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My Bad

When I announced the availability of my latest book on Amazon yesterday, I mentioned both the paperback and Kindle versions were now available. A reader pointed out that the Kindle version was not available and I checked that out that only to find that that indeed was the case. I apologize for the confusion, the Kindle version is still being worked on.
I do apologize for the confusion.

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Getting Serious: Helping Them with New Arrows, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series I pointed out that arrow purchases are often quite bewildering to newbie archers and that you will be called upon to help. Obviously if that is not your strong suit, you could pass your students onto those who have those skills, but we think it is important that coaches of serious archers learn as much as they can about this topic as it is one that is critical to acquiring well-tuned equipment. Even if you are not much of a DIY person, understanding what needs to be done is really important, even if you are not the best person to do those things. (This is the difference between a professional and a technician. The technician needs to know “how” to do things, the professional needs to know “how” and “why.” Typically the technician is more adept at the doing as they get more practice, but coaches need to know how to “do” because of the paucity of archery shops now in existence.)

A New Arrow Setup Protocol
You need to select out a set of five arrows or arrow shafts as a “test” set for this procedure. Two of the five need to be bare shafts, the other three are fletched. And, your arrows need to be ordered uncut (aka full length) so that you can do this procedure.

Bare Shaft Test the Uncut Arrows  At a very short distance (5-8 paces) perform a bare shaft tuning test. (If you start at a greater distance, you are taking the chance that you will break your bare shafts.) If the three fletched and two bare shafts don’t form two groups, repeat the test until they do. Since these shafts are going to be cut to get the right amount of shaft they are, by definition, too long. Because they are too long, they should also be too weak. This means that the bare shaft tuning test should have the bare shafts grouping to the right of the fletched shafts (if you are right-handed; the opposite if you are left-handed). Note: we will continue assuming you are right-handed. If you are left-handed, reverse all right-left references.

So, the first BS test should confirm your arrows are now too weak. Note carefully how far to the right of the fletched group the BS group is. For this description we will say the BS group starts out at six inches (6ʺ) to the right of the fletched group. Then you have to make a first cut.

To cut the arrows shorter, you really need the use of an arrow saw (see photo). If you or your coach don’t have one, possibly your club does or you can borrow one. The first cut needs to be significantly less than the cut you would make to get the arrow to your draw length (the “arrow length” the spine charts are based upon). If the spine chart indicates your arrows should be cut two inches (2ʺ) to get to your “correct” arrow length, start with a one half inch (1/2ʺ) cut. Something nowhere near the chart value is desired. Cut just the five test arrows. Note to do this you must remove the points, cut the shafts, and reinstall the points. If you do not know how to do this we published an article in Issue 23-2 on how to do just that.

Then repeat the BS test. The BS group should now be closer to the fletched arrow group. If the one half inch cut is, say, one quarter of what we need to actually cut, then the second test should see the BS group close the gap between it and the fletched arrows by one quarter of that 6ʺ leaving a 4.5ʺ gap. If the gap is now just 3ʺ instead of the 4.5ʺ expected, then another half inch cut might do the job. Do realize these tests are not all that exact. Therefore, we are going to sneak up on our final cut. This is because if our cut isn’t far enough, we can cut again. If our cut is “too far” we may be heading back to the store to get more arrows. Note: actually this is why we only test a minimal set of arrows (5). If we mess up we have the remaining set of seven to make a usable set of arrows from.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s say that a half inch cut got our BSs half way to the fletched ones. So, we are pointed at another one half inch to our final cut, but being cautious we make a one quarter inch cut (1/4ʺ) instead and test again. If the BS test shows the gap closed again, roughly proportional to the amount of the cut, then we can try another quarter inch cut, or if you want to be even more careful, an one eighth inch (1/8ʺ) cut and test again.

When the bare shafts are grouping with the fletched shafts, we can move back to 10-15 paces and repeat the test to confirm that the BSs are grouping with the fletched shafts.

Once you have confirmed this, then you can cut the rest of your arrows to this length and you now have a properly fitted, aka tuned, set of arrows!

This is just a basic fitting. You should shoot your new arrows and see how well they perform. There are other tests, none of which is perfect.

What To Do, What To Do?
Your students will expect you to be competent in this, so if you have no experience in doing these tasks, it behooves you to seek opportunities to learn them. We have found other archers and coaches to be very generous with their time and skill in helping us learn what we needed and we expect you will, too.

To do this task you will need a number of tools: an arrow saw, a small propane torch, and a pair of pliers. You will also need “point cement” to reattach arrow points removed to make cuts. (Use a hot melt variety, not an epoxy variety, as you want to be able to remove and reattach the arrow points multiple times.) Note to do this process you must remove the points, cut the shafts, and reinstall the points. If you do not know how to do this we published an article in Issue 23-2 on how to do just that.

