Category Archives: For AER Coaches

Tiller? Was Ist Das?

Relatively new recurve archers are often confused by tiller. (Heck I still get confused as to what positive and negative tiller are!) So what is being referred to when people talk about tiller?

The reference is to the same thing a tiller does on a sailboat, it “steers.” The “steering” referred to in archery, though, is confined to an up-down plane, not left-right. It stems from the basic structural paradox of bows. (No, not the Archer’s Paradox.) The structural paradox of bows is this: if you grasp the bow dead center, then the arrow cannot rest on the bow’s centerline, it must be above center. If the arrow is placed at the bow’s center, then the archer’s grip cannot be there, so a compromise is in order. Typically with regard to recurve bows, the center of the bow corresponds to the pivot point of the grip. The center of pressure of the archer’s bowhand is thus a couple of inches lower and the arrow is a couple of inches higher. Basically, the difference is split 50:50.

Note In compound bow design, the arrow is often placed on the bow’s centerline. This results in a very low bow hand, but the bow’s letoff, which results in a much more gradual acceleration of arrows, and the bow’s high Top Tiller Measurmentinertial mass allows this strategy to be successful.

A consequence of this recurve bow design compromise is that since the center of pressure (COP) of the archer’s hand is on the bottom half of the bow, the bow is longer above that point than below that point. Since the archer’s fingers are closer to the middle of the bowstring than the COP is to the center of the riser, the pull on the two limbs is unbalanced. The limbs bend different amounts and, even though the two limbs aren’t exactly equal in characteristics, they aren’t that different. This has the consequence of one limb moving faster than the other and the bowstring traveling in such a manner to move the nock up or down as it travels (depending on the situation). This is not conducive to high levels of accuracy.

There is a test to see if tiller is a “problem” you need to address.

The Recurve Bow Tiller Test The technique I was taught was to remove stabilizers (to allow the bow freer movement), then raise your bow into shooting position and line your aperture up with a spot on the wall (or in the distance), then draw straight to anchor slowly (not drawing low and raising up, it has to be straight). If the aperture moves down the bottom limb is too stiff (or top limb too weak). If the aperture moves up, the reverse is true. When the bow is “balanced” (tiller means to “steer,” remember) the aperture stays level during such a draw. This procedure takes the test out of the usual draw and shoot sequence, isolating the tiller per se. Trying to observe tiller effects while shooting is very difficult. Of course, you need relaxed hands for a successful test.

Fixing Your Tiller There are a couple of approaches to fixing this. One is to fiddle with the limb bolts. Typically the bottom limb is screwed in a bit to make the bottom limb “stiffer,” to compensate for the lack of leverage on the “shorter” limb. This results in tiller measurements (from top or bottom of the riser squarely to the bowstring) in which the bottom tiller measurement is usually somewhere between 1/8˝ and 1/4˝ smaller than at the top (the bowstring is closer to the bottom of the riser than it is to the top).

The other approach is to leave the two tiller measurements the same (if they were set that way initially) and tune out this difference with a slight nocking point adjustment. Moving the nocking point changes the angle the bow sits in your two hands and a very small change in nocking point location can re-angle the bow to bring it into “balance.”

In any case, the ultimate arbiter of your tune is arrow group size. Basically anything that makes your groups smaller is good, anything that makes them larger is bad. The de facto ultimate group size at any distance is the size of a group in which all arrows fit into the highest scoring ring. (Typically this is the diameter of the ring plus twice the diameter of your arrows (allowing for outside-in “touches” that score that ring’s value).

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Helping Them Try a Release Aid

If you have compound archers in your classes, they may be looking forward to shooting with a release aid (if they haven’t already made that decision). Many coaches do not know that release aids were invented before compound bows were and therefore were used with recurve bows but since the competition divisions only allow the use of a release aid with a compound bow, we will stick with that restriction: release aids are used with compound bows only. (Of course, what you do for fun is up to you.)

In the AER Curriculum, we save learning how to use a release aid until last. Here’s why. Learning to shoot well at all is quite a complicated task, throwing a release aid in from the beginning and the task gets even more complicated. Some beginners start with a full unlimited compound setup, including a release aid, but that is learning the hard way. We only recommend that to people who have a coach or parent who can oversee each and every shot, which means not in a class setting.

For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume that your student shoots her compound bow fairly well with her fingers on the bowstring and she has added all the accessories to your bow she wants. (Since the competition categories allowing release aids also allow stabilizers and bow sights, it makes to sense to not use those also, so our assumption is a student will have all of those things, all set up and working fairly well before the release aid is attempted.) This is actually a shooting style: called Freestyle Limited in the NFAA and Compound Limited in USA Archery (only available to those who are in the Masters-50+ and older categories). And this exposes another part of our strategy of adding one accessory at a time: many of those stages are actual shooting styles. In the NFAA shooting a compound bow with just a short stabilizer is called “Bowhunter,” with a longrod stabilizer it is called “Barebow” and with all the goodies, it is called “Freestyle.”

FSLK Archer

Freestyle Limited (NFAA) allows everything but a release aid to be used!

 

Where to Begin
Please, please, please, whatever you do, do not allow your students to just borrow a release aid and try it on their bow. They could injure themselves and/or damage their bow and/or arrow. Wait, you say, you’ve seen this done? Of course you have, but so has jumping off of a cliff. The question is is it wise to do so and the answer is no. Ask any release aid archer if he has an funny stories about shooting releases and they will immediately begin telling you stories of people who knocked themselves out or knocked teeth loose when their releases tripped mid-draw. (Very funny! Don’t let your students do this!)

In order to test out and practice with release aids, they need something called a “rope bow” or a “string bow.” If you have the AER Recreational Coaches Guide, all of the instructions are in the appendices. If not, rope bows are made from a piece of parachute cord or polyester clothes line (not cotton as it is too stretchy). The length of this cord needs to be twice as long as your draw length and then about 10% longer. So, if your student’s draw length is 30˝, you need a length of 30˝ x 2 + about 6˝ = 66˝. Then, make a loop out of it by lining up the two loose ends and putting a single knot it them. You need to fit this loop to your students draw length by drooping the loop over your bow hand and then attaching your release aid. If you then adopt your normal full draw position, everything should be in place (see photo). If the loop is too short, take the knot out and tie another closer to the cut ends. If the loop is too long, take the knot out and tie another farther from the cut ends or just tie a second knot inside of the first. Keep adjusting it until the length is just right.

