Do You Believe In … ?

Do you believe that there is a perfect shooting technique out there? And, if you mastered that technique you would automatically become a very, very good archer? There seems to be a fair number of archers and coaches who seem to believe this.

As a sport, and maybe representative of the wider culture, we also tend to believe in “talent,” that some people are born with a hard-wired ability to do . . . something. Otherwise, how do we explain young people who have abilities far beyond their years. While we do not deny that people have various physical and mental abilities, there is no evidence for this opinion that stands up to scrutiny. I tend to think it is a manifestation of our own ego protection at work. If that athlete just beat the stuffing out of me, it must be because he has a “natural gift” I was not given (aka It was not my fault!). It is harder to admit the truth: the other athlete prepared better, worked harder, or was just at a higher level of performance that you are currently.

This is the pernicious aspect of a belief in talent, if you believe you either have “it” or you don’t, what becomes of striving to get better?

A belief that there is some magical technique, is also akin to a belief in talent. It is not helpful and it is not based upon any evidence. If you believe that there is some essentially correct technique, the farther from which you get the poorer your performance as an archer will be, you are on the wrong path.

Ask yourself:

  • Is there any other sport in which this is the case?
  • If there were such a technique, should we not have found it by now? (People still argue about the “right” and “wrong” ways to do things.)
  • Do champions show a conformity of technique? Since they are performing the best, they must have technique closest to the ideal.

What I Suggest
Al Henderson, one of the U.S.’s greatest coaches, is reported to have told archers that “the key is to do it wrong over and over again exactly the same way.” I do not recommend one deliberately seek out how to “do it wrong,” but I do believe there is a process and it doesn’t involve a quest for “doing it right.”

Technique is Important, Everybody Needs One An archer’s technique is something he/she develops over time. It is never exactly the same as anyone else’s.

The Farther You Are from Your True Technique, the Harder It Is to Learn It If you insist on a form element or an execution step that is suboptimal for you, you will incur a training penalty in that it will take more effort and time to learn. Once this step is learned, though, there is no evidence that it is any less effective than some other step. There could be a score penalty for doing things that are far from optimal, but experience tells us that many archers can succeed having quite unusual form, so this has not been demonstrated in fact.

Learn Your Shot and Then Own It So, a budding serious competitive archer needs to find a shot, specifically his/her shot. Then, through repetition, they have to own that shot. Once they have gotten that far, there is a continuous improvement stage in which minor adjustments are made from time to time: in equipment, execution, and form, but these are small compared to the initial effort to learn and own a shot.

Technique, Like Talent, Is Not Given, It Is Learned The process is one of exploration to find what works and doesn’t work. Clearly what works is something close to what everyone else is doing, hence the idea of “standard” or “textbook” form. But occasionally, what everyone else is doing turns out to be suboptimal. The example of high jumping technique comes to mind. Everyone used to jump looking at the bar. Now everyone jumps looking up away from the bar.

In an article about David Vincent, an prodigious baseball statistics creator, especially with regard to home runs, an observer commented “Like many so-called stat geeks, Mr. Vincent was obsessed. His computer skills were a necessary entry point, but unless this subject drives you, you won’t spend time doing it.”

Bingo. Young archers who demonstrate talent are driven, by love of the sport, or love of the attention it creates, or. . . . Part of this drive surely is rooted in success. If one tries, and fails repeatedly, enthusiasm rarely survives.

This was so important that an early motto for youth archery programs was “early participation, early success.” What this meant was to get a bow into a prospective archer’s hands, then shooting at large targets set at short distances to ensure some measure of early success. A new archer having to shoot at 20 yd/m or longer will probably do well to hit the ground with his/her arrows and more than likely not be inclined to come back. (“I tried that but I was not good at it.”) Such a “conclusion” comes well before any skill has been achieved that could be the basis for success on “normal” ranges, so “big targets, up close” became the watchword for beginning archery programs.

The phrase “unless this subject drives you, you won’t spend time doing it” is key. Talent is built, not something one possess. This takes time, time on task. Something about the sport has to supply the energy needed to come back for more. Channeling that energy into some ballet-like search for perfect technique is counterproductive.


Filed under For All Coaches

10 responses to “Do You Believe In … ?

