Monthly Archives: August 2017

Praise or Encouragement?

For all archery coaches, but especially those working with youths, a question comes up: how does one encourage one’s charges to “do better.” We are assuming here that archers who take lessons are automatically in the category of “trying to do better.” And here we will set aside those student-archers who think that lessons are magical, that they will automatically make one better. So, your student has professed a desire to get better—how do you encourage productive uses of his/her energy and discourage the nonproductive ones?

Motivation
Yes, we are using the “M word.” There is a huge literature on the subject of motivation, a large part of which involves motivating athletes. Archery has an advantage over a number of other sports as it is perceived of as being fun, unlike running, say, or weightlifting. Archery also has a short feedback loop: shoot and arrow, get a result. You don’t have to wait a half an hour to see if your five-mile run time has improved. But “practice” can be perceived as being “boring” especially if it doesn’t involve shooting, or the shooting is unchallenging (blank bale, blind bale, etc.).

Recreational v. Competitive Archers We make a distinction in our programs between recreational and competitive archers. The difference between the two categories is in motivation: recreational archers are motivated by “fun.” If an activity isn’t fun, they lose interest. Competitive archers are motivated differently. They are looking to compete well, even to the point of winning medals and championships. Because their primary source of motivation is not “fun,” they are willing to do some rather boring exercises in the hope that they will improve enough to meet their goals. They are trusting enough in their coaches that they will be given fruitful things to do and not be given “busy work.”

Internal v. External Motivations Part of the extensive literature on motivation involves the focus of the athlete on a reward. (I am not using the technical terms here. Practitioners in the field use the terms “intrinsic motivation” and “extrinsic motivation” so if you do any research on your own, look for those terms.)

Internally motivated athletes are doing what they do for internal reasons, such as self satisfaction. Externally motivated athletes are doing what they do for external reasons, such as titles and trophies, and the respect shown by others.

There are many, many details but this is a distinction you need to understand. The key point being is if you offer an external reward to an internally motivated person, it will not only not have a positive effect, it can have a negative effect. Studies in which volunteers were offered money for their efforts resulted in refusals and a lack of interest in continuing to volunteer their time and effort. Volunteering isn’t about money and people who do volunteer can be insulted by such offers of external rewards.

As a coach, you need to be alert to the signs. A child who wears a medal to practice day after day is basically hanging out a sign that he is focused on external rewards. A child you responds to an offer of a reward, with “Whatever. . . .” is quite clearly telling you they aren’t in it for the hardware.

So, as a coach of relative beginners, what can you do?

Suggestions
We strongly suggest that “fun” is something everyone feels motivated by. Please do not attempt to grind your competitive archers into dust through more and more serious drills. Fun activities are something everyone can engage in and even for the most serious archer in your group, can provide a welcome respite from normal practice. This can be in the form of a game, popping balloons, whatever.

Focus on the Effort, Not the Outcome Even though some of your externally motivated charges want to collect all of the praise they can get, as coaches the route to doing better is based upon effort, so it is effort that we want to praise, no matter the outcome. So, for the student who won a medal at the most recent competition, if they had been working very hard to get better, the praise should be along the lines of “all your hard work has paid off,” rather than “that’s a cool trophy.” Some beginning archers get medals for just showing up, there being more medals available than competitors. The fact that they medaled under such conditions should never be denigrated, but if your athlete feels as if they got a “participation award” that doesn’t mean anything, you can always share your experience (I often tied for first and last in my competition group.”) and turn the conversation toward what they can do (the focus is on effort) to move up a notch. Some archers are so good, they have to compete in a more competitive category (youths against adults, for example) in order to achieve meaningful success.

Prizes Need to be Small and/or Symbolic If you offer a prize for a practice competition/game make it something small. We had a habit of making the last session of a season (outdoor/indoor) one that involved many contests with many quite trivial prizes. On one such occasion we had just been to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA and brought back every cheap trinket we could find in the Center’s store. After we had given away the very last prize we held the plastic bag they had been brought home in over our head and said that the last prize had been given, so we were done. The students immediately chanted “Shoot for the bag, shoot for the bag” and so we did and later, the winner of the bag was proudly showing his kid sister that the ordinary plastic bag had “Olympic Training Center” printed on the outside. And we were concerned that the OTC socks would be considered kind of dumb.

