Category Archives: For AER Coaches

Coaching Simplified

As a good coach, you pay attention and try to learn about the “right way” to shoot and the “right way” to coach. We do our best to support you in those efforts. And, as we progress along that path, there comes a time when we have to admit that “the right way” does not exist.

The impression is had that serious archers are getting ever closer to that perfect form and perfect execution that will lead them to success. In reality, it is quite the opposite. Coach Kim of Korea said it perfectly when he said archers are “all the same, all different.” He said this in the context of his experience in which every archer is taught the same standard form at the start, but as the archer progresses that form is adapted to fit the archer, leaving every archer in a different place from the others. Instead of all archers converging on this idealized form and execution, they are all diverging toward personal, idiosyncratic form and execution.

Before you freak out, wondering “what am I going to teach?” or “how will I know what is right to do?” think about this. When students are taught in school how to write, is the goal that they will all become the same writer, writing the same way about the same things? When they are taught math, is it to always solve the same problems, the same way? Or do we take some satisfaction when they branch out on their own and approach things in novel ways?

Uh, huh.

So, this is not so shocking as you might initially think. What this leads us to, though, is coaching based upon foundational principles. There are things that cannot be jettisoned in an archery shot. For example, you cannot skip drawing the bow. The bow is a mechanical device into which we load energy by changing its shape. We must draw the bow. Manufacturers of bows must make limbs that are resilient, that is that will recover quickly to a previous shape. Bow limbs made out of modeling clay probably won’t work so well. Some things just can’t be dispensed with.

So, what are the crucial aspects of shooting arrows from a bow?

The Indispensable Principles
I am confining this discussion to target archers. We love to see our archers shoot an arrow dead center. Bulls-eye! (We used to award a little plastic medal for a beginning archer’s first such shot.) But an archery tournament isn’t: unpack, set up, shoot a 10, pack up, and leave. We are expected to “do it again.” Tournament scores are made up of multiple ends of multiple arrow shots, as many as six in a single end.

What we all want is high scores. High scores are achieved by placing as many arrows in the highest scoring zones as you can. The de facto definition of optimal arrow group size is, therefore, “small enough to fit into the highest scoring ring.” And, since groups of arrows can be moved anyplace by sighting techniques, our goal as archers is to shoot “tight groups,” that is groups with closely spaced arrows. Tight groups come from being able to repeat one’s shot process precisely, many times. To be able to repeat one’s shot sequence precisely, one needs to be able to relax and focus and be calm and still under the tension of the draw and then be able to execute a clean release. So, for us coaches, this is our first principle. Anything that supports this is good, anything that detracts is bad. Period.

Realize that we are ignoring the role of equipment at this time. The fundamental principle governing equipment is that the equipment shouldn’t limit performance. So, if your archer has a set of misfit arrows of different weights, lengths, and spines and are bent in addition, nobody, not even a shooting machine, could shoot tight groups with those arrows. For now, we are assuming your archers’ equipment is not limiting their performances. Your responsibility as a coach involves equipment issues, we are just not addressing them right now.

So, what does, for example, body position have to do with this fundamental, or first, principle? This is a ridiculous example, but it does serve: consider what would happen if you had your students shoot (or try to) with their feet on the other side of the shooting line? Ordinarily, a right-handed archer would have their left foot toward the target and their right foot away with the shooting line running between. What if their right foot were toward the target and the left foot away? Would they be able to shoot? Our guess is “no.” Maybe one or two inventive students might switch hands and try to shoot left-handed and make it work, but to shoot right-handed, this recommendation is “nuts.” Now this was clearly a ridiculous suggestion but stances are not black and white. They are all shades of gray. You were taught about even or “square” stances, open stances, and closed stances. There are more, by the way, but there are also fine points with regard to open and closed stances. There is the matter of degree: how open or closed are you talking about?

If you read books on archery form, they almost always recommend one kind of stance, but almost never explain why, nor do they often explain how to tune that stance for various archers. Our primary fundamental principle helps us and it works best if both the archer and coach know the principle. Obviously this is not something you teach to beginners, but should to serious competitive archers. Knowing what is desired allows archers to discern what helps and what doesn’t.

If a stance helps an archer be still and calm at full draw just before and during the release, then that is a good thing. If it detracts, then not.

Bows that are too hard to pull, stances that don’t allow archers to get into a fully braced full draw position, bows that are hard to hold up through the shot because they are too heavy all are negative factors. Bows which are too hard to pull distort form and fatigue muscles that result in shakiness, not stillness. Bows which are too heavy cause an archer to “drop their bow arm” upon release which creates larger groups but is an equipment issue, and is not the archer’s fault. And if that equipment issue is allowed to persist, it will train the archer to drop his/her bow as part of their shot sequence!

