Helping with Plateaus

In Archery Focus magazine we run regular columns for coaches and students, elucidating our programs and the way we teach. Recently we have prefaced the titles of these columns with the header “Getting Serious,” because we have covered the basics over and over and, well, that drum has been beat. (Note Subscribers have access to all of the back issues, back to the beginning, so they can search for any topic they need help on.) So, we are now addressing how coaches work with serious archers and how archers can get serious about their archery.

One of the things that beginning serious archers have to deal with is plateaus in their performances, aka getting stuck on a score. When they first became serious, they improved in leaps and bounds, now they are stuck. This also occurred when they first took up the sport. Some of this perception is illusory. For example, we used a scoring system in our first classes to define levels of accomplishment. We used a modified indoor round outdoors with a perfect score being 300 points. The first plateau was 50 points. Then there were others. Many archers jumped past 50 points in their first testing. Some would make 50 point improvements in sequential scores. Progress in scoring was often made fast. But progress of this kind always slows. This is because the first 50 points is easy, the last 50 points, getting from a score of 250/300 to 300/300 is very difficult. You start with just a few good arrow scores taking you to score you wanted to a few poor arrow scores making that score impossible. So the perception of progress is biased toward the “fast” end of the spectrum at first and the “slow” end later.

Our serious archers, though, get used to a certain level of performance and establish a comfort zone, then find themselves stuck on a performance plateau. Often you can hear archers in this state say things like “No matter what I do I score thus and so.” So, coach, what do you do to help?

Helping with Plateaus
Almost always newly serious archers have no perspective as to how much effort is needed to make progress (nor do they understand that progress is harder and harder to make at their end of the scoring range). So, the first thing you need to do is sit down with them and list out all they are doing. For some, the answer is clear why progress is lacking; it is due to lack of effort. Kids are somewhat notorious for attending classes or JOAD sessions once a week and expecting that to be sufficient “practice.” Adding a practice session or two between classes will help a great deal. They, of course, will need help planning what they need to do at those sessions and you should help with that.

For student-archers who are “putting in the time,” the enemy is usually the definition of insanity often ascribed to Albert Einstein, which is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

The weapon needed to conquer this problem is the lowly notebook. More than a few archers spend their practice sessions socializing and not working on their shot or whatnot. Like the dieters asked to keep a log of what they eat, asking archers to keep a log of what they do during “practice” can help identify if a) they are doing enough and b) are they doing the right things.

If you yourself spend any idle time at a range, observe what people do for “practice.” You will see a great many people “just shooting” and others “shooting for score” (a practice round). Neither of these are effective practice. Their benefits are few. One such is they are developing some shooting stamina and another is they are benchmarking their scoring ability (practice rounds are tests, not homework). But there are better ways to develop stamina than just shooting, for example. For recurve archers, instead of just shooting, could do Double Draws or Reversals to build shooting stamina. Double Draws are just that, you draw to anchor, let down to your predraw position, draw again and loose. Reversals are drawing and holding for much longer than ordinary times (done in sets like weight lifting because they are weight lifting). Note Reversals should not involve shooting at the end unless you are very close to the butt. The fatigue they create is substantial and can create wild looses.

Real practice involves working on your shot to get better, so the big question is: what needs to be improved? This is where introspection and notebooks are absolutely necessary. Archers need to become cognizant of where they fail to perform and, if they can, why they fail. Do the poorly scoring arrows come at first or toward the end when a good score is on the horizon? Or do they come in the middle of rounds due to a loss of focus? Serious archers, to be really serious, need to study themselves and their sport to improve their own performances and their own equipment. Keeping notes on what is and isn’t working, another use for the lowly notebook, is very, very helpful. Seriously.


Filed under For All Coaches

4 responses to “Helping with Plateaus

  1. Steve, I’m wondering if you have any advice on types of notebooks or note-taking styles to use. I tried keep a notebook and found it just too cumbersome: one more thing to lug around or remember so that more often than not, I would just forget to do it. I also find with a busy schedule that my practice sessions tend to be short (sometimes only 10-20 minutes in the backyard). The idea of spending half of that time journaling is a put-off when I’m just trying to stay on top of keeping muscles conditioned. Do you have any advice or insight? (FWIW, I did find the practice of keeping notes useful and I definitely was able to see patterns in my own practice, but the habit of doing it just hasn’t stuck…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, you are laboring under a misapprehension. A performance journal is not a diary. And … everyone is different, so the solution you come up with may be different from others. I tend to encourage simplicity. I recommend a very small wire-bound notebook that you keep in your quiver. You should also have a writing implement in your quiver (for scoring) so you have everything you need to take a note should you desire to.

      So, in a 15-20 minute practice session in your backyard, what might you write about? Possibly nothing. The problem comes when you start to work on something in one of those sessions and then forget about that before your next session. So, I also recommend a second, larger wire-bound notebook, you keep in your bow case. In this you need sections for equipment changes (all of which need to be logged in case you mess up your tune and want to set your equipment back the way it was) and a section for practice planning, and section for …

      I suggest the first few pages be dedicate to what I call “The List.” This is a list of the things you have identified that you want to work on. The top page of the notebook is “The List” contain #1-#3 of those things. Numbers 4 and so on go on a later page. I argue you need to remind yourself of this list of things you are working upon each and every time you shoot, otherwise you will tend to revert back to the “old ways” and offset any progress you were making. When one of the top three has been addressed, draw a thin line through it and promote a new item to the top three list.

      A few pages back you can list “Practice Plans, which may just be a listing of the items #1-#3 and drills or whatnot you have decided you want to try to see if they are effective. You need not write a lot, but you do not want to lose track of where you are and what you are doing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Take notes. Write an article about the effort for Archery Focus and we will pay you US$100 for your article. If you are interested, you can reach me directly at ruis(dot)steve(at)

    Liked by 1 person

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