We often give away these loops to young archers as a safety precaution. We get 100 foot rolls of highly colored cord from Home Depot for just a few dollars.

To use the “rope bow” you just made, loop the thing over their bow hand and attach their release aid and then have them adopt their full-draw-position. They are to pull slightly against the loop (resisting the pull through their bow arm) to simulate the holding weight of their bow. The holding weight is the draw weight of their bow at full draw (after the letoff). If they do this right, when the release is tripped the rope will fly out of their bow hand and land on the floor/ground 1-2 m/yds away.

Rope Bow in Use

You should encourage them to keep this loop in their quiver because you never know when another archer will show up with a cool looking release aid and you will want to try it or they will need a little practice to sort out a kink in their release technique.

Acquiring a Release Aid
This is quite a problem for beginning release aid archers. Ask any veteran release aid archer how many release aids they have or have owned and they will always respond with “dozens” or “too many to count.” The reason for this is that there are so many different types and styles. Plus the only way anuone can figure out whether a particular release aid will work for them is to shoot with it for several weeks.

So, if they are looking for their first release aid, they have a bit of a quandary. They must balance their budget with the style and fit of the release. Because many beginning release aid archers are on tight budgets, they may want to look into borrowing your first release or buying one used. Many release archers have any number of release aids just sitting in a drawer at home and would willingly lend you one to try. (Remember “try before you buy”?)

They will have to decide on the style: we tend to recommend a trigger release aid with a “safety” for first timers. The safety is a button that can be pushed that locks out the release so it cannot go off until you reach full draw and turn the safety off. These releases have the advantage that if they are set up properly, they will go off all by themselves when they reach their correct full-draw body position, so they give you feedback on whether their form is good.

A Great Release Aid Starter Kit!

A Great Release Aid Starter Kit!

Whatever release aid they select it has to fit them. If it is a handheld, it must fit in your hand correctly (basically when your hand is fully relaxed; you shouldn’t have to spread your fingers out to make your hand fit the release). This can be a problem as releases are sized for adults and even if it is labeled an “XS,” that is extra small, it may still be too big for a youth with smallish hands. If it has a trigger, it needs to be able to be adjusted into the correct position in your hand (up against the shaft of your thumb for thumb triggers or just behind the first crease of your index finger for index-finger releases when your hand is relaxed. No reaching!).

Setting Up the Release Aid
Even if their release aid is properly fit as to its size and trigger location (if there is one), there are settings that have to be made. One critical one is trigger pressure (if there is a trigger). They do not want a very light or “hair” trigger. They need a trigger that is fairly stiff. This allows them to get on or off that trigger without fear that it will cause the release to go off. Then they can slowly squeeze it until they reach the tripping trigger pressure and it goes off. The “squeezing” technique is coupled with the draw elbow swinging into position so that the draw elbow aligns with the arrow line.

If the release aid is triggerless, you want the release to trip when they are in perfect alignment. They must start these adjustments with their rope bow and then check them on their bow. You can help, basically you want the point of the draw elbow lined up with the arrow line when the release trips. (It is that simple.) Consult the manufacturer’s adjustment instructions.

Should They Use a D-Loop?
Yes. If they don’t know how to apply one (quite likely), the instructions are available in the Appendices of the AER Coaches Guide and on the Internet. You do need to use “release rope” purchased specially for this task and we recommend you start with a 4.5˝ piece to begin with. This should give you a loop about 1/2˝ long when installed. Adding a D-Loop also affects the bows draw length, so that might need to be adjusted, too. Adding a 1/2˝ D-loop requires the draw length to be reduced 1/2˝ (assuming it was set up correctly before).

Developing Skill with a Release Aid
It is important for them to practice their release technique with their rope bow only until they are proficient before they then try with their bow.

Since success using the rope bow requires them to pick the thing up off of the floor over and over again, most folks catch the loop in their bow hand instead of letting it drop. Just make sure the loop is flying out upon release when they do this. Once they are more than comfortable with their release setup and operation, then you can switch to their bow but do so blank bale and very close up. The rope bow makes to noise when it is used which is not true of their bow. Since what we are looking for is for the release to trip without them knowing it is happening (this is called a “surprise release”), the abrupt shock and noise can cause them to flinch. They need to get used to this and we prefer to do this in a manner where arrows can’t go flying around in all directions.

After they are comfortable shooting with their release aid blank bale, a target face can be put up but keep the distances short because a) you don’t know how the focus on the target will affect their release technique and b) they haven’t sighted in yet. You should check before they make their first shot at each new distance to make sure their arrows will hit the butt.

Anytime they experience confusion or a string of poorly executed shots, they should go back to their rope bow and regain their competence and rhythm and then try again. The whole process for a first-time user will take at least a couple of weeks of regular practice. (Note two weeks of five days per week practice is equivalent to five weeks of two practice days per week)

And if you personally have never used a release aid before, you have two choices: tell your compound archers to go elsewhere (not recommended) or set up a loop and acquire a release and try it yourself. You can acquire enough skill to help beginners. Also, there is quite a bit that has been written on this topic for you to read up on. But, don’t expect to be “up” on all of the latest release aids, we are not sure anyone can be that well informed.

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Working with Newly Serious Archers

Okay, coaches, what happens when an archer you are coaching gets “serious” and wants your help? Well, this can end up being the equivalent of “going steady” so let’s discuss this.

What Does “Getting Serious” Mean?
Our favorite mental coaches, Troy and Lanny Bassham, say there are three levels of training:
1. Training to Learn
2. Training to Compete, and
3. Training to Win
The vast majority of archers are in Category 1, no matter what they say.

