When to Loose the String, Aye, That’s the Rub

I got a very interesting question regarding shooting Recurve Barebow. I believe the rather large number of questions coming in on this style this reflects a basic paucity of information on Barebow in books and whatnot and while we are working on that, there are a few DVD sources worth exploring if you are interested, namely: “Modern Traditional” (highly recommended) and the “Masters of the Barebow” series (I have not seen all of these but the ones I have were informative).

In this more traditional style a decision must be made regarding when to loose the string as neither a mechanical release aid or clicker is employed. (If you didn’t know, the clicker was invented as a cure for target panic, not as I thought originally, as a draw stop.)

Here’s the question:

Hello Steve,
I hope this email finds you well! Here are some lines on what happened over the last weeks trying to apply various aiming techniques in order to improve my shooting.

I was of the opinion, that moving from instinctive shooting to applying some aiming technique will cure one annoying thing that I experienced in competitive shooting situations: loosing the arrow at the moment, erroneously feeling it must be the right time for release, but, at the same time, knowing it is not the right time, and thus not being able to simply finish the meanwhile frozen in movement and consequently … loose the arrow and … miss. It feels like a yes/no short circuit.

In order to improve my form and try the various ways of aiming off of the point, I just got a pair of 24# limbs and matching arrows. It is amazing how well such a light bow spits arrows! The danger of being overbowed is thus ruled out. However, I now have to admit and accept, I have this target panic thing. I feel insecure and pretty much like stopping to compete this winter and work on this yes/no short circuit to finally end up in an unfettered yes-mode.

And here is my answer:

* * *

Using a light weight bow is a good idea most times, especially when exploring new form elements, but in this case it may be misleading. When you aim off of the point, you must decide when to loose. When you are shooting a stout bow, there is considerable pressure to loose the string because the holding weight is so high. When you drop down, you feel like you can hold a long time … which makes the decision to loose more obvious to your mind and can exasperate your problem.

The “now … not now” problem has been experienced by many, many archers (including me). Here is something that can help. When you are making a shot, if everything is done right … and your arrow point is on your point of aim (POA), there is a sign you can use to signal, like a clicker clicking, that it is “time to loose the string.”

Take your 24# bow and with your target at home and do this experiment: get to full draw position in good form and observe the steadiness of the arrow point. Go a good long time and then let down. What most people see is that when they first get to their anchor point and “on point,” that is on their POA, the arrow point oscillates, then after 0.5 second to 1.5 seconds the arrow point oscillates less, then as time drags on, the oscillations get larger and larger (due to muscle strain). If you see this pattern (I think it is “normal”) then there is a natural way to build in a signal to loose the string. In any case, it is good to familiarize yourself with “holding your aim”! Too many archers feel like they can only hold on point for 0.000012 seconds and so must loose immediately when they “have it.”

If you see that pattern (it is there for sight shooters, too), the reduction in oscillation of the arrow point is a signal that you have become still and stillness is a requirement for accuracy. Stillness is never perfect but there is a decrease from the initial level of movement of the arrow point (or aperture) and a tiny bit later. That change in oscillation of the arrow point can be used as the signal that it is time to loose. You must see it and believe it (that it is a sign of stillness) to break the “now … not now” problem. The “now … not now” problem exists because there is no criterion for when to shoot, for what constitutes “now”. Your mind is debating over whether the current situation constitutes an acceptable time to loose, when you have given it no way to determine if that is true, hence the uncertainty fueling the “… not now”. If this makes any sense to you, it is worth trying, no?

* * *

Round 2

There was a follow-up to this exchange. Here that is:

“The “now … not now” thing occurs usually at some point between anchoring and finalising expansion into full back tension. The motion freezes in, I cannot continue the expansion phase to the end and prematurely release. The motion simply stops in between, when I get the feel: stop, release now, it is fine! I can hold the bow in this frozen position. There is no twitching the shot.  However, the arrow will leave the bow with different power compared to when everything is finalised properly. The funny thing is, that sometimes I really shoot tight groups that way and that burns as a success pattern into the neurons.

“I think, I tend to freeze the motion just when I subconsciously get the impression the right shooting symmetry is achieved to loose the arrow regardless of the level of back-tension. That is the case in tournaments. Maybe, it is not enough confidence in my back tension that augments in stressy situations and explains my 10% score difference. Well, that is why I seek remedy in applying some aiming off of something technique.”

