Category Archives: For All Coaches

Last Chance?

Lancaster Archery is clearing out “Simple Maintenance for Archery” (see https://lancasterarchery.com/products/ruth-rowe-2nd-edition-simple-maintenance-for-archery) for US $4.95 which is a steal. (Thanks to Ron Kumetz for the “heads up” on this sale.)

We contacted Ruth to see if she wanted us to republish this very, very valuable book and she was not interested. We are considering creating something to replace it, but that may or may not happen.

Get’em before they are gone.

This is the cover of the First Edition. The sale is of the Second Edition.

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Follow-up to “We Can Learn from Teenagers”

I was discussing my last post’s topic with the colleague/friend who brought it to my attention (Tom Dorigatti) and in that discussion Tom pointed out that:

You may recall that she (Liko Arreola) won the Women’s Championship at Vegas last year and a 15 year old young lad won the Men’s Championship at Vegas in 2022, too.

In bouncing these things back and forth in my mind, I followed on with “I think this is a combination of a couple of things: good coaching and a willingness to be coached on the part of the young athletes. Combine those with the benefits of youth (no mental scars, steady nerves, etc.) and great things can happen.

We didn’t get the coaching, at least until we were much older. So, we had pounds of bullstuff circulating in our heads and with no guidance in the mental game, equipment, etc. we created all kinds of blocks to good performance.”

I was thinking of professional golfers who fondly remember being able to putt brilliantly when they were in youth golf, but can’t “find the magic” again now that they were competing at the professional level. Those pros had accumulated a vast number of failed putt images in memory, so when they are to block out any expectation of the success of a putt, there is still this wall of memory holding back a flood of negative thoughts to contend with. (Think of the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike.)

As we age we accumulate many, many positives to build upon, but also things we consider as failures. It might be best if we didn’t label our shots as “successes” or “failures” but that seems an almost automatic process—maybe we can train ourselves to not do that. Not having those stores of memories tagged as successes or failures may make it easier to clear our minds and execute our damned shots.

As the young lady stated (“In practice at home, I don’t keep scores because, for me, it will lead to expectations and pressure in tournaments. My practices focus mainly on trying to perfect quality shot executions.”) self-knowledge is always the key. Some philosopher long, long ago gave the advice “Know thyself.” Still seems to be good advice, especially for archers.

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We Can Learn from Teenagers

Here is an interview of a young phenom from Hawaii.

Formula for Success: How Liko Arreola Is Rising to the Top of the Archery Rankings

Here is a taste of the interview–

In practice at home, I don’t keep scores because, for me, it will lead to expectations and pressure in tournaments. My practices focus mainly on trying to perfect quality shot executions.

Her father is training her and seems to be providing wise leadership.

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The Importance of Distinguishing Between What is Done and What Just Happens in an Archery Shot

I have written about this before, but it is worth emphasizing.

As just one example, consider the finger release. When a shot is loosed, the string fingers open from their curled positions (around the string) and the string, freed, pushes the arrow toward the target. So, does the archer need to do something, like “open” the finger curl to allow the string to leave or is this something that just happens? I hope you know by now that the fingers play almost no active role in the release of the bowstring. They are flicked out of the way by the string itself. That happens because the muscles controlling the finger curl around the string, in the upper forearm, are relaxed and the fingers no longer restrain the string. The string rushes back to brace, flicking the fingers out of the way in its path.

This is not the only thing that “just happens” in an archery shot (most of the followthrough, the left-right and front-back weight distributions in the stance, the pressure distribution of the string/release aid on the separate fingers, the bowhand being shaped by the riser’s grip section, etc.). But to catalog all of those is not the goal of this post, rather I want to emphasize why it is important that you distinguish between these things.

The problem is if you mistake something that just happens for something to do, you are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Working on opening one’s fingers in a finger release is a fool’s errand. It is not what we want to happen and frustration is about the only thing that results (well and still fingers, sloppy looses, etc.).

The 60:40 front-to-rear weight distribution in an archer’s stance happens automatically. Trying to refine that would involve a lot of work and hardly will be worth the effort.

There is a concept in economics that applies here and that is “opportunity cost.” Basically, if you are doing A, you can’t be doing B simultaneously. So, if A is an unproductive effort and B is productive, then doing A instead of B costs you. You expend effort, money, time and you do not get better.

So, I urge you to take the time to identify what things in an archery shot, in your styles of expertise, are things that just happen. You need to avoid having your archers “work” on those. What they need to do is work upon the things that control those things “just happening.”

For example, if the pressures of the string are out of whack in a finger release, do you work with the archer to try to get them to change those? No, you do not. You look at the things that control those pressures: relaxed vs. tense fingers, angle of draw arm with string, etc.

