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It’s Here . . . !

Now available for your reading pleasure, A Guide to the Mental Game of Archery. We try really hard to keep the prices of our books as low as we can. Even though I have been working on this book, off and on, for over ten years, we are asking $19.95 for the paperback version. We are still working on the Kindle version if you want an even less expensive edition. (Amazon keeps changing the process by which Kindle e-books are created . . . argh!) I don’t have a timeline for that release as of yet.

Cheers.

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Why We Publish Coaching Archery Books

You may have heard this story before (yes, this is a “stop me if you have heard this one” post) but I just came across my original notes (from writing my first coaching archery book over a decade ago) so if I get this down here, I can throw away the notes!

When I first became certified to coach archery (Level 2, baby!) and being an intellectual I searched for some literature on coaching archery so I could expand my knowledge. I went onto Amazon.com and in “Books” I searched for “coaching.” I got 21,181 “hits” but a rough look-see didn’t show any archery coaching books. So, I changed the search key words to “coaching archery” and I got 1,110 “hits.” Now we are talking, I thought. The top of this list was “Archery: Steps to Success” which was about coaching . . . a little. It was actually how to teach a college archery class and had more to say about classroom management than actual coaching.

The second book was “Professional Archery Technique” by Kirk Ethridge, an excellent book (so much so we republished it), but it was not about coaching. Two of the top five books under this search were out-of-print, and #5 was “The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth.” It went downhill from there.

Basically, after searching several other used and new book databases, I came to the conclusion that there were no books on coaching archery in print. There was one written in 1932 that I paid a small fortune to acquire, but once again it was a book on how to put on an archery course at a high school or college. I subsequently acquired almost 300 books about archery, mostly used “how to shoot books” but nary a one on coaching.

Then I came across Al Henderson’s 1989 masterpiece “Peak Performance Archery” which, as far as I can tell, is the first book on coaching archery written in the English language. (We have recently republished this very valuable book.) Why it didn’t come up in all of my searches I do not know. I even employed my then college research assistant son who searched major proprietary databases.

So we to start publishing books on coaching archery in 2008. After pitching the idea to our publisher (of “Precision Archery”) we formed our own publishing company, Watching Arrows Fly,” and have since then published quite a few books on coaching (among other topics). Here is a list:

Coaching Archery
More on Coaching Archery
Even More on Coaching Archery
Yet More on Coaching Archery
Still More on Coaching Archery
Far More on Coaching Archery
The Principles of Coaching Archery, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
Archery Coaching How-To’s
Coach Yourself!
(The above are all written by me.)
Teaching Archery by Van Webster
Larry Wise on Coaching Archery by Larry Wise
Bob Ryder on Coaching Collegiate Archery by Bob Ryder
Peak Performance Archery by Al Henderson

More coming, including:
Randi Smith on Coaching Disabled Archers (working title)
Archery DIY Projects by William Moltzan (working title)
and, as they say, more!

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A Missing Key Point in Teaching Form

Note—I can’t remember whether or not I have posted this before. A quick search of my posts just goes to show that quick searches aren’t available on this platform. So, if this is a repeat, I apologize. Steve

We distinguish “form” from execution by defining form as the various positions one gets into during a shot and execution is how one gets from position to position. Many others lump form and execution as defined this way into just the word “form.” In either case, we are all taught to coach by teaching “optimal form.” With regard to shooting technique, we are told “this” is correct and “that” is wrong; “this” is good, “that” is bad, etc. Of course, no one, and I really mean no one, shoots with optimal form. It is something to be striven for, not accomplished.

People go to great lengths to explain why shooting their way is best. Even I do this, despite the fact that I understand that there probably is not a best form, but that every archer must find “their shot.” I believe each archer must build a form they can master, which will be somewhat close to optimal form, but their form and execution being perfectly aligned with what is prescribed is probably not possible.

There is one point, however, that should be emphasized and virtually never is. And that is that if some element of optimal form, as you teach it, is not possible, then that form element needs to be taken off of the table. The only coaches that seem to have embraced this principle are para-archery coaches, but we all should.

For example, we all know how important, even essential, shooting with back tension is, right? But what if your student has had a back injury and cannot shoot that way? Back tension needs to be taken off the table as an option and another way to shoot needs to be found.

As another example, I had a student-archer who because of his body shape and a few other factors, could not get into “proper” alignment. So, that had to be taken off of the table. We figured out how he could improve without proper alignment. (A great many successful archers do this in any case.) Of course, he ended up as close to proper alignment as he could get and make repeatable, good shots, so he ended up close to “optimal form,” but not actually there. What we relieved was his concern over that; he stopped trying to get “there” as it was not something he could achieve. His time was far better spent working upon other things.