  1. Tom Dorigatti

    Great job on this, Steve!
    One thing I learned over the years is that field archery is way less forgiving to form faults than something like indoor archery. From my personal experiences, I quickly learned that many of my competitors that would soundly thrash me on the indoor tournaments didn’t perform anywhere near as well once the distances got beyond 25 yards or so.
    Many times, over the years, these same “indoor shooters” would avoid outdoor field rounds or competing in events that required multiple and changing distances, or would avoid competing outdoors entirely.
    One thing came to light in your article concerning this: (paraphrased) “Do the same exact thing wrong and learn it by repetition”. (or something like that). It is an easier task to accomplish if you are shooting the same distance all the time. You set your “tune” (both bow and you), set your sight to accommodate the flaw(s) and you are good to go. Well, once the distances change, those faults will come to haunt you in big time lost points! The increased distances only magnify those faults, and most shooters are unable to set their sites for those “variables.”
    I remember well being clobbered at indoor events by X-counts. Many (not necessarily all, but a LOT of them)of the same people that could shoot 58-60X’s indoors on the NFAA blue face and thrash me around on indoor events were unable to muster a high enough score OUTDOORS to thrash me there. They “owned me” indoors, and I “owned them” outdoors. Much of the indoor game is the mental tenacity. Much of the outdoor game isn’t only mental, but it is the physical aspects that come more into play. Aerobic conditioning, leg and lower body fitness come into play. Changing the angle of your body positioning, foot alignment, along with upper body alignment all changes constantly on a field or hunter round. Many of these indoor shooters had basic form flaws that they’d adjusted their sights to only to come to find out that at 30 yards and beyond those faults were killing their scores. Most of them simply dropped out of shooting field and/or hunter rounds!
    I’m not saying they weren’t good shooters; far from it! BUT, they could get away with those flaws they couldn’t see while shooting indoors, but were unable to compensate enough with their sight settings and/or tune when changing distances and stances entered the matrix.
    Now, that isn’t to say that excellent field shooters will automatically shoot much better than the norm INDOORS. I, for one, am a prime example of this one! I grew up on outdoor shooting, shooting in the wind, and shooting with oddball body and foot alignment. This was my bread and butter for years. I only shot indoors because it was forced upon me. The minute I could get back outdoors couldn’t come soon enough for me. Once indoors, I would be at the top of my game for about 1-2 months, then the mental game would break down and I’d settle back into the 55-58X shooting on the NFAA Blue Face. Well, for years now, 55-58X doesn’t win you many tournaments, and certainly won’t win a Sectional or National Title!
    The development of the Mental game, while invaluable outdoors, is the name of the game INDOORS.
    So it isn’t all about the form or your positioning, or the tune of the bow to YOU. I am convinced that indoors, anyone is going to falter if they don’t pick up on the mental aspects of the game.
    Of late, in the Professional Division, it has come to pass that missing the bullseye even once or twice isn’t going to cut it OUTDOORS. 560’s were becoming somewhat routine during the National Tournaments, so they went to scoring the X as 6 points for the Pros! That isn’t even enough to slow down the big guns as they are shooting into the high 90’s to low 100’s in “6-ring hits”!!! Thus, they have been able to bring their perfect form, coupled with a near perfect “mental game” to the field with them.
    This isn’t a “talent” thing. This is a group of learned behaviors. Behaviors that are honed to the highest level of repetition possible for said shooter, and the flaws are noted and eliminated as much as possible. We are human and we don’t perfectly repeat any behavior 100% of the time.
    It is a constant battle with form breakdowns/mental breakdowns and those that have the fewest of both are those finishing on the podium. I don’t believe in a “natural born talent”, and I also think that research has shown that a “natural born talent” really exists; especially in archery.