And here is my response:

* * *

Re “The “now … not now” thing occurs usually at some point between anchoring and finalizing expansion into full back tension.” There is a tendency when archers are exploring new ways of shooting to talk oneself through the new steps. I hope you are not doing this as it detracts from what your conscious mind is supposed to be doing (watching, not giving orders).

“Finalizing full back tension” is a vague sort of feeling in one’s back and doesn’t form a good indicator of where one is in the cycle. Our subconscious minds are better than our conscious minds in making this assessment, but it is not a clean indicator of when to shoot. I suggest that you not worry about the state of your back tension as you work through this. Instead, once you get comfortable using the damping of the arrow point and loosing upon that signal, get someone to stand behind you to check your alignment at the point of loose (and that your elbow continues in it’s arc for a couple of inches (max) after loose). If both of those are good, you are good to go.

The circle on the target and the round top of the arrow point for a “figure 8” that makes an exact aiming position.

Re: “bringing it right up near the gold” When aiming off of the point, the best position for the point is to have the top of the arrow touch the bottom of the central scoring ring (or the central ring color) … precisely (not using a sight is not a license for sloppiness). This makes a “figure 8” to picture in your mind’s eye. There should be no conscious thoughts going on during this process. If there is, that is part of the problem. So, the arrow “touches” the gold and you are in good full-draw position and when the point (you have to be looking at the point anyway) settles to minimum movement, then that is the time to loose. We don’t have a clicker clicking to signal it is time to loose, so we use this more subtle technique. Again, none of this is occurring while there are conscious thoughts. If you hear things in your head … you are not in your right mind! (If I am allowed bad puns while discussing serious topics.)

Having these exact positions and exact movements provides exact “go-no go” signals to our subconscious minds. Vagueness encourages mental debates (… it’s good, no, it’s not … now it’s good! … argh!) that result in confusion and poor shots and can lead to target panic down that road.

Of course, none of this is 100% scientific knowledge. You are getting just my best estimate as to what is going on.

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An Archery Lesson from Last Night’s World Series Game 7

The 2017 championship for American professional baseball was on the line last night as the seventh game of a seven game series was played. Both teams were exhibiting signs of fatigue, both mental and physical.

The Major League Baseball season is very long, about seven months. The players play about 20 games to get into shape in “spring training,” then they play 162 games in the “regular season.” If they make the playoffs, a couple of teams in each league have a one game playoff (win or go home) to determine whether they can continue. Then teams play a best of five series (minimum three games, maximum five) in a first level playoff. If they win, they play a seven game series (minimum four games, maximum seven) in a second level playoff. And then, if they win that series, they play in the World Series in another best of seven series (minimum four games, maximum seven) to determine the champion for the entire year. That is a lot of games and a lot of focus required.

These are professional athletes, paid millions of dollars per year to perform for their fans. Surely the mental and physical pressures are something they are almost born to handle, no?

Last night, both teams wanted their starting pitchers to last at least five of the nine innings, six or seven innings would be wonderful. The other team could score runs, but only a few. This would take the burden of pitching off of the relief pitchers, specialist pitchers who pitch quite frequently, but don’t see many innings or batters, all of whom have been showing signs of ineffectiveness.

That was the plan.

The Dodger’s pitcher was substituted for in the second inning and the Astro’s pitcher was substituted for in the third inning.

Oops.

The reasons? Both pitchers were so focussed on the outcome of each pitch that they lost control of the process of making it.

This is exactly what happens to archers who “lose their shot” during competitions. It can happen to anyone, but the elites manage to get it back after one or two “bad shots,” but because they are competing against other elites, that can still lose them the competition. Ordinary archers can lose their shot and not get it back for days, if ever.

In archery, we need to be able to focus on our process, a process that we have proved to ourselves will result in high scoring, small groups of arrows in the target, each end. Once an arrow is shot, it is away and we can’t care about it. If we care about it so much we start worrying about how we are going to score well, we lose touch with our process. If we worry about past arrows or future arrows or our score or … anything other than executing our shooting process, we will “lose our shot.”

Our shot process is like a plan. We must train to execute the plan, then we need to commit to the plan, and execute the plan over and over and over. Once we lose focus on our plan, we will always tend to improvise and the improvised plans cannot be as good as the practiced plan and our score suffers.

Realize that these improvisations are not true improvisations, they are rather pieces of older shots we keep “on the shelf” to pull off in cases of emergency. Since we learned those older versions of our current shot, they are the most likely substitute when an improvisation occurs, no?