Our coaching approach should always be to encourage the most effective form an archer is capable of, optimal or not.

The big problem in all of this is figuring out what to do “instead,” which is basically not covered in coach training courses. Consider the young archer who struggles to hold his bow up. What do you do? Allow him to practice dropping his bow arm until it becomes a permanent part of his technique? I had to figure out, on my own, that one “fix” is to get them to widen their stance some, not so much as to make them unstable, but substantially wider. This gives them more leverage in holding their bow up. Next, we removed as much weight as we could from the bow (back weights . . . gone, unnecessary stabilizers . . . gone, stabilizer end weights . . . gone, etc.). Then we lived with a bit of “dropping of the bow arm” because there is little we can do until the archer’s bow shoulder muscles develop and those develop later in life. We informed the archer that they are to try to keep their bow arm up after the loose, which is exercising the muscles needed, but we are not criticizing them for “dropping their bow arm.” (This is one of the reasons we suggest delaying the transition from wood or plastic recurve bows to metal-risered recurve bows for any younger archer who struggles to hold their bow arm up.)

We need to share other such “compensations” so, if you have a pocketful, please consider writing guest post for this blog. We all benefit when we share good coaching knowledge.

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Sights or Stabilizers First?

I got into an interesting conversation with one of my authors, Arthur Halligey, from Great Britain. The discussion was on the teaching order for bow sights and stabilizers. Arthur and quite a number of other coaches over there do “sights first” while I recommend “stabilizers first.” What do you recommend?

My argument for stabilizers first is that my teaching modality is to do what is easiest first, also to break things down into steps so that the learning load is smaller. Of course, many children of archers are handed fully kitted out compound bows as their first bows, so that can be done. Presumably, also, the parents are there all of the time to help with the learning process. Children taking archery classes are shooting more often than not not under the watchful eye of a coach/instructor.

Our curriculum for archery classes (the AER Recreational Archery Curriculum—available in Coach’s Guide and Archer’s Guide forms with the Coach’s Guide containing the entire Archer’s Guide and a lot more) has Recurve, Compound, and Traditional Tracks. The Recurve and Compound Tracks include sights and stabilizers.

But not all archers shoot with sights and stabilizers. To give our students the full experience, we introduce the equipment in stages, so that they can experience most, if not all, of the shooting styles those divisions offer. All students start with Barebow and learn point-of-aim (POA) aiming as basics. Then stabilizers can be added (if desired). Compound archers can choose or try both short and long stabilizers (and thus experience both the Compound Barebow and Compound Bowhunter styles).

After stabilizers are used, we introduce bow sights. (We have a written protocol as to how to make the transition from aiming off of the point to aiming with a bow sight. This is easy, takes very little time, and shows how both systems are roughly equal in value.)

Other gear is introduced after that, for example, for Recurve archers, cushion plungers and arrow rests, clickers, etc. (Prior to that we recommend screw-in plastic arrow rests so centershot adjustments can be made but things kept simple.)

So, stabilizers come first because: they are cheaper (a cheap stabilizer works better than a cheap bow sight), they help archers notice their stability at full draw, they improve their grouping, etc.

Bow sights are iffy. The inexpensive one’s aren’t worth the money, the more expensive ones are quite a bit more expensive. Getting a loaner bow sight is harder than getting a loaner longrod, also.

I tend to think that British coaches are focused upon getting their students into full Recurve Unlimited kit as there wasn’t much a compound presence in the U.K. There were trad archers and Olympic Recurve and that was about it. Couple this with beginning archers asking most frequently “How do I aim?” and sights first makes sense.

I am not sure there are significant reasons for “stabilizer first” or “sights first,” making “machts nichts” the operative teaching principle here.

What do you think?

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A Special Message

The message below was just sent to the current authors of Archery Focus magazine:

Dear Archery Focus Authors, (And I do mean “dear.”)

The next issue of Archery Focus magazine is our 25th anniversary issue. It will also be our final issue. It is simply time to close publication.

The archives of Archery Focus are still tremendously valuable to archers and coaches and will still be available as back issues, article bundles, and a coffee table book of our lovely covers. Claudia and I will still be publishing books, so if you were in the middle of a book project, nothing has changed.

So, now that you know, I will mention that the author deadline for Issue 25-5, November-December 2021, is October 15th. If you submit something I will work it into that issue come Hell or high water. It will probably be the fattest issue we have ever produced!

Thank you for all you have done for our readers and be assured that your articles will continue to be available to help and inspire archers and coaches worldwide.

It has been a joy and an honor to work with you.

