Category Archives: For All 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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Quiver Protocols

There is much information in archery that is needed to be learned and mastered that just doesn’t show up much in print or video anywhere. I was reminded of one such bit as I was chaperoning some new field archers around a field course this last weekend. I have written about this topic in one of my books, but I guess it is worth restating here.

The penalty for shooting an incorrect number of arrows is steep. Obviously, if you do not shoot all that you are allowed, you left scores in your quiver. If you shoot extra arrows, the rules penalize you and, to be effective, the rules must penalize you more than you could gain from the extra arrow(s). A common penalty for shooting an extra arrow is to lose the score of the highest scoring arrow on the target, or even the highest scoring arrow score plus one more point.

To prevent such mistakes, we create habits and one such is using a quiver protocol. I will describe my quiver protocol as an example, and you can take it from there. I use four-tube side quiver. A hip quiver slid around your back is great for indoors, but doesn’t allow you to see your quiver. Ditto for a back quiver. Seeing how many arrows are left in your quiver is at the core of all of my quiver protocols.

This is a four tube quiver. I made my first quiver as a back quiver, then modified it to be a side quiver, and then modified it to add tubes. (The tubes we got from golf stores.)

Of the four tubes in my quiver, I shoot from the top tube downward, meaning I empty the top tube before taking arrows from the next tube down. I do this this way because when I drop my hand down onto my arrows, the first arrow I touch is in the topmost tube which still has arrows in it. In this fashion I can pull an arrow out without looking at my quiver.

I reserve the bottom tune for “spares and defective arrows.” The spares are put in normally, but if I put an arrow in my penalty box because it is broken or bent, etc., I place it in fletches down, rather than fletches up. This distinguished the spares from arrows that must not be shot.

The top tubes are then used to distribute the arrows that will be shot. The basis for the distribution is our ability to count things without, well, counting them. For example, if someone rolls a die, do you have to count the pips on it to determine their number? The answer is no, because each face of a die has a distinctive pattern that is recognizable. If there are pips in all four corners and one in the center, it is a five. If there are pips in all four corners but none in the center, it is a four. Once you learn the trick, you never again count “1, 2, 3, 4 … that’s a four.” We learn this at, what, four or five years of age?

In any case, we want to set up our quiver to take advantage of this ability. For a shoot with six-arrow ends, we could just stuff all six arrows in the top tube and shoot them one at a time. But if there were only five arrows in that tube, instead of six somehow, would you notice? Possibly not. My quiver protocol has me putting two arrows in each of the top three tubes (3 x 2 = 6). When I glance at my quiver, if the tubes are “full,” meaning have two shafts in them, I am good to go. And a tube with two is easily distinguished from a tube with one or three just by looking, no “Uh, 1, 2, 3 … damn!” When I have shot my first arrow (from the top tube), if I look down there is one left in the top tube with two each in the next tubes. After the second arrow the top tube is empty. After the third arrow, there is an empty top tube and just one arrow in the second tube down. After the fourth, the top two tubes are empty, and … after the sixth, the top three tubes are empty. I never, ever, ever ever take an arrow out of the fourth tube and shoot it. Arrows taken out of the “spares” are only placed in the quiver in place of an arrow that was rejected, then they are shot from there.

If I am shooting in a three-arrow per end round, I start with two in the top tube, then one in the next, then an empty tube. If a five-arrow end round, I go “2, 2, 1, spares.” All of these patterns are as alike as I can make them. I always start with two arrows in the top tube, for example. This makes this ordinary and not something special just for this round, which requires additional thinking, something we try to avoid.

Using one’s quiver protocol over and over makes it automatic. I have not made the mistake of not shooting the correct number of arrows since I adopted the practice.

To make this work, you have to load your quiver carefully. This you do most often at the target aftre pulling your arrows while you might be engaged in chit chat with your target mates. You must clear the mental space to load your quiver correctly after each end. I use a mental trick of not allowing myself to move my feet until the arrows are quivered correctly. This is just an extension of not moving your feet until all your arrows are safely quiver, which is what we teach beginners for safety. (You can’t trip unless you are walking, unless you possess unusual “gifts.”)

Of course, there are all kinds of additional things of this ilk to learn. If an arrow is pulled from service do you know which one it is if it accidentally gets put in the wrong tube? (I number mine for this purpose.) Do you …

As a coach, these are things to teach your serious students. The advantage to them is if they offload some of these things into the realm of habit, there is less to distract the thought processes during the competition and fewer stupid mistakes to upset them.