The Arrow Saw Arrow shafts are made of various materials. We will focus on only carbon and aluminum (and aluminum-carbon) and ignore the others for now. To cut these shafts we need a “high speed abrasive cut off tool.” Commercially these are sold as “arrow saws.” Every possible alternative has been tried to using this tool: pipe cutters, scroll saws, lathes, table saws, hacksaws, getting a beaver to gnaw a bit off, everything has been tried and virtually everyone says now that you need a high speed abrasive cut off tool. Many of us made our own using something like a Dremel Rotary Tool with an abrasive cut off wheel chucked in it. (AF recently published an Archery DIY article on how to do just that.) You can do the same, but if you are serious about archery and coaching, buying your own arrow saw will pay off in the long run.

Commercial saws provide a high speed motor, a larger abrasive blade (larger blades wear more slowly that smaller ones, like the Dremel blades, which are really small), a support for the arrow and a cut stop that ensures that all of the arrows cut end up the same length. They also supply safety guards and often a vacuum attachment to suck up the dust. You do not want to be breathing aluminum or carbon dust! (If we have to cut a lot of carbon shafts, we wear a dust mask.)

When using these saws, when you turn them on, allow them to get up to full speed before starting a cut. (You can tell by the sound the motor makes, just like with a car.) The arrow shaft is fed in sideways until the blade cuts through the material of that side and then rotated slowly into moving blade to complete the cut. This procedure provides for the end cut being perfectly perpendicular to the length of the shaft. An arrow cut at a slant will have the shoulder on the point touch just a small part of the shaft and you can expect cracks to form right there. If you just slide the shaft across the blade, the end of the arrow travels in an arc (making a slanted cut) and it also creates stress on the blade (which is spinning at thousands of revolutions per minute). The blades, being abrasive, are somewhat fragile; you do not want one of these to disintegrate on you. Safety Note You also do not want bits of stuff flying up and hitting you in the eye, so you must wear safety goggles when operating an arrow saw. Ordinary eyeglasses will not suffice, they are wide open from the sides and above and below, with many paths straight into one of your eyeballs that grit could take. Proper safety goggles wrap around your glasses, if you wear them, and block access from all sides to flying bits of matter.


Always, always, always use safety goggles when operating an arrow saw. A metal or carbon splinter can cost you an eye.

It really helps, if you have no experience doing this, to have an “expert” show you how it is done. After you have done it a number of times you will consider the process simple.

Everything Else Everything else, craft-wise,  is covered in that article in Issue 23-2.

The Bare Shaft Testing
The reason we didn’t address this topic before and we waited until this series transformed into the “Getting Serious: . . .” version is that it can’t be done without some sort of successful arrow test. Our choice is the Bare Shaft Test as it is the simplest and likely the one you and your archer have had some experience with.

The biggest shortcoming in this whole procedure is sloppy test results resulting in poor estimates of how much to cut. If your archer can’t shoot well enough to shoot tight groups at 5-8 paces, then they are not ready for this level of equipment fitting. Consequently if your capable archer shoots some half-hearted groups and you base decisions upon those, you are failing your archer. Your job is to get them focused in to create good tests. If you are unsure of the results, have them shoot again, as many times as it takes to be convinced you are getting a valid test result.

Where the bare shaft groups land, relative to the fletched shafts tell you a lot. If the BS land high or low the nocking point needs to be changed. If they land left or right, a number of things can be wrong.

The reason you shoot three fletched and two bare shafts is that three arrows is the minimum need to identify a group at all. And if the bare shafts don’t hit in similar positions, they were shot differently and therefore a re-test is needed. (Since the bare shafts do not have the built-in launch angle correctors we call fletches, they tend to fly more erratically and therefore asking for beginning serious archers to get three of them to group is a bit much.) All shots need to be made identically. For this reason, we regularly ask that the arrows be shot: fletched #1, bare #1, fletched #2, bare #2, and fletched #3. The “normal” inclination is to shoot the three fletched to see if they group (because if they don’t, why continue?) then shoot the two bares. This pattern is more conducive, however, to the five arrows being shot differently because of the archer getting tired toward the end or thinking the bare shafts are special or. . . .

Some of these tiny details are not always necessary, but remember that every time you walk a student-archer though one of these procedures, you are teaching them. How many times you get to “teach” them one of these procedures is always iffy, so you end up looking for a balance ending up at just enough detail, avoiding both “too little” and “too much.” Too little leaves out important things (Safety is always important and must always be taught.) and too much results in many things not retained (and you don’t have control over what gets retained and what doesn’t).