This is why we never, ever want to practice doing a shot incorrectly: it essentially tells our subconscious minds that variations from “the process” are acceptable and it creates another “off the shelf” option our subconscious may switch to when we become dismayed that our current process isn’t working, an option that is nowhere near as good.

In the case of the starting pitchers in last night’s game, the Dodger starter lost control over his curveball by allowing his fingers to be on the side of the ball, rather than the top. This results in a curveball that breaks from side-to-side more than up-to-down. The up-down breaking pitch is in the plane of the batter’s swing a very, very short time. The side-to-side breaking pitch is in that plane for a much longer time, increasing the probability of the bat striking the ball … and struck they were. The Astro’s pitcher lost control of the angle his arm was making with the ground, which changes the point in space the ball is released from which resulted in a loss of control of where his fastball was going. He walked several batters and hit batters (one twice) that increased greatly the likelihood that some of those batters will come around to home plate and score.

The bottom line? All competition pressure is created on a five inch playing field: the one between your ears. It is not created by external sources, you create it yourself. It is created by considering the future: what if we lose the game? What if I miss with this pitch? What if I get a nine on this shot and win the tournament? It is created when we dwell on past shots and lose contact with our current process.

There are players/archers who seem to thrive in such situations and we say they are “immune to the pressure.” Actually for those players, the pressure doesn’t exist because they do not create it. This is done by baseball pitchers throwing one quality pitch at a time with the attitude that if it gets hit, it gets hit. They can only control their own process and not the batter’s.

The same is true for archers. If you are immersed in your process, focussed on what is happening now, unaccepting of any deviation of your “plan,” you will feel little pressure to perform. If you do feel pressure, then know that your are not in the “now” and in order to get away from that feeling of pressure, you need to refocus on what you are doing when you shoot. (Focussed on, not trying to control.)

Coaches cannot teach anything more valuable to their competitive charges than this.

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The Selling of BS

I was reading a blurb for yet another golf video lesson and I ran across the words “Speaking of draws, not many amateurs can hit one … especially with the driver…. What’s the big deal about a draw, anyway? Well, did you know a draw travels 31 yards farther than a fade hit with the same swing speed? It’s a fact, proven by a Golf Labs robot.

Ah, the Holy Grail of amateur golf, hitting a draw. A draw is a shot that curves slightly from right to left (for a right-handed golfer). The factoid they supplied is indeed probably right (assuming the club was a driver, the longest distance club), but it is also irrelevant. A draw will go father than a shot curving the opposite way, a fade, using the same club. The reason is that the technique used to hit the draw involves turning the club in your hands so that the club’s face is more upright. A more upright club face means the ball will travel more forward and less upward, so farther. To hit a fade, you must do the exact opposite, tilt the club face slightly back away from vertical, which means more up and less out, resulting in a shorter shot.

What they don’t tell you is that if a fade is the result of your natural swing, you can compensate by using clubs with the faces a half degree or so more vertical. Voila. Now you get the same distance you would have gotten from those other clubs, hitting a draw.

Hello? Jack Nicklaus, arguably the most successful professional golfer of all time and one of the longest hitters of his generation, hit a fade. A draw is not necessary to hit it long. Sheesh.

But then, they had clubs to sell, clubs that make it easier to hit a draw.

This is the case in any sport in which there is gear to sell, like, say, archery. For a long time, bow manufacturers have been finding ways to make arrows fly faster and bragging about the arrow speeds their bows provide. And, the benefit(s)? Well, in most cases, the extra speed means that the angle the arrow makes with the ground is a fraction of a degree flatter. And we all know how that affects an archer’s accuracy or success at hunting. It … it … means … uh, hmmm, well … it means…. Yeah, diddly squat.

Addendum Professional golfers, some of them anyway, use this draw-fade difference to help them control their shot’s distances. Not only does being able to hit both kinds of shots with the same club allow them to “shape” shots to fit golf holes that curve to the left or right, but they can also use those different distances to make their clubs more versatile. If their driver goes 300 yards with a draw but they need the shot to go 285-290 yards, they can hit a fade with the same club and voila. (It is hard to hit draws and fades with higher lofted clubs, wedges, etc. so this is limited to the “longer clubs.” Although a common technique in hitting the “short irons” is to turn the club in one’s hands to change the angle of the club face to match it to the distance needed, which is the same idea. So this aspect of “a fade” going less far than “a draw” is not a bug, it is a feature. But when it comes to selling, any old factoid can prove useful.

