Why Archers Need to Absolutely Positively Write Things Down

Note This is a follow-up to “The Post Tournament Review Process”

I have to begin by saying that I have known a great many archers who were far better archers than I was who did not follow this advice. They kept everything in their heads (well, part of it; there is way too much info to memorize it all). So, I am not saying that if you do not keep written records that you will not be able to be come very, very good. What I am saying is that it is highly likely that you will not become as good as you could have become if you forgo keeping written records. This I will attempt to convince you of.

In the book Thinking Fast and Slow, the author (the brilliant Daniel Kahneman) points out that there seem to be two systems that we use to “think:”

System 1 This system is effortless, automatic, associative, rapid, parallel process, opaque (in that we are unaware of its workings), emotional, concrete, specific, social, and personalized.

System 2 This system is effortful, controlled, deductive, slow, serial, self-aware, neutral, abstract, asocial, and depersonalized.

Playing a hunch is an example of System 1 thinking; math homework an example of System 2. Setting aside whether these characterizations are true and correct, I think there is enough truth in them to address the recommendation at the top of this post.

It seems the vast bulk of our thinking falls under System 1 and it is that system that values “stories” or as the news people say, “narratives.” When I taught professionally I argued that we are primed to learn through stories. Stories hold things together. They make sense of why things happen. They make it clear why Action B followed Action A, etc. Children are told stories that have morals behind them (“And the moral to the story, children, is …”). Unfortunately we tend to, uh, well, embellish stories. We tend to make the story come out as we want it to rather than just as it did. There is even an adage that says “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

How does this affect archers, you ask? Allow me to answer you via a story.

* * *

Consider the following scenario: in competition an archer shoots their first arrow which lands at 6 o’clock in the 7-ring. What should he/she do? What he/she should do, of course, depends on whether this was a “good shot” or a “poor shot.” This distinction is made absent the result of the shot. If it felt like a normal good shot, it was . . . unless . . . unless say the archer wasn’t paying full attention to their process. If this was the case, he/she might be able to discern that fact through a little analysis. So, if it felt as if it were a good shot, was the outcome a good outcome? Was that 7 “normal?” Here is where problems occur.

It is unfortunate but when we enter into a competition, we have hopes for a high score. We think that we will shoot high scoring arrows with occasional poorer scoring arrows mixed in. But when do those lower scoring arrows show up? Good question. Most likely they show up randomly; they can show up on the first arrow as likely on the twelfth arrow or the last arrow. But our expectations for a good score can result in that initial 7 to lead us to think there will be more of them, even worse scoring arrows, leading to a poor score. The disappointment associated with this may lead us to make a change in our sight setting, or execution. Our subconscious minds might translate our disappointment with that shot into changes we are not even aware of. But if the shot was “normal,” then any change is moving the archer to a less successful setup/execution with the result being a guaranteed lower score.

So what’s an archer to do?

First we must recognize that first arrows are problematic. The excitement of shooting is at a high. There is no previous good scoring shot to imprint upon (to use in a mental rehearsal), and there are those hopes and dreams for a good overall score. I remember working toward a perfect score of 300 on the NFAA indoor round (60 arrows, 5-4-3 scoring). I can’t tell you how many times I had the thought “If the first arrow isn’t a five, I’m done,” but it wasn’t just a few. But this only happens when you are chasing a perfect score. The first arrow of any competition may be your lowest or highest scoring arrow.

I ask my students to monitor what their “normal groups” are. For the sake of this story, this student, when shooting at this distance at a ten-ring target face, typically “holds the 8-ring.” This means the vast majority of his arrows score 8, 9, or 10 . . . with a rare 7 from time to time. So, was the score of that 7 just shot “normal” or not? If there is no other evidence to tell you different, shooting a 7 is normal for this student.

If you keep records, you have the opportunity to explore those records to see what reality actually looks like. You can go through a score card on which all of the arrow scores are recorded and identify your lowest scoring arrows. You can then see when they tend to occur. This gives you a number of advantages: one is an ability to distinguish between your hopes/fears and reality. Another is a recognition that lower scoring arrows happen and they probably happen less now than a couple of years ago. (Hey, I am making progress!) Another is that is there is a regular pattern, you can train for that. For example, if your low scoring arrows always happen in the last few ends, maybe your fitness level is not high enough. If they occur on the first few arrows,maybe nerves need to be addressed. Maybe there is a psychological factor.