There are other fundamental principles. One I use is I ask my students to remove all unnecessary motion from their shots. For example, quite a few students raise their bows well above their full draw positions and then lower them into place while drawing. I ask them to just stop at the correct position on the way up and skip the trip, taking the bow up farther and bringing it back down.

If such motions are allowed to remain in the shot, they must be orchestrated, timed, and trained into the shot but they do not add anything. Raising a bow higher than necessary and then lowering it is sometimes claimed to help people draw the bow. I suggest these folks need to prove this somehow as it makes no sense. If they don’t think there is energy involved they should hold their bow in their “Address” or “Set-up” position, then raise their bow up six inches (or whatever) and lower it six inches and then repeat that 71 times. That is the amount of energy they are using in a Ranking Round that doesn’t in any way improve their shot. Of course, this is archery. You don’t have to do it “right,” you can include useless form elements into your shot, but the cost will be extra training time and effort and potentially lower scores, and the benefit is … what?

All archery movements must be part of a repeatable shot and if not done the same way, leads to a feeling of difference between one shot and the previous one. This is how an archer makes adjustments throughout a round, allowing them to stay close to optimal performance throughout. Having a movement that has nothing to do with the quality of your shot is just inserting a source of “differences” that can be felt but which do not make anything better. Those differences can mask others or create unnecessary letdowns, etc.

Conclusion
Coaching from first principles is something I will be talking more about in the future. It is a different approach. If you are happy with the way things are going now with your students, by all means continue. But as you strive to learn more, to become a better coach, keep these ideas in the back of your head so you can see whether they work . . . or not.

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Do Your Students Have Balance Problems?

A key element of consistent accuracy is being still while executing shots and a key part of being still is maintaining good balance. Let’s explore this.

Do Your Students Have Balance Issues?
Rank beginners often adopt some interesting body moves at full draw: shuffling their feet, swaying back and forth, etc. Sometimes this is due to simplistic thinking, e.g. “Hmm, I am aimed off to the left so I will move over to the right … shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.” More often it is due to balance issues. The bow is a heavy object for a young child and holding it out at arm’s length is challenging. Most archers who stick with it some develop relatively stable form and we stop thinking about the role of balance in their shooting. This may be a mistake.

So, how do we check to see if they are struggling with balance? I’m glad you asked.

The simplest way is to watch them shoot. Pick out a spot near their head and line it up with a point in their visual background. If they are swaying of moving substantially at full draw, then you will see that pint on their cap (or whatever) moving. Also look for an inability to hold good, erect, full draw posture. If they are constantly shift their weight on their legs or front to back, then they are having problems. For a more sensitive “tell” you can watch the tip of their long stabilizer (if they use one) if it doesn’t settle into a single spot, with slight movements around a center of motion), there may be a balance problem. If they shoot Barebow recurve, the top limb tip can serve for this check.

What to Do About It
For young archers, serious drills are probably not the answer. Often their balance problems are rooted in holding a relatively heavy bow up at arm’s length. If they seem relatively still at full draw, but when the string is loosed either their bow drops like a rock or they tend to tip a great deal to control it, they have a common problem. An adult holding up a six-pound weight at arm’s length is no hard task, but for a 10-year old, holding up a four pound weight at arm’s length is quite difficult. The deltoid arm muscles responsible for holding their arm up haven’t developed much by that time. A partial solution is to have them spread their feet out a bit more. We can’t be specific because we don’t know if their stance was already somewhat wide or quite narrow. If their stance is quite narrow, have them open the width of their stance until their heels (not toes) are as far apart as their shoulders.

A commercial balance board, many of which are available.

In the companion article for archers in this issue, we describe self-exploratory activities based upon balance and stance. One option to address these issues is to lead them through these exercises.

Drilling for Balance There are all kinds of balance training gear available at reasonable costs. These can be as simple as a round disk of plywood with a board or half sphere attached to the bottom to more complicate devices involving inflatable disks. If you are a DIY person, you can make such things yourself. A piece of 3/4˝ plywood large enough to take their stance on, with a small piece of 1˝x 1˝ or 2˝x 2˝ wood running down the center of the short distance (across the stance line) makes a good “wobble board.” Kids have a great deal of fun shooting while standing on such a rig.