    • Field archery is definitely harder because of the angled shots and iffy footing. As to indoor spot shooters who specialize thereupon, well, they are missing much of the fun … and the challenge … which may be why they stay indoors. ;o)


      • Tom Dorigatti

        I agree, Steve. They are missing a ton of fun. But when a person gets used to being at the top of the heap, it is a very hard pill for them to swallow when they try to expand their dominance….and fall flat on their face(s).
        Many shooters today are indeed one dimiensional, or maybe two. Very FEW are multi-dimensional and can get podium finishes in more than one or two venues. We know the names of those archers that are multi-dimensional and do compete on a WORLD scale and excel at all of them. Others stay within their comfort zone to get their glory that way.
        ment after argument concerning the “Best Overall Archer Ever”…and oftentimes certain venues are skipped…or skimmed over when assigned particular parties to this lofty perch!
        Improper of me to mention names, and I won’t. I think many of us that have been in the game for any length of time are familiar with these “best overall ever” discussions.
        It still comes down to setting goals, working hard to accomplish said goals, and advancement of prowess to other venues. Some only want to compete in one or two venues and that is by their choice. Some aren’t interested in international competitions at all; others thrive on ANY competitions as yet another goal and challenge to accept and attempt to achieve.
        Natural talent has little if nothing to do with it.


  2. Michael

    I remember people saying ‘that boys got talent’, they never knew it had taken me 5 years and 50k arrows to get to a 1200 fita level. They were surprised when corrected


    • Tom Dorigatti

      I never have believed in “natural born talent.” There are numerous articles out there concerned this, and many are pointing to this being nothing but a myth or excuse for someone to use if they are soundly thrashed by an opponent or somebody just does better than them:
      Here’s one of many:


    • Forgive them as they do not know what they say! Now, I realize that what they are saying is “that boy is accomplished”.

      The talent thing is not only a trap one can fall in, it has been used as a slur. African-American athletes were considered for the longest time (and still) as having natural talent, but the while guys had to earn their ability through hard work.

      On Sat, Jul 8, 2017 at 2:13 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



  3. Steve, this is one of favorite posts of yours so far (and you’ve had a TON of great ones, so that’s saying a lot!) From a child developmental standpoint, I’d add that between the ages of ~ 3 and 9 the neurons in a child’s brain are basically self-editing. That is, whatever the kid happens to be into get strengthen and built up, and whatever they’re just not into get trimmed off. So, to some extent the idea of “talent” might come from a child’s own curiosity when very young… BUT, this backs up everything you say because a kid at 8 who is a “natural”… guess what? They’ve caught the archery bug, and are the heck out of it just as their neurons are also terminging what to trim and what to build up. (I’m not a neurologist, that’s a poor summary of the mechanics, but that’s the basic idea.)

    On a second note, I started shooting about seven or eight years ago, totally self taught, and caught the bug. Pretty quickly sucked up all the info I could find, and soon found myself (happily) on the USA Archery NTS track, mostly in order to keep learning. Did all the trainings, (up to Level 3 coach) the works. (I wont get into all that, you’ve written several excellent pieces on that whole problematic.) But the up shot — between a rigid adherent to perfecting my NTS technique, and losing the ‘magic’ of archery to the psychology of competition… I kind of fell out of love with archery.

    Marriages go through dry spells too, it felt a lot light it, and was devastating. I missed archery so much, but could get ‘that feeling’ back.

    Recently I’ve been reading some great research on the Scythians and decided to splurge on a horsebow. Worst case scenario, I’d hate it, sell all my bows, and find a new hobby.

    But thumb release is SO entirely different than NTS, it was like learning archery all over again… but the best parts of it. NTS was valuable… I “get” back tension now, that alone has been invaluable, and there’s a ton more that’s right there in my thumb release shot. But, yeah, you can’t do NTS with a thumb release, and I’ve been going through and using what’s useful, ditching what’s not, and re-finding/finding ‘my’ shot.

    Falling back in love with archery: magic!


    • Sorry for all the typos: running out to the range right now! 😀


    • What a wonderful journey! This is the sad situation: what got us into archery, usually gets lost when we take it up seriously. (This is normal, just sad!) One of the things I tell my students is to take a few minutes at the end of a shooting session and just shoot for the sheer joy of it. If you shoot with a sight, take it off. Concentrate on the feeling of your body executing flawlessly (or in my case, near flawlessly). Enjoy the sunshine, the air, the beautiful flight of the arrows, the beauty of the form of the bow. Embrace the joy, otherwise it will disappear on you.

      A normal arc for archers is to achieve a fairly high degree of proficiency and then drift away, even to quit. I found the joy again, taking up a bow I was not at all proficient it, a longbow. I have basically stopped shooting compound and now shoot Barebow almost exclusively because, heck, it is just so much fun.

      So, you are on the right track!

      On Sun, Jul 9, 2017 at 7:14 AM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



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