I was reading a thread on Archery Talk yesterday, something I rarely do, but a participant asked for comments as to whether people thought his draw length was too long (he supplied photos). In the comments, many people commented that his stance wasn’t open and, as a compound archer, he needed to shoot with an open stance.
I probably should have read more comments to see if anyone had the grace to tell this person how he could check to see if his draw length was close to correct at all (the draw elbow must be pulling directly away from the bow at release for maximum forgiveness which anyone looking over his draw elbow could verify) but I didn’t.
What this brought up in my mind was Brandolini’s Law. If you are unfamiliar with Brandolini’s Law it is:
The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.
I apologize if you are offended by the blunt language; I wanted to quote the law exactly (this is the language used in Wikipedia).
As coaches I think it is imperative that you have valid reasons for recommending the form elements/changes you favor. In the case of the open stance for compound archers, I have never found a rational defense for it other than “that’s what everyone does.”
Consider that in elite compound form at full draw the archer’s shoulder line is parallel to the arrow as opposed to elite recurve form where the shoulder line points to the bow. This requires the recurve archer to turn his/her head more over his/her shoulder than the compound archer. This extreme turning of the head causes neck strain, headaches, etc. So, compound archers have less of this to deal with.
The open stance involves turning the feet the opposite direction from the direction the shoulders are turning, which results in many recurve and many compound archers being short of having good line (recurve archers want their draw elbows to be slightly past the arrow line (a form of pluck insurance) and compound archers want to be pulling straight back from the bow (in the same plane as the arrow line)). So, why turn your feet in the opposite direction?
The recurve folks say that the twisting/torquing of the archer’s body makes it more resistant to wind forces and more stable in general. This may be true but I have walked many a competitive line and seen: open stance, poor line; open stance, poor line, open stance, poor line, . . . This has been at youth competitions and at national championships and everything in between. My question is: is any benefit from an open stance enough to compensate for having poor line? My conclusion so far is: no. Having good line, as indicated for both compound and recurve archers, is a fundamental requirement for consistent accuracy. How still one is is also such a requirement and wind can make you move, but why is the open stance so prominent indoors where there is no wind? So far, the only reason I see is that having two stances is a bit of a bother.
There are places to start to determine if a student’s stance is helping or hurting their performances. One easy way is to have them draw upon a close target, aim at the center, and then close their eyes and hold. Count to some number (depending on how long they can hold) and then have them open their eyes, asking them if their sight aperture or arrow point has moved left or right of the original alignment. A little movement is to be expected but if the drift is substantially left or right of the original placement then their bodies are moving away from an unnatural position and toward a more natural one.
Like many things, I recommend to my archers that they adopt whatever it takes to get in line and learn to shoot with relaxed hands and good full-draw body alignment (the Three Pillars of Repeatable Accuracy). For many of my recurve students this involves shooting with a closed stance for a while. (Since the shoulders need to be 10-12° closed to point at the bow, that is a good place to start their feet to learn how to shoot while in line.) If they can learn how to shoot this way, then they are told they can experiment with any other stance they wish (there are many!) as long as they do not lose their ability to shoot in line.
Beginners often want to be told “how to do it,” but serious competitive archers must create their own shooting technique by trial and error. Some things are too valuable to drop, like shooting while “in line.” Telling people they have to shoot a particular way, especially when you do not know the reasons, is not a good coaching practice.
Postscript For those wanting to know why shooting while “in line” is necessary/desirable I offer the following (knowing full well I am on the TL:DR frontier).
If an archer is shooting with an elbow out away from their body (a “flying elbow”) they have a problem. The force of the draw tends to create a straight line from bow to draw elbow (consider the force vectors if you know what that means). This means that the string hand at full draw is out away from the face (in line between the bow and the “flying” draw elbow). The archer solves this problem by pulling their hand up against their face (bending the wrist more or less to do so). During the release, this inward force is no longer countered resulting in the hand flying out and away from the face (toward the force line from bow to elbow) in what is known as a “pluck.” This is why a flying elbow is associated with plucking and why it is considered to be a “form flaw.”