The Danger in Copying Pros

In every sport, copying professionals is a common theme. The question is: should archers do it? My answer is no … unless you want to become that much of an expert and copy everything, including practice volumes, coaching, equipment … everything. Otherwise this is not a good idea.

This topic came up because of an article on a golf blog. (There he goes again talking about golf … well, I wouldn’t have to if you sent in more questions for me to write on! ;o) The blog post addressed whether you should play with a new ball each time or play with used balls. So, what do you think, is it better to play with a new ball at the beginning of a round of golf or one of the used balls in your bag?

If you used the behavior of golf pros, who you can watch perform on TV, as model behavior of how “experts” do things, you will probably answer “use a new ball,” there is less risk that way.

The author of the blog post took samples of used balls from a company that sells them. The company had three different grades of used balls, so he got some of each (all from the same manufacturer, same model). He put the three levels of used balls and new balls of the same kind through some launch monitor tests. The results? No real difference between their performance.

So, why do the pros take a ball out of play when it has a tiny blemish in it? Well, I think there are two factors. One, they get their balls for free. And two, they are exhibiting behaviors that benefit their ball sponsors. (To be fair, they may also be eliminating marks on their ball which may be distracting when they are looking at the ball.) They are certainly not criticized for using too many balls by their sponsor, I am sure. If the manufacturers can get amateurs to ape the pros (taking perfectly good balls out of play), they will sell a lot more balls, so it is in their economic interests to do just that.

In archery, we do much of the same thing. We accept recommendations from professional and other elite archers regarding our equipment and our technique. They tell us that XYZ really works for them and we almost automatically think “I want me some of that!” In all reality, they are so skilled that almost any move or any equipment will work better for them than we can do. I consider all such recommendations of sponsored archers to be hype.

I once had a sponsored pro archer tell me that his bow sponsor’s bow was more accurate than its competition. But bows don’t provide accuracy. They provide arrow launch speeds. They provide arrow launch angles and they provide consistency in both of those things (either good or bad). But they do not provide accuracy … at all. The archer provides that by properly aiming the bow and executing shots consistently. The professional archer making this claim was not trying to con anyone; he was just trying to help sell his sponsor’s product by saying something nice. He himself may have seen an increase in his scores with his new bow, but that comes from an increase in consistency (indicated by a decrease in group size) while he was making sure the arrows ended up in or near the 10-ring.

So, what is the harm in aping a pro? The harm comes from pursuing a goal one is not prepared or physically equipped to achieve, which equates to a waste of time and money, often lots and lots of money. For example, some high performing pro tells us that his new stabilizer system is why he won Tournament X. So, you run out a buy such a system. You put it on your bow and, well, it feels different. Most of us stop there thinking we have made our archery setup “better.” But has it? The only way you can tell is to compare round scores (or something else indicating scorability) before and after the change. Most of us never do that.

Do not get me wrong, you can buy better performance! The most obvious example is replacing a set of banged up, poorly tuned arrows with a set of new weight-matched, highly tuned arrows. You will see a big difference in performance before and after this change. But will you get such a change from one set of weight-matched, highly tuned arrows with another set from another manufacturer? My guess is that you will not see a difference. If you are an elite archer, you might see a small difference and elite archers are frequently checking out new equipment very, very carefully looking for those things that make very small differences in their ability to score. But ask yourself, if someone offered you money to shoot their equipment and it didn’t hurt your scores, would you take the money? Would you say nice things about your sponsor and their equipment?

Think about it. There is a big difference between pro and amateur athlete’s situations, with regard to both ability and budget.

6 Comments

Filed under For All Coaches

6 responses to “The Danger in Copying Pros

  1. A factor now versus past years is that more archers are professionals and are sponsored by manufacturers. The Olympians are all sponsored and most elite or advanced adults, and juniors are pro’s (ASA, USA Archery in particular). Yes, they tout the product as that provides the contingency funds (and salaries for some) and keeps the archer on the sponsor’s roster. The archers also frequently get entry fees paid and travel expenses paid by their equipment sponsors. So, what they recommend has to be weighted in that light. Major equipment brands provide fine equipment for nearly all levels of archer.

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  2. The exception for some Olympians is if they are enrolled in a college archery program.

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  3. As a touring Pro for more than a decade… I think you hit a 9 with this one Steve. Normally right on the mark with all of your observations, commentary, and guidance but this one suffered a little dip-bang right at the break.

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