Allow Them to Establish Awards/Rewards We believe in student-led coaching so letting them establish their own rewards can be fruitful. It also helps them in communicating with their classmates. Suggestions of $1000 are responded to with “Okay, who is going to organize the bake sales to raise the funds?”

Use Their Ideas We have younger student-archers create their own targets as an art project and they can, if they want, come up with a game or contest associated with the target or targets they come up with. Remember that we do not allow human depictions on targets we shoot at.

Let Them Decide It is often motivating to allow your students some autonomy. Even though you may have prepared quite a bit for today’s session, they may have other ideas. Our first program was at a club which had a number of field ranges as well as a target field. Some days we would concentrate on field archery, other days on target archery. Some days they got to choose, even to the point of splitting the group depending on what the students wanted to work on (depending on there being sufficient numbers of coaches available, of course.)

The Bottom Line
As a professional coach, it is in your best interest (both internally and externally) to “leave them wanting more.” Engaged students making progress and/or having fun, show up for the next session or the next series of sessions. And they are more fun to work with, too.

Educating yourself regarding the motivations of athletes and youths and keeping motivation toward the top of your concerns as a coach will pay dividends in the long run. And I am just learning that there are significant differences in how boys and girls motive themselves and one another (as if it were not obvious, but in the past many obvious things have been proved wrong, e.g. the Sun orbits the Earth, no?)

2 Comments

Filed under For AER Coaches

Traditional Archery in the N.Y. Times?

It isn’t often that archery makes it into major news organs but there is a lovely story about Turkish (Ottoman) traditional archery in today’s N.Y. Times: Caftans and Quivers: An Archery Competition 500 Years in the Making.

There is a pay wall, but you can also read up to ten articles for free, every month.

Enjoy.

Photographs and Text by MONIQUE JAQUES

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches

If Self-Image Determines Performance, Then …

I just read a wonderful piece on self-image by Lanny Bassham over at the Mental Management website (“Nutrients of Self-Image”) which I recommend you go read. What I want to comment on in this post is the role of the coach in all of this. Lanny’s main points (said and unsaid) are 1) that self-image determines performance, and 2) that to grow or boost one’s self-image, one needs praise from others as well as from one’s self.

Now you can’t magically become a winner by hypnotizing yourself to believe that you are a great archer, magically creating a non-existent self-image and equally non-existent expert archer. The way to the winner’s circle is not through dedicated bullshit. One’s self-image needs to be rooted in reality. If you regularly shoot in the 270’s on indoor 300 rounds, there is no way to develop a self-image of being a 300-shooter without actually becoming one. But the path to that state is hindered greatly if all you or your student gets is criticism. Praise is positive reinforcement and studies show that works better. It motivates people to work harder and that gets them closer to their goal.

Praise is Positive Reinforcement
So, what should you, as coach, do to supply praise? The keys to me are to praise effort first and foremost. And all praise needs to be rooted in reality. If you have a student who seems to be allergic to practice, praising them on how hard they work is not going to change their behavior, plus onlookers will think you are a bullshit artist or incompetent or both. All praise must be delivered based upon reality. And the important reality is on good work performed. (If they are doing all of the wrong things, they need advice, not praise.) It is up to the athlete to determine if the amount of effort they are putting out justifies itself. Most people “get off of the bus” when they realize that the amount of effort needed to reach their goals is not within them. The ones who stay on the bus are those that see that their efforts will get them to or near their goals.

Business people will tell you that you praise in public, but criticize in private. Hearing another athlete get praised for working hard delivers a message to others nearby. Hearing someone getting hammered by their coach may encourage some others, but it is more likely to discourage more. I think this is wise advice.

In a recent coaching website I saw an article entitled, “How to Deal with Athletes Who Do Not Take Advice.” (That may be inaccurate as I am working from memory but the gist is correct.) I have no problem with these athletes. Bo Jackson was criticized as being an athlete who didn’t take coaching advice. He did okay, don’t you think? (In American football and baseball.) Some athletes are self-directed almost completely and need very little from outside of themselves. The question itself brings up in my mind coaches whose reputation or remuneration is based on whether his team wins or loses and so this seems to be a question for the coach and not the athlete. If an athlete doesn’t want advice, I don’t give them any. Simple. Archery is an individual sport, so pressure from teammates to perform will not be much and the athlete is left to him-/her-self to determine if the effort they are putting out is worth what they are getting back.