 

 

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For the Coach? For the Archer?

I was discussing a topic with a student and NTS came up. I generally do not teach the NTS, but elements of it are offered as options for archers exploring how to bolster particular form elements. In case you are unaware, NTS stands for National Training System. The nation is the U.S. and it is somewhat of a misnomer. I tend to think of it as the National Teaching System, because little in the way of “training” has been formalized. In any case, the NTS is all the rage in the U.S.

In this particular case, the student responded that he had read the reference I suggested but he said that often he was more confused rather than enlightened by the reading. This is not an uncommon result, as I find the NTS publications are mostly for coaches and not so much for archers. This is not confined to just the NTS but to many such writings.

I write mostly for coaches, but I do write for archers, too (Winning Archery, Shooting Arrows, etc.) and when I do I feel compelled to explain why certain things are recommended, that is I include the “why,” with the “what and how.” Otherwise one sounds just a little dictatorial: do this, do that, just shut up and do what you are told and I have never liked an authoritarian approach.

Coaches, serious coaches anyway, need to know the “why” behind all of the form, posture, and execution steps they teach. In acquiring this knowledge, a system of the shot is built in our heads which allows us to just look at an archer and “see” what seems to need work the most, for example. If we do not know the “whys” behind the “whats and hows,” we are left in the position of teaching archers the right way to do things based upon other peoples’ descriptions of “the right way to do things.” I am more and more convinced that there is no “right technique” or “correct technique,” that each archer must claim or build their own.

So, I am writing this to see if I can help you differentiate between “what the coach needs to know” from “what the archer needs to know.” Archers who are fed a bunch of “what the coach needs to know” may only be confused (the good outcome) but also may become discombobulated (the bad outcome), trying to do things that they should not and getting more mixed up than they were. The following may be oversimplified, but this is just my best first effort at making this distinction.

The What and the How
Archers are athletes. In general they need to know what they need to do and how they need to do it. The “why” is not going to be helpful as it confuses things and, in general, athletes need to keep things simple.

Usually a coach can get an athlete to try something different based upon their reputation as a “Quarterback Whisperer, or Pitching Guru, or Hitting Instructor, or Famous Coach, etc.” or based upon having a good relationship with the archer (they have worked together for some time, to the benefit of the archer). Once an archer agrees to try something different (it is their sport, I only ask, never demand), the only things they need to be focussed upon are “what am I to do” and “how am I to do it.” Then, they need to evaluate whether that change was correctly made and whether or not is was effective, as in “Oh, my groups are tighter.” or “My practice scores went up.” If the new form element works, they shouldn’t give a flying fart as to why it worked. (Why should they?)

The Why
Coaches, though, are better equipped to do our job if we know why something is preferable. For someone who, for instance, draws quite slowly, they might benefit from drawing more quickly. Drawing too slowly wastes energy, causes strain, and lessens the time an archer might have at full draw to do necessary things. Note If you don’t understand this, this is where people like me need to get better. To understand this, imagine being at full draw (compound or recurve, whatever). If you just wait, you will notice that it seems to get harder and harder to keep your bow drawn; it is not, the same number of pounds of draw force that are needed to stay at full draw doesn’t change (the bow is a mechanical object). But the energy supply of the muscles working to keep contracted to stay at full draw are running out rapidly, and the “it feels harder” is the signal that you are running out of time before those muscles stop working.

How much faster to draw the bow, if the archer agrees to try this, is not something that is dictated, it is something to be discovered. I generally ask the archer to try drawing too quickly and work back from there as it is normal to drift back to the status quo and if you only move up a little in draw speed, you’ll soon find yourself back where you were. So, the archer needs to experiment and try and test and feel his/her way to something new.