Training to Learn All beginners are in this stage and are learning how to shoot arrows from their bows. We often say they are “finding their shot.” These students are characterized as ones learning how to shoot correctly or well. They have their own equipment but haven’t fitted it well or tuned it enough for consistent accuracy. They may attend competitions and be “competitors” thereby but are primarily focused on learning their own shot as part of the process. They are just getting started on the mental game (with maybe Self-talk and Process Goals). At this stage, shooting large numbers of arrow is not recommended.

Training to Compete Archers who are training to compete have a number of things going for them: (a) they have their own equipment, (b) their equipment is fitted to them and tuned (somewhat), (c) they have “their shot” down and are merely tweaking fine points. At this stage, shooting large numbers of arrow is recommended.

In addition these archers are learning competition rules, strategies, how to set their bow up for indoors and out, they are absorbing the mental game and applying it to competition. They shoot practice rounds from time to time and compare those scores with their competition scores. They start a journal for archery.

Training to Win Archers in this category have all of the attributes above in Training to Compete but have already shot quite large volumes of arrows and continue to do so. We say they “own their shot” even though minor tweaks and adjustments are being made (as they always are being made). Archers focused on learning to be a consistent winner may have a physical fitness plan involving strength training and cardiovascular exercise. They may have examined their diets and optimized what they eat to support competing. They have a full-fledged mental program or are developing and implementing one.

They have plans for practicing and plans for traveling and competing at tournaments and have a calendar of event to keep these in mind. They train 5-6 days a week and wish they could train more. They have a performance log that includes all of their notes and details and plans, etc.

Archers can “get serious” in any one of these categories. Signs they are is that they want more time to shoot, they want more lessons and more coaching, they want more and better equipment, but so do all other archers so that is not much of a sign.

Should They?
This is a tougher question. It depends a lot on the student and the family. First, we don’t think very young archers should specialize in any sport to the exclusion of others.  You’ve probably seen all kinds of movies in which a young person commits him- or herself to some athletic goal and through obsessive spunk and desire wins through. What these inspiring movies don’t show you are the cases in which the young person wants something so badly, obsesses over it and fails miserably. Those stories don’t make such great movies.

But you have heard stories, about driven sport parents and crushed kids, etc. We prefer well-balanced kids. If they want to fully commit to the sport, there will be plenty of time when they are 15 or 16. They don’t need to do nothing but archery from the age of eleven.

Do They Want To? Many parents love what the sport of archery does for their kids: get them away from their computers, get them outdoors in the sunshine, get them physically exercising, helps them focus mentally, gets them interacting with other kids, etc. Sometimes they want their kids in archery more than the kids want it. You must be on guard for this as assuming a motivation is coming from a youth when it stems from his parents is not a good mistake to make.

The Signs Indicating They Want To Simply put, when they start acting like a Category 2 or Category 3 learner, they are getting more serious. When they want to practice on their own initiative is a good sign, when they want to practice more, when they want more coaching, when they want top read instructional books, when they want to research archery on the Internet (and don’t get distracted by YouTube kittens), are all good signs.

We talk about “signs” because words are often just words, actions speak much louder. What they do is much more important that what they say. To this end we respond to requests from students for more information on a topic with a short discussion to clarify what they want to know, then we ask them to send us an email reminding us of the request and we will send them the desired information. The number of emails we get is far, far fewer than the number of oral requests. (even when we ask them to write a note in their notebooks about the request).

Should You?
Occasionally, when working with earnest young people, your desire to support their efforts overwhelms your good sense. Before you agree to help a student “get serious” you need to look at your own capacities.

Working with a serious archer may involve: private lessons (even several times a week), email correspondence, examining videos taken by the student, taking videos of the student and discussing them, helping them with purchasing decisions, helping them fit and tune their equipment, all one-on-one. You need to ask: do I have the time? Do I want to do this; is this what you sign up for? And maybe most importantly, am I capable of doing this?

We believe that part of learning as a coach is getting in a little over your head. This puts pressure on you to learn and grow. But the key word is “little,” getting in a lot over your head may be hard on you and hard on your student. No matter what you decide, you will (not may) have to decide when to pass that student off to a better coach.

Whatever happens, we wish you the best of luck and will be here to support you. Send questions into the Coaching Blog and we will get back to you as fast as we can.

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Why I Follow Golf Coaches

I follow a number of golf coaches on the Internet. I haven’t played golf in six or seven years so this may seem strange to you but there is a reason: there aren’t any archery coaches to “follow” on the Internet. This is a primary reason why I created this blog, so there would be. All ego issues aside, this is why I have done much of what I have done. I asked many, many coaches, coaches more experienced and better than me to write books about coaching archery. I never heard the word “no” so many times in my life. I tried to talk our “Precision Archery” publisher (Human Kinetics) into such a book. They said the market was too small. So Claudia and I created our own publishing company (Watching Arrows Fly) and voila! This is not one of those “if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself” things, more of “if you want it done at all, we had to do ourselves.”

“Not one part of your body will go beyond where your mind is focused.”

One of my generous golf coaches, Darrel Klassen, provided a lesson today that had him saying: “Not one part of your body will go beyond where your mind is focused.” Now he was talking about swinging a golf club effectively. His point was that many amateurs are so focused on the golf ball that once club meets the ball they relax and thereby lose a great deal of power. Golfers need to swing through the ball as if their intention was to hit a point well past it, he says. I learned this lesson as a boxer. A boxer cannot aim to deliver a blow at another boxer’s body. The result will be a powder puff strike. Boxers have to aim their blows at the other side of the boxer’s body. (Sorry about the graphic images to those of you who are sensitive to them; the story is true. My Dad wanted me to be more of a “man” and so signed me up for boxing lessons.)

