Skill and Tempo

I have been thinking a lot about the difference between acquiring archery technique and acquiring archery skill lately. Taking the chance that I may be oversimplifying this in this post, when you have learned archery technique fairly well, you have learned how to group your shots on a target; moving that group into the highest scoring zone of the target requires skill(s).

I was reminded while walking our dog this morning that if you are out walking with another, if the other wants to walk faster or slower than you do, it is quite problematic. Matching your pace to that of an elderly parent is an exercise in patience (and love, and …). Trying to walk a dog who wants to go at a difference pace is also a struggle.

What we tend not to recognize is that the pace at which we shoot arrows, our shooting tempo, is also a key factor in reaching higher levels of performance … but we are often unaware of our own tempo while shooting. And then when we find our good tempo, that idiot with a timer and a whistle keeps interrupting us to go score and fetch our arrows.

To explore this, you can ask your archers to explore shooting very, very slowly and very, very quickly to see if either “works.” They almost never do work (because, I think, every archer wants to show off a little and overdoes it). I then go into “Goldilocks’ Mode” and give them the “too fast, too slow, just right” speech about shooting tempo.

To get tempo on your side, you need to find the tempo that works for you (or for your student) … and then find ways to hang onto it.

You can count off shots in practice to find your tempo, but this is not advised to do in competition (as counting is conscious thinking) unless you have lost your tempo and are desperate to get it back. Like any other part of shooting, shooting in tempo can be memorized.

There are other things to use (metronomes!), counting off your shots on video, etc. A longish exercise is for you, as coach, to time shots with a stopwatch (I time from stabilizer tip moving upward to release) and then logging those times with arrow scores. If you find a “magic zone,” where high quality shots exist, then you can train around that zone. One way is to simply start the stopwatch at tip raise and if they shoot too early you say “Too early, do it again.” If they get to the end of the time zone, you say “Let down!” Eventually more and more shots will occur in the right time, then the archer can relax and concentrate on shooting quality shots alone.

I suggest to you, that if you have advanced archers in your care, some tempo training may just elevate their skill and performances. (Happy archer, happy coach!)

PS For those of you who object to skill being separated from technique, and who claim that technique is involved in developing skill, I say “Yes, and your point is … ?” My point is that it is not just technique that drives better scores. Shooting perfect shot after perfect shot and getting lousy groups because you possess no tuning ability cannot be solved by working harder on your technique. By calling these things “archery skill” we might just get developing archers to focus on such things and even get them excited to learn more and the higher scores than may result from that learning.

If you want to learn more about all of the things you need to know about target archery that doesn’t involve “how to shoot arrows” may I suggest (Warning! Shameless plug incoming! Warning):



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13 responses to “Skill and Tempo

  1. Teatime again and I’m reading this !!! Hmm Distraction Training failed … Again !!!
    I have used a metronome and had the shooting line wanting to lynch me after half an hour. I used to run to “Eye of the Tiger ” and I have used my pulse to count out my body’s rhythm and shoot to that .. I’m finding that around three seconds works well, so everything is choreographed. set hands 123 raise 123 draw 123 click … Is that a skill or technique ? Or both ? I do tend to mix stuff up during my coaching sessions, so I might have spent 30 minutes on release then go to the full shot sequence, slowing the archer to the pauses …

    I don’t really define one element as a skill until it has been learned, some skills I give a number to if there are several moves in that technical part a beginner starts at 1 and as the skill of, say, holding the bow is learned it progresses from 1 to 2 . As the skill and technique become more natural and less cognitive they might get to 3 or 4. Holding the bow for example, on the pad of the thumb, thumb pointed to the target, fingers at 45, curled relaxed fingers .. I might not teach a beginner to do all that in one session so for my records at the next session I know where I am at (roughly) with that archer.

    I teach the transition from set to setup as a drill and in a rhythmic movement, like a swing upwards of the arms … I treat that as technique to get the bow up ..
    Hope that helps and not confuses … Time to start dinner !


    • You are using a technique to acquire a skill. I don’t think counting 1, 2, 3 … can be considered an archery technique. I also question whther what you are doing is what you think it is. Each form element making up your shot routine does not take up the same time so “set hands 123 raise 123 draw 123 click” seems not quite right to me. I think of counting more as in dance: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 … and you do this on one, and that on 4, and on 7 … Again, I am feeling my way along here and may be off base. I am aware of others who use a counting technique to get people in rhythm and I haven’t seen one yet where I react with an “Aha! That’s the way to go!” yet.

      On Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 11:15 AM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



      • Tom Dorigatti

        Counting, IMHO, can get you into trouble and quickly leads to frustrations on those days when you are strong or days when you are weak.
        Read my comment about “target acquisition” and the method I discovered that ended up with a 98% success rate for over 5 years worth of shooting after I found the technique. It is in my book, “ProActive Archery”, Chapter 27.


  2. Such a good tip. Recurve archers also tend to shoot quicker than do compound archers as compound shooters hold less weight and it is easier to hold longer.


    • Yeah and you have to be careful … tempo is catching! I had a Recurve student sharing the shooting line with some compound archers and his tempo got slower and slower until it matched that of the compounders near him. He was not aware of the effect.