Many people think that the fingers in a string grip need to be tense. To the contrary, they need to be relaxed. The muscles holding them in a curl attitude are in the forearm, attached to ligaments attached to those fingers. The finger muscles themselves need to be relaxed. Relaxed fingers are easy to flip out of the way and thus distort the path of the bowstring the least.

Among the things affecting the pressures of the string on the string is draw arm angle. A “high” draw elbow means the angle of the string hand to the string lightens to strength of the index finger and increases the strength of the middle and ring fingers. A low elbow does the reverse, so a low elbow leads to high fliers, etc. Ideally, the draw forearm is in a line, called the “Primary Force Line” with the center of pressure of the bowhand on the bow’s grip. Large deviations from that alignment create problems.

The Primary Force Line (in red) should reach the draw elbow which it does here. Higher or lower elbow positions lead to problems (lower being worse than higher. The line crossing the PFL at a slight angle is the arrow line which is often erroneously referred to in such discussions. It is relatively unhelpful.

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Do Archers Evolve?

Hell, yeah!

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Is This a Form Flaw?

Is this a form flaw (Depositphotos_107864868)?

What do you think?

Most people fixate on the unorthodox string grip, but that is not the essence of the problem. There is such a thing as a “palm out” string grip. The thing is that if you were to use one, you must shoot an opposite-handed bow. This gentleman needs a left-handed bow to shoot right-handed, palm out.

I collect “stock photos” of archers. They indicate to the photographer what archery is and many photographers have no idea what they are shooting. I especially abhor photographic re-enactments of Wilhelm Tell’s shot (apple on boy’s head, etc.) These photos abound on stock photography sites, and it will only take one such to suggest to an impressionable youth that “he could do that” and tragedy is the result (probably for his little brother).

We ran a two-part exploration of the “palm out” string grip in Archery Focus magazine (Issues 10-4, 10-5 by Brian Luke) and every such “innovation” has its pluses and minuses. For one, the palm out string grip does not allow plucking of the string. That’s a plus. But it does attract attention one doesn’t always appreciate (e.g. being mocked by fellow archers). It also may serve as a potential treatment of target panic, being enough of a change as to be considered by your subconscious mind as a new shot, and so old mental baggage may not be attached to it.

The necessity of the opposite-handed bow has to do with the finger string grip loose of the string. On an ordinary setup, the string slides toward the archer, placing an off center force on the nock of the arrow, causing the arrow shaft to flex, first in toward the bow, and then back and forth. Ordinarily when an arrow flexes into the bow, there is the bow to absorb that force (through a cushion plunger or a patch of leather on the bow, etc.). Since the fingers in the palm-out grip are pointed the opposite direction, the flex is in the opposite direction and rather than the bow/plunger being there to absorb the force of the flex, there is only air and the arrow can easily move away from the bow with nothing to stop it. This is why left-handed bows have risers the mirror image of right-handed bows, and why traditional archers using a thumb grip of the string, rest their arrows on the outboard side of their bows, rather than the inboard side.

Damn, we learn something new every day . . . if we are lucky!

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Putting the Whys Before the Whats

I had a friend comment that he saw a list of eleven “bullet points,” that is points of emphasis, that characterize the Holding phase of a shot. I have said this before but I guess it is worth repeating that a physical technique, such as involved in archery shots or golf shots, can be sliced into as many pieces as you want and coaches who slice large numbers of sections seem to be more knowledgeable, so there is an incentive for coaches to do this. It is also, in my humble opinion, a mistake. Albert Einstein said “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” What he was saying was “strive for simplicity, but avoid being excessive about it.” Slicing and dicing our shot sequence into many, many pieces is not movement in the direction of simplicity.

I have been working on a book, Coaching from Basic Principles, which has the goal of trying to simplify our work as coaches. Allow me to use this approach to address the Holding phase of a shot, as that example is before us, before making a list of all the things needed to be done after the anchor and before the loose.

What is Holding For?
Holding is a slice of time, just prior to the loosing of the shot for . . . for . . .  well, what is it for? Have you thought about this?

I think the “hold” is linked to the reason it exists and that is we must shoot from stillness. In the movies, archers like Legolas or Arrow shoot while jumping off buildings, riding a mastodon, or using a shield like a skateboard to slide down a flight of stairs. Of course their arrows are optical effects, so they can be fabulously successful, but target archers need to be still at the time of the loose for the simple reason that to hit their marks, they must be placed in space correctly (Archer’s Triangle form, sight aperture on POA, etc.). If they are not still, they are moving and therefore they have to also place themselves in time (Now, no . . . now? Yes!)