So, how does this relate to archery? Oh, it relates, especially to compound archers but really to all archers. Have you heard the term “a soft shot” or been told you needed to “finish your shot?” In an archery shot, our goal is an arrow sticking out of the highest scoring area of the target, but our participation with the arrow ends with the loosing of the string. This causes a great many archers to lose focus on their bodies at the release and their muscles relax. (The focus on the arrow rather than the bow, just like a focus on the golf ball rather than a point past it.) And, as I have said many times before, we are always fighting Bell Curves. The point in time when we relax our muscles … sometimes we are a little late (no harm) and sometimes we are a little early (soft shot). So archers need to be focused on achieving a strong shot and the way to do that is to set the goal of getting to a strong followthrough position. In order to have that happen we have to maintain our bow arms “up” and our back tension (full on). Many say this has to continue until the arrow hits the target, but I don’t like that signal because that means the time varies with the time of flight of the arrow. My end point for the shot is described by the admonition: “the shot’s not over until the bow takes a bow (the other bow).” So, when the bow finishes its “bow” the shot can be stopped. This should be the same amount of time post loose in every shot, lending a greater sense of regularity to your shots.

My point here is that there is a great deal to learn from coaches of other sports. I generally look to individual sports rather then team sports as team sport coaches are often on subjects irrelevant to archers, things like teamwork and “plays.” I like golf because the mental game of golf is quite well developed and very similar to that of archery (not as well developed). Take a look at some of the golf video lessons available for free on the Internet. I have found some of them so valuable, I have bought the coach’s training package. You may, too. In a couple of cases I have gotten so many valuable free lessons from coaches, I bought their training packages out of simple gratitude.

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Helping Your Students by Booking Guest Coaches

We are currently providing our coaching venues with a guest coach for lessons. These are individual lessons in our case, but this works equally well with classes.

Having a guest coach for your class or students individually is a wonderful idea. Having such a guest increases the focus of the students being taught and helps break up practice routines that might have gotten a little stale. Having a voice, other than yours, making the same key points as you do, can only help your credibility. And it is fine when you are preparing for the session to ask your guest coach to emphasize certain things.

Finding A Guest Coach So, where do you find these guest coaches? At some point, you will have been coaching archery for a long enough time that you will have become part of a network of coaches. Some of these coaches will be less experienced than you and some will be more experienced that you. All of these folks are potential Guest Coaches for your classes. You do not have to bring in a “star” even though that is a very cool thing to do. You might even trade sessions with another coach just like you, that is you both can be a ‘Special Guest Coach” for one another. This has merit because you get to work with students with whom you are not familiar. You will have to be on your toes to do a good job for them. Make the effort to plan something different for each group with your coaching colleague so that either something very important can be emphasized or something new can be introduced. If for no other reason that a different coach telling the athletes the same thing as their regular coach and thus giving credence to that teaching, this is worthwhile.

Sometimes, you can catch a “star coach.” A couple of years ago, we got Lloyd Brown, the 1996 U.S. Olympic Coach and current Olympic Coach for Great Britain to come out for a week and conduct some lessons. There was a fee for these lessons and we had no trouble booking him up and he even threw in a JOAD class session for no fee. The fees collected paid for his travel expenses and we put him up and fed him, so it all worked out.

So, how do you do this? We had the advantage of knowing Coach Brown but there is a simple process you can follow that often works: ask them. Yes, just email, text, or phone them up and ask them. This is not as simple as it is being made to sound here as many of these coaches are quite busy. Coordinating with their schedules is very important, but you will find that they can be very flexible and come back at you with, “I will be in your area on such-and-such dates, can we work out something then?” We have found that putting a spare bedroom at their disposal and feeding them at the family table can reduce travel expenses a great deal.

If your network doesn’t include a lot of coaches, check out any coach listings you can find. USA Archery maintains a list of many of their coaches, for example. Check out the names of the coaches in your area and see if you recognize any of the names. Do Internet searches on the names of the coaches in your area. Are they actice and involved in archery nearby? Often these lists include contact information. Connect with them to find out if they provide guest coaching services.

Will There Be Fees? Do realize that coaching archery is not a charity function (although it may feel like that from time to time). We assume that fees will be charged. Our current guest coach is charging $65/hr for adults and $50/hr for youths 18 and under. These are quite reasonable in our area. Coaches of lesser resume will generally be charging less. (we recommend that fees be adjusted to the loacl economy. If the area is not so rich, we recommend reduced fees. If affluent, well. . . .) One of our most gratifying guest coaching gigs occurred when we broached the idea with our JOAD program’s parents and one of them offered air fare vouchers he had accumulated and another offered room and board. A third set of parents offered to pick him up at the airport (45 minutes away) and take him back and drive him around in the interim. If you have a large program, you may experience the same generosity from your archery parents.

Preparing for Your Sessions If you book a guest coach, there is some preparation involved. If individual lessons are involved, you need to inform people of their availability and sign up takers for slots in your schedule. Make sure you tell people where and when and what the fees are and how they can pay for the fees (cash, check, PayPal, etc.). We provide our Guest Coach a schedule, all addresses, directions, etc. ahead of time if we can.

If the Guest Coach is coming to take your class(es), make sure that your students know that ahead of time and ask them to prepare. The simplest thing to ask them to do is to prepare a list of things they are working on. (Our lists are always a minimum of at least three things.) You might also ask them to prepare questions they could ask the coach. This is why a handout/flyer is a good thing for this event as you can provide some background on your guest coach, which can lead to good questions being asked.

What’s In It For You? We ask this question a lot. What is in this for you? This sounds like it is more work than doing your class or lessons yourself, and you are right about that. But if you manage to get a really good coach to come give lessons, this can turn out to be a master class in coaching for you! By all means, sit nearby and observe your Guest Coach working. (We recommend you don’t make comments unless asked.) Watching a master coach go about his or her business can provide a great deal of inspiration and ideas for you to pursue in your coaching. Take a notebook.

So, this is not all about “them,” this is also about “you” and how you become a better coach.

 

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Why Buying the Very Best Sometimes Is a Bad Idea

Guess what? When it comes to equipment recommendations, you are Number One! Now, don’t get a swelled head, we just mean that you are the first person your students will consult regarding getting their own equipment or an upgrade of their own equipment. No matter how good you are at giving such advice, something happens between your advice and the purchase. What happens is the student-archer does his own research on the Internet or through catalogs or, sometimes worse, a salesman comes in between.