An even less expensive piece of drilling equipment can be made from swim noodles (see photo below left). Cut a couple of eight inch pieces of a swim noodle and place one piece cross ways under each of your archer’s feet. Then they shoot while trying to keep their balance standing that way.

All of these pieces of rehab/training equipment work by requiring extra effort to create and retain balance.

Regular drills and scoring games can be used to keep this kind of practice from becoming boring.

Practicing and Assessing by Themselves
There are things archers can do to improve their balance by themselves, even when they are not at the range.

They can take a couple of minutes when they are at the range and while shooting at a close butt. Simply shoot a number of arrows while sighting across a bow hand knuckle. If they are used to shooting off of their arrow’s point or using a sight, they need to shoot a number of arrows to get used to the correct height to hold the bow or they could line up their aperture/arrow point with their point of aim and then switch to looking at their knuckle. The object is to shoot and have the knuckle stay relatively lined up with the mark chosen before, during, and after the shot. Doing five or more shots this way at each practice session will lead to an appreciation for how steady they are and whether progress is being made to becoming more steady. If they are more steady, they are probably more balanced.

Similarly they can play balance games, while waiting for a bus or even watching TV. Simply pick up one foot and count how many seconds they can manage to keep it off of the ground (one thousand one, one thousand, two, . . .). Obviously they need to switch feet so both legs get worked out.

Back at the range or even at home they can draw on a target POA, close their eyes, count to a number (start at three, then move up when that become easy), then open their eyes to see if they are still lined up. If this is done at home, unless there is a home shooting station, this is best done with no arrow on the bow. This can be a game of “how long can you hold still at full draw.” It is a balance workout as well as an archery stamina workout.

 

Conclusion
Balance and stillness can be trained for. For your youngest charges, simple stance adjustments are suggested but not much more. With serious archers, more complicated training can be done with inexpensive or DIY training aids.

Do realize that balance is something that is invisible until you look for it and just because it is out of sight, it should not be out of a coach’s mind.

 

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Archers Need More Help with Stabilizers?

We have addressed the topic of stabilizers, primarily how they work, and how to get started using one. It seems that it is time to expand on that beginning. Here I am going to focus in on how you, as a coach, can help archers wend their way through a forest of stabilizers.

More Stabilizers, More, Please
It seems to me that many novice archers, young and old, rush to make their equipment look like the “good archers’” stuff. This is especially true of young archers whose moms and dads are archers. The problem with doing this is that such additional accessories may not help and might just hurt their progress in archery. Each new accessory changes how their bow feels and needs to be adjusted and tested. If your student does not shoot quite well yet, they may not be able to notice that there is no improvement in their archery from the addition of the XYZ Gizmo. And if they are adding mass to an already “too heavy” bow, they will be hurting their progress.

These accessories only make small differences in their results and if they really want positive attention for their skill as an archer, practicing and refining their form will probably pay off more than fiddling with their equipment.

That being said, you will probably not make many friends if you pooh-pooh each student-archer’s desire to add something to their kit. So let’s look at how you can help.

Getting Fitted
One of the areas archers need the most help is with their archery purchases. The archery marketplace is bewildering to even many seasoned archers, so it is especially so for novices and beginner-to-intermediate archers. If you prove valuable helping with these purchases, your opinion on subsequent ones will become more and more impactful. Besides, trying to help an archer is always one of the better things we do.

Fitting Long Rods Short stabilizers are limited in length by rule, but long rods are not, so let’s look at long rod fitting. An easy way to measure a student up for a long rod is to have them hold their bow at their side, string up. Have them allow it to hang as far as it will, but their hand should be in the bow as it is when shooting. Then measure from the stabilizer boss to the floor/ground. Add an inch to this length—this is a good first estimate as to what length of long rod to start on. If your archer is still growing, add another inch. If the long rod you are shopping for doesn’t come in that length, err on the long side, but not 5˝-6˝ long as that will be unwieldy.

As to how much the rod weighs: lighter is better (stiffer is better, too). The rule of thumb is a lighter weight farther out has a greater stabilizing effect than more weight closer in. There are now some carbon fiber long rods that are not too expensive that are lightweight and quite stiff, too. If on a tight budget, an archer can look for a used rod or a less expensive aluminum one. Some very gaudy scores were shot using aluminum stabilizers. Don’t fall for the “carbon is like bacon: it makes everything better” rule.

With regard to long rod “end weights” we recommend they start with none, maybe just a plastic cap to protect the threads on the end of the rod. If the rod comes with end weights, they can be just taken off (and put in a Baggie labeled and dated!) and added later when your archer is feeling experimental or just stronger.