So, we need to be still just before the loose and, of course, we do not want to inject extraneous motion into the loose, but that is another topic. So, do we just assume we are still at that point or do we look for verification? The entire context of a shot routine is a guide to our attention, so that we are attending to what we are doing so that we can bail out if anything goes wrong, so yes, we do check as to whether we have met the condition of stillness as a precondition of a good shot. But, how do we do this?

I wasn’t taught this and had to find it on my own, but that is true of much of my coaching knowledge, but I haven’t read this or heard this elsewhere, and I have read every book on archery technique in the English language, many of which were translated from other languages (French, Chinese, Arabic, etc.)

Here is what I see: as I hit my anchor position, and check to see if my sight aperture is on my point-of-aim (POA), my aperture is moving, oscillating back and forth, up and down. I have only had a dead still aperture twice in my life and I was so enthralled by the sight of it, I couldn’t finish either shot. So, the aperture goes back and forth, up and down around an alignment with the target center/POA, etc. Then anywhere from 0.5 s to 1.5 s later, the oscillations drop in magnitude. If I continue to hold, several seconds later, the oscillations increase in magnitude, often becoming larger than the beginning of the sequence, due to muscle fatigue, I believe. The “zone” starting at the beginning of the more quiet oscillations is my sign of stillness. If I hold too long, the increase in the size of those movements indicates a lack of stillness and an end of the stillness zone.

For Barebow archers, I use this stillness zone as the spot they are to shoot from. A sign, as useful as a clicker, to “shoot now.” (For Barebow archers, the oscillations are in their arrow points, assuming they are shooting “off of the point.”)

For Recurve archers and Compound archers there are things to do as they are watching the oscillations die: string alignment, bubble levels, scope-peep hole concentricity, etc. But the monitoring of the oscillations can be carried on subconsciously as the conscious mind is checking all of those things.

And, when the oscillations die or damp down, this is confirmation of stillness (or being as still as they can) so that is a “good to go” sign.

Can More Stillness Be Trained In?
I think more and better stillness can be trained in, because of feedback training. Just by providing feedback to your subconscious mind, things can and will get better. To start, archers need to be made aware of these motions. I ask all of my serious students to draw to anchor and hold while observing the motions of their sight aperture or arrow point. I then ask them to describe the motions. (I often have to prompt them about the magnitude of the motions, including asking them to repeat the process, focusing upon that.)

I suggest that the length in seconds of the “stillness zone” is an indicator of progress in becoming more fit, archery fit, of course. The magnitude of the oscillations being an indicator of degree of stillness. If, over time, the oscillations become smaller in magnitude, they are improving on their ability to be still at full draw.

Once the archer accepts the desirability of stillness at that point in their shot, the feedback they get from these checks are all the subconscious needs to make improvements as they go. Of course, if they aren’t working out, shooting significant numbers of shots, no subconscious efforts can overcome body neglect.

In the Book . . .
In the book I am working on, I try to list all of these basic principles, the knowledge of which should support coaches in directing their archers to better performances. And rather than there being eleven points of emphasis for something like a Hold, there is only one. Simpler is better, I suggest. And I do believe the “whys” will guide us better that lists of “whats.”

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Things That We Do and Don’t Do in an Archery Shot

I have said/written quite often that our shot routine or shot sequence is a list of things we attend to (and nothing else) when we make an archery shot. So they are a guide for our attention, not a series of steps of “Things to Do,” aka a to do list. This is because there are things in our shot sequences that we do and things that, well, just happen.

I say that it is a mistake to try to do things that are supposed to just happen. For example, punching a release aid or deliberately trying to flip one’s fingers off of our bowstring. These are things that happen is we do some other things. They are coincidences, not causes.

So what are these things? Here is my list . . . for now, it may be longer. (I could argue now that it is actually longer, but I’d rather think about it some more.)

“I say that it is a mistake to try to do things that are supposed to just happen.”

Distributing Pressures of the Fingers of the String Hand
I think the finger pressures are controlled by the angles in the draw arm, and other variables. I do not think one should try to “set” them, however one might do that. If the draw elbow is too low, for example, the pressure on the top finger is too high. I think the fingers should be relaxed when placed on the bowstring/release aid and let the other forces distribute the pressures. If we relax our string fingers (the “finger curl” muscles are in the forearm), they will distribute the pressures automatically.

Weight Distribution (Front-to-Back) in the Stance
If we take a balanced stance and then are handed our bow, our front-to-back weight distribution becomes roughly 60-40. It is not something we do, it is something that happens. (I have tested this, but it needs to be tested more.)