We have created a form for giving such recommendations and the stimulus for that form being created was a student we sent to a good archery shop who came back with a bow with 15# too much draw weight and about 2˝ too much draw length. But it was a very high quality bow, discounted heavily, and it had red and gold flames on it. Yep, you got it, a discounted high end bow that hadn’t gotten sold got fobbed off on our student. We were upset with the draw weight and draw length mismatches, the two most critical fitting criteria, but not so much about an expensive bow being bought as that student’s parents were quite well-to-do and could afford it. Now we realize that buying higher end equipment before it is appropriate can actually inhibit the progress an archer is making.

So, we recommend that you actively sell your students in avoiding buying top-of-the line gear before they are ready. We do this by recommending they buy equipment that matches the level of their shooting. Beginners should buy beginning-level equipment. Intermediate archers need intermediate-level equipment. Advanced archers need high end equipment (how high is a tough question).

Realize that this runs counter to conventional wisdom. Home craftsmen are best off buying the best hand tools they can afford: they work better and last longer. Cooks are encouraged to buy the best cookware they can afford for the same reasons. Most people think that if their archer had better equipment, they would shoot better. This is not necessarily the case. This is the same kind of thinking as when people think that a 60# bow should shoot arrows twice as fast as a 30# bow (not even close). And going against the grain of “common knowledge” is a tough sell.

The Reasons
There are a number of good reasons for the equipment purchasing scheme described above. Here are a few.

Budgetary Reasons We’re talking the family budget here. Many a family has a garage full of sports equipment purchased when one of the kids (or Dad or Mom) was excited about a new sport but then dropped it a couple of months later. There is the $300+ baseball bat, the $250+ hockey skates, etc. High end equipment has high-end price tags and investing a large sum of money in equipment before a significant commitment to a sport is made is probably a recipe for wasting hard-earned money. Our suggestion is to have youths earn their better gear through participation. This runs counter to the current trend in which parents try to encourage their kids by buying them stuff, but our recommendation has a better foundation in psychology.

Another consideration for growing kids is they can grow out of things quite quickly. For example, we do not recommend carbon recurve limbs for kids for that reason. The wood-fiberglass limbs give quite adequate performance and, as the youth grows, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg every time they need new limbs . . . or new arrows, or. . . .

Such equipment purchases can also create envy in students of lesser means but that is hard to control.

It Isn’t Necessary Many of the young Olympic Recurve archers we see can’t wait to get out of a wood-risered recurve into one of the really pretty metal-risered recurves. Turns out there is no significant advantage to the archer. What about the new equipment makes it more consistent or accurate? There is very little difference and there may be actual negatives (see below). What young archers need is a good tab, properly fitted to them. (We see way too many youths with rigid, metal-frame tabs, usually the wrong size and in the way; we recommend you keep them on a soft tab until they are quite close to their full growth.) Then they need good arrows. Carbon arrows? No, good aluminum arrows are fine. The best reasons for buying carbon arrows rather than aluminum are: you have no access to an arrow straightening jig or you need lighter mass arrows to “make distance.” The worst reason is “they’re cool.”

If they are using a bow sight, a decent bow sight might be next. Only after whatever makes for a full kit for the archer is had is a move up to a better bow warranted. So, a beginner-level setup can be upgraded one step at a time, by buying a better <insert whatever accessory or bow here>. The old accessories, for example, will fit on a new bow but the new bow need only be the next step up (beginner to intermediate to advanced to expert/elite).

It May Inhibit Progress Buying higher-end gear for a less than appropriate archer can have drawbacks. The aforementioned metal-framed tabs are one example. If not fitted perfectly, the tab creates awkward, rather than relaxed, string hand fingers which inhibit clear finger releases. Same goes for release aids.

We have seen way too many youths, especially girls, rushed into a metal-risered recurve bows (or full compound) with the result that since they do not have enough shoulder development to hold the bow up through a shot, they get months and months of practice dropping their bow arms! You can ameliorate this a little by widening their stance until their muscles develop, but there is only so much adjusting that can be done. The wood and plastic resin risers on beginner bows have the added benefit of being quite light weight. The metal bows, not so much.

Conclusion
Whether working with parents or adult students, avoiding buying mistakes is a tough one for us coaches. Making sure the person with the purchasing ability knows that buying higher-end equipment is not necessarily a good idea is important. You may want to print out copies of this article or draft something on your own as a handout.

We are busy trying to put together an online course of how to fit students with appropriate archery gear so as to help you help them get the gear that will keep them in the game. Look for it on the AER website. We will announce the course here.

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Helping Your Students with … The Mental Game

(from the May-June 2014 issue of Archery Focus magazine)

Note There is a great deal of talk about the Mental Game of Archery but almost none on how to get students started. Here’s two cents worth.

***

For beginning archers, the physical aspects of the sport dominate. There is probably very little room for anything else in their  minds. The phrase “archery is 90% mental,” is often heard in archery instruction circles, which is not at all true, although it is close to the truth when it comes to archery competitions. To become a good archer, many hours of practice, building muscles and  technique training and additional hours setting up and testing and tuning equipment all have to happen so that on competition day, the equipment and form and execution are unconsciously dependable. The remainder of the day is largely determined by our archer’s minds: how focused they are, how confident, how consistent they can maintain our performance, etc. So, how do you start helping your students with their mental games? When do you start?

The Mental Game of Archery
It wasn’t that long ago that there wasn’t any mental game recognized. Some archers did it, but most just practiced shooting arrows and making their equipment perfect and hope for the best. Today, all elite archers incorporate mental training in their practice and competition. Many young archers compete and win without a mental program but as they get older, they shouldn’t expect to be doing any “winning” when they are giving away such an advantage. Practice . . . mentally? Yep, do you ever expect them to do something well without practicing?

Getting Started A key to shooting well is your archers must focus their conscious thinking upon what they are doing “now” during any shot. If their mind wanders onto their stance while they are at full draw, for example, the outcome will be a bad shot. They must “pay attention” to what is happening . . . right now.

