What Makes a Good Archery Coach?

In a recent post (Do the Best Archers Make the Best Coaches?) I addressed what accomplished archers might bring to the table as coaches. A comment to that was written asking:

What makes a good archery coach?
Which knowledge is more important for a coach?
I am trying to find answers to the above questions, meanwhile I cannot avoid to see that a lot of national coaches have been previous national archers.
Why is it so? Are we sure competition skill is the only and preeminent skill required, or there may be other factors involved? Surely not only skill.

These are all good questions.

And I will try to answer them in my own rambling fashion.

Once an elite archer gets to the top of their personal hill and realizes that they can no longer improve (Father Time is undefeated, I believe the saying is) they often do not want to just pack it in and do something else. Archery is what they know and many want to stay connected to their sport. For some, they continue to compete, less ferociously, in the age brackets past “Senior/Adult” (50+, 60+, etc.) Others take up a different style of archery. Sometimes those suffice to stay attached to the sport and sometimes they do not. Some continue in the sport by becoming coaches.

Their competition skills and successes are not all that is required to become a coach, because even the greatest champions, here in the U.S., have to go through a series of coach trainings to become certified coaches. (This applies most directly to USA Archery, especially recurve archery. Field and traditional archery do not have as a large commitment to coaching as does target archery and so they are “looser” in their requirements.)

One of my mentors, Rick McKinney, possibly the most decorated target archer in U.S. history, had to take all of the courses to become a high level coach, even though he never aspired to be a team coach for USA Archery (apparently). I also took those courses as have hundreds of others.

Clearly the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to become a coach are not the same as to become a high level archer. These I will address one by one.

Coaching Knowledge
No coach “knows it all” but all of the good coaches I know have extensive networks of other coaches whose knowledge they can draw upon. A couple of years ago I had a problem with an Olympic Recurve student (my personal specialty is compound) and I ended up calling upon colleagues all over the world (the U.S., England, Germany, Australia, Scotland, Canada, etc.) before we finally figured it out.

While no coach can “know it all,” it really helps if you know a lot, so one of the attitudes I highlight below is an attitude of always learning more.

(It is because I found coaching knowledge hard to find that I set myself the goal to create a professional library for archery coaches. Now there are quite a number of books, most published by us under Watching Arrows Fly, in which coaches share what works for them.)

Coaching Skills
The only way I know to acquire coaching skills is to coach, while paying attention. In a number of coaching programs we were tasked with teaching scenarios and this is a bit of help, but here there is nothing like “experience being the best teacher.” One thing I did after training was I asked for lessons from top coaches when they are available. In this manner I get a lesson in shooting as well as a lesson in coaching. Another idea is if you have a good coach in your area, ask them if you can “shadow” them while they coach. You can act as a helper when needed but just by watching good coaches do their work, you can learn a lot.

Coaching Attitudes
Here is where a lot of work can be done. If you are not a good listener, practice listening. Ask your students questions. Be respectful. Enroll them in any plan for change; don’t dictate a path forward, create one with your archer-athletes and they are more likely to stay on that path because they helped create it.

Having an attitude that there is much more to learn about coaching is quite helpful. It is visible to your students who translate that into “there is a great deal more I can learn about archery and competing,” while observing you, who know a great deal more than they do, but are eager to learn more.

Having an attitude that you and your trainee form a team is very helpful. They see what you cannot (what it looks like from their viewpoint) and you see what they cannot (what it looks like from the outside in real time.). Archers can video themselves and later study the videos, but an archer-coach team can work through things as they are happening, without losing information about the archer’s feel or sight picture, etc. (These things disappear from short term memory in less than 30 seconds.)

Having an attitude that the archer owns his own participation in the sport is also helpful. If you are trying to override their inclinations as an archer, you will find the going tough. You can get around some of the things they “see” for themselves by asking questions, pertinent questions. One of the things I have had archers say quite frequently is that they “are working up to a draw weight of XY pounds.” I always ask them where they got that number. Many times they do not know. Sometimes it is because that is what an idol of theirs shot. This creates a “teaching moment” for me to explain what actually determines what their draw weight should be (as an aspect of “making distance” which is having good form with your sight aperture or POA on the target face you are shooting at, minimizing time of flight in windy venues, etc.). In this manner I hope to shift their own internal goals onto things that are reality-based, rather than imagination-based.

I must add that good coaching is based upon the athlete-coach relationship. Consequently, because a coach worked really well with Archer A does not mean they will work well with Archer B. If Archer A recommends his coach to you then there is a reason to explore the possibility of you working with that coach, but you still need to explore such a relationship, find out whether you can work constructively together.

There is a dictum that “archers believe in magic” and part of that belief can be “Coach ABC worked magic with my friend, so he can work magic for me.” Just as there are no secrets in archery, there is also no magic, none at all. So, if an archer’s thinking depends upon it existing, that thinking has to go.

* * *

I do hope that many of you will chime in on this question (What makes a good archery coach?) to add things I missed.

1 Comment

Filed under For All Coaches

One response to “What Makes a Good Archery Coach?

  1. Doug Oswald

    Excellent comments, Steve! You are correct that the skill set needed for coaching is different than the skill set for performing. The skills needed by coaches are the same skills needed by teachers. In addition to extensive knowledge of the subject matter, the best teachers (and coaches) must be able to communicate that knowledge to the student in a way that is receptive. As you mentioned, the relationship is a key component of that communication. Some of the best archers simply haven’t developed that skill set. (Although, I also agree that it can be learned.)


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