Telling the Difference
So, if you are reading an archery resource (article, book, web site, etc.), how can you tell if what it is that you are reading was meant for you or not? Here’s my best advice:

  • If muscles are mentioned, or physics, or the word “why” is used, then that information is for coaches. If terms like: scapulae, LAN2, vector, rotator cuff, or other scientific or context-specific terms are being used, terms that you may not understand, then that information is for coaches.
  • If what to do or how to do it is being described, then this is for archers. If a drill or a practice technique is being described, then this is for archers. So, if an article is describing the benefits of having a higher draw elbow is encountered, and suggestions are given as to “how to give it a try,” it is for archers. If they start going on about shoulder joints and rotator cuffs, then they are speaking to coaches.
  • Now, in my opinion, coaches need to read all of this, the stuff for the coaches and the stuff for the archers. Since our job is to get both an inside and outside view of what is going on in an archer, we need it all. But archers are probably better off without all of the coaching stuff, cluttering their minds. Just skip over it. And, coaches shouldn’t spend much time explaining the “whys” to their students. The first rule of communication is: know your audience.

A Wish
I hope in the future that archery authors make the distinction better between what is directed at coaches and what is directed at archers. This will help everyone.

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To Pre-Draw or Not to Pre-Draw, That Is the Question

I sent a video link showing Darrel Pace and Rick McKinney shooting at the 1984 Olympics (Los Angeles) to a Recurve student of mine who is working on speeding up his draw. He is quite an astute student who wrote back immediately with these questions:

Hi Steve,
Thanks. I note that Pace is only a few inches from his face at a pre-draw, at 5:35 in the video. Also he goes from this position to a couple of inches under chin/jaw before back up to anchor. Lots of movements going on. What’s the benefit to drawing below the chin/jaw and then up into the anchor? I’m aware I draw pretty much straight to my face. I remember the summer evening archery lessons where I was taught to do this. Along with T shape, square stance, tuck my chin down (something we had to undo).
Cheers

And here is my response (somewhat augmented as I had a chance to think more deeply).

* * *

In American-style Archery (my term), you pretty much draw to anchor (with stops along the way). In is Kisik Lee’s teaching that you draw to 1+˝ below the chin and come up. I believe he claims it helps to set the rear shoulder/facilitate “loading” … I am unclear on this. (Have you read the USAA book “Archery?” This is the cheapest book covering Coach Lee’s teachings, also called the NTS or National Training System. I wish they had called it the National Teaching System because I don’t see training mentioned much.)

In Coach Lee’s description, you draw exactly that low until the string touches the corner of your chin, then you come up. This practice does give you a draw length indicator (if your head position doesn’t move, if …).

I found the whole “pre-draw” idea puzzling because everybody did it a different way. (I have written about this: “The Pre-Draw Redux” in AF 10-1) The first formal Instructor’s Manual of the NAA (now USAA) does not mention a pre-draw. I think it is a rather recent invention. Since starting and stopping muscle contractions results in more variation in muscle tension and therefore feel, I suggest we do away with it all together. (As an analysis tool, I always suggest you think about what if you carried it to an extreme: what if you stopped 5X or 10X on the way to anchor? If 1X is good, … ?) That stop may be being used to do something else, as I indicated, but does doing that require a stop? I don’t know.

In KSL’s technique, the “Set Up” element eliminates the pre-draw by skipping over it … or you could say he institutes it as being required as the final body position of the Set Up phase. I would like to find out what was happening elsewhere physically and mentally during a pre-draw as you have noted. It might have just been copied from the way others shot and then used as a point or marker in time/space in which other things are done, such as positioning the sight aperture, checking string alignment, etc.

Please realize that McKinney had his dad as a coach and Darrel basically didn’t have one (he did grill everyone he ran into, though). Modern coaching of archery hadn’t been invented yet. (I am not sure it has even now.)

PS Tucking your chin down is something you do (mildly) to use a high anchor. You do the opposite for a low anchor. So, if you were being taught to shoot with a high anchor, they were right. This is an ongoing problem with archery instruction. What is said specifically is generalized. Coaches need to do a better job of pointing these things out.

A Bald Face Plug
In this post I referred to an article in a back issue of Archery Focus magazine. If you are not subscribing, you are really missing out as you get complete access to all of the back issues when you subscribe. That’s thousands of articles written to make you a better archer and coach. You can get it here: www.archeryfocus.com. Here’s the cover of the latest issue:

 

 

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What Should an Archer be Thinking While Shooting?

