The Different Kinds of Practice

I have been reviewing some older posts on this site and ran across this question, which I now have a different take upon.

Here is the question: “I got a note from a student who had attended a recent tournament and noted that his score had improved substantially over his score from the previous year but in talking with other archers found that their scores had been about the same. The question was “Why?” Why hadn’t they improved from a year of practice?

* * *

When I first addressed this question I discussed plateaus, but actually I think that misses the point. The point is that practice does not make perfect or even better.

As just one example in the way of convincing you of this is that I have sent many thousands of hours driving, mostly back and forth to work. Do you think that makes me a better driver? Studies indicate it is more likely to make me a worse driver. The more comfortable I get with ordinary driving the less alert I am to possible accidents, changes in road conditions, etc. Driving back and forth to work a lot does not prepare one to drive in a NASCAR event.

There are many kinds of “practice.” Here are just a few:

No Practice at All This is practice in name only. So, you decide to “go to practice” and you go to the range and set up your gear and shoot a few arrows. Then you spend some time chatting with friends also shooting. Then one of them suggests a shooting game and so you do that for a while. They you take a break and get a soda from a machine and spend time talking with your friends as you drink it. Then you shoot a few more arrows. Later you are asked “What did you do today?” and you respond “I went to archery practice.” No you didn’t.

Equipment Evaluations/Tuning/Testing These sessions are necessary but are devoted to getting your equipment in order and are not “practice” in the sense of you learning to operate that equipment better. These are necessary, but maybe we should call them something else.

Archery Fitness Sessions This may be a gym workout of just a heavy shooting session (arrow after arrow after arrow . . .). These can be quite helpful in maintaining your fitness, but if you get tired and your form degrades they can actually make you a worse archer.

Deliberate Practice This is practicing to get better. This is the practice that should make you better . . . if you do it. These are short intense, highly focused sessions that are noticeable by the archers not letting anything that goes wrong to go uncorrected. These are all about getting your form “right” and repeatable. I mean “right” as conforming to the form you have chosen/designed/etc., not conforming to what good form is supposed to be as described in some book.

In these sessions, notes are taken, questions are asked, coaches are employed (if possible) and these sessions are planned. They are short, compared to the sessions of some others, but by the end you are tired from the physical and mental efforts extended.

In Conclusion

Practice does not make perfect, or even better, unless it is designed around drills, exercises, practices that can make you better. With those in pocket, intense concentration on what you are doing is required to practice these things deliberately. It is never the case that high shot numbers is involved. Mass shooting is a memorization technique. And you don’t want to memorize your shot until it is exactly as you want it to be.

So, you will not get better unless you practice deliberately.

Serious competitive archers practice deliberately. Recreational archers generally practice in “No Practice at All” mode, which is quite acceptable. They are, after all, shooting for fun. Why should they do anything that is not fun to do? (Deliberate practice is not fun.) Now if they are whining that they aren’t getting better, you can help them out by explaining this to them.

PS If you are interested in drills designed to make you better, Mike Gerard and I wrote The Archery Drill Book that contains many such drills, which if done intensely enough can make you better.

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