You probably know why. Archery is a repetition sport. If their minds wander it will (at least) change their timing and such shots will occur at a different pace than the previous ones. We want each shot to be their best shot and the next shot to be just like the last one. We know this from the fact that it is easier to do something you have just done than to do it new for the first time. It is more effective to “copy” the last shot than it is to make up a new technique while shooting the next one.

So what are they supposed to “focus on?” This is the role played by their shot sequence. Basically this is a list of everything they do to take a single shot. Their shot sequence puts names to things they will need to refine physically (improving their technique) but also it is a list of where their attention needs to be while shooting. When they are nocking an arrow, they need to pay attention to where the nock goes on the string, the sound and feel it makes when it slides into place, they need to pay attention to the way the “index vane” points, and they need to check how the arrow sits on the arrow rest (and under the clicker if they use one). They need to do this consciously (in practice) to train their subconscious mind to do it subconsciously (whenever they need it done) just like learning to tie their shoes or ride a bike (and later to drive a car). Conscious attention is needed to develop unconscious competence. Doing any of those things wrong can cost them points (e.g. if the arrow is sitting on the bow’s arrow shelf instead of the arrow rest, their shot will be low, very low).

The next thing they need to learn is the “Rule of Discipline.”

The Rule of Discipline If they follow this rule, they will learn faster than anything else you can do. Basically this rule says “don’t shoot shots you know are wrong.” Here it is in all of its glory:

If anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from the environment, you must let down and start over.

By following this rule they will train your subconscious mind to monitor their shooting and “urge” you to letdown when something is not right, even if you do not notice it yourself! While they are shooting, they are shooting by “feel.” Their eyes are focused on their sight or the target and not upon themselves. If their conscious mind doesn’t focus on what they are doing “now” the shot will be bad, so all they have is how the shot feels at the time. With repetition, they can learn how a good shot feels and use that as a guide to make this call, but the word “feel” is almost the total opposite of conscious thinking, so we use our subconscious minds to monitor those.

We train our subconscious minds what to pay attention to by paying attention to it consciously while practicing . . . and that is exhausting. If you think about how you learned to tie your shoes or ride a bike, it was really hard at first but now it is almost effortless in comparison. That is because you now do these tasks subconsciously.

There has been some misunderstanding regarding the Rule of Discipline. It is not if the coach sees anything wrong, they must let down, but whether the archer thinks there is anything wrong. Beginning archers wouldn’t be able to get off a shot if they had to do it perfectly in the eyes of a coach. What constitutes “right” and “wrong” for an archer evolves as they gain understanding and develop the feel of their shot and the Rule of Discipline helps them develop that “feel” and understanding.

… And the Training?
You are dreading asking them to practice one more thing, aren’t you? To practice their shot sequence, start by using the appropriate terms for the parts. Ask them to make a list of the parts of their shot. Go over it with them. This has physical as well as mental benefits, so they won’t get antsy. From time to time, focus consciously on one of the tasks (not every single one, you’ll wear them out).

For the Rule of Discipline . . . have them use it. Every single shot. If they don’t know how to do a “let down,” demonstrate it for them (note the differences for indoors and out) and have them practice it a couple of times and they will be an expert in no time.

And, don’t worry, there’s more, . . . but only if they want to get better.

Coming Attractions
We follow on from here with the introduction of policing one’s self-talk, it being easy to teach: what it is, how to change negative self-talk into positive, etc. Then comes shot rehearsals/imagery, being the practice of imagining a perfect shot just before raising their bows.

There is much, much more. You can teach these things to your recreational archers as well as your competitive archers. There will be no harm done as the recreational archers just won’t do things they don’t find fun, and you don’t know what will trigger the conversion from a recreational archer to a competitive archer. It may just be that there is some serious, performance enhancing stuff being done here; archery is not just flinging arrows and hoping to win a medal.

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Hey Coach “What’s In It For You?”

There are two levels we wish to address this question in this article: the first is “what is in it for you personally as an archery coach” and then again from an outside view as someone who is responsible for youth archery coaches in a program, which is “what’s in it for them?”

A very common arc for an archery coach is this: your son or daughter gets involved in an archery program and, voila, you are by definition “an archery parent.” If your child sticks to it so that you are involved for several years, your kid’s coach suggests that you help out and to help out you need to be certified, so you become a Level 1 Coach and start helping out with the team/classes. Along the way, you give archery a try and it is a lot of fun and you become a more or less committed archer yourself. As the years go on, you can find yourself in the position whereby the longtime coach retires from that position and asks someone to “step up” and take his position. Often many people look to you because you’ve been a helper for so very long and . . . sound familiar? I suspect that many of you recognize at least a part of this scenario.

It goes on. From the viewpoint of the youth coach, many times they find themselves two to three years past the point where their kids stopped participating and wonder “Why am I still doing this?”

We recommend that you look at this question from the beginning and re-examine it from time to time. It is one thing to do something to support a child’s hobby, but you could end up spending a great deal of precious family time, a great deal of money (on your own equipment, lessons, training programs, books, etc.) out of inertia, that is just by being involved.

We think you need get something out of this effort, being an archery coach, but we can’t tell you want that is. we suggest that you do a little exercise and write out your coaching philosophy. Steve Ruis, AFm Editor, has posted his several times so that will serve as an example.