Consequently, we are in favor of providing a written procedure to our serious students “for future reference” because we know they probably won’t read it now. If when presented with the need to do this by themselves, if they kept that sheet of instructions, they have a boost up on having a successful procedure. If they didn’t, well, you tried.


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Quick Query

Fellow Coaches/Lurkers/Et. Al.,

I am working with an author on a wishlist for archery coaches. To help I would like to know what you would like to have available to support you as a coach … custom whistles, wind gauges, a mentor, books on coaching, videos to explain XYZ, what?



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I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Advice

QandA logoThis is a question from a frustrated coach on a topic you may have some experience with.

Dear Coach Ruis,
In the past, I’ve dealt with students who wouldn’t follow all of my advice. But now, I have a student who not only doesn’t follow even half of my advice, but also argues with me constantly. She always finds an excuse to not do what I want her to do, even if I am able to prove her ideas wrong. How do I deal with students like her?

* * *

It is the teacher’s role to teach … and the student’s role to learn.

And, since this is a voluntary arrangement, I would simply not spend any more time with her. You are providing a service, if someone doesn’t want what you are providing, you don’t help by irritating them by insisting upon it.

At a deeper level, my coaching philosophy involves helping all archers to become independent, to be able to take or leave coaching as they see fit. I can’t do that by taking away their autonomy, by telling them they must do as I say or I will take my marbles and go home.

I suggest you respect your student’s right to ignore you. The flip side is I certainly do not want to spend time with people who ignore my advice and/or cherry pick my advice, distorting it into something it is not. If I must continue to work with such people, I tend to get more formal and less casual and instead of making statements, I ask questions. If they are insisting on doing everything their way, I honor that by making them do it. I can help by asking questions that lead them to think, but I cannot do their thinking for them.


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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


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Have Competitive Age Categories in Archery Outlived Their Usefulness?

I can’t find out when they began but age and gender classifications for competitions between young archers have been with us for almost a century at the least. The question I have is: Is there a better system of youth competitive categories? Obviously I have some concerns about the present system, so let’s look at these first.

Problems? What Problems?
Sometimes I think maybe I am the only one who spends time thinking about these things, but it is probably a sign I need to get out more, rather than a lack of interest in youth archery on the part of others. There are some obvious issues associated with these things, that may or may not be problems, so I will just list some of them. They are no particular order.

1. Boys are separated from girls in competitive categories for what reasons I do not know but I suspect it is mostly because there is a tradition to do so. When I was a boy, girls and “young ladies” were discouraged from physical play with uncouth boys. This was fueled, possibly, by prudery, but mostly by tradition, I suspect. Also, since men and women compete in separate categories, it might just be a reflection of that thinking onto youth categories. But, boys are stronger than girls of the same age, no? I answer, “So?” Girls are more mature than boys of the same age. So? Do these matter or do we just think they matter?

2. Different organizations have different age categories, occasionally under the same name. For example, both the NFAA and USA Archery have a competitive category called “Cub,” but in the NFAA these are youths under 12, while in USA Archery, they are 12-14 years old. If you don’t think this is confusing to both kids and parents, think again.

3. There are/may be unintended consequences. I am a firm believer in the law of unintended consequences. One of the most widely recognized unintended consequences of youth sports age groupings is called the relative age effect, which is basically that if there are age groups, they must be based on a reference date, like a child’s age on the first of the year. Two children, one born on December 29th and one on January 5th might both be eight years old on January 1st, but one is fully a year older than the other and when one is eight, that is a great deal. Oh, that can’t make much of a difference, you say. Not so. A survey of British national league (elite) soccer players showed that half were born between January and March. A similar survey of a German soccer team members showed that of 52 elite youth players, 48 were born between January and March. Why? Because the bigger, stronger boys get more encouragement, more playing time, and more coaching. Is it any wonder they continue to excel over children not getting those things? This even extends to the major leagues of baseball: a player is 50% more likely to make it to the big leagues if he was born in August than in July. How could a month make such a difference? It isn’t a month, it is a year. Most youth baseball organizations use a July 31 cutoff date to determine “playing ages.” And this is just one such unintended consequence of age groupings, of the ones of which we are aware, anyway. There could be a great many more. We never ask what the consequences are of girls not being allowed to compete with boys, for example.