If, on the other hand, you discard those score cards and take no notes, all you have are your stories. Here’s another example.

* * *

You are in a tight shoot-off with a fellow competitor and you get to the last arrow with the score tied. On the last arrow, you shoot an 8 and he shoots a … 9! Most people automatically blame the loss on that last arrow. “If I had just shot a 10 or even a 9,” we think. But if you go back to the scorecard you probably get a different picture. In this case (I am making up this story), our losing archer had a three point lead that was steadily eroded as the shoot-off continued. What about the arrow scores that caused him the loss of his lead? Had he been leading by three points and both had the same last arrows, he would have won by two points.

This is typical of System 1 thinking. We have oodles of biases built into our System 1 thinking, one of those is we tend to overvalue the most recent events and devalue earlier ones. These biases developed over very long periods of time and are actually useful in many cases, so they are not to be disparaged, but they also can be problematic.

Writing’s Long List of Strengths
I have more than a few thoroughly modern students who, went I ask them to take a note whip out their smart phones and start typing. They do not know they are making a mistake by choosing a poor form of writing. Smart phones are problematic because there is too much information on them and one’s notes can be buried (amongst other things). By having a notebook dedicated to archery, all of your archery notes are in one place, you do not have to look elsewhere, nor do you have to wade through piles of irrelevant stuff to find your archery notes. I like segmented notebooks and put info of one kind or another in specific locations, making it even easier to find.

I am not advocating that you favor System 2 thinking over System 1 thinking, far from it. System 2 thinking is slow and laborious, again think math homework. But some System 2 thinking mixed in can make you a better archer or coach. Doing some System 2 thinking when you have the time to wade through a scorecard or analyze your groupings (in an attempt to answer the question: what is normal for me now?). This can reduce the impulsive nature that is normal for us most of the time. Writing those things down, makes them much easier to remember.

Just being able to tell the difference between a normal shot and a faulty shot is key to making the corrections that are required to shoot good scores. Leaving this up to a “gut feeling” can lead you or your students astray over and over. (The mistake that keeps on giving!)


Filed under For All Coaches

8 responses to “Why Archers Need to Absolutely Positively Write Things Down

  1. Tom Dorigatti

    Try as you will, but I’ve found that having “students” write down and/or keep a journal is an imposing task for them (and for me as a coach). Seems that they don’t want to be bothered with documentation. They want to shoot arrows, lots of arrows. They don’t like documentation and see it as an imposition and something that is useless to them right away.
    I’ve lost no fewer than 5 students due to me asking (perhaps in the wrong fashion) for them to keep a diary, track scores, and graph things. They don’t want to write down meaningful, achievable, and measurable goals either.
    In ever case, said students went to a “coach” that doesn’t require or ask for a journal or for them to have written goals and to track their results. Said “coaches” simply has them shooting lots of arrows and not messing with tracking results except for placement in tournaments in the here and now.
    Of course, that same thing happens in school these days. They live for the here and now.


    • Clearly we need better stories explaining the value of these records. Archery is replete with stories such as “Champion Archer XYZ uses our product!” (Assumes: If you use it, you will be a champion, too!)

      We have archery “memes” about archers who lost their gear in an airport, archers who cheated, archers who violated the rules and did or did not get away with it, archers whose bows broke in competition, etc. We need instructive stories about archers who didn’t keep records and then paid a price. Maybe a few testimonials from the subjects of the stories might help.


  2. I think every competitive archer should keep a performance journal and make entries after every practice. I have been doing exactly that for 2 years now and it is quite helpful. I include date, time of day, weather, side of the lane, distance(s), numbers of arrows at each distance, scores (if applicable), any equipment changes, summary of objectives met or not, and a short blurb about anything else. I keep the journals under monthly file folders on my computer. I also try to word everything in positive terms.