My Coaching Philosophy
Steve Ruis
Last Updated Summer 2013

Because archery is not just an individual sport but is a sport with no opponent, almost all of the responsibility for a performance falls to the athlete. Consequently my goal is to create a situation in which the athlete becomes functionally self-sufficient. To do this, I:
•    describe my general approach (bring all parts of an archer’s shot up to parity and then rework the shot as many times as is desired to achieve the archer’s goals) but am open to other approaches an archer may desire.
•    endeavor to explain everything I am asking an athlete to do (but only up to the point they desire)
•    ask the athlete to make all final decisions regarding form changes, etc.
•    continually educate the athlete in techniques that can be used to self-educate him- or herself, e.g. process goals, journaling, learning how to analyze video (but only up to the point they desire).
•    break down complex tasks into doable parts as much as is possible, explaining to the athlete what is being done and why.
•    demonstrate a positive outlook, which is a requirement of successful coaching as much as successful archery.
•    educate the archer on his/her equipment with the goal of them taking full responsibility for their own equipment.
•    educate the archer on the requirements of competing successfully with the goal of them taking full responsibility for competition planning, preparation, and execution.
•    honor the athlete’s outcome goals and teach how one achieves outcomes through ladders of success and careful preparation and execution.
•    honor the fact that each student is a diverse individual and that I may not be the most, or even a very, substantial influence on their lives.
•    work as hard for my students as they do for themselves. If a student does not want to work toward their own goals, I will honor their decision but I will not continue to work with them.
•    will endeavor to point out how what they are learning from their bow and arrows carries over into other aspects of their lives.
•    will work with parents of underage athletes, necessarily, so that there is full communication between and among the archer’s support team.
•    work hard to improve my knowledge, skills, and attitudes as a coach.

Once you have written out your own coaching philosophy, basically “what you do” and “how you do” it as a coach, go back through and ask yourself “why?” for each point. For some things you may find it stems from “wanting to do a good job” and you may find that you do others “because you like to help people.” Archery provides a short feedback loop such that you can make a suggestion to an archer and they can get positive results in very short order. Compared to the other “projects” in your life, like “being a good parent” or “raising your children well” or “getting a promotion at work in the next three years,” this is blazing fast proof that your activities are effective and important to others. That feels good.

Whatever you discover as to “what I am getting out of this,” we think that to do a good job, you have to want to do a good job and the “whys” are important.

Do You Supervise Other Coaches?
Or do you help “run” the program you coach in? Or are you in any way invested in the success of the program? If so, there is another aspect of this and that is if your other coaches aren’t getting something out of their participation they will be gone shortly and you will have to replace them.

In the long run, we think coaches need to be paid. They don’t have to be paid as if it were like being in a great job but youth coaches are doing work very similar to what paid teachers and paid recreation leaders do. There is a lot of work associated with running a program and coaching a bunch of student-archers. Coaches also incur out-of-pocket expenses. Do your coaches have whistles? Where’d they get them? (We give our coaches a whistle as part of their graduation ceremony when we train them.) Coaches end up buying all kinds of things out-of-pocket (even their own whistles). Since the vast majority of them are volunteers, they are in effect paying for the privilege of donating their services.

If you want your coaches to stick around, there are any number of things you can do to encourage that. Obviously treating them with respect is a given, but after that appreciation goes a long way to encouraging volunteer coaches. This can be as simple as thanking them publically, either at a picnic/dinner/party or in an ad in the local paper thanking them by name. Plaques of appreciation are welcome as are other tokens (windbreakers, shirts with “Coach” embroidered upon them, whistles, books on coaching archery, (subscriptions to Archery Focus magazine, Ed.), etc. If your program doesn’t have much money, you can ask the parents to support a “coach gift” or as we did for a long time, we printed appreciation certificates designed on a computer. It is the thought that counts, not so much the money, but sometimes it is the money: to pay for a coach training program, to buy a bow for themselves, to allow for the coach to travel to an important event to be with the team. Parents will often donate all kinds of things if you ask for help. We have had parents donate round-trip airfare coupons they had to allow us to bring in a coach for a special team training session for one of our JOAD groups. Other parents offered to house and feed the guest coach and drive him around, others offered to pick him up and drop him off at the airport, and we collected enough cash to pay his fee for the session. We didn’t ask for anything specific, we just pointed to the opportunity and the parents did the rest.

You need to think about the “care and feeding of volunteer coaches” and how you can enhance the experience of your coaches. They will be happier, stay with you longer, and speak more positively about the program than they will if they are just taken for granted.

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How to . . . Teach Stringwalking

We teach aiming before we teach sighting so once beginning archers can group their shots we teach them the “point-of-aim” system as a first aiming system. If they do not want to move on to a physical bow sight, we next teach them stringwalking. To help you help you help them learn this, we provide an excerpt from the book “Archery Coaching How To’s.”

General Background Information
Stringwalking was invented less than a century ago, but since archery’s history hasn’t been codified, that is debatable. Basically stringwalking is gripping the string below the arrow, the farther below the arrow the string is gripped, the less far the arrow will fly (in effect the bow is being tilted down). Target distances can be mapped onto the bowstring quite exactly. Since only a small range of distances is covered by these “crawls” down the string, various anchors are used for ranges of distances. Long distances require low anchors while short distances require high anchors. Some archers also switch between using the arrow point to aim with to using other parts of the bow (typically the sight window shelf).

Crawl MontageThe main advantage of stringwalking over other versions of shooting off of the point is that the same sight picture is used for most shots.

Since no shooting rules allow marks to be put upon bow string, bow, or tab, most archers use either the ordinary marks available on some tabs, for example a line of stitches (see photos), or use a center serving material like monofilament serving that will allow them to count down “wraps” of serving. This is typically done by running one’s thumbnail down from the nock locator, counting each click or bump along the way. Each distance that corresponds to a shooting distance is called a “crawl.” Some organizations allow these to be written down, others require them to be memorized. Beginners are urged to take notes so as to minimize mistakes. If their crawls need to be memorized, they can do that later.

Stringwalking is usually only seen in field archery because target archery involves only a few quite long distances (the exception being indoors target archery). Field archery involves shots at many different distances, quite a few of which are at shorter distances.

How Do I Know My Athlete Is Ready Learn Stringwalking?
This is an option for any student wanting to shoot barebow. Stringwalking is only allowed in a few shooting styles so check to see if your student’s “style” is allowed in the competitions they are interested in. The only preliminary skill needed is the ability to shoot off of the point

How to Get Started (Stringwalking)
Basic Setup If the archer knows his “point on target” distance (in the vernacular “point on”) that is the best place to start. Have her warm up until she is grouping nicely. Then take five paces closer to the target and have her shoot using the same crawl (zero because of the three-fingers under string grip). The arrow should hit high. Then ask her to stick the tip of her draw hand thumbnail into the string about a quarter inch down from where the tab is touching the arrow and then slide her tab down until the upper edge of the tab is lined up with the point her thumbnail is touching the string. Then the bow is drawn and the shot taken with the same point of aim. The arrow should hit lower.

