Very few women for compound shooting can shoot the weight men can, thus, especially in the environs of the Vegas Shoot, because the Women are not shooting the poundages men can, if they are shooting “logs”, there is less margin for error than what the men are getting. Being a low poundage shooter myself, I have always tended to shoot lower “x-count” and scores when I shot logs as opposed to smaller diameter, correctly spined arrows, either fingers or release aid.
    I feel that ladies/girls do need a different approach in coaching. Some of the anatomical differences have been discussed, but one huge item is that ladies tend to be forced into shooting a much higher drawing elbow position than men. Add to this the upper body shape differences, smaller hands, and the tendency for women to also have what might appear to be an over-extended bow elbow and you can see the direction I’m headed here.
    One of the best ever women’s compound shooters was Michelle Ragsdale. Take a look at Michelle’s positioning from the waist up and take special note of her drawing elbow!
    You also have to deal with a MUCH shorter drawlength issue with the women/girls, too, and that means to get the peak weight, you need thicker heavier limbs (both recurve and compound) to get said peak weight that the woman/lady can handle. Most target shooters rarely over-bow (excepting those in 3-D shooting, since I feel that 3-D shooting is still “target shooting), but the short power stroke can be both an advantage and a disadvantage depending upon how you look at it. Arrow is on the string for a shorter period of time, but, if shooting a fatter shaft, that means shooting a longer arrow to try to get some spine breakdown out of say a 23 diameter arrow to work for a lady indoors.
    I routinely see ladies shooting arrows with 6” or more of overhang, and if there is any torquing of the bow or “plucking” of the bow string, those arrows are going to miss the center.
    Only 3 women have ever shot perfect 900 at Vegas EVER….and one of those was in 2017. The first one was Mary Zorn in 2004 and I think the next was Sarah Lance in 2014 or 2015? I don’t think that any woman shot 1200 in the old Vegas format of 450, 450, 300, but could be wrong.
    All of this being said, if you look at the women’s scores overall in the Championships they really aren’t all that far behind the men.
    Looking at the flights and you have many women kicking some butt against their male counterparts.
    I also think that women/girls are a bit easier to coach from a goal setting standpoint. Guys/boys hate to keep track of things, while most girls/ladies seem to go along better with setting short and medium term goals while men/boys tend to let their egos put the cart before the horse and the long term goals come first, so they don’t think in the present, but dwell on the past and really want to think about “nailing that X” instead of shot execution and letting THAT shot happen.

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    • Thanks, Tom. I think there is something here and possibly publishing what we have may lead to a broader discussion.

      My suspicion is that the differences in being coached are more mental than physical. I think much of the difference in performance level can be attributed to participation levels.

      I wonder if there are any studies on participation level? As a bottom line,it seems reasonable that the more people you have participating, the more talented those selected from the “top performing” segment of that group will be (the bigger the pyramid, the taller it must be). According to the most recent ATA survey (survey conducted in 2014, published in 2015) 22% of archery participants were women, 78% men. Additionally 45% of women archery participants say that their participation has increased over the past five years, compared to 37% of men. So, women participate at a level one third that of men (although they are increasing their participation faster than men are). I wonder if there is any way to link participation level to performance level?

      On Sun, Feb 26, 2017 at 1:06 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:

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      • Tom Dorigatti

        I don’t have data and I’m not so sure anyone has taken the time to come up with any certifiable studies about the subject. However, I do know from my competitive racquetball and the “tougher the field”, the harder a person plays in order to attempt to stay with or do better than their opponent during that match.
        I also learned early on in archery that it was best if you could find somebody to shoot with that could clobber you. Of course, during tournaments, you are always grouped on the bale with people of similar or matching scores. Thus in archery, you set the goal of being the one with the highest score on your bale/group and work from there.
        In racquetball, we had “ladders” for our practicing and playing sessions, You could challenge any person on your level or one level above your level on the pyramid. On your level of the pyramid, you moved from left to right to “move up”, OR you could challenge any player one level above you. They had to accept the challenge. If you won the match, you moved up the ladder, if you lost, you stayed where you were. You could “ask” players two or more levels above you, but if you managed to pull a miracle, you didn’t move up two levels or more; they didn’t have to accept that challenge either, but most always they did so.
        I have set up “scoring clubs” were people turn in practice scores and they move to the “club” if they manage to score within that club range of scores. Such as indoors, I started with 200, 210, 220, 230, 240, 250, 260, 270, and then went 5 point increments after 270 until the 295 “club”, then went single point “clubs” to the magical “300” club.
        Did the same thing for field/hunter rounds outdoors, only of course, from 260 per 14 targets on up it was 5 point increments until 275, then went by single point increments. If you “skipped” a club, you could NOT go back and sand bag to a lower club. Always had to IMPROVE and move up, never go backwards.
        We had about 30 members one summer, and There were more than 1,200 scores submitted for shooting club scores by 30 people between April and October!!! At the banquet, they received a button denoting each “club” that they had become members of during the season. “Personal goal setting and motivation” got them out there shooting and they loved seeing their names on the list with the other shooters. The listings of the current “shooting club members” were posted in the club-house for all to see. Did I care if they “cheated”? NO! They were only hurting themselves by doing that. At the banquet, they were like little kids and so excited that they had achieved so much over such a short period of time.
        I have never seen a set up like this since, and I’ve not taken the time to set one up for our ranges around here either.
        I will tell you, from that standpoint, a “shooting club” setup or a challenge ladder could be highly effective for NASP or any youngster’s or beginning archer’s perspective.
        Since you cannot modify the bows to fit the shooters then the other thing to do is to get them to get used to and to adjust their methodology and have them “track” their scores via the challenge ladder or “Shooting clubs” or both.