The Release
I argue that the release of the bowstring, either through a release aid or via the fingers, is not something you do, but something that happens along the way while you are doing other things. The development of the clicker in the 1950’s was as a device to combat target panic. The key element it replaced was a conscious decision and action to loose the string. When you make a conscious decision to loose the string and then relax the involved muscles, you are “doing” the release. When you just stop holding the string, it is something that happens during a particular part of your sequence, not something you do. The clicker talks directly to your subconscious mind to avoid any conscious input to the process.

Release aids can be used with clickers, but that is relatively rare, because if set up and used correctly, the release aid performs the functions of a clicker. If you adopt the correct full draw position and have the release aid set up correctly it will trip the shot when you are in the correct full draw position, no conscious thinking is needed.

And, you probably know there are some compound archers using a “command style” in that they trip their release aids consciously. This can be done, because it has been done, but I don’t think this will work for a majority of archers. If you are in a position to test it out, you are welcome to try it. I would coach you though the process, but it might take many months to make a switch from a surprise release to a command release and then another number of months to switch back if you don’t like it.

The Bow Hand Release
An old action has been resurrected, the bow hand release. I think that rather than being a good thing, it is a zombie idea that is alive again after it died. Invented in the age of stout longbows, the bow hand release was a way to minimize bow hand shock experienced by the archer. In its modern form, it is an action taken after the arrow is away, so it has no effect on that arrow, but it is also an action that obliterates any feedback the bow might give you. If the bow is allowed to just jump out of the archer’s hand, caught by a sling, or loosely curled fingers, then it’s jump and roll, and anything else it does is related to the forces acting on it at the point of release. If its antics are consistent, then you have a report from the bow that you are being consistent, at least from the loose forward in time. (I call the “followthrough” a Consistency Meter.) If you effect some sort of “bow hand release” action, then the bow will give you feedback on how well you did the bow hand release. Which information is more valuable, do you think?

Again, I argue that it is a mistake to be training to do things that are better left to just happening.

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One Thing Always Leads to Another

We have all coached first time archers. I suggest there is a progress to what goes on in their brains during this process. Many, especially those of the female persuasion, just follow directions and achieve success quickly. We tell them to do what we say including focusing their attention on the spot they want the arrow to land and then loose. Repeat this several times and their arrows will start to land near the center of the target . . . we promise them so.

Allowing ourselves to aim subconsciously is no different in archery than it is in soccer or shooting free throws in basketball. If one achieves success through this subconscious aiming there are many benefits down the road, but that road is not my topic today.

My topic today is the road so many others, typically those of the male persuasion, follow. These budding expert archers get the idea that there is a way to aim the arrow so it lands where they wish it to land and the first thing that comes to their minds is to sight down the shaft of the arrow. This is not a stupid conjecture, this works, but only at very, very close targets. It doesn’t work because . . . gravity. Once the arrow leaves the bow, it falls. So, lining the arrow up with target center generally results in low shots.

But this doesn’t deter our intrepid archery pioneers. And, as the title of this post states: one thing always leads to another. And sometimes the other is nonsensical. One common next stage is to sight down the arrow in earnest trying to keep it lined up the whole time (see photo below). Now the person in the photo is not an archer, he is a photo model—handsome with four fingers on the bowstring and a bent draw wrist <sigh> and using the off eye to aim with. That bent draw wrist is the consequence of trying to keep the arrow aligned with the target through the draw.

 

This is always a “form flaw” in that it is a biomechanically weak position for the wrist to be in and requires muscle engagement to keep it in that shape that will later require relaxation, for no good reason. The arrow needs to be aligned with the desired flight path for it only just at the loose. Before doesn’t matter.

Now, our current USA Archery Head Coach recommends the exact opposite, drawing with a wrist bent outward. This is also a form flaw, in my opinion, for the same reasons as a wrist bent inward is. It serves no purpose and requires muscle involvement.

The muscle involvement is required because once the string is pulled in any way, the wrist automatically straightens (same is true for ropes, chains, etc.). Keeping it bent any which way requires muscle involvement that later requires relaxation (because muscle tension always spreads).

The only justification I have heard or read for the outwardly bent wrist is that is the shape it will be in when anchored on the face. But why do it early? What is the benefit? When the draw hand lands against the face, in as relaxed a shape as it can be, it is landing on a site that helps to shape the wrist and hand. If the hand/wrist shape is set ahead of time and then the draw occurs and the shape isn’t exactly right, it will need to be adjusted when it lands anyway. So, the recommendation is to shape the wrist before the draw so that it is in the conformation needed at anchor, but that shape is biomechanically weaker, and it may not be the correct shape in any case.