If the arrow didn’t hit in target center, if it needs to hit lower a larger crawl is in order; if higher, a smaller crawl. Once a crawl that works is found, the distance and a description of the crawl are written in the student’s notebook. The crawl is described either as a number of wraps of center serving or number of stitches (and fractions thereof) on the archer’s tab.

This process is repeated until a number of crawls are discovered.

Advanced Setup Once a number of crawls are determined work with your archer so they can see that the crawls are linear, for example if one stitch crawl equates to four yards closer than the archer’s point on, a two-stitch crawl will be eight yards, a three stitch crawl 12 yards, etc. Since the crawls are linear, the archer can interpolated between them, for example, in the previous example a one-stitch crawl was 4 yards inside of the archers point on and a two stitch crawl was 8 yards inside her point on, a one and a half stitch crawl (halfway between the one stitch and two-stitch crawls) should be 6 yards inside of their point on.

Crawls are limited to about two to three inches down the string as drawing the string this way detunes the bow.

Going Farther Go back to your archer’s point on distance, this time walk back five paces and shoot the same crawl (zero). This time the arrow will hit low. It should be obvious that crawling will not solve this problem as a crawl will cause the arrow to hit the target even lower. One can combine other aspects of shooting off the point by choosing to “aim off” here. If the arrow landed at 6 o’clock in the blue, your archer could aim at 12 o’clock in the blue to compensate, but soon your archer would be off of the target so a better solution is needed.

What the archer needs is a lower anchor. Most string walkers get by with a high anchor (index finger in the corner of the mouth) and a low anchor (Olympic-style anchor) but some use other variants (middle finger in the corner of the mouth for very short shots, etc.). Each anchor has it’s own “point on” target distance and a set of crawls for distances down from that distance.

Training (Stringwalking)
Initial Stages New anchors have to be trained in. All are best addressed blank bale. Coaches need to give feedback so a good start can be had.

Be aware that clickers can be used to train with, even though they are often not allowed in competition or are just impractical (when stringwalking the distance the arrow is drawn varies with the crawl). New anchors are best trained in with a zero crawl.

Later Stages After some practice with a new anchor has occurred, the archer’s point on target distance with this anchor has to be found, along with all of the crawls inside that “point on.” Notes are taken so each set of crawls and their distances can be compared.

Fine Points When a complete set of crawls (five or so, from which the others can be figured) for both anchors is available, check to see if the two sets of distances overlap. If they do, your archer has all distances covered from her low anchor point on to her high anchor biggest crawl. If there is a small gap between the two sets of distances, then the aiming off technique discuss prior using the high anchor no crawl setup may fill that gap.

Advanced Training (Stringwalking)
Archers are oriented to target center but at farther distances with smaller aiming rings, the arrow point can cover the entire aiming dot. Consequently string walkers have adopted a slightly different target picture. They line up the top of the arrow point with the bottom of the central aiming ring creating a kind of “figure eight.” This creates a very fine position for aiming. Additional rings below the center can also be used as alignment points as can rings above the center but, since the curved lines go the same way, it is harder to get an exact positioning of the arrow point.

An Alternative to the Low Anchor Some archers struggle with the low anchor or the low anchor doesn’t give enough distance. In this case an option is to “shoot off of the shelf.” This involves positioning the target’s central scoring ring so that it touches the outside of the arrow and the top of the bow’s arrow shelf. This creates a great deal more distance as it raises the bow a great deal, but it also aims the arrow off to the right of the target (the target center used to be right on top of the arrow now it is to the left). This is compensated for by either aiming off or moving the string in the archer’s string picture quite a bit to the right (how much so must be determined by experiment). See the sidebar “String Picture and Windage.”

All variations must be trained in with repetition.

Potential Pitfalls (Stringwalking)
1.   Available Crawls Do Not Cover Competitive Distances
Sometimes archers can’t seem to cover all of the distances they need to shoot with the anchors and crawls they can master. Consequently different equipment parameters are needed. Typically these involve more draw weight (which gives higher arrows speeds and more “cast” or distance) and/or lighter arrows (which does the same).

Sidebar – String Picture and Windage
Most beginning archers are unaware that their bow string can be seen at full draw through their aiming eye. Careful positioning of the image of the bow string against the background of the shot can add consistency to an archer’s shot. (Compound archers using a peep sight do not have to bother with this as they can look through a peep hole straight through the string.)

To help your archers explore their “string pictures” and the effects of “string alignment,” have them play with it using a very light drawing bow at very short distances. Some archers line up the string with their arrow point (not a good idea if you are using the point to aim with). Others use the inside edge of the riser, or the outside edge, etc. What someone uses depends on the shape of their face and the kind of anchor they employ. A different string alignment may be needed for each anchor. When “shooting of the shelf” a right-handed archer may have to move his string in his sight picture a couple of inches to the right.

 

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Help Me Now, Help Me Now!

I do need your help. I started this blog as a source of support for archery coaches (many whom we have trained, but all y’all). I kind of fell asleep on the job and then made two quick posts yesterday from which I got quite a few comments. What I need to make this blog useful to you is just your questions and suggestions. If you write a question in a comment, I will answer it to the best of my ability or find someone who can. You can even send it as an email (to steve@archeryfocus.com) if you want to be anonymous. (I will not use your name if asked to do that.) That will get me back to this blog more often. And if you have something substantial to say about coaching archery, I welcome guest posts, just send me an email. (If it is really good stuff, I may ask you to put it in a form we can use in Archery Focus magazine and then you’ll be famous . . . well, at least you’ll get a check.

Help me now!

(If you got the reference in the title of this post, you are officially old—it is Bruce Springsteen, I think paying homage to James Brown.)

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