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Mental Program Foundations: Attention

I am currently writing an article about how to create a mental program for shooting arrows. Everyone tells you that you need one but nobody tells you how to do it. One of the aspects needed is:
2. The archer’s mind must attend to things that result in consistent, accurate shots and not attend to things that have no or negative affects. Including unnecessary items on the list of things to attend to or leaving off important things increases error.

You will note that this is #2 on my list of the things needed, but don’t expect the full list here.

I was reading a blog post in which the following appeared “What we pay attention to is largely determined by our expectations of what should be present,” said Christopher Chabris, a cognitive psychologist and co-author of The Invisible Gorilla.

Relative size is just one of many pieces of information that contribute to our expectations. Without expecting something, we’re unlikely to pay attention to it, he says, and ‘when we are not paying attention to something, we are surprisingly likely to not see it.

Sometimes called ‘inattentional blindness,’ this phenomenon helps explain how dozens of people could walk by a tree festooned with cash—even looking directly at it—without seeing the money. This was the unexpected result when a woman set out to make a video of people’s responses to finding free money, a scenario that a psychologist later successfully recreated.

Inattentional blindness is something archers want to cultivate. Noticing the perfume or bad breath of an archer next to you can in no way help you shoot good shots. Wondering what that delightful aroma from a food cart portends for lunch possibilities is the same.

There is a story I heard, which is probably apocryphal as my attempts to confirm it went unanswered, but the story goes that at the Olympic Games (Barcelona), the archery field had a freeway nearby. During one session there was a horrific crash on the freeway, with emergency vehicles, etc. After the session one of the Spanish team members asked a fellow teammate what he thought of the crash. The teammate asked “What crash?” Guess who won the gold medal? (Yep.)

True or not, the story emphasizes the need to block out superfluous calls on our attention system, a system designed for interruptions!

 

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Barebow, Barebow, Barebow

I just got an email from a viewer who had a boatload of questions about Barebow. (Hooray!) I love it when you send in your questions as it gives me ideas about what I should write about, so if you have them, please feel free to email them to me (ruis.steve@gmail.com).

Here’s Dieter’s questions:
So, the questions are:
• Does one have to close one eye when aiming off the point?
• My kind of split vision string- and face walking does work. However, did you come across someone who managed to combine the more “instinctive” split vision technique with aiming off the point brought right below the target without having to drastically alter button spring tension?
• Of course, I could decide for either technique. The benefit of split vision from 5 – 25 meters is, I do not need to crawl down the string and thus do not imbalance the bow. The other thing is losing accuracy on longer distances. I might also improve the closer distances aiming off the point.
• Maybe, my little problem is confusing. However, I’d be glad if you could share your experienced thoughts with me.
Best wishes, Dieter

* * *

And here are my attempts at answers! (Note I assume Dieter is referring to Barebow Recurve.)

  • Does one have to close one eye when aiming off the point?
    My opinion is that this is only necessary if there is a problem with keeping the off eye open. I, for example, shoot right-handed but am left-eye dominant. If I don’t half shut my off eye, I can end up with some bad misses. There are problems with shutting the eye completely (as with an “eye patch”) as this lowers the total amount of light coming into the eyes and therefore affects iris responses, etc. Eyelids allow some light it and people with glasses often resort to putting a strip of transparent tape over the off eye lens. This allows light in to an open eye but no clear image, so if the off eye “takes over” it will be easily noticed.
    This is the same whether you are aiming off the point and or using a sight.
  • … did you come across someone who managed to combine the more “instinctive” split vision technique with aiming off the point brought right below the target without having to drastically alter button spring tension? This is a very complex question. The “split vision” technique, as recommended by the likes of Howard Hill, is not really split vision as much as it is split attention. I am not a fan because while you are aiming that is the only time you are splitting your attention on what you are doing during an archery shot: you are attending to aiming and attending to completing the shot via swinging the draw elbow around, squeezing back muscles, or whatever. Splitting your aiming attention in two results in a three-way split in attention, something I am not a fan of. But then, I am a fan of whatever works, as long as we know what actually works, so if the “split vision technique really works for you, then go for it. (That you asked the question indicates it is not working well enough or under the circumstances you encounter.)
    Two topics are being addressed here in addition. One can aim off of the point several ways. The two primary ways are gap shooting (basically aiming off, with “gaps” being the amount of high or low aiming) and stringwalking. Since the grip of bow and sting do not vary when gap shooting, no adjustment of plunger tension is needed. However, when string walking, whenever the “crawl” (the distance down from the arrow the string is “gripped”) is changed, you are essentially de-tuning the bow. The draw length changes, the draw weight changes, the tiller changes, everything. These changes are small and successful Barebow Recurve stringwalkers focus heavily in finding a bow tune that represents a “happy medium compromise.” Usually, since the shorter distances are shorter and therefore easier (in field archery) they allow for a poorer tune there and set up for a better tune for the longer, and therefore harder, shots.