I learned this in my teaching days. I made a rule I shared with my students that “I would work as hard for you as you do for yourself.” I did this to save my sanity because I had spent a lot of hours working for students who didn’t give a damn. Do I praise such students on their effort? Of course I did, and still do; it’s my job.

1 Comment

Filed under For All Coaches

Barebow Arrow Considerations, Part 2

Tuning for a Single Distance

Target archery is becoming less interesting. In field archery, one has to contend with many different shooting distances, different footings, different directions (into the sun, away from the sun, into and out of shade, etc.) and different shooting angles (uphill, downhill, sidehill, etc.). Target archery was a contrast to field archery in that the shooting was on a flat field, at just a few distances and the angle of the sun only changed as the sun moved through the sky. Most rounds had three or four distances to contend with. But, now, as Olympic archery is being driven by telegenicity (make the game simpler so viewers can understand) and dragging the rest of the target archery community with it, competitions have devolved to single distance contests(!).

This came to my attention as I was helping a student prepare for our USAA national championships and he stated that Barebow Recurve was to be contested at 50 meters … only. That couldn’t be right, I thought, so I looked it up. Yep. 50 m, and only 50 m. <Sigh> This certainly doesn’t make things more interesting for the archer.

Preparing for a Single Distance Shoot
Obviously most indoor target competitions are single distance shoots, but outdoors was typically more varied. What this means in terms of preparation is that a number of options are now available for these outdoor contests that were not before. Here are some of my thoughts.

Try to Arrange Your POT Target Distance to be the Competition Distance Stringwalking puts demands upon an archer’s tune so that arrow flight will be acceptable at all crawls. Lots of compromises are involved. This is because taking a crawl basically changes the tiller of the bow and affects the bow’s dynamics. With just a single distance to prepare for, having a zero crawl is ideal. There is also less variation is placing the tab on the string when the crawl is zero rather than, say, a half an inch.

You Can Use a Bottom Nocking Point Locator to Your Benefit If you have a powerful bow, a small crawl may be inevitable. If that is the case, it is allowed to use the bottom of the bottom of two nock locators a set your crawl. The arrow and bow must be set up to make that crawl the correct one, of course. You are not allowed to put on a half inch long nocking point locator, or set your bottom nock locator a half inch below the nock where it would serve no purpose other than being a crawl locator. But for an ordinary tied-on locator in a reasonable position, well that can be used.

You Can Use a Split Finger String Grip String walkers do not use a split finger string grip, they use a “three fingers under” (3FU) string grip because they will be making crawls. But what if your bow is underpowered for the competition distance? In this situation, with no crawl and 3FU, your arrows hit below the target. One easy fix is to try a split finger grip (you may need a different tab). This results in a substantial gain in cast and if your arrows land on the target, you may be able to find a point of aim using either the target rings or the target stand or the wind flag, or … , etc.

A Permanent Fix is to Find Perfect Arrows If the target distance in such competitions is to be the same for many years, it may be in your (or your student’s) best interest to purchase and tune a special set of arrows. After all, you don’t see the long drive golf contestants taking full sets of clubs out onto the tee box. They just take the clubs they are going to use (a pumped up driver and spares). So, why prepare a bow and arrow combination to shoot multiple distances when there is no need. Field archers use arrows with lower FOC balance characteristics than do target archers, who tend to shoot at longer distances. This is just a manifestation of having different arrows for different applications, so this isn’t anything new, just the same response taken to an extreme.

A Perfect Solution Would Be a Dedicated Bow and Arrows It was the case that some archers used different bowstrings on their recurve bows for different distances in the FITA Round. This allowed them to choose different nocking point heights and brace heights for the various distances, essentially creating a different tune for each distance). A lower brace height could be favorable at 90 m but not help at all at 30 m. At 30 m a higher brace height might be a benefit. The nocking points would be used to get the best tune at those brace heights for those arrows (which by regulation had to be the same). I haven’t heard of this being done, but were I in that position and also well-heeled (I am not), I would be tempted to tune my backup bow and arrows, which can be different (both) from the primary set, for the shorter distances and switch bows half way through. Of course if one needed one’s backup bow at the longer distances, one would be in a bit of a fix, but how often does that happen?

So, the message is: if you only shoot at one distance for many of the events you enter (or your student’s enter) focus on setting up the equipment for that distance alone. If you can afford it, dedicate a set of equipment for just that distance. (This is already being done by anyone who has an “indoor bow” now.)

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches