Coach Lessons

About a week and a half ago, I had a number of coaching lessons scheduled, probably the last face-to-face lessons I will be giving for several months due to the pandemic, and I had a bit of an epiphany. I had finished my last lesson and was packing up to go and I struck up a conversation with another archer, as we archers so often do. This gentleman has had a couple of coaching sessions with me recently so we were acquainted. He was at our indoor range trying to get a new bow set up and tuned for his 16-year old son.

There was clearly something not working as he seemed frustrated. The conversation naturally gravitated to the issue: his son and he, both Recurve archers, had been recommended the same arrows over the phone. This rang an alarm for me, not because of the phone conversation, the dealer referenced was quite reputable, but because of the situation. The son looked a couple of inches shorter than the dad and when asked, that was confirmed along with the fact that dad’s draw weight was seven pounds higher than the son’s. I asked about their draw lengths and he said, “they are the same.” To my eye, and brain, they should have had about two spine groups difference between their shafts.

Now, I say “about two spine groups difference” because arrows are very sensitive to “cut length.” The rule of thumb is there is a one inch difference between spine groups. (Go ahead and look at any spine chart and that is about how they work out.) So, an arrow two spine groups too stiff could be made shootable by cutting them two inches “too long,” too long being longer than the recommended cut length.

So, the son is shooting bare shafts to set up these arrows and, again, my eye immediately told me the problem. Being two inches shorter than his dad, the son’s draw length should have been one inch shorter, but it was not. It was clear, to my mind, why it was not in that the youth was leaning away from the target, which results in a raised bow shoulder. So, I asked the dad about this. “Was this a new adaption to his shot or had it been there for some time?” This leaning away from the target is a time honored adaption youths make to deal with a bow that is just too heavy (the shoulder muscles responsible for holding the bow up against gravity, the deltoids, develop rather late). But, this may have been a habit developed when the youth was younger or recently adopted and I wanted to know which it was. It seems to have been around for some time, so I explained what was going on. The net result is that a high bow shoulder leads to an overly long draw length.

So, we did a test to see if he could handle the physical mass of his new bow. The test is simply to hold the bow with one arm in full draw position (we had to adjust his posture a touch) and count . . . slowly . . . one thousand one, one thousand two, . . . etc. If you cant make it to “five” before the bow starts to descend, the bow is definitely too heavy. If the bow begins to drop after five, it is probably too heavy. If you can get to 10 without the bow dropping, then it is probably not too heavy and if you can keep going past ten, you are as strong as you need to be. The young man passed the test which means he no longer had a need to lean away from the target.

So we got him “plumb” and raising the bow without raising his bow shoulder and checked his draw length. It was now roughly an inch shorter than his dad’s. The dad asked me what else they needed to do and I responded, without thinking, “Nothing, everything will just cascade down because of that one correction,” and it seem to do just that.

I said my goodbyes with the hope that their tuning session would go well from that point onward.

On the drive home, I realized that I hadn’t really thought things through . . . consciously. I just “looked” and “saw” and spoke. I spent a little time figuring out the “whys” involved on the way home, for example when you lean away from the target, if you think of the bow arm as being just part of your reference system, the leaning of the upper body moves the head, and your anchor point, farther away from your bow hand (and the bow). This is what causes the “too long” draw length. When the archer stands plumb (straight up and down) the rear elbow is elevated, the angle the fingers make on the bowstring becomes square, for all of the reasons that we adopt that form, those postures, in the first place, so if you remove the lean, everything else just falls into place.

The young man involved sucked all of this up and made the corrections needed in just a shot or three. (He learns fast as many of the young do.)

But the lesson for me, and possibly for you, is to accept that your intuition is a very useful tool. I didn’t think all of this through, I just reacted to the situation. This can lead to chasing one’s tail, as I have done many times before, but that chasing is probably also part of the learning process. And if my intuition doesn’t work, and sometimes it does not, then thinking through everything consciously is necessary.

And, I have been working on a book project lately which is how to coach archery from physical principles. I hope this will lead to me having a better understanding of what is going on and by sharing that will help you diagnose the technical problems you encounter. Maybe this story will become a “case study” for that book.

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