The draw automatically straightens the wrist, an outcome determined by the straight line forces involved. If the draw wrist is relaxed, when it lands it will tend to take the shape of the head it is pulled/pushed up against. Easy peasy. Why make things more complicated than they need be?

This very same argument applies to the bow hand. If you try to set the shape of your bow hand before inserting it into the bow’s grip, you are going to experience more variation than if you do it another way. That way is to shove the bow hand, palm down, into the grip with the web of the thumb sliding into the pivot point. Then the wrist is dropped straight down and the pad of the thumb is therefore centered on the grip’s spine and you are good to go. The bow wrist is relaxed and takes the correct angle when the bow is raised. The grip shapes the bow hand, and because the bow grip is static, it makes the shape of the bow hand more consistent. Trying to set the shape of the bow hand any earlier is a mistake. Note—For reasons I do not know, the bow wrist becomes more rigid as the draw begins. Anyone know why?

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We Get Letters! (Part 5) Peeps!

David Beeton had a follow-up question regarding a question about setting up compound bow sights. Here it is:

What is the best way to locate a peep, into the string, such that it can be “fine tuned” to get the best position? I had thought about using a couple of clamp-on nock points, gently squeezed to grip the string, and then replace those with tie-ins when the position is set.”

Word of Warning! (Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!) I have written so many articles, books, and blog posts, I can’t remember what I said recently, or even at all, so I may end up repeating something I said quite recently. I warned you!

* * *

The advantages of using a peep sight are many, but of course, there are disadvantages, the primary one is the time they take to use properly is at full draw when we do not want to get distracted, nor do we want to spend any more time than is absolutely necessary in that position.

The first thing to note is that the position of a peep sight is a variable. Since it must always be placed right in front of the aiming eye, as the bow’s elevation is changed for near and far shots, the entire bow rotates around an axis through the peep sight. The release aid, therefore, is in a different position vis-à-vis the face for very close and very far shots. (Anchor positions may vary!)

The prudent approach, then, is to put the peep so that one’s anchor position is most findable/comfortable/etc. on the more difficult far shots. (If competing at a single distance event: indoors or outdoors), then you want that most comfortable anchor to correspond to the position of the bow making that particular shot.

To get an approximate starting point, take a small sliver of masking tape, have your archer draw on a target of that particular distance, then close their eyes and settle into that most comfortable anchor position. Use the sliver of tape to mark the bowstring right in from of their aiming eye.

It is easiest to use a bow press to take the tension off of the bowstring, so the strands can be teased apart and the peep inserted. If you have neither a standing nor portable press, you can make a tool out of a popsicle stick (use sandpaper to turn one tip into a wedge (with no sharp edges!). Then wheedle that tool into the bowstring, turn it sideways, and insert the peep. (These are sold commercially as “string separators”—see photo just below).

The peep needs to be anchored in place or it is likely to pop out of the string on the first shot. My preferred way of doing that is to tie on a tight nocking point locator both above and below where the peep is positioned. Then when the peep is properly positioned, slide the two locators as close to the peep as you can go. Friction tends to keep them in place, keeping the peep sight in place. Secure and adjustable!

Adjusting the Peep’s Position When you set about fine tuning the position of the peep site, you will quickly find out that if you push the peep up or down at all, you end up rotating it around the string. This is because the bowstring has twists in it and the peep rides those twists as it moves up or down. So, the usual case is that you finally get the peep into the proper vertical position, but it is pointed off to the left or right. Here is the procedure for rotating I back where you want it:

  • If you take a strand from the right side and take it around the front of the peep it will point the peep more to the left.
  • If you take a strand from the right side and take it around the back of the peep it will point the peep more to the right.
    If you already have too many strands on the left and not enough on the right:
  • If you take a strand from the left side and take it around the front of the peep it will point the peep more to the right.
  • If you take a strand from the left side and take it around the back of the peep it will point the peep more to the left.
    When you are done slide the locators back up against the peep.
    Note The reason there are two processes given to make a move to both left or right is so you can keep the number of strands on each side of the peep the same. So, if you want to point the peep more to the left: take a strand from the right side and take it around the front of the peep and take a strand from the left side and take it around the back of the peep. This will keep the number of strands on the two sides the same.

And . . . Sometimes during competition, a string stretches and the peep no longer lines up. To fix the problem, simply slide the nock locators away from the peep. Figure out how the peep has to rotate to get it to work and then take a strand from one side of the peep and swing it over to the other side accordingly. Obviously the string stretching has other ramifications but unless you have a backup bow, there isn’t an easy way to deal with all of them.

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