4. The age categories reduce competition. Take the NFAA’s categories, for example: there are three age categories (cub, youth, young adult) and two gender categories (boys, girls) and four style categories (FS, FSL, BB, FSL-R/L). This results in 24 competitive categories. If you want to be able to give out first, second, and third place awards in each category, you need to get 72 kids to show up . . . in those exact proportions!. To even have a chance to give out all of these medals, you would probably need well over 100-150 kids to show up. A result of having so many of these categories in most NFAA shoots is that kids are competing with just a few competitors, and sometimes only one other or even no other competitors.

I think the point #4 above is a critical failing. By not providing enough competition, enough challenge, to our young competitive archers we are making it too easy. As an analogy, consider giving a child who is an expert “gamer” a gift of a video game which is very, very easy. What do you think the child’s reaction will be when he/she gets to play the game? Ridicule? Disdain? Certainly it would not be focus, concentration, exhilaration, or joy. But if that game were intensely challenging, instead? I think you get the picture.

But Surely There are Good Reasons for Having Competitive Categories
This is a good point, but nobody took the trouble to write down what their reasons were when they made them, so it is hard to tell what the creator’s reasons were. Soccer, for example, breaks kids up into two year age group. Swimming does the same. Why? I can’t find out and I am not sure anyone really knows. (USA Swimming has already started looking at this, see “Age Classification in USA Swimming: Are Current Competitive Age Groups Appropriate?” available on the Internet.) There is a sense of perceived fairness in age grouping, e.g. “My eight year old is competing against other eight and nine year olds; that seems fair.” But is it, especially during the ages when kids go through puberty? One child having gone through puberty is bigger, stronger, faster than others who have not. (I can’t help it, my mind harkens back to the scene from the Monty Python movie, The Meaning of Life, in which the school boys play rugby against the “masters.” The masters (teachers), score at will inflicting crushing blows on the boys, in a reflection of England’s rather sadistic public school history.) There is this aspect of “men against boys” that age and ability disparities sets up. One year LeBron James is in high school, the next he is Rookie of the Year in the NBA.

But while age group categories have a perceived sense of fairness built in to them, they are also very easy to set up and impose. So, is it from our own laziness that we haven’t come up with something better? This is my question.

So, let’s look at the gender and age breakdowns to see if they are really needed. A place to start is with something other than opinion.

Gender and Age Data
I don’t have a statistical research department, I am doing all of this myself, so if there is some enterprising graduate student who wants to do a more formal study, I would be very, very happy to cooperate and help in any way I could! What I have done is simply look up some records and scores on the internet. I freely admit that I took the data I knew how to find, mostly from California and the NFFA and FITA websites. Here are, for example, the state records, for boys and girls in the age categories of USA Archery/FITA for the state of California as of 2009. First, for the Compound Unlimited style:

2009 California State Records—FITA Round (Compound Unlimited)
Age Group               Girls          Boys
Yeoman (<8)          1327          1320
Bowman (8-12)      1429          1415
Cub (12-14)              1428          1409
Cadet (15-16)           1400          1378
Junior (16-18)         1306          1355
So, what can we see? We see that, not only are the girls records comparable to the boys, but in all but one case, they are higher. I predict that the situation in the Junior category may soon fall into line with the others as Paige Pearce owns the Bowman, Cub, and Cadet records, and will be competing as a Junior soon. It not uncommon for an individual to reset the record book in a number (if not all) of the age group categories as they grow up and move into each new age category. (This is not limited to just the kids, consider Rusty Mills setting 19 new national records at the USAA Outdoor Nationals when he entered the age 60+ Masters category.)

Let’s also look at the Olympic Recurve style records:
2009 California State Records—FITA Round (Olympic Recurve)
Age Group               Girls          Boys
Yeoman (<8)          1216           1342
Bowman (8-12)     1305           1333
Cub (12-14)             1287           1325
Cadet (15-16)          1256           1289
Junior (16-18)        1280          1270
Here, the situation is reversed, the Junior category is the only category in which the girls have scored better than the boys.

It would be tempting to conclude (but I won’t) that shooting Olympic Recurve requires more strength than shooting a compound bow and the strength advantage possessed by boys is showing up here. Making any conclusion based on just a few data is not a good idea and there are others reasons, as well. For one, it has always been my impression that the numbers of boys competing is far greater than the numbers of girls. If this is the case, then statistically it is more likely that boys would have posted higher scores than girls, simply because there are more boys competing, therefore there are more boys of higher ability competing, possibly boys find it is more important to participate in archery, etc.