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      • I think this reflects the same thing we see in youth competitive categories. In divisions where there are very few kids competing, there is a much lower level of effort and receptiveness to coaching in them. So, intuitively we know that a lighter level of participation leads to a higher level of competition which leads to higher scores. But it would be nice to have this at a level that was not just intuitive.

        I am going to try to see what the Koreans have regarding participation rates by sex. Since there are equivalent numbers of medals for each sex, one would expect … but I also expect something other than 50:50 male:female participation there, too.

        On Mon, Feb 27, 2017 at 12:39 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:

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  7. Lisa White

    I coach a 4-H archery club. In 4-H, competition is coed even at the National level. In my opinion a good coach identifies the different needs of each athlete regardless of gender. Therefore, each athlete should have a customized program that works for them.

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    • Thanks, Lisa. (I got my start in coaching through 4-H!) I agree wholeheartedly with you … and I also know that it is impossible to know an individual student’s needs from the get-go. This is why we set up training structures so that as students learn, they will be treated in a way that is respectful and effective, which leads to the question, should our initial training of boys and girls be different or should bows and girls be trained somewhat differently?

      This is an honest question which may also be very subtle in that archery has many fewer sex-based performance differences than other sports, like football, basketball, etc.

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  8. Coach Krish Rama.

    Dear Sir,
    in what was previously a male dominated society, inclusive of sporting success, it is very important that this question be raised again and again. Personally, I teach mixed groups but find the females perform better when placed together. There are studies that say when competing in mixed groups, the men are more successful and that this has something to do with attracting a mate. Also, when females compete amongst their own gender, they compete much harder and their overall results are greater than those of their male counterparts. I understand that equalities are starting to even out and that but for physical differences in certain sports, the playing field is level. Our discipline is different in so much as that muscle mass is not so important. In fact, when I teach the psychology behind the actions, the improvement is more noticeable in the females.
    Yes the way I inform them about their bodies and the various effects on the shot cycle is different, as they are physically different.
    I had taken my girls and ladies to one side and we have had a session on the differences between the genders.
    As a man, I was more nervous about upsetting them by crossing into female only territory but they put me at ease and we were able to have an extremely frank discussion. The group wanted me to be honest about their bodies and did not want to be treated as the weaker sex. I was told in no uncertain terms, that if I did, they would not progress and that it amounted to discrimination.
    I sit on the fence on this one with both feet dangling over the side that says yes teach them together.
    My club members are split 50/50 female to male in ratio.

    In the junior schools where I teach, the juniors (6-8), girls (6-10) and pre-teen boys (8-12) shoot on separate days at the request of the parents (even though their school classes are mixed).
    In the primary schools where I teach, the dynamics are different. As the teens are in a mixed environment already, the parents have no problem with them training together. Something to do with the fact that outside school, most of the parents and children socialise with eachother on an almost daily basis amongst other things.

    I have had a question put to me and am unable to answer, even though I have searched the Internet.
    Still on the subject of the female, I have been asked if it is safe for a pregnant lady (4 months), to take up archery and whether there are any foreseeable problems.
    I know that high level athletes have taken part in Olympic events whilst pregnant but I would assume that they had the backing of sports medical units to advise them and monitor as well.
    Can you on this subject ?

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    • Tom Dorigatti

      Michelle Ragsdale won the Vegas tournament 3 days before having her first child. Erika Jones competed right up to within a couple of weeks of giving birth. So did Mary Zorn Hamm. I know other women that competed right up until a few days before giving birth.

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      • Thats just because they are physically tougher than the guys! ;o)

        Having been right there for the birth of my son, I can say without doubt that no guy would go through than twice. They would all be “one and done” if required to bear our children. I tend to think this contributes something to our species mentally. Women have no choice but to experience childbirth, so they have developed methods of “forgetting” (wrong word but I don’t know of a better one … diffusing?) the pain and discomfort involved ex post facto. Men, on the other hand, if they are going to experience something painful and/or life threatening have to prepare on the front side. Whipping themselves (and their courage) up to be able to perform at all. For an example, witness the 10 minutes before any pro football game or the team building that guys going into combat go through.

        On Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 6:37 AM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:

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    • In American culture and law, it is almost impossible to separate the sexes for publicly-sponsored activities, even if research and the participants themselves say that is what they want and that is what works better. This may be a counter to what has been a male-dominated culture for essentially forver and may change in the future, but that is what it is for now … here. Nice comment Krish!

      On Sun, Mar 5, 2017 at 11:53 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:

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