Your friend in archery,

Steve

* * *

What this means for this blog is I will probably be posting more frequently. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Steve

PPS If you have an article you want published in the final issue, the particulars are as above.

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Al Henderson on the Open Stance

Note I apologize in advance for the length of this post. It seemed necessary. S

As I have mentioned I am preparing Al Henderson’s coaching magnum opus, Peak Performance Archery, for republication. I have read this book multiple times and I keep finding things to consider or reconsider. In this case, Coach Henderson seems to be backing me up on my stance of shooting with an open stance. (He is referring to Olympic Recurve form here.)

Here is what he had to say about that topic (from Chapter 8):

The open stance means the right foot of a right-handed shooter is advanced forward and the left foot is adjusted to fit that new stance. The distance forward can vary as the shooter desires. The body and hips are out of line with the target. This stance is used for several reasons. It assists in the elimination of string interference with both the body and the bow arm. I found that most archers think they feel more in command when using the open stance. I believe this is due to the fact that the tension created in the back muscles as the string is drawn to the anchor is better defined. This open stance can work only if the hips remain in the open position as the draw is executed.

A drastic open stance, or expanded open stance, is a good tool to use to show a student who is having trouble feeling and understanding which back muscles to use. Keep in mind the hips must remain always in the open stance position.

The motivation for using an open stance is: elimination of string clearance issues on the chest and on the bow arm, that archers “feel more in command” with such a stance, and it helps with feeling the right muscles in the back as they are being used.

Make no bones about it, using an open stance is to turn the torso so that it is open to the target. This moves the bow shoulder away from the string plane and does, indeed reduce the amount of contact of the loosed string with chest and bow arm.

The rotated torso requires a greater rotation back the other way to get into good full draw position, stressing the back muscles engaged in the final half of the draw and hold even more so and increases the feeling associated with those muscles being flexed.

I have no idea what “feel more in command” means. I guess it is that shots taken with this stance seem more of a kind, more alike, and that the archer feels more consistent.

Recurve Archer’s Triangle (left), Compound Archer’s Trapezoid (right)

All of these comments are based upon shooting with an open torso, created by an open stance, otherwise there is no effect on clearance, etc. This puts the bow arm out of line with the bow shoulders and so puts a kink in that leg of the archers triangle. (This is how compound archers shoot, in what I call the Archer’s Trapezoid.)

Shooting with an open stance actually makes getting in line more difficult, making the feeling of those back muscles more pronounced as they have to work harder. In perfect full draw position, the shoulders and bow arm are lined up and at a 10-12° closed to the line to the target (basically the arrow line). This is simply because the archer is standing to one side of the bow and the arrow has to point at the target to hit it. If a square stance is used, the feet are 10-12° open to the shoulder line. If a 20° open stance is used, now the feet at 30-32° open to the shoulder line, making it harder to get to that 10-12° closed full draw position, not easier. Because it is harder, you feel the muscle tension involved more.

I have given my analysis of this before. Archers prior to McKinney and Pace in the 1970s and 1980s, used square and even closed stances but McKinney and Pace used quite open stances. I think they did this because they were young, lithe, and quite flexible. I have seen McKinney in photos where his draw elbow is 2-3 inches past line. This makes finding a consistent full draw position quite difficult because it could be anywhere over a 2-3 inch range. By adopting a quite open stance (McKinney’s could open up to roughly 80°—toes almost pointing at the target—if he were fighting a strong wind) they reduced how far past line they could get and thus found a “stop” position for their draw that they could feel and this made them more consistent.

McKinney’s “Wind Stance” (from The Simple Art of Winning)

Since Pace and McKinney were winning everything in sight, McKinney winning the WC three out of four in a row, and Pace winning two Olympic Gold medals in a row (would have been three except for our Russian Olympics boycott in 1980), they were the de facto standard of excellence and everybody copied them. Interestingly, Korean archery officials came here to study our programs and our archers in the early 1980’s and adopted an open stance as theirs.

So, elite archers with a very particular problem (having too much range after full draw, solve it which then gets copied by large numbers of archers who do not have that problem.

If you have an archer who is struggling to achieve “good line” by all means move away from an open stance. I often push my OR students to a 20° closed stance to feel what being in line is all about. Then after a bit of that I move them to a 10-12° closed stance to shoot until they accustom themselves to shooting with good line. Then if they want to experiment with stances, I urge them to do so, without losing the feeling of being in line.