What should an archer think while shooting? This is a question often asked even though it isn’t asked often enough. There is, no surprise, not a whole lot of data to examine, but I did run across a 2013 survey of 28 PGA Tour professional golfers who were asked about what their favorite “swing thought” was (“swing thoughts” being the golf equivalent of archery “shot thoughts”). Here’re the results: 18 pro’s said they didn’t think about anything at all during their swing, 10 who did claim to have a swing thought said it was to focus on a spot a few inches in front of the ball, to encourage swinging through the ball, instead of hitting at the ball, or they focused on the desired shape of their shot. None of them said they had any technical thoughts about their swing. (Read that last sentence again. SR)

Now golf is more dynamic than archery, but it has many similarities to archery. This is one of those.

  • Golfers do their analysis and thinking between shots, so should archers.
  • Golfers inspect the lie of their golf ball, obstacles in their way, potential hazards, the landing zone they want to hit and how far away it is, the wind, club selection, and on and on, but when it is time to hit the ball, they do two things: they visualize the shot they want to hit (this is a form of instruction to the subconscious processes that control our muscles; it equates to “this is what I want you to do”), and they stop thinking consciously (it is just a distraction). Archers should do the same.

There is one exception: when you find yourself or your archer making a mistake repeatedly, it is okay to have a “shot thought,” a short phrase designed to emphasize a correction, shoring up a weak point as it were. An example is “strong bow arm” or “finish the shot.” This phrase is though only at the point in one’s shot sequence where it is appropriate. Mumbling “finish the shot” to yourself mentally in the process of raising the bow and drawing it is not recommended, only after aiming when one is finishing one’s shot should the phrase be invoked. And, this is a short term process, which should last a few shots and then stop. I have known people who use a shot thought through a whole round. (I tried this myself; I don’t recommend it as it seems to focus too much attention on one part of the shot routine, thus drawing attention away from other parts. It, it seems, becomes some sort of magic talisman; use it and you will score well. It isn’t. Don’t be fooled into this kind of magical thinking.)

So, the answer to “What should an archer be thinking while shooting?” is “Nothing is best.”

Note I consider a shot to begin when the bow is raised and end at the end of the followthrough. This defines “while shooting.” What happens between one shot and the next is the post-shot routine (scoping the arrow, analyzing any fault, etc.) and the pre-shot routine for the next shot (checking the wind, slope, any adjustment suggested by analysis of the previous shot, etc.).

Another Note Shot visualization is not magic. You cannot use a visualization process to any great effect if you haven’t practiced the process you are attempting. The mental instruction that a visualization is cannot train the muscles to do what they are untrained to do.

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Traditional Archery in the N.Y. Times?

It isn’t often that archery makes it into major news organs but there is a lovely story about Turkish (Ottoman) traditional archery in today’s N.Y. Times: Caftans and Quivers: An Archery Competition 500 Years in the Making.

There is a pay wall, but you can also read up to ten articles for free, every month.

Enjoy.

Photographs and Text by MONIQUE JAQUES

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If Self-Image Determines Performance, Then …

I just read a wonderful piece on self-image by Lanny Bassham over at the Mental Management website (“Nutrients of Self-Image”) which I recommend you go read. What I want to comment on in this post is the role of the coach in all of this. Lanny’s main points (said and unsaid) are 1) that self-image determines performance, and 2) that to grow or boost one’s self-image, one needs praise from others as well as from one’s self.

Now you can’t magically become a winner by hypnotizing yourself to believe that you are a great archer, magically creating a non-existent self-image and equally non-existent expert archer. The way to the winner’s circle is not through dedicated bullshit. One’s self-image needs to be rooted in reality. If you regularly shoot in the 270’s on indoor 300 rounds, there is no way to develop a self-image of being a 300-shooter without actually becoming one. But the path to that state is hindered greatly if all you or your student gets is criticism. Praise is positive reinforcement and studies show that works better. It motivates people to work harder and that gets them closer to their goal.

Praise is Positive Reinforcement
So, what should you, as coach, do to supply praise? The keys to me are to praise effort first and foremost. And all praise needs to be rooted in reality. If you have a student who seems to be allergic to practice, praising them on how hard they work is not going to change their behavior, plus onlookers will think you are a bullshit artist or incompetent or both. All praise must be delivered based upon reality. And the important reality is on good work performed. (If they are doing all of the wrong things, they need advice, not praise.) It is up to the athlete to determine if the amount of effort they are putting out justifies itself. Most people “get off of the bus” when they realize that the amount of effort needed to reach their goals is not within them. The ones who stay on the bus are those that see that their efforts will get them to or near their goals.

