Tag Archives: Adapting Standard Form

Do They Have to “Do It Right”?

I was off to the suburbs yesterday to coach at one of the clubs I belong to and worked with one young man to a point of frustration (his, not mine). A number of things had been left aside to work on more important things but now it was important to address those issues previously set aside.

An obvious barrier to learning new ways to do things is always the power of the “old way of doing things,” which I call the “Old Normal.” The game is to change the Old Normal into the “New Normal.” The Old Normal has a certain, almost magnetic, attraction however. First of all it feels normal, as the way his body had gotten used to doing things. The new way seems strange, hard to do. In this case, these old ways were going to be problematic when his draw weight starting moving up, which it now has been.

The first task for the coach is to establish the need to change. I insist that my students make all decisions for themselves (in consultation with whomever they wish, of course), but I do not make dictates or speak ex cathedra. This requires that some justification for the recommended changes be made, so I try to offer reasons for each and every change recommended. These, of course, have to match the ability of the archer to comprehend them. I don’t think, in this case, that I was very convincing. (“If you aren’t trying to get better, you are probably getting worse” is a truism, and I have so many needs to get better.)

The second barrier is that it is easy to fall back into the old ways of doing things. To combat this, I ask my students to keep in their notebooks (on the top several pages) a tickler file, which I call “The List.” This list is of the things they are