Less is More . . . More or Less

A question asked of coaches often enough is “How much should I practice?” and “How many arrows should I shoot?” If you work with youths (I recommend this as it keeps you fresh and immersed in the fundamentals if nothing else) you often find yourself just encouraging them to practice more. So many kids will attend a group lesson, say, once a week and that’s it. But this is not what I am addressing here. Here I am addressing this question as if it were coming from a serious archer, one who is going to try whatever you recommend. In my parlance, a serious archer is one training to win.

An Aside—If you aren’t sure what kind of archer you are working with, give them an extensive, preferably boring, drill to do. If they don’t do it, they are a recreational archer (who only shoot for fun and drills aren’t fun). If they do do it, they are a competitive archer. If they email/text you between coaching sessions asking for what else they can do, they are probably a serious competitive archer.

There are some discussions available in the literature regarding arrow counts and training loads. Archers are encouraged, for example, to vary their shooting loads (aka number of arrows shot per day) in “high, medium, and low” sessions. I use as a rule of thumb that a high load day is at least twice as many arrows as you would shoot in one day of the competitive rounds that are current. But there is a large scheme at work here. Consider the three phases of learning archery:

Phase One—Creating Your Shot
One could get the impression form all of the how to shoot books that an archery shot is like a suit of clothes. You find one that fits your needs and then you try it on and wear it. In reality, you have to make your own suit. An archery shot is personal. And, while there are many, many similarities in archer’s shots (created by the use of common equipment and the laws of physics) everyone’s shot is unique to them (some being uniquer than others).

So, Phase One is always the creation of a shot. This is best done using dedicated practice techniques involving low volumes of shots but high intensity of focus. Errors are corrected immediately. Drills are often done for extensive periods. (If a coach is to be employed at all, this is the best time.)

Phase Two—Memorizing Your Shot
Once you have created a consistently accurate shot (a sign of which is shooting consistently good groups) it is time to memorize your shot, that is learning it to the bone. In this phase you will shoot “your shot” so often that it becomes second nature. I should be able to wake you up at 3 AM and shove your bow into your hands and you should be executing good shots immediately because it is “normal” for you to shoot that way.

This memorization process involves shooting high volumes of shots. This is the first time high volumes of shots are to be attempted. Important Point—If volume shooting is a memorization technique, why would you do this before your shot is built? You would just be memorizing something you will be changing shortly.

This is not the mindless flinging of arrows so often mention as something to avoid (rather, one should never do this) but shots with full focus. How many shots per session is a variable to be winkled out. There are no tables to consult here! Archers are too variable in size, strength, ability to focus, etc. Arrow counts might stay low while the archer does physical training to increase strength or stamina. One has to feel one’s way along here. Archer’s need to learn to monitor muscle soreness; it’s location and intensity. (The wrong muscles being sore indicates the wrong muscles are being used!)

Phase Three—Maintaining Your Shot
Shooting high arrow counts is not done forever. Once an archer’s foundation is built (this often takes years, estimates I have seen being in multiples of 10,000 shots) the arrow volumes are cut back. First, there is no need for memorization and second, you risk repetitive stress injuries from over work. Occasionally, in preparing for major events, high arrow counts may be brought back as stamina tests and to reassure the archer that they still have it, that is the ability to function consistently during a long competition.

And . . .
Throughout all of this there are minor technique tweaks, often significant equipment changes, and injuries to work around, but these are all performed in the context of “your shot.”

You have probably heard the admonition to “Shoot your shot.” This is a warning to young archers to avoid improvising, to shoot the shot they have practiced. For a serious competitive archer, we try to help them make “not shooting their shot” difficult, abnormal, awkward, etc. And this does not necessarily involve high volume arrow shooting, which is only done when it is appropriate and is not a virtue in itself. (Yes, I am talking to you, Macho Man Archer.)

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