    Taking a crawl on a longbow.

    So, elite Barebow Recurve Archers who stringwalk have this unavoidable dilemma. Some use plunger adjustments at the extremes of their distances to help with this problem, so you are not wrong in doing that. The ultimate tune, though, for such an archer is one that doesn’t involve such adjustments, so these archers work on their arrows obsessively and their plungers to find a “no fiddling tune” if they can. If such plunger adjustments are required, you need to adjust your shot sequence to make sure that you add or subtract known numbers of turns on your plunger button and then take them off when no longer needed. Forgetting to do these things are mental mistakes that always lower scores, so eliminating the need to make such adjustments reduces the number of possible mental mistakes, which is a good thing … if you can pull it off.
    Sorry, for being so long winded on this one, but that’s the best I can do. Possibly more expert Barebow archers will chime in in the Comments.

  • Of course, I could decide for either technique. Yes, you can. There are some who insist that this technique is better than that technique. I have never seen a case in which this has been proven, unless you put up some form of standard technique against, say, standing with your back to the target. The entire reason we all shoot much the same way, with only minor differences, is that in the 60,000–70,000 year history of archery, the bow has taught us what works and what doesn’t. So, most of what you can find being currently recommended by archers and coaches works! That’s the good news. The bad news is “so does all of the other stuff.”And the only way you can tell “what works for you” is to try things out. Unfortunately, the things being tested against one another are so similar (they may feel really different, but they are not … to the point that onlookers may not notice that you have changed anything) that it takes many weeks of trying out the new thing to see if there is a real effect or not. There are very many things to try, and not enough time and effort to try them all, so you just have to pick.

    What I do know is this: the key factors are whether an archer has committed to a new/different technique and practiced it in and … in my not so humble opinion … simpler is better. If you try an aiming technique and it only works for shorter distances and you need another for longer distances, I would keep looking. What you want is a technique that is the same for all shots you take on a certain course, e.g. WA Field Unmarked shots are never longer than 50 m, WA target shots used to be longer (30-90 m for men) but now seem to have been shrunk down to just 50 m for target events. I would have separate bows set up for the two kinds of events. If I couldn’t afford two bows, I would have two bowstrings and two sets of bow settings for the two events. I might also, depending on budget, have two sets of arrows tuned for two different events. (Consider archer’s arrow choices for indoor and outdoor events as a model.) The gold standard for FITA Field Barebow archers shooting unmarked targets is a single anchor with a single set of crawls from 50 m on down to the shortest shot (don’t remember this … 5 m?).

    I prefer having a single technique for a single event. When I teach stringwalking, we start at close up, determining the archers point on target distance (POT) and then determining their set of crawls for distances inside that distance. Then we change from a high anchor to a low anchor and determine the new POT for that anchor (much farther out) and a set of crawls there, too. (Often the crawls are amazingly consistent, e.g. the same crawl for five meters closer than POT distance for both anchors, which makes memory mistakes less likely). What we hope is these two ranges overlap, covering all of the distances being shot. If they do not, instead of adding a third technique, we look to changing things like draw weight or slight changes in anchor hand position to get what is desired.

My rule of simplicity would rule out string walking as a tool for tackling a FITA Round, for example. There were/are only four distances. It is far easier to determine four points of aim for the four distances (if they are on target) than employ stringwalking with its detuning characteristics. But for a Field Round in which targets are placed at many different distances, having a different point of aim for each target is too cumbersome, there stringwalking shines. So, there are legitimate reasons for having a “bag of tricks” to employ for aiming at various kinds of events as “one size never fits all!”

I hope this helps more than it hinders!