      On Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 11:54 AM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom Dorigatti

        I have found over the years that you MUST shoot YOUR tempo, but trying to shoot a rhythm OUTDOORS by giving a certain amount of time between shots before you start the next one is almost a lesson in frustration! The comment above about recurves being on the same line as compounders is TRUE…EGADS…if you try to change your rhythm to match a compounder, or even another recurver, you are in for a long day!
        I have closely watched professional shooters, especially compounders, and while the time between shots varies, with few exceptions, you can pretty much nail their timing from when they acquire the target until the shot breaks within only a few shots! MOST will let down if that “shot timing” is broken. There are a few that “hold forever” even after you are sure they’ve acquired the “X-ring”, but very few.
        You have to find YOUR shot timing, and personally I don’t think that counting is the way to go. You can only think of one thing at a time, and counting doesn’t mix well with target acquisition and shooting FORM.
        Check my book, “ProActive Archery”, Chapter 27 for what I discovered really can work wonders if you are willing to put in the time and effort and have someone available that is willing to work with you on it.
        Everyone would like 100%, but I found that getting 98% X’s was way better than trying to figure out a count; it was easier to figure out the “feel” of “making the shot happen” and to make a cliché “getting with the program” once you acquire the bullseye.


  3. Tom Dorigatti

    I changed over from left handed to right handed shooting back in the mid-1980’s. I had hit a plateau in my left handed shooting and couldn’t seem to get any better. At the advice of well known Professional archer Dean Pridgen, I gave the correction to form 6 months and it didn’t work, so I changed over (again at his advice).
    It only took me 5 days to shoot my first 300 indoors while shooting right handed! The first day, I dropped more arrows on the floor than I could count, due to the lack of coordination to load the arrow onto the string, haha.
    I then started working on more consistency. My shot timing was all over the board; sometimes I would hold way too long, and other times not long enough. I started having my wife “time” my shots and I tracked the results by shot placement on the target, including the “o’clock” positioning of the shot result. Her “duty” was t simply start the stop watch when my pinky set itself onto the trigger (I was shooting a Dean Pridgen Fail Safe II release aid, pinky activated), and to stop the stopwatch when the shot broke. I did this for 10 full scoring rounds.Then, I put the results together on a spreadsheet to sort things out. What I discovered was that FOR ME at that time of my career and set of circumstances, if the shot broke between 5 and 7 seconds, I would score an “X” 100% of the time on the indoor target face at 20 yards.
    The reason I went to starting the clock when my finger went to the trigger was simple: I needed a constant to go by and using the tip of my stabilizer was too difficult for my wife to see. Going to the trigger was by far the best option. I didn’t care about timing between shots; I was predominantly an outdoor shooter, so there are too many variables that directly affect how long I wait between shots. I was going for target acquisition time to shot break time.
    The next step was simple, yet more difficult than it appeared. The wife would sit behind me, and she still started the clock when my pinky went to the trigger. The difference was that this time, when I exceeded 7 seconds, she would say out loud “STOP”, and I would let the shot down and start completely over again. The first few rounds of “shot timing” were exasperating for sure. It seemed that I was letting down more than I was shooting. This quickly improved, and it wasn’t that I was counting time; it was because I didn’t want to hear “STOP”! and have to start over.
    Within 5 rounds of shooting, my x-count went way up, and I was consistently shooting 300’s and not touching the blue with any shots! After 10 rounds or so, I was able to succeed in getting the shots to break within my window of opportunity 98% of the time.
    This same mechanism worked for me outdoors, too, and it lasted without me having to recheck for over 5 years of shooting, both indoors and outdoors.
    This all came crashing down in 1999 when I had some heart problems and ultimately ended up with triple by-pass surgery. Things fell apart due to health factors, both with me and with my wife.
    The detail of the procedure I followed and how I put together and analyzed the data can be found in my book, “ProActive Archery”, Chapter 27.
    Trust me, it is WORTH YOUR TIME and EFFORT to know what it takes for YOU to achieve this sort of success. I have used this with some of my students (Those that wanted to excel and not just shoot for fun), and it worked for them took.
    It isn’t for those of you that are quick to give up on something because it doesn’t work the first 2 or 3 rounds, however.
    I am older now, and I know for a fact that I no longer have 5-7 seconds from X-ring acquisition to when the shot needs to break; it is a LOT shorter than that!, haha.


  4. Tom Dorigatti

    Ha! I figured as much.


  5. All good comments to be sure.
    I do use the count of three as it is comfortable for me. I use the count as a drill, I’ll use a stretch band, strap and sometimes my bow either in a mirror or close my eyes and just practice. It is a training technique and not one I use in competition. I use it on my students if I think it is needed but only to slow them down or steady their bow before they draw. I might, depending on the student, silent count and give orders … ” Raise……. draw .. ” The counting is only there to get them in to the habit of pausing between movements, like a transition phase, not to replace focus on the feel of the shot.

    Out door shooting. I still use the rhythm, my rhythm, but I wait for the right conditions, it’s a bit like when I sense everything is just right I let my fingers let the string go. Outdoor shooting is experience, practice and competition based experience. And where I normally shoot outdoors is a matter of luck. The rugby stadium has a higher stand on one side with two large gaps so the wind can come from two directions at times. I shot watching the flag blow from left to right and my arrow has drifted left on the wind, then the wind drops ……
    I don’t do a lot of compound coaching and the three or four archers that I will coach are steadily improving. I find more problems with compound archers dropping the bow and collapsing the shot and/ or flicking the wrist away from the face just as they activate their release.
    I may take a look at the book … chapter 27 …


    • I have notes regarding a book on the physical principles of archer. If your release hand moves away from your face in any other direction than straight back, it is because that was the direction it was pulling. The Winchesterarchery web site has a number of videos on this very topic, showing release and finger releases and where the release hand goes and why. It is fairly simple to diagnose.

      On Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 6:20 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



  6. Thanks Steve it is fairly simple to diagnose .. not so simple to fix sometimes!!!


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