To check this, I looked up the most recent championship level tournaments, still in California, and counted the number of boys and girls (and genders of all participants as well). Here is what I found:

2009 Pacific Coast Championships Participants
Age Group               Girls          Boys
Yeoman (<8)             1                 2
Bowman (8-12)        6               12
Cub (12-14)                5                8
Cadet (15-16)            5                 9
Junior (16-18)          7                9
All Youths               24               40
All Ages                    41              87

In every category, there are more boys competing than girls. For the entire competition, there were twice as many males as females of all ages. To be complete, I looked up the results from an NFAA championship competition:

2009 NFAA California State Championships
Age Group                     Girls          Boys
Cub (<12)                          0                 7
Youth (12-14)                   2                 8
Young Adult (15-17)       1                 5
All Youths                         3              20
All Ages                           40            219

The disparities between numbers of competitors in the two genders are even greater here. Also, please note that in all of the girl’s age categories there was either no competition, or just one person to beat, and this was for a state championship! I decided to also look up the results from the 2009 Vegas Shoot as this is the largest indoor competition in the U.S. It draws 1600+ archers from all of the various archery organizations and from foreign countries, too. There were 17 competitive categories for boys and 16 for girls. (The organizers have expanded the numbers of categories thinking that that would be an inducement for youths to participate.) Here are the numbers of participants in the Boys Categories: 0, 17, 1, 3, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 29, 0, 8, 0, 31, 3, 8 for a total of 100 participants. Here are the numbers of participants in Girls Categories: 0, 0, 7, 2, 5, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 15, 0, 6, 0, 11, 3 for a total of 38 participants. Of these 33 categories only nine had more participants than the medals being given out. The categories with 17, 29, 15, and 11 participants showed healthy competition, the rest were suspect at best. Suspect for the reason being that out of, say, five contestants, if two aren’t at all competitive the top three are all going to medal, no matter what. Here, for example, are the final scores in one of the categories: 540, 538, 523, 455, 405, 281, 164. After the first three participants, the scores fall way off of the pace, with the bottom two scores being uncompetitive. The top three were basically guaranteed the medals—the rest, I hope, enjoyed the experience.

More participants and more competition generally leads to better performances. This makes the girl’s Compound Unlimited state records of California even more impressive.

Now, there isn’t anything to conclude from this small look at some data, but two things pop into my head. One is “What would a look at a larger pool of data show? The other is “What would be the effect of having the girls compete with the boys?” Certainly we might do away with having the situation of praising a girl or boy for winning first place, then asking how many people were competing and she/he has to admit she/he was the only competitor.

I don’t know about you, but I have a number of medals from state and national level competitions that are “default” medals. For example, I have a number of “Thirds” when there were only three of us competing. In other words “first” and “last” were the same place. These medals don’t mean much to me, certainly in comparison to the medals I earned when I didn’t come in last as well as first, second, or third.

Still thinking there should be other ways to look at this, I came up with the idea of looking at current Olympic records. Here are some data available from the FITA website:

Olympic Records (2009)
Round                                                    Women       Men
72 Arrow Qualification Round           676           684
18 Arrow Elimination Match              173           172
12 Arrow Final Match                           114            115
36 Arrow Elimination Match              335           336
36 Arrow Final Match                          334            338

Do you see any difference in the record scores? I don’t; I certainly don’t see statistically significant differences. These records were all shot at 70m distance and a 122cm target, that is the men and women were shooting at the same target at the same distance. (In the youth record score information, different age groups were shooting at different targets at different distances, but the youths in each age category shot at the same targets, same distance, so the boy-girl scores were comparable.) But it must be noted that 70m is the longest competitive distance for women but only the second longest for the men (the International Round for women is shot at 70, 60, 50, and 30 meters while for the men it is 90, 70, 50, 30 meters). So, relatively, the women are competing at their longest distance while the men are not, even though the distance is the same for both categories. This would be expected to give an experience edge to the men.

These data represent men and women competing under the same conditions. (Well, not necessarily the same; some contend that the women often compete earlier in the day than do the men and wind is most likely to come up in mid-afternoon, making the men’s conditions more difficult than the women’s.)

It would be hard, I feel, considering these data and the fact that fewer women than men are competing, to come up with a rationale for keeping the genders separate for competition purposes. But the data set is small and focused on highest scores rather than average scores, so as I intimated before, a more extensive study would be most helpful.

Rationales for Keeping the Current System
There are reasons for keeping the current system, maybe with a few tweaks like agreeing on age categories that would apply to all organizations. Here are a few of these:
1. Having more categories means more medals are given out and this encourages kids.
2. Girls prefer being separated from the boys.
3. It’s traditional and all of the records have been kept this way.

