Should You Practice Only One Thing at a Time?

Coach, do you do this? Do you recommend it to your students?

The basic argument goes that you should only work on one thing at a time so that the feedback you get is due to that one thing only. If you worked on two or three things simultaneously, one of those could make a huge improvement, another could offset much of that and the third make a tiny improvement. Of the three, one is actually worth doing, the other two not so much. Blend them all together and you may end up incorporating counterproductive elements into your shooting.

This is all quite true, but some archers have taken this “simultaneity” restriction to mean only practice one thing at all, until it is good enough, and then move on to another thing.

This is wrong on several levels. If you were to work on one thing for 15 minutes and then switch to another issue and work on that for 15 minutes, would the feedback you are getting be confused? No? No. Plus studies seem to indicate that variety in one’s work is more effective than concentrating on just one thing exclusively. Of course, this work (drills, etc.) has to be carried over more than a few sessions to be effective.

I recommend that you should work on three things at a time, just not lumped together. This restriction to three things is pragmatic, so your focus doesn’t get diluted by addressing too many things at one time. I invented “The List” to monitor progress on these potential improvements on your shooting. If you didn’t read the post “The Damned List,” here is an excerpt:

“I ask all of my students to keep in their notebook what I call “The List” which is a list of the things they have committed to change (this is just the top three if the list is longer than that). They are instructed to read this list before they shoot an arrow, in practice or competition, to remind them that they are going to be doing a few things differently, and to do these different things religiously.

“I keep the list of things actively being worked on at three or fewer because I think that keeps things doable, plus a long list of things needed to be done can be depressing.

“Two or three pages down in the notebook is “The List (con’t)” which has items #4 through whatever listed upon it. Whenever reasonable progress is made on an item on The List, that item gets lined out (with a single thin line) and something from the #4 – #n list is promoted. (The numbers aren’t priorities but one should always promote that thing that gives the most “bang for the buck” as is said. Why work on things that produce small benefits when there are things that you think will produce bigger benefits if worked upon?)

“The reason for the thin lineouts is to be able to see what it was that progress had been made upon. Often, grinding away at getting better seems like a never ending task and it helps to see a list of things that one has improved. One can also see that certain items pop up again on The List. This is because we make progress and move on. If that amount of progress isn’t enough we go back to work on some of the things we worked on before, but this time to make them even better.”

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Should You Practice Only One Thing at a Time?

  1. Having an explicit list of items which you need to work on for practice is important as this allows the archer to focus (pardon that pun). Yes having the archer see the list ahead shows where emphasis will be for minutes per practice. Review, work on “B”, work on “C” and evaluate what was done and record in archery journal. There is of course broad flexibility in how long and how intense etc. during each and every practice. I like it that you mention this as it is very helpful, Steve!

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    • I just had the experience that students would “warm up” shooting the way they always did and then work on changing just that. By reading the damned list before shooting a single arrow they are reminded that they are doing some things differently and so don’t end up shooting the old way … the new way … the old way … the new way, and confusing the hell out of their subconscious minds.

      On Wed, Jul 21, 2021 at 12:07 PM A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

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