So, what should you do if your OR student has an arm or chest clearance problem? For arm clearance, the standard approach is to get them to rotate their bow arm until the elbow crease is vertical. For chest clearance, a more open stance is suggested (and I think ill-advised as a more closed stance requires the bow shoulder to be rotated back toward the target line, moving it out of the way). If none of the usual things work, then opening the stance and opening the torso may just work, but the amount of openness of the torso must be minimal. Why? Because the angle the bow arm makes with the chest is quite restricted, a 180° angle between the two is quite close to the end of your range of motion and so you can feel that as a stretch of the pectoral muscles. If you adopt an angle between bow arm and torso (torso open, bow arm closed) that is less than 180°, then you have the same problem there that McKinney and Pace had a full draw, a range of “acceptable” positions that is quite wide. This creates variation that shows up on target.

In addition, opening up the torso means that the bow arm is coming into the bow at a steeper angle, which means torquing the handle becomes more of a potential problem, complicating that part of your shot. Everything in archery involves tradeoffs (everything!).

Currently in the U.S., the National Training System (NTS) requires an open stance, the first definition of which had the hips in line with the shoulders and later had the hips midway between the angle the feet were making and the shoulders were making. The shoulders and the bow arm, aka “the barrel of the gun,” are lined up with no kink. Again, this is elite archery form, designed for young flexible athletes. Very, very few of our students even come close to this level of fitness, and so an open stance, which is an injection of greater difficulty into their shot, may not be warranted.

I advocate that coaches accept no authority, that they should think everything through for themselves. To that end I am working on a book on coaching based upon physical principles that explains why things work the way they do and what all of the tradeoffs are when changes are made. I hope this to be a resource for your work with your serious students.

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Should You Practice Only One Thing at a Time?

Coach, do you do this? Do you recommend it to your students?

The basic argument goes that you should only work on one thing at a time so that the feedback you get is due to that one thing only. If you worked on two or three things simultaneously, one of those could make a huge improvement, another could offset much of that and the third make a tiny improvement. Of the three, one is actually worth doing, the other two not so much. Blend them all together and you may end up incorporating counterproductive elements into your shooting.

This is all quite true, but some archers have taken this “simultaneity” restriction to mean only practice one thing at all, until it is good enough, and then move on to another thing.

This is wrong on several levels. If you were to work on one thing for 15 minutes and then switch to another issue and work on that for 15 minutes, would the feedback you are getting be confused? No? No. Plus studies seem to indicate that variety in one’s work is more effective than concentrating on just one thing exclusively. Of course, this work (drills, etc.) has to be carried over more than a few sessions to be effective.

I recommend that you should work on three things at a time, just not lumped together. This restriction to three things is pragmatic, so your focus doesn’t get diluted by addressing too many things at one time. I invented “The List” to monitor progress on these potential improvements on your shooting. If you didn’t read the post “The Damned List,” here is an excerpt:

“I ask all of my students to keep in their notebook what I call “The List” which is a list of the things they have committed to change (this is just the top three if the list is longer than that). They are instructed to read this list before they shoot an arrow, in practice or competition, to remind them that they are going to be doing a few things differently, and to do these different things religiously.

“I keep the list of things actively being worked on at three or fewer because I think that keeps things doable, plus a long list of things needed to be done can be depressing.

“Two or three pages down in the notebook is “The List (con’t)” which has items #4 through whatever listed upon it. Whenever reasonable progress is made on an item on The List, that item gets lined out (with a single thin line) and something from the #4 – #n list is promoted. (The numbers aren’t priorities but one should always promote that thing that gives the most “bang for the buck” as is said. Why work on things that produce small benefits when there are things that you think will produce bigger benefits if worked upon?)

“The reason for the thin lineouts is to be able to see what it was that progress had been made upon. Often, grinding away at getting better seems like a never ending task and it helps to see a list of things that one has improved. One can also see that certain items pop up again on The List. This is because we make progress and move on. If that amount of progress isn’t enough we go back to work on some of the things we worked on before, but this time to make them even better.”

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Wanna Do-over?

I just published a new book called The Best from a Blog for Archery Coaches. And, no I don’t expect you to buy it if you have been following this blog for any time (but you could recommended to others, just sayin’).

I took almost 350 posts from this blog that I thought were helpful or interesting and made a book out of them. I did this for a couple of reasons. One is I could make a little money from this blog (Okay I admit it!), and two I am getting somewhat long in the tooth. I have seen more than just a couple of archery information sources on the Internet disappear. What if WordPress goes belly up? What if WordPress gets taken over by corporate raiders who then require payment for continuation? What if I die? What happens to this blog? Is it left up? Will someone else take it over?