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Two Compound Codgers Talk About Aiming

I got an email from an old friend (emphasis on the old, for both of us) in which we were talking about shooting under the infirmities our advanced ages have provided us with. At one point the conversation turned to vision and peep sights and Tom said this:

Up until recently, I had to shoot with one eye closed, either the left, when shooting right handed or the right when shooting right handed.  Something has changed, because now… I cannot shoot left-handed any other way than with both eyes open. IF I close my right eye, I cannot see anything, period. Can’t find the target, can’t find the peep. I also cannot shoot at all with my glasses on. I must shoot without my glasses … which at first gives me a terrible double image until I get to anchor and look through the peep and scope. Then there are two target images, but I’ve learned to ignore the “dummy” target and focus on the correct one. The tough part is looking down range and seeing double of everything and the double is “moving” from low left to upper right.
I cannot see for beans up close to set my sight, however.
It is nice to be able to shoot with both eyes open. … after nearly 50 years of having to shoot with one eye closed!

Of course, the internet is the modern equivalent of the general store cracker or pickle barrel, so I had to chip in with my two cents on the topic:
As we age a number of things change with our eyes. One I noticed is that our irises slow down. I discover this the hard way; I was out driving at night, and my eye’s irises opened up to let in more light and then I turned a corner and a asshole driver coming the other way had his high beams on and I was blinded. I couldn’t see for a couple of seconds and was driving from memory of the road (I realized this later when I did a mental replay—thank you, archery!). Having a flood of light pouring into my eyes, my irises immediately but slowly started cinching in smaller and smaller … just in time for the return back to low illumination driving and my irises, now too small, slowly opened up again, extending the time period in which I was driving blind. This is a common source of why older people no longer like driving at night—scares the bejebus out of us.

When you swing a peep over your aiming eye, you are blocking part of the light (the reason for the danged peep in the first place), but because our irises change slowly (1-3 seconds?) compared to those in young eyes, this doesn’t happen comfortably in the time you want your shot to go off. By keeping your off eye open, the fraction of total light being blocked by the peep coming through both eyes is smaller, resulting in a smaller iris correction and better vision.

Using a peep with a smaller hole actually improves your vision by reducing the number of aiming eye lens defects the light travels through. but outdoors, in low light … well, there is a reason hunters use peeps with larger holes than do target archers. The smaller hole allows in less light and….

By the way, you can get “shooting glasses” made in which the optical centers are off to the left (for right-handed archers). We think we turn our heads 90° to look over our shoulders, but in reality, we turn our heads just far enough to see past the bridge of our noses. (Turning our heads farther results in an aching neck and headaches!). Ordinary glasses are built assuming you are looking straight outward and do not work anywhere near as well as your eyes move off of that axis.

Note Normal head rotation, according to one study is “Head-neck rotation was symmetric, and associated with concomitant movements in both the sagittal and frontal planes. It was larger in women (162°) than in men (155°), and performed with limited adjunctive thoracic motions.” This is about 77° (for men) in each direction and I think that gets less with age. (It sure feels like it to me.) Being able to turn our heads on our necks less means there is a smaller window to look through, one closer to the bridge of our noses and therefore more “off axis” for our glasses. I think I have benefited quite a bit from getting shooting glasses, which fit closer to the bridge of my nose and have optical centers in that direction.

 

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NFAA Trims Back Styles

When I got up this morn I found an email from the NFAA (US) in my Inbox indicating that they have trimmed back the list of recognized styles. And as one might guess, the numbers of “fingers” (versus “release”) styles are the ones being trimmed.

Here’s the list from that email, in case you are interested but didn’t get the memo:

So, since I first jointed the NFAA (1990), the list of styles no longer available is:
Bowhunter (Adult and Youth)
Bowhunter Freestyle Limited (Adult and Youth)
Longbow (Adult Only)
Freestyle Limited (Youth Only)

I do not know the data or politics behind these changes, so please do not ask.

A number of styles have been added since that time (Freestyle Limited Recurve is basically Olympic Recurve, plus some of the Pro styles).

 

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More on Coaching Males and Females: Same or Differently

A reader sent the following link (http://www.asep.com/news/ShowArticle.cfm?ID=260) for an interesting article on this topic. I don’t know if it is behind a pay wall or not as I am a “member” so to speak of the organization. So, let me know if you can’t get to it.

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Coaching Simplified

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

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

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

Uh, huh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do Your Students Have Balance Problems?

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

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

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

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

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

A commercial balance board, many of which are available.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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