Let’s look at these in turn: more categories = more medals = more encouragement. It sounds good, but does it really work? Consider the movement currently in vogue in youth sports to give every child who participates, whether their team won or lost, whether they won or not, a trophy of the same size. This “more trophies = more encouragement” attitude would support this practice. Do you think this works? (I have yet to meet a parent who defends this practice, although there must be some, otherwise why would people do this?) I don’t know about you, but on the shelf just behind me is the only trophy I ever won (in Division II College JV basketball, Most Inspirational Player). I am still proud of that trophy. The archery medals I won coming in third and last, or second and last, are in a box somewhere. I earned that trophy; it is out on a shelf in clear view. I suspect that the “everyone gets one” trophies, after a short stint on tops of kid’s dressers, end up in a box in the garage. So, I think the “encouragement” aspect is at least questionable.

On the second point I think it would be very interesting to ask the girls if they would like to be separate or compete with the boys (and vice-versa). As far as I can tell, we have never asked them about this; we have just told them they will compete this way. And gender roles have changed substantially since gender categories first started being used for youth archery competitions.

The last point, basically that “we’ve always done it this way,” is a sign of laziness and also quite untrue. If we were to heed this advice, women still wouldn’t be able to vote. In the NAA national championships, they have competed in quite a number of different formats. Most often, though, there was one men’s champion and one women’s champion. (The first listing of youth scores at national competitions in the history of the NAA is in 1914, then not again until 1926, then from 1928 to the present.) Another idea that was discussed was that there would be one champion (all men and women competing together). FITA seems to change the competitive formats in the Olympics for virtually every games. USA Archery is also currently looking at changing its youth age categories, ostensibly to accommodate age categories invented for the new Youth Olympics. (Another case of the tail wagging the dog.) So, tradition doesn’t seem to be a strong reason for avoiding change.

Some Other Options
What other systems might we consider? Here are a few.

Competition Classes My birth state, California, the birthplace not only of me but the NFAA as well, has ability groupings in it’s competitive categories for NFAA sponsored competitions. Archers are categorized as being in A Class, B Class, or C Class. (Since the NAA was doing this before the founding of the NFAA, it is hardly just their idea.) Archers compete “in class.” Please note that doing this for kids (which they did), results in 72 rather than 24 competitive categories and you would need 216 first, second, and third place awards available to give out! (There is a reason these kids get ribbons rather than trophies or medals . . . cost.)

Archers determine their class by formula based on scores shot on standard NFAA Field and Hunter Rounds. The NFAA provides all members a handicap card to keep a record of their scores and to be able to prove their placement in class. Archers who do not have the minimum number of scores to qualify for less competitive classes (B or C Class) must compete in A Class (with the big boys). There are separate categories for professional archers.

One aspect of their formula, which doesn’t seem to get used, is its ability to handicap performance. The formula creates a “handicap” equivalent to 80% of the difference between the average of an archers top scores and a perfect score. Adding this to competition scores would allow everybody to compete fairly equally. It encourages a good performance to win by averaging only the top scores and by giving only 80% of the difference from perfect. A poor performance of someone with a big handicap will not beat even an average performance of an archer with a smaller handicap. The formula is quite good and could possibly be improved with statistical analysis. This handicap is only used to my knowledge to place people in the A, B, and C classes and to establish initial flights for competitions.

Unfortunately, not so long ago, some new rules were necessary. Young archers would register as a B Class or C Class archer, and then would obliterate their competition with A Class scores. Also, archers registered as B Class archers, arriving at the state championship tournament and seeing no one registered in A Class, would want to move up. Now, it must be acknowledged that parents were more involved in these shenanigans than were the kids (the kid’s handicap cards were always unavailable but you could take the parent’s word on their kid’s being in B Class), but sandbagging (deliberately shooting lower scores to get into a less competitive category and win there) and upscaling to vacant categories were problems. Realize that the winners of A Class at the state championships got trophies but the other class winners got ribbons. A rule was put into place that if you registered for A Class, you had to shoot an A Class score on Day 1, otherwise you were automatically dropped to B Class (or lower). Similarly, archers in B Class shooting big scores were put under scrutiny (like having to present a handicap card to validate a win).

These problems haven’t been solved, and will continue as new and different ways to game the system are dreamt up in parents feverish minds. But there are options here.

Flights Some states/organizations use flighting systems. In these systems all of the competing archers in each style are ranked from top to bottom by their scores. At the very top first, second, and third places are awarded. If there are many archers, a second set of first, second, and third places are awarded beginning at eleventh place, and if there are even more archers competing, a set of three awards is made for each ten archers in line.