Business people will tell you that you praise in public, but criticize in private. Hearing another athlete get praised for working hard delivers a message to others nearby. Hearing someone getting hammered by their coach may encourage some others, but it is more likely to discourage more. I think this is wise advice.

In a recent coaching website I saw an article entitled, “How to Deal with Athletes Who Do Not Take Advice.” (That may be inaccurate as I am working from memory but the gist is correct.) I have no problem with these athletes. Bo Jackson was criticized as being an athlete who didn’t take coaching advice. He did okay, don’t you think? (In American football and baseball.) Some athletes are self-directed almost completely and need very little from outside of themselves. The question itself brings up in my mind coaches whose reputation or remuneration is based on whether his team wins or loses and so this seems to be a question for the coach and not the athlete. If an athlete doesn’t want advice, I don’t give them any. Simple. Archery is an individual sport, so pressure from teammates to perform will not be much and the athlete is left to him-/her-self to determine if the effort they are putting out is worth what they are getting back.

I learned this in my teaching days. I made a rule I shared with my students that “I would work as hard for you as you do for yourself.” I did this to save my sanity because I had spent a lot of hours working for students who didn’t give a damn. Do I praise such students on their effort? Of course I did, and still do; it’s my job.

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Barebow Arrow Considerations, Part 2

Tuning for a Single Distance

Target archery is becoming less interesting. In field archery, one has to contend with many different shooting distances, different footings, different directions (into the sun, away from the sun, into and out of shade, etc.) and different shooting angles (uphill, downhill, sidehill, etc.). Target archery was a contrast to field archery in that the shooting was on a flat field, at just a few distances and the angle of the sun only changed as the sun moved through the sky. Most rounds had three or four distances to contend with. But, now, as Olympic archery is being driven by telegenicity (make the game simpler so viewers can understand) and dragging the rest of the target archery community with it, competitions have devolved to single distance contests(!).

This came to my attention as I was helping a student prepare for our USAA national championships and he stated that Barebow Recurve was to be contested at 50 meters … only. That couldn’t be right, I thought, so I looked it up. Yep. 50 m, and only 50 m. <Sigh> This certainly doesn’t make things more interesting for the archer.

Preparing for a Single Distance Shoot
Obviously most indoor target competitions are single distance shoots, but outdoors was typically more varied. What this means in terms of preparation is that a number of options are now available for these outdoor contests that were not before. Here are some of my thoughts.

Try to Arrange Your POT Target Distance to be the Competition Distance Stringwalking puts demands upon an archer’s tune so that arrow flight will be acceptable at all crawls. Lots of compromises are involved. This is because taking a crawl basically changes the tiller of the bow and affects the bow’s dynamics. With just a single distance to prepare for, having a zero crawl is ideal. There is also less variation is placing the tab on the string when the crawl is zero rather than, say, a half an inch.

You Can Use a Bottom Nocking Point Locator to Your Benefit If you have a powerful bow, a small crawl may be inevitable. If that is the case, it is allowed to use the bottom of the bottom of two nock locators a set your crawl. The arrow and bow must be set up to make that crawl the correct one, of course. You are not allowed to put on a half inch long nocking point locator, or set your bottom nock locator a half inch below the nock where it would serve no purpose other than being a crawl locator. But for an ordinary tied-on locator in a reasonable position, well that can be used.

You Can Use a Split Finger String Grip String walkers do not use a split finger string grip, they use a “three fingers under” (3FU) string grip because they will be making crawls. But what if your bow is underpowered for the competition distance? In this situation, with no crawl and 3FU, your arrows hit below the target. One easy fix is to try a split finger grip (you may need a different tab). This results in a substantial gain in cast and if your arrows land on the target, you may be able to find a point of aim using either the target rings or the target stand or the wind flag, or … , etc.

A Permanent Fix is to Find Perfect Arrows If the target distance in such competitions is to be the same for many years, it may be in your (or your student’s) best interest to purchase and tune a special set of arrows. After all, you don’t see the long drive golf contestants taking full sets of clubs out onto the tee box. They just take the clubs they are going to use (a pumped up driver and spares). So, why prepare a bow and arrow combination to shoot multiple distances when there is no need. Field archers use arrows with lower FOC balance characteristics than do target archers, who tend to shoot at longer distances. This is just a manifestation of having different arrows for different applications, so this isn’t anything new, just the same response taken to an extreme.

