Archery is a social sport and we all want to be helpful so archers are famous (infamous?) for giving advice freely. On the flip side of that archery coaches are trained to “not give advice unless asked.” It is permissible for a coach to ask an archer if they are open to comments, but if the archer says no, then we are to walk away with no prejudice.
So, the people who are trained as to how to give advice to archers are trained not to and those who are not trained, give it freely. This is another way in which archery and golf are similar. Same thing happens to golfers.
In order to be an effective coach, you need to work with a student and discuss things with them so that when you ask them to try new things, you and they know what the context is and also why you are asking for that change. Hopefully your archer understands your position, too. A random club member shooting at the practice butts has no such training or understanding of your student.
I used the example recently of the advice to “don’t grab your bow.” This instruction is not at all helpful as it doesn’t indicate what you are to do, just what you are not to do and that is how we get this:
This “solves” the “don’t grab the bow” problem, but creates a new one.
Do you know why?
I will start from bow hand basics to answer my own question. An archer’s bow hand (when shooting a bow with a grip section) is positioned at full draw with the palm vertical (roughly) and facing the target. The bow is nestled in against the muscle which makes the pad of the thumb (the thenar eminence), with the grip not in contact with any part of the palm to the outside of the “lifeline.” The hand is relaxed and the wrist is relaxed. The fingers softly curl because that is what fingers do. (Some archers who have had overactive fingers, gently curl the bottom three fingers alongside the bow to keep them under control. This is also acceptable.
So, why is this this way? Why not just grab the bow as if it were a pistol? If this is done, then the bow is resting on two muscles/groups: the thenar eminence and the hypothenar eminence. We all know that when we get tired or under pressure muscles can tense arbitrarily. In the “pistol grip” if the upper muscles tense more than the lower, then the bow will react (essential bounce) harder off of the upper muscles causing the bow to rotate downward. If the lower muscle is more tense than the upper, the bow will bounce “up.” Not much, but a rotation of the bow that elevates the rest an eighth of an inch (3 mm) before the arrow leaves will not score as well (as you just changed your aim substantially). And if the muscle tension jumps around (at does) you can be getting highs and lows for no apparent reason.
So, we isolate the bow on just one of those muscles, so that if tension creeps in, as it will, the direction of the bow reaction will not change. We also work at keeping the bow hand relaxed. Why? Because “Relaxed is Repeatable.” (A state of 23.5% of maximum tension is not repeatable.)
It is best that coaches know these “whys” as it helps build a coherent picture of what is happening and why in our minds. This enables us to troubleshoot better.
Is there any benefit to archers knowing all of these details?
No, they need to know things like “Relaxed is Repeatable.” This gives them something to do and a “reason” to do it but doesn’t involve ideas that draw them away from what they are doing.
So when an archery student is “grabbing the bow” what do you say? You do not (not, not, not!) say “Don’t grab the bow!” You might say, “Let’s work on your bow hand.” If they ask why, the reason is that the critical time in any archery shot is from when the string is loosed to when the arrow leaves the bowstring. The only contact you have with the bow during this period is through your bow hand.
The key principles are the bow contacts only the pad at the base of the thumb (Why? To minimize muscle contact with the bow.) and the bow hand and bow wrist are relaxed. (Why? Relaxed is Repeatable. The relaxed wrist makes sure that the relationship of grip to hand is consistent (a relaxed wrist automatically adopts the angle of the grip). Note The wrist will stiffen automatically when the draw begins (this was noted in Horace Ford’s book in the mid-1800’s), so you don’t need to do that. And, if you do, you might be setting the wrong angle which changes the contact point of bow with bow hand.
So, do you now know why outstretched fingers are not a good idea? Hint Make the fingers on your bow hand stiff. Feel your palm. Is it relaxed? (No.) Can you stiffen your fingers while keeping your palm relaxed? (No.) End of story.
Postscript I have mentioned before but will repeat that all advice given should be acknowledged. We suggest to our archers the phrase “Thanks for the advice! I will mention it to my coach at our next session.” This gets them off the hook from the expectation that they immediately try out the advice given. (Yes, they expect you to accept their wisdom and implement it immediately.) It may even be good advice, but how would your student know that? If it is bad advice (Gosh, what are the odds?!) implementing it may set back gains that had been made. (This is part of my argument that archery coaches should charge for their services. When a student takes the advice of some random archer and retards their progress because of that, you can ask “How much did they charge you for this advice?” and when they tell you there was no charge, you can respond with “And it was worth every cent.” Sometimes the economics of the situation can make a point you cannot otherwise.)
And they should bring such advice back to discuss, some of it may be good and if not, it gives you a chance to explain why.