Our book publishing program has a feature to it based upon my first experience in seeking out archery books. When I got into coaching archery I did very extensive searches to find resources for archery coaches, and came up mostly dry (at that time). I then looked specifically for archery books and found great quantities of them, 95+% of which were out of print, so the only way to find them was to scour used book shops (made easier today by services like Abebooks and Bookfinder). We ultimately decided to go the “print on demand” route, which means that books are only printed when there is an order placed. Large stocks of books are not printed and stored (inventory, ugh!). There used to be a minimum print run for books, often 5000 or 10,000 copies and something needed to be done with them until they were sold.

With Print On Demand, books will never (well, hardly ever) go out of print, because the only thing stored are two files: typically one for the cover and the other for the interior content. So, this book, along with the rest of those we produce, will be available for a very long time, if we keep the channels of production open. (We will instruct our heirs what to do to keep receiving royalty checks.)

More importantly, we are currently republishing Al Henderson’s archery coaching magnus opus, Peak Performance Archery. More on that later.

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Push the Bow Toward the Target?

We are taught to push the bow toward the target. Do you teach that to your students? Do you know why?

A perfectly lined up archery shot can still go awry. And I don’t mean because of wind and whatnot. The most critical time period in an archery shot is the 15-20 milliseconds from when the string is loosed (either by fingers or release aid) and when the arrow leaves the bowstring. After the arrow detaches itself it is an independent projectile, subject to gravity and, of course, wind forces, etc. The shot can go awry if the bow moves away from its perfect positioning because of something you did during that critical period. If you plucked the bowstring, you pulled the string away from your face and caused the bow to rotate away from you, sending your arrow to the left (all references are to those of right-handed archers). If you have death grip on your bow, after the loose that grip may cause the bow to rotate. Any such movement moves the string and arrow rest and as long as they are involved it affects the hit point of the arrow.

And, even the tiniest movement results in a missed target. Rick McKinney determined that in order for a arrow to land in the ten ring at 90 meters, the arrow point had to be in a circle only one sixteenth of an inch in diameter and then everything on the back half of the shot had to be perfect. Even the tiniest shift of string or bow out of proper positions results in a miss.

So, why the dictum to “push the bow toward the target”? It is because if you are pushing it up, down, left or right, as soon as you loose the string the bow will move in that direction. A classic example is “heeling the bow.” If the center of pressure (COP) of your grip on the bow is a tad low, due to you pushing too much toward the heel of your bow hand, when the string is loosed, the bow rotates a tiny amount upward (since the COP is below the center of mass (COM) of the bow) which moves the arrow rest up and nock down and you get a high flier.

Similarly “bow handle torque” which is twisting of the handle/riser from gripping the bow too tightly or even just inserting your bow hand too much from the outside of the grip, causes left and right misses.

So, how are you supposed to see what is going on since there are many, many causes of shots going left, right, up, or down from where they are aimed.

If you are working with a student using a long rod stabilizer, you are in luck. If you are, watch the tip of the stabilizer as shots go off. If your archer is heeling the bow, the tip will move up immediately upon the loose. If bow handle torque is involved the tip will move left or right. What you are looking for is the tip moving straight toward the target first, then rolling downward as the followthrough continues. (The downward roll is determined by the COM of the bow being in front and below the pivot point. The first movement desired is an approximately one inch “punch” straight out along the axis of the stabilizer. If this occurs, you are sure your archer is pushing straight toward the target.

In all of these discussions, we are talking about minimizing sources of error. These are not requirements, per se. I was shadowing a famous coach once as he worked with a very, very good compound archer. I watched the tip of the archer’s long rod and on every shot, the tip bounced up. He was heeling his bow. During a lull I brought this to the attention of the archer and he said he knew about it, and that he tried to set up his bow so it didn’t happen but when he did, he didn’t score as well. Now, I don’t know that he properly made that other setup and that there were no other problems with it, but when push comes to shove, any movement such as we are addressing now is a source of variation. With diligent practice such movement can be trained in and elite performances can still be had. Obviously the more of these an archer has, the more training will be needed and the more variation their shot will have.

Being an elite archer is a search to minimize variation. Capitulating to one such source is something we are forced to do from time to time, but these are to be avoided when possible. The more we make a shot into an athletic performance, the more day to day variation we will get. The more we can program a shot into an archer’s skeletal structure, the less variation there will be.

The TL:DR Summary
Yes, we push the bow toward the target because the bow will move and it moving straight forward is the only movement that doesn’t change where the arrow is aimed and will land.

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Al Henderson Coaching Videos

I am currently working on Al Henderson’s 1986 book, Peak Performance Archery to bring it back into print. In the book Al refers to coaching videos he created (mid-1980s?). Has anyone seen these? Do any of you know where to get a copy?

These, I think, would be archery coaching treasure and should be freely available.

 

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