A Perfect Solution Would Be a Dedicated Bow and Arrows It was the case that some archers used different bowstrings on their recurve bows for different distances in the FITA Round. This allowed them to choose different nocking point heights and brace heights for the various distances, essentially creating a different tune for each distance). A lower brace height could be favorable at 90 m but not help at all at 30 m. At 30 m a higher brace height might be a benefit. The nocking points would be used to get the best tune at those brace heights for those arrows (which by regulation had to be the same). I haven’t heard of this being done, but were I in that position and also well-heeled (I am not), I would be tempted to tune my backup bow and arrows, which can be different (both) from the primary set, for the shorter distances and switch bows half way through. Of course if one needed one’s backup bow at the longer distances, one would be in a bit of a fix, but how often does that happen?

So, the message is: if you only shoot at one distance for many of the events you enter (or your student’s enter) focus on setting up the equipment for that distance alone. If you can afford it, dedicate a set of equipment for just that distance. (This is already being done by anyone who has an “indoor bow” now.)

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Parallel Shafts and Barreled Shafts: Same Centershot or Different?

I was recently asked by a Recurve student about whether barreled shafts should be set up the same as parallel shafts with regard to centershot. He commented that some expert archers are saying barreled shafts should be lined up with the string (actually the string plane) but parallel shafts should be lined up with the point peeked out from behind the string (the “standard” recommendation for “fingers” shooters). So which way should barreled shafts be set up?

I answered “yes.”

Having the arrow point peeking out from behind the string is the traditional setup position. Let’s look at this. The reason that the arrow point is set up outboard from the string plane is because when a finger shooter releases the string, the string slides off of the fingers (actually the string pushes the fingers out of the way, but “action-reaction” applies: as the string pushes the fingers away, the fingers push the string away). Since the fingers curl in toward the archer’s head, the string slides toward the archer slightly as it slides toward the bow. The bow pulls the string back toward the string plane as it pulls the string back toward the bow and the string slides over to be inside the plane of the bow and then back outside. The nock separates from the string when the string is at a peak in this sideways oscillation (away from the bow, similar to where it started), at least if it is properly tuned it does. The force on the arrow from the string is directed mostly down the shaft and by having the arrow point slightly outboard of the theoretical string plane, then the point end and nock end of the arrow are aligned when the arrow separates from the string. This results in the force being more down the line of the shaft (in which direction the shaft is very strong) and not sideways (in which it is weaker). Force that goes into the arrow oscillation/flexing doesn’t move it toward the target. If you want to see this in action, there is a YouTube video in which a bloke shot a weak arrow with ever stronger bows and the amount of side-to-side bending gets extreme, almost bizarre, before on the final shot (weak arrow-strong bow) the arrow shatters from the side force. (Note: this is why a spine match is so important for “fingers” archers.)

The traditional arrow rest/centershot position for a “fingers” archer. The string has to be visually centered on the riser to get this view.

The argument goes that a barreled shaft is thinner toward the point and when it slides forward to the central thicker section, it moves the arrow point out to the left (for a RHed archer) anyway, so starting from that position gives you twice as much offset and a misaligned force going down the string.

So, is this right?
Yes, sort of … the arrow at brace is sitting fairly close to the thicker center section and so this position is built in, it doesn’t sit with the thinner part on the arrow rest in the position the centershot is set in. When the arrow is drawn, the thinner part slides in toward the bow.

Does it make any difference?
Probably not … for most archers … here’s why.

The position of the arrow rest, which determines the position of the arrow when it is sitting on the arrow rest (the so-called centershot position), is a setup position. When a bow is initially set up, you put things as close to where they will be when the bow is tuned as you can. Why start with wild setup positions which will make tuning that much harder? But since those final positions are determined a great deal by your technique, there is no way to specify exactly what they will be without you participating. So, the described positions are positions that seem to be closefor most archers.

The final position of the arrow rest … and the nocking point, and the brace height, and myriad other settings on a recurve bow should all be determined by tuning tests. If your arrow rest is set so the arrow point peeks out from behind the string (when viewed properly: from behind with the string and limbs free) and you think you might benefit from having the arrow lined up in the string plane because you shoot barreled shafts, then by all means test this out.

Be sure to document your bow before you make any changes. Then measure something that determines the quality of your shots (group size, practice round scores, etc.) and then change the centershot and test again. If these metrics improve, keep the change. If they do not or things get worse, set it back to the position you began with.

