How Not to Toe the “Toe Line”

Beginners are often taught how to align their feet by the simple expedient of laying an arrow down so that it touches the toes of their feet. Thus the “toe line” is born. Initially we want their toe line to point to a spot directly under the target center they are trying to hit and we call this the “square or even stance.”

The arrow is placed on the floor/ground pointed to the target. Then the toes are placed up against that line, one foot at a time.

After this point little is said about the archer’s foot position until much later when we introduce open or closed stances. (Open stances are preferred for mysterious reasons.)

However, if your archer flares, say, their front foot out a bit more than their back foot, then align their toes to the target line, their body will be a closed position. Conversely, if their rear foot is flared a bit more than the front, then their body will be in an open position. And young archers are oh, so flexible and can get into some fairly extreme body positions, all based upon inconsistent foot flaring.

Sometimes we forget that the stance exists to get our upper body into a repeatable, stable position.

Coaches would be better off to pay attention to their student’s heel lines than their toe lines. The heel line doesn’t depend so much on how flared the archer’s toes are. Or we need to have our students control their foot flares as well as their foot positions. Since young people often have, shall we say, “variable posture,” we need them to attend to this. If this seems to be an issue, maybe place “foot flare” on their shot sequence list.

Is this getting a bit too picky? Here I am addressing serious archery students. You can answer this question for yourself with a little research. The next time you are able to attend a youth archery tournament, watch a couple of those archers feet. See if their stance is repeatable or variable. Pay attention to how the feet are flared. If you want to get serious, set up a camera with a telephoto lens and zoom in on the kid’s feet. Take photos of their feet over several shots, preferable several ends. Compare the photos for foot position. If you end up seeing what I saw, you can use the photos to show your students that this applies to them.

If your students are still skeptical, do the Natural Stance drill with them. They will soon see that their body has a mind of its own as to how it will be oriented in space.

And, if it turns out that “all is well” with many of your students, you will have taught them something about the level of attention to detail that one needs to excel.

Addendum Some have noted that since the arrow is placed pointing tot he center of the target, the archers end up standing to the left or right of the target (depending on handedness) and may be shooting at an angle. This might be the case but it is not. Don’t forget where the bow is. It is hanging in space in front of us. Which means we need to stand to one side so that the arrow line can be in a vertical plane with the center of the target. Standing slightly to the side of the target lane allows the archer’s arrows to be above the target line, which they must be if they want to hit target center.

Second Addendum The phrase “to toe the line” did not come from target archery, but most likely from the military where sailors and soldiers that to “lie up” with the toes upon a line. Many people think this began in the days of wooden ships as the sailors were usually barefoot and the deck boards made handy lines.


Filed under For All Coaches

2 responses to “How Not to Toe the “Toe Line”

  1. Coach Rama

    Hello Sir.
    The biological form of the archer is designed to best fit into ‘planes’ as required to shoot straight.
    Not everyone can rotate their shoulder joint or squeeze their shoulder blade enough (when drawing the string), to have their elbow align with the bow forearm.
    So maybe at some point, this mysterious inability led to a different stance (open). Who knows.
    Now through observation of my students, I have found that straight on or open stance does not necessarily resolve the issue of shooting left or right along the horizontal plane, so I used my knowledge of biology and started to experiment and discovered a different way.
    Before telling you what I did, I will touch on pelvic rotation and how to try to stop it.
    1. If the knee bends even slightly, it causes the pelvis to rotate and so the whole trunk.
    2. If the trunk rotates when drawing, then the pelvis rotates and the knee bends.
    3. The body has a tendency to rotate or tilt according to where the eye is looking.
    4. Archers move their bow arm to the left or right depending on dominance when drawing and this causes rotation.
    Now for my students, I had them correct points 1, 2, 3 and 4 but for some, this still didn’t help.
    For my student with scoliosis who shoots up and down along the vertical plane, I had her tighten her oblique muscles on the bow arm side.
    For others who have pelvic rotation, I taught them how to tighten gluteal (bum) muscles on one side (not both), depending on which side their arrows are landing along the horizontal plane.
    From a technical stand point, this allows me to set the sights correctly, as too many set their sights to accommodate for poor form and this is not really the right way to do things in my obsessive compulsive mind.
    I agree with you about the archer moving along the line to create an optimal angle. They have 80cm on the shooting line which they should be taught but the next archer along, may also be aware of this or might position themselves close (within their shooting space) to gain psychological advantage. Coaches should watch for this on the shooting line and adjust their archers accordingly. Getting to know your opponent is critical.
    Archers absolutely must be taught to be able to shoot anywhere within that 80cms.
    Finally, teach students to practice a ‘rutting’ technique. In the animal world, they use their feet to push earth backwards when on the attack. In archery we use this to mark an area that we can stand at repetitively but not that many flatten the ground under their feet. There are a large amount of nerves in the sole of the foot and subconsciously, there are constant adjustments relating to ‘foot comfort’ and body balance. Watch how many archers angle their feet at the ankle to one side or another. This causes no end of stance irregularities.
    Coaches need more than 20 pairs of eyes to see all these things in real time as the archer shoots but only one brain to work out what is causing what.


    • A coach with more than 20 pairs of eyes makes for an interesting cartoon! (But it is possible if enough assistant coaches are available.)

      I tend to look at these things backward. For example, for an archer to hit target center his/her arrow must be in the same vertical plane as the target center. Once the arrow is launched it follows a decaying parabolic path that can only deviate from that plane because of sideways forces (wind, insects colliding with it, etc.) Everything the archer does up to the point at which the arrow is loosed, must lead to this position. The more the archer can get to a point that his/her body naturally brings this arrow position into being, the easier it is for them to shoot consistently. The more the archer has to muscle him/herself into this position, the more variation will be injected into their groups due to variations in muscle outputs.

      For this reason, I try to put archers into their most “natural stance” using the Natural Stance drill and then leave stance experiments until after they are comfortable and shooting with as good line as they can achieve. As you know, Coach Rama, I advocate that if an archer cannot achieve good line for any reason, we must look for a different solution for what the line provides. Just because good line is optimal, it doesn’t mean the suboptimal line can’t be effective. If it were not, then we would not have so many champions with clear form flaws on display.

      On Sat, Nov 14, 2020 at 2:20 AM A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



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