This meets the “more awards = more encouragement” standard, if that has any merit at all, and it has the advantage that you can figure out how your award placed you overall, e.g. third place in Flight 3 is 23rd place overall. But I don’t particularly care for a system in which 23rd place gets a medal but fourth place doesn’t. It kind of violates my sense of fairness, but hey, what do I know? The Vegas Shoot awards cash prizes in the Championship division this way. And, it always worked out well at our former club’s Thanksgiving and Christmas novelty shoots as everyone competed in one big category (adults, kids, males, females, compounds, longbows) and then were ranked by score and every fifth person on the list got a turkey (Thanksgiving) or a ham (Christmas). It actually created some interesting shootoffs of ties, with eleven year olds shooting against 52 year olds, for instance. (Opportunities for generosity also, as I once observed a burly bowhunter carefully missing ever so slightly more than an eight year old girl had so that she won a prize she coveted.)

Something New I am not sure what a new system would look like, but certain aspects of this are clear to me. Unless there is a compelling reason not to, I would have boys and girls competing together. I think it would mean more competition and better scores for all; maybe even more fun for all and might even be a self esteem booster for some girls.

I would rather have a non-arbitrary system. A handicapping system might just be viable. It works quite well for golf, although gaming the system in golf has been raised to a high art, also.

Just setting up arbitrary gender groups and age groups without some kind of justification, only ensures that more medals might be given out. Yet, there seems to be a need, for example, to separate out the pre-pubescent thirteen year olds from those already shaving, for fairness if nothing else. Possibly a hybrid system in which age groups are established but a rapidly maturing youth who shoots scores comparable to those in the next higher age group up would be automatically graduated to that group. This wouldn’t mean that a youngster wouldn’t get to experience success in the younger age group because he/she would have to shoot quite a bit to establish they belonged in the next group up. And pride in being able to compete with older boys and girls is then available. And the increase in numbers of competitors in shooting styles would be good for our budding stars and also good for the ones left behind—they would be competing for something other than second place when the “star” moved up. This could spur their interest and development, I believe.

Currently kids are allowed to “compete up,” that is they can compete in any age category above theirs up to competing with adults. (And Master/Senior archers can “compete down” with the bulk of adults.) We are allowed to compete in a more competitive category in most organizations. What if you shot your way up and had to move up (for the good of all)? That might make for an interesting system.

I will continue to think about this. For the greater good, I would like you to think about it, too.


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All Coaches Have Opinions (Yes, We Do!)

I was reading a guide to teaching Olympic-style archery I found on the Internet. In rather large bold letters right on the first page it said: “There is a perfectly good reason why the use of a clicker is mentioned here and again later in the text, the standard concept of leaving its use until some point further into the learning process is rubbish.” The point a clicker was to be taught was apparently the third session (lesson).

The reason this stood out for me is I had just finished some work on an Olympic-style archery curriculum and the clicker was being introduced quite late. Still, the opinion of the Internet author was so vehement, I spent some time to reconsider my position.

“Their” Opinion
Later in this quite short document the authors claim:  It is important to get the novice using a clicker as soon as possible so that their style will improve and they are not “hung up” about using this important and very necessary piece of equipment. Apparently this is an indication the authors are aware that clickers do not find favor with beginning archers and they have found an approach that works. They also seem to claim that by using a clicker, the archer’s “style” will improve. The authors are British and I am going to guess that by “style” they mean the same thing we do by “form.”

I have never seen an archer’s form improve by the introduction of a clicker. In fact, it seems as if it always gets worse at first, and quite a few don’t recover. As to how to introduce the clicker they say: If a consistent draw is being achieved set the clicker a couple off mm in front of where the arrow is at full draw. Explain that this is a draw check and all that is required is to draw the bow until the clicker goes off and then loose. At this stage there is no need for anymore explanation than that and it is important to let the archer practise using the clicker without attention to how it is being used. Fine adjustment of clicker position and execution can only be learnt when they have experience of using it.

The problem I see with this is not the approach that is used here, it is the “If a consistent draw is being achieved . . .” requirement. This is correct, but for this to happen in a student’s third lesson must constitute some kind of miracle.

In my opinion I believe that clickers have a bad reputation for two very good reasons: 1) they are introduced before an archer’s draw length becomes fairly consistent, and 2) they are taught poorly.

When to Introduce a Clicker If an archer has otherwise good form (a requirement), introducing the clicker is dependent upon the consistency of his draw length. Here is why. Just for the sake of argument, let’s say an archer’s draw length varies between two values an inch apart. If you set the clicker for the middle of this range and then one eighth of an inch closer to the bow for safety, then when he draws on the 5/8 of an inch side of that one inch range farthest from the bow, the clicker stays on the point, which is good. But when he draws on the 3/8 of an inch side closest to the bow, the clicker falls off before he is ready. So, approximately three shots are pulled through the clicker before anchor is achieved for every five that are not. This is frustrating for the archer and has the potential of causing a disaster in the form of the archer trying to consciously control his draw length. This is not something we want him to do.