Realize that elite archers know their equipment better than most archers. They may have starting positions they use for their bows that are very, very close to what they will be when tuned in. Most archers need to learn more before they will know what to expect, so minute information gathered from the elites is probably of not much value.

Also realize that there are many, many variables involved in tuning a recurve bow to a high level: nocking point, string material, string diameter, serving diameter, nock size, the archer’s tab, the brace height, the limb alignment, the stabilizers, nock size, … <pant, pant, pant> … , the quality of the limbs/riser, the button position, the button pressure, … , as I said, myriad things affect the tune. Interestingly, a good basic set up of a recurve bow gets you 90-95% of the way to where you will be at the end. Tuning takes a great deal of time and a great deal of effort for that last 5-10% of performance. We are saved because of a basic rule which is: you can’t tune any better than you shoot, so for most archers, little tuning is needed. Since the elites shoot so well, they have to tune the heck out of their bows. They are, after all, looking for the last fraction of a percent of the performance they can get from their equipment and the law of diminishing returns applies.

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The “Talent” Question

I posted my opinions on talent recently (Do You Believe in … on July 8) and have been engaged in a lively debate with a number of you regarding that claim. There seems to be some misunderstanding. I was specifically addressing the existence, or rather the nonexistence, of specific talents, such as a talent for archery, or a talent for chess, or the violin. There is no doubt that people have advantages of the body and mind over others when it comes to any particular sport. In fact, I will be so bold to say that participation levels are high enough that at the elite level we see specific body types and mentalities being selected out. If you have, say, genetic physical advantages and you participate, you will experience more success, which can create greater encouragement, which can lead to higher levels of accomplishment. Fifty years ago, no college football offense linemen were over 300 pounds in weight. Now it seems they all are. This did not happen by chance.

As another example, when I was interested in swimming, most swimmers were of middle height. Today, you will find successful swimmers who are much taller and thus benefit from a longer power stroke. If one seriously considers the physiological advantages of a swimmer like Michael Phelps, you can see huge advantages built into his body. Now, if he had been born on a desert planet (Arrakis?), he would have never developed that “talent,” which is my point: what we call generally call talents are actually just high levels of accomplishment.

There is something called the relative age effect. I have written about this with regard to the age groupings of youth sports, including archery. If you break youth competitive groups down into two-year groups, for example, you will soon discover that kids who were born slightly after the start date have an advantage. Let’s say the starting date for the age groups is July 1. If a youth were born on June 30th, he/she would be one day into his/her twelfth year during their first year of any cycle. If they were born on July second, they would be considered to be almost one whole year younger than they really are for that whole year. (They would be an eleven-year old on July 1 and for the rest of the year.) This is a tremendous advantage. Twelve year olds that are twelve plus one day would be competing against kids who were twelve plus 364 days, essentially a thirteen-year old.

This played out in a study of European professional soccer clubs. All or virtually all of the players on the teams at the time of the study benefited from the relative age effect. Since they were older and stronger than their competitors in their age groups, they got more playing time, more encouragement, and experienced more success, or so the story goes.

These are not kids who have more talent, these are kids who are stronger and faster and better because they are older. A 13-year old is 9% older than a twelve-year old in the extreme. These athletes are parlaying their natural “gifts” into success on the playing field, and these successes can play out long term.

So, an athlete’s physical and mental attributes play a role, a role so large that we are seeing elite performances being made by people with advantageous body types, but who also are almost (or actually) obsessed with their sports. I can remember a time when a farm kid or high school kid could take some special training and end up on an Olympic team, even winning a medal. I can remember when female gymnastics were grown women. These situations do not occur any more because of the artificial selection process. Female gymnasts got shorter and shorter and lighter and lighter which were all advantages in their sport. To get the lightest, fittest athletes, they had to be younger and younger, to the point that officials finally put an age minimum on competitors.

You can’t put a limit on effort, however, so the obsessed athletes are putting up numbers that in order to be competitive with them must be matched by equal levels of obsession by the others in their sport. Athletes train year-round for their sport, their countries support them while doing this, so if you want to compete, you, too, have to train year around.

This is artificial selection, not natural selection. What is being selected are genetic benefits and mental abilities, and not inborn or god-given abilities to perform a certain sport or other activity. If you want to learn more about this I recommend the book The Sports Gene (highly readable).

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