There is an American idiom that goes “monkey see, monkey do.” This is a common comment coming from parents trying to protect their children from copying their children’s peers who do stupid/dangerous things. The idiom basically claims that simple copying is what animals do (comical animals in the minds of children) even though humans do it more.
I have used this phrase myself when describing the main approach archers and coaches have when transmitted fundamental knowledge about archery. We basically copy what successful archers have done. I have used this story in the past as an example of this and it bears repeating: an archer attended the Vegas shoot, but having a rash or something on his bow hand, he shot using a glove to protect his skin. He did very well and when he showed up the next year to the same shoot, he saw several people wearing gloves on their bow hands. He, of course, did not have such a glove as his malady had been cured.
Since we do not know what the source of archery success is, we tend to copy what the “winners” do. My question is: can’t we do better?
This topic came up with a question regarding why various string releases were not being used in Olympic Recurve competition. Why does no one use a thumb release, for example? Part of this, I am sure, is because most of us do not like being singled out as being different. The exception, however, is if one does very well being different. The best example I can think of was Dick Fosbury, a world-class high jumper. Fosbury was almost a circus show because while everyone (and I mean everyone) performed the high jump belly down (in what was called the Western Roll), Fosbury went over the bar on his back! What a maroon! What an idiot! And then he started winning and winning and winning, eventually becoming a stirring Olympic champion (1968 Mexico) causing people to chant for him as he performed. Now, everyone (and I mean everyone) uses the Fosbury Flop or some slight variant of that.
In the case of the Fosbury flop, university researchers studied it and showed it to be a superior form (as it caused the elevation of the jumper’s center of gravity to be lower, actually going under the bar as the jumper went over).
This kind of confirmation is what is missing in our sport. And it doesn’t need to continue this way. We have an Olympic governing body (USA Archery) and a number of other very strong archery associations. How hard would it be to have those bodies create a research program? There are colleges and universities galore around this country. Those institutions have psychology departments (to study clicker panic/target panic/gold fever), engineering departments (to study bows, arrows, tunings, etc.), physics departments, physiology departments, even some sport science departments. Each of these departments has graduate students and undergraduates looking for research projects. Could we not approach these departments with these questions we want answered? Could we not offer some form of funding to support that research (the Easton Sports Development Foundation has been very forthcoming there)? I mean how hard could it be?
As just one example of such a question I give you string finger pressures. I have read in quite a number of books what fractions of the pressure the three fingers should have on the bow string. These are usually given as a set of percentages, e.g. 30%, 50%, 20% on top, middle, and bottom fingers. So, I ask you. Have these been measured or are they just guesses? <Jeopardy music plays in the background> They are just guesses. As far as I can tell, they have never been measured. (I have tried three times to come up with a scheme for doing so and have not pulled that off, probably because I do not know what I am doing.)
Wouldn’t this be a lovely project for a college science or engineering student? Come up with a tab that reports finger pressures on the string. Have a number of archers use the device to see what we can see. A second level experiment might be to give an elite archer feedback from the device to see if that will help them be more consistent. Another would . . . well, I think you get the idea.
Being somewhat cynical, I suspect that we will see “monkey see, monkey do” for some time yet . . . until some enterprising country who is heavily invested in, say, Olympic archery (Korea? France?) decides to pursue a research program to discern what works from what doesn’t and why. Then we will see a stampede of other countries following suit . . . but only if the experimenters are successful, because we will still be committed to “monkey see, monkey do.”