Archery is described from time to time as a kinesthetic sport, one in which “feel” is a predominate mode of its expression. This is a simple consequence of our preferred sensory intake mode, vision, being entirely engaged in sighting or aiming. This leaves the rest of the shot to be monitor by the other senses. Hearing, smell, and taste aren’t much help, so that leaves the tactile sense (touch) and the sense of balance (often left off of the list of basic senses).
So, how good are you at monitoring the feel of your shot? How good are your students? Most, I suggest have no idea. I am not sure I do, either. But there are some things to do.
A small set of activities can improve your understanding of the feel of what is going on while you are shooting. While shooting blind bale (short distance, large butt, no target face), start with a set of “scans,” that involve paying attention to how parts of your body feel during a shot with your eyes closed, start with your feet then your ankles on another shot, knees, hips, etc. One body part per shot. Are things moving? How are they moving? Are they moving correctly? Also do a balance check. During a blind shot concentrate only on how balanced you feel.
As usual, we are training our subconscious minds by directing the attention of our conscious minds. We are telling our subconscious minds what is important and what we are trying to do. We are teaching our subconscious self “the plan” and then we must hold it to the plan if we want a high level of consistency.
We can also check how our “feel” corresponds with the “real.” (In golf they have a saying “the feel isn’t real,” meaning that you need to check everything and then associate whatever you feel with whatever is really happening.”
Eyes Closed, Eyes Open Drills Again, blind bale, pick a spot to shoot at and either place your sight aperture on it or your arrow point, whichever way you are aiming. let down, close your eyes, draw on that spot, and then open your eyes. When doing this I do not pay much attention to the Up-down position of the aperture/arrow point, just the left-right position. If you can’t seem to end up close to that spot (again, L-R position), it might be you are fighting your stance. If you end up consistently left, try turning your stance to the right and try again. (Some people insist the stance that allows you the greatest success in this drill is your “natural stance,” the one in which your lower body is not fighting your upper body’s positioning.)
Mirror Drills “Closet mirrors” or mirrors designed to be mounted on doors are quite inexpensive and can be mounted so that archers can “shoot” directly at them or shoot with the mirror up the line. (Make sure it is square and plumb. If not your image is distorted.) If shooting in the direction of a mirror, it is important to not shoot the mirror! I suggest a let down after each rep. The drill procedure is the same: draw with eyes shut on a target, then open your eyes at anchor. You can see many things in this reflected view. Are you standing straight up and down? Is your bow being held straight up and down or is there a cant? Are you hunching your bow shoulder? Arching your back?
With the mirror up the line, when you get to anchor, open your eyes and turn your head to see the mirror image. Are your hips tilted? Are your shoulders square and “down?” Again, let down when you are done looking. (A line can be placed on the mirror with a length of thin tape to help gauge “straight up & down.” make sure it is plumb.)
Any flaws in “your plan” must be scheduled to be fixed in practice … immediately! these have #1 priority. If you are doing anything incorrectly, the worst thing you can do is pretend that everything is okay and go ahead and shoot a lot of arrows. The absolute worst thing to do is compete in this state.
Shooting Recall Drill
There is a drill called “Recall.” In this drill, as soon as you have release an arrow on target, you turn up the line and tell your coach/shooting partner/video camera where you think the arrow landed. Then either you or your helper spots the arrow and calls its actual location. When I do this, I replay in short-term memory where my aperture was a the moment of release and use that as my best guess as to where the arrow would land, moments later.
The purpose of this drill is to acquaint you with your built-in “instant replay” system. When in competition there are two things you need to do on every shot. One is to evaluate whether or not you made a good shot (and if not why) and you need to determine where the arrow landed. These may not match. Good shots can be blown off course by gust of wind and bad shot can land in the middle. This information is needed to create a plan modification for the next shot (allowing for the wind, whatever) or if a bad shot was made (which is where the replay is needed to figure out why), correct it as soon as possible as repeating bad shots is not a recipe for a good score.
I recommend you try these yourself (if you haven’t already) and then teach them to your serious students. As always, be on the lookout for other drills in this same vein. I will appreciate it if you send along any such drills you find as I am trying to compile a master list of drills (and what they are for) and make them available to one and all.