  3. I think I may have to copy this for a re-read. On the whole I agree with the subject of diary keeping. I change the name though … no mention of diary to any one under 21, or journal. It’s a mental game and in my opinion this works … Mention a diary, goal setting or journal and I see the look of hatred in my students faces ” I thought we’d got away from school ..” Was one remark. I now call it a record of what you have achieved. Start with a pre-printed form .. Competition, score, placed, and date last. I put the date last so it isn’t like the school homework diary.
    Little things like that can make a difference and in the minds of teenagers it could be the difference between setting a goal and not..
    If you want them to set goals ask them, they are more likely to talk than write it down, you, the coach, can write it down for them. Then turn the talk to archery, lead them in to it and at the end of the session they have a start. I find that asking them to read something will never get it read. I use a plastic wallet everything goes in that and I just hand it to them at the end of the session. You will find it has been read! Not all of our younger athletes are as dedicated as us coaches …… yet.


    • Yeah, I refer to these as “notebooks” and avoid both the terms “diary” and “journal.” Some respond to the term “performance journal” but I do not take the chance.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom Dorigatti

        Even if you cal it a notebook or a “performance record” many of the younger set still balk at it. I think a lot of it is that if you request that they graph their results based upon performance (practice included), they are at nearly a total loss as to how to set up and/or even read a graph!!!
        My students I had in Earth Science and Physical Science, in spite of being juniors in HIGH SCHOOL and some taking Algebra II and even Trig or Calculus…did NOT know how to set up a graph nor could they graph results on their own without being shown how to do it countless times. These were simple bar graphs with date on the X-axis, and grade % on the Y-axis along with a RED “goal line” that depicted their established goal % for the 9 weeks! I had to show them and show them and show them again and again not only how to calculate their grade % (simple 3rd grade math, by the way), I had to show them how to plot their result on the graph!!!
        Heaven help them with some of the labs we performed that required TWO y-axes to take care of!
        They aren’t taught simple things, or if they are, they quickly forget that stuff right after the test on that unit and never learn how to APPLY what they’ve learned to real life situations.
        Graphing results and establishing new goals based upon RESULTS is so easy and the graph is a visual representation that only takes seconds to do and saves a ton of unnecessary verbage…Either you are approaching “goal” or you are regressing…it is right there in front of them to see…yet they won’t do it on their own.
        Once my students caught on as to how visual it was to see how they were progressing (or not) progressing towards their goal, then the light came on and they knew what they either had to improve upon, or that they were on the right track to achieve that goal. So simple! So visual!
        Placing a red line for the “goal” on the graph as a steady number makes it so easy to see results and whether or not you are getting closer or going backwards.
        By the way, the subject of my Master’s Thesis was “Improving Student Motivation Through Goal Setting” and I had the data and results to prove that it works! I used mostly intrinsic motivation with a dab of extrinsic motivation for phase 1 (the main focus of the Thesis and data). Phase II was more complicated and incorporated a bit more extrinsic motivation as I progressed to teaching them “real life” type goal setting apart from just the instrinsic part of it. Phase II was more “dollars and cents”…used in school but matched carefully to getting into the work force and either making it or not making it.


      • I don’t think they are interested in proofs. I am of the opinion that the adage “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink” applies here. I give my best possible advice; it is there decision whether to take it or not. Part of the motivation behind charging for that advice.

        On Wed, May 16, 2018 at 2:16 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



      • Tom Dorigatti

        Profoundly agree, Steve! Archery situations are much different from the school setting. I will say, however, that once my students saw that their teacher cared about this, and was taking the time to work with them, things did indeed turn around. My data showed that from the “control groups” to the experimental groups, the success rate of the students making or exceeding their grade % goal was 87.5%!!! There were students that latched onto this thing with gusto, and improved their grade % from <60% to over 90% in one nine week period!!! I wouldn't let them set a goal to fail, and I wouldn't allow them to set a goal way above something "we" (me and the student) felt could be achieved. You do eat an elephant one bite at a time.
        Needless to say those students that improved their grad % one full letter grade or more continued to do well and their confidence in themselves soared. They finally knew what it took to do it, and how to achieve it without being pushed to hard or yelled at.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.