Now consider that your archer has a quite consistent draw length, gotten by focusing on body position and tenseness of back muscles, etc. and his draw length varies between two values only a quarter of an inch apart. If you set the clicker for the middle of this range and then one eight of an inch closer to the bow for safety, the clicker stays on the point almost every time (with only a little more draw necessary to finish the shot.

Because the archer only pulls through the clicker rarely, he gets to draw the bow as he has always done, which reinforces that subconscious movement. He gets to practice using the clicker every shot rather than five times out of eight.

Now I made up the “one inch” and “one quarter inch” draw length ranges, but the point is clear: the smaller the variation in draw length before the clicker is introduced, the less likely the archer will feel the clicker is an impediment and the more likely he will pick it up sooner.

The phrase “If a consistent draw is being achieved . . . ” is key but I do not expect anything like the consistency necessary by the third or even the thirteenth lesson necessarily. Let me put it this way, if you put a clicker on a student’s bow and they experience frustration, take it off. It is too soon. How to Introduce a Clicker I have heard how the clicker is introduced to Korean student-archers, I have read how a number of others have done it. And I have read the above “At this stage there is no need for anymore explanation than that and it is important to let the archer practise using the clicker without attention to how it is being used. Fine adjustment of clicker position and execution can only be learnt when they have experience of using it.” I find none of them sufficient. So, here is what I am recommending (these are the student instructions):

How to Shoot a Clicker
Start by stripping sight and stabilizer(s) off of your bow and step up to an empty target butt. Your coach will be directing you and this is how it will go. You will slide an arrow under the clicker and your coach will ask you to draw the arrow while you watch the clicker. Your goal is to get to a comfortable full draw position with the clicker still on the arrow but quite near its falling off point. Adjustments will probably have to be made.

After any adjustments to the clicker’s position, you will draw to full draw (watching the clicker) and then “finish the shot” by extending to the target with your bow arm and rotating your rear shoulder toward your back. When the clicker “clicks,” you will be doing one of several things (as directed by your coach):
• letting down
• shooting, or
• pausing for 1-3 seconds and shooting.
Your coach will tell you which to do each time. When you first start, at least every other shot will be a “let down.” Drawing through the clicker and letting down is also called a “clicker check” as you can check whether your back and shoulders feel they are in the right positions at that point. This is something you will want to do every time you warm up to shoot and then later interspersed with your warm-up shots.

What is being done is your subconscious mind is being trained to assess the status of your shot at the point in time that your clicker clicks and then either a) finishing the shot (if everything is good) or b) letting down (if anything is not good). Your subconscious mind can do this with lightning speed; your conscious mind would take several minutes to do the same thing! What you do not want is what is called a conditioned reflex (a reflex that is trained). A “click–release” trained reflex will cause you a great many poor shots. What you want is “click–check and if okay–release.”

This training can be tedious, so it is okay to take a break and shoot without the clicker for a while.

Also, if you are still growing, the position of the clicker will need to be adjusted often. It also needs to be adjusted often if your form isn’t fairly solid which is why we have waited until now to teach you the clicker.

The instructions for the coach are to train the student on the clicker for short sessions spread out over two or three lessons. Gradually the number of “let downs” is reduced and the number of “count to two (or one or three) before shooting” are reduced until the instruction becomes “shoot if the shot feels right.” On the second or third session the stabilizer, sight, and target can be reintroduced (target last). The student is to not use the clicker unless he is with the coach until the coach gives the “okay.” Then the student must shoot it continually thereafter. The objective is to integrate the clicker without distorting form which is already good. All the clicker can do is tell you whether the arrow has been pulled far enough through the clicker, it cannot tell you if it has been done properly, consequently it cannot help you learn good form; all it can do is make your draw length even more consistent.

Can Anything Be Concluded?
Both of the above techniques are still just opinions. Can both work? Is one better? Is one right and the other wrong?

I strongly feel that archery can be taught well in quite a few ways. I strongly encourage coaches and archers to share their methods . . . and their opinions . . . and their justifications of their opinions, because there may just be some superior ways to do things.

But while we are sharing, I feel that one’s opinions of other’s techniques need to be factual and not visceral, “. . . the standard concept of leaving its use until some point further into the learning process is rubbish.”

Good coaching is positive, good coaching focuses on the solution and not the problem. Good writing on coaching should do the same.


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