Sometimes a Blurb is Enough

This book (The Language of Coaching by Nick Winkelman) was outside of my price comfort zone, so I didn’t buy it, plus the blurb made me a bit dubious.

Here’s an excerpt from the blurb:

“Packed with stunning visuals, the book provides over 25 movement sequences that outline different types of coaching cues, including a visual depiction of unique analogies, such as a sprinter taking off like a jet or an athlete loading into a jump like a spring.”

I have heard any number of such “analogies” as mentioned in the excerpt above applied to archery. Examples are: thinking of your draw forearm as being a rope or chain, thinking of your feet penetrating into the ground and growing roots like a tree, having a string attached to the top of your head with a helium balloon pulling your head straight up, and my favorite “imagine a laser beam coming out of your navel, it should be tracking right down the shooting line.”

Here’s the problem. I have seen no evidence of the effectiveness of such things. They seem just to be passed on from one coach to another as some sort of coaching wisdom. I suspect their usefulness is quite limited, compared to other techniques.

There is a significant problem with using such “analogies” while shooting. We now know that our imaginations use the same brain regions that our senses do. If we, say, imagine how some sort of colored object would look, the same regions of the brain are activated as when we actually see such an object and saw how it looked.

Here is an example of where this could go wrong. We now know that our brains can consciously keep track of two things simultaneously. We used to think it was just one, but we now know different. There is a limitation for the two things, however, they must engage different parts of the brain, otherwise they conflict. (This is the source of consciously thinking back and forth between your release fingers and your aim: back and forth you check one and then the other and then back to one again. You are trying to use the decision-making power of your brain, based upon two criteria, and they conflict. BTW, this is why clickers work.)

Consider the moment of release of your bow string. We are mentally doing a number of things: we are aiming visually, we are feeling some sign of our shot process continuing (often the tactile feeling of back tension) and then we have to add the loosing of the string to those two and we are now one over our limit. In almost all cases: compound, recurve, and traditional, if you consciously think about releasing the bow string, you are in for a bad shot. If you think “Relax your fingers.” or “Squeeze the trigger.” you are probably going to shoot a poor shot. Most people focus upon aiming (visually) and completing the shot (tactilely) and allow the release to happen subconsciously. This procedure is practiced up the yin-yang until it feels ever so normal.

Part of this procedure is called the “shot rehearsal” which is typically a visualization of a perfect shot, just before raising the bow to shoot. That visualization is a set of instructions to your subconscious mind as to what you want to have happen, or if you will, it is a goal set for the subconscious mind. If you just prior to the release, imagine some sort of “analogy” you are asking for trouble. That imagining (e.g. “imagine your bow arm is the barrel of a gun”) utilizes the visual cortex, which is needed to aim with and also conflicts with the visual rehearsal you gave your subconscious mind. And the advantage to doing this is?

It is possible that imagining such analogies during practice might be helpful, but if this is done often enough, will not these imaginings intrude into competition shots? Might they not become part of our shot sequence?

I am not just making this up. I had a problem with arm tendonitis at one point and adjusted my shot sequence at one point to “double check” that there wasn’t a problem during this shot. After months of doing this I realized I was reinforcing the problem by spending too much attention and generating too much anxiety around the issue. When I went back to my old shot sequence and endeavored to not think about the issue, things improved quite a bit. It is possible to inject things into our shots that are not at all helpful and I think we should be wary of doing that..


Filed under For All Coaches

3 responses to “Sometimes a Blurb is Enough

  1. Coach Rama

    Hello Sir.
    Very few people / athletes (yes there is a difference), have ‘an ability’ to overlay conscious thought onto the plane of physical reality. As you say, at some point the visualisation process must be stopped and a switch to the prioritisation process begun. I would say that this is a critical distinction that has to be taught to the archer.
    Within the sphere that is archery as it currently exists, I find myself constantly telling myself that something is broken and nobody is really trying to fix it.
    You have quite rightly pointed out that certain wrong methods of coaching are being passed on to other coaches.
    When it comes to archery, it cannot be compared to other ‘explosive / reaction’ sports or even lumped into the same ‘visualisation methods’.
    Consider the simple fact that we are physically and biologically designed for movement and that the speed that information travels along brain synapses, is aligned with the design as well.
    The difficulty of creating an archer (for real coaches), is in knowing where to begin. Dare I say that there are too many coaches out there that are just going through the motions ? I mean no disrespect to coaches that really put in a huge amount of work, often at own personal expense.
    I have the task of creating a team of motion impaired archers, that can qualify for the 2024 Olympics. Starting from scratch is a bonus, as where I come from, this has never been attempted before.
    This is exactly what is needed, as they may have inherited the genetics of movement (previously mentioned) but have lived without it, so archery should be ‘easier’ for them. I believe that this will be more applicable to those born with a condition, than those that were not born with an impairment but became impaired.
    Coaching the able bodied as well as the impaired, will prove or disprove my theory and at some point, you will receive my feedback.


  2. Pingback: Generally a Blurb is Sufficient - Sport Shines

  3. We tried to launch an organization, The Archery Coaches Guild, where such ideas could be posted and discussed, etc. but after spending considerable amounts of time and money we realized we didn’t have the resources to pull it off. Archery GB is doing something similar with their Learning Hub but still there are many connections between coaches that are lacking, very lacking.

    As always, Coach Rama, I wish you the best.


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