Fitting Side Rods Side bars and V-bars themselves come in a number of variations. V-bar blocks (the block the side rods screw into) can be “fixed” or “adjustable” as to the angle. For compound archers, “one side only blocks” are available, but you can just use an ordinary dual rod block also, even though only one rod is the norm. The V-bars themselves come in various lengths, sort of small, medium, and large. If your student is fairly short in height, they should get the short side rods. If they are fairly tall in height, recommend they get the long side rods. If in the middle, have them get the mediums. If an adjustable block is used, the angle the rod makes with the bow tunes the effective length of the rod.

To fit them, they need to be attached to the bow and your archer needs to shoot some to adjust to the new feel. After this “break in” period, you need to ask them how the bow feels. If they pay attention, they will notice whether the bow tends to react left, right, up, or down. If they do not notice, have them shoot some arrows blind bale, specifically asking them to pay attention to how stable the bow feels at full draw and which way the bow tends to move when the shot is loosed.

Angling the side bar or bars downward moves the weight distribution from back to front (and the reverse does the opposite). So, if they feel like the bow is “rolling back” in their hand too much (or less forward, these things are relative) then the bow is back heavy and weight needs to me moved forward. Angling the side rods(s) down will fine tune this. Adding weight to the tip of the long rod would be the most affective way to move weight forward (and so removing it is the most effective way to move weight back). What you want to be leery of is adding a bit of weight on the end of this side rod, then a bit more on the end of the long rod, then a little weight on the other rod, . . . ; this can lead you to a bow that is much heavier than before, something that might not be desirable (this is a warning for youths and smaller adults who have less shoulder muscle development).

To get a feel for how the bow is balanced, try hanging it from a hook or loop of cord so it can hang freely. You will eventually develop an “eye” for how a bow that is balanced well hangs. One with too much weight forward will hang with the long rod at an angle that looks “too steep.” One that has too much weight to the rear will hang with the long rod to flat to the floor/ground. From behind the bow, the bow should hang straight up and down, if it doesn’t then weighting of the side rods needs to be adjusted. (This is the only reason for a single side rod on a compound bow—to balance the weights of the “compound weight” bow sight and arrow rest on the other side of the bow.)

Testing, Testing, Testing
We have recommended over and over that when anything new is added to a bow (or the accessories jacked up and a new bow put inside of them), the new rig needs to be tested against the old. Notes need to be taken regarding the arrangement of the “old rig” and some measures of how it performs need to be had (group sizes and round scores seem to work best). Then the “new rig” needs to be set up, adjusted, and tuned and tested in the same way. This is what serious competitive archers do.

Having said this, don’t beat this approach like a borrowed mule. A little bit goes a long way, here. Your first goal is to establish that “this is the way things are done.” You are not trying to establish that this is the best equipment setup in all of the world for your archer. U.S. archer Jake Kaminski has set up a YouTube channel and has made some very useful videos in which he walks through setting up new equipment and testing it. He is an elite archer and has worked out how best to do those tasks for him. You will also see the amount of equipment he acquires and tests, looking for small improvements in his performance. The amount of effort is amazing. Do not try to emulate this as your students are nowhere near ready yet.SAve the elite archer routines for the elite archers.

Bare shaft tuning works well (Jake uses it). Simple testing routines that can be done in a single practice session (or between lessons) should be the goal.

 

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Praise or Encouragement?

For all archery coaches, but especially those working with youths, a question comes up: how does one encourage one’s charges to “do better.” We are assuming here that archers who take lessons are automatically in the category of “trying to do better.” And here we will set aside those student-archers who think that lessons are magical, that they will automatically make one better. So, your student has professed a desire to get better—how do you encourage productive uses of his/her energy and discourage the nonproductive ones?

Motivation
Yes, we are using the “M word.” There is a huge literature on the subject of motivation, a large part of which involves motivating athletes. Archery has an advantage over a number of other sports as it is perceived of as being fun, unlike running, say, or weightlifting. Archery also has a short feedback loop: shoot and arrow, get a result. You don’t have to wait a half an hour to see if your five-mile run time has improved. But “practice” can be perceived as being “boring” especially if it doesn’t involve shooting, or the shooting is unchallenging (blank bale, blind bale, etc.).

Recreational v. Competitive Archers We make a distinction in our programs between recreational and competitive archers. The difference between the two categories is in motivation: recreational archers are motivated by “fun.” If an activity isn’t fun, they lose interest. Competitive archers are motivated differently. They are looking to compete well, even to the point of winning medals and championships. Because their primary source of motivation is not “fun,” they are willing to do some rather boring exercises in the hope that they will improve enough to meet their goals. They are trusting enough in their coaches that they will be given fruitful things to do and not be given “busy work.”

Internal v. External Motivations Part of the extensive literature on motivation involves the focus of the athlete on a reward. (I am not using the technical terms here. Practitioners in the field use the terms “intrinsic motivation” and “extrinsic motivation” so if you do any research on your own, look for those terms.)

Internally motivated athletes are doing what they do for internal reasons, such as self satisfaction. Externally motivated athletes are doing what they do for external reasons, such as titles and trophies, and the respect shown by others.

There are many, many details but this is a distinction you need to understand. The key point being is if you offer an external reward to an internally motivated person, it will not only not have a positive effect, it can have a negative effect. Studies in which volunteers were offered money for their efforts resulted in refusals and a lack of interest in continuing to volunteer their time and effort. Volunteering isn’t about money and people who do volunteer can be insulted by such offers of external rewards.

As a coach, you need to be alert to the signs. A child who wears a medal to practice day after day is basically hanging out a sign that he is focused on external rewards. A child you responds to an offer of a reward, with “Whatever. . . .” is quite clearly telling you they aren’t in it for the hardware.

So, as a coach of relative beginners, what can you do?

Suggestions
We strongly suggest that “fun” is something everyone feels motivated by. Please do not attempt to grind your competitive archers into dust through more and more serious drills. Fun activities are something everyone can engage in and even for the most serious archer in your group, can provide a welcome respite from normal practice. This can be in the form of a game, popping balloons, whatever.

Focus on the Effort, Not the Outcome Even though some of your externally motivated charges want to collect all of the praise they can get, as coaches the route to doing better is based upon effort, so it is effort that we want to praise, no matter the outcome. So, for the student who won a medal at the most recent competition, if they had been working very hard to get better, the praise should be along the lines of “all your hard work has paid off,” rather than “that’s a cool trophy.” Some beginning archers get medals for just showing up, there being more medals available than competitors. The fact that they medaled under such conditions should never be denigrated, but if your athlete feels as if they got a “participation award” that doesn’t mean anything, you can always share your experience (I often tied for first and last in my competition group.”) and turn the conversation toward what they can do (the focus is on effort) to move up a notch. Some archers are so good, they have to compete in a more competitive category (youths against adults, for example) in order to achieve meaningful success.

Prizes Need to be Small and/or Symbolic If you offer a prize for a practice competition/game make it something small. We had a habit of making the last session of a season (outdoor/indoor) one that involved many contests with many quite trivial prizes. On one such occasion we had just been to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA and brought back every cheap trinket we could find in the Center’s store. After we had given away the very last prize we held the plastic bag they had been brought home in over our head and said that the last prize had been given, so we were done. The students immediately chanted “Shoot for the bag, shoot for the bag” and so we did and later, the winner of the bag was proudly showing his kid sister that the ordinary plastic bag had “Olympic Training Center” printed on the outside. And we were concerned that the OTC socks would be considered kind of dumb.

Allow Them to Establish Awards/Rewards We believe in student-led coaching so letting them establish their own rewards can be fruitful. It also helps them in communicating with their classmates. Suggestions of $1000 are responded to with “Okay, who is going to organize the bake sales to raise the funds?”

Use Their Ideas We have younger student-archers create their own targets as an art project and they can, if they want, come up with a game or contest associated with the target or targets they come up with. Remember that we do not allow human depictions on targets we shoot at.

Let Them Decide It is often motivating to allow your students some autonomy. Even though you may have prepared quite a bit for today’s session, they may have other ideas. Our first program was at a club which had a number of field ranges as well as a target field. Some days we would concentrate on field archery, other days on target archery. Some days they got to choose, even to the point of splitting the group depending on what the students wanted to work on (depending on there being sufficient numbers of coaches available, of course.)

The Bottom Line
As a professional coach, it is in your best interest (both internally and externally) to “leave them wanting more.” Engaged students making progress and/or having fun, show up for the next session or the next series of sessions. And they are more fun to work with, too.

Educating yourself regarding the motivations of athletes and youths and keeping motivation toward the top of your concerns as a coach will pay dividends in the long run. And I am just learning that there are significant differences in how boys and girls motive themselves and one another (as if it were not obvious, but in the past many obvious things have been proved wrong, e.g. the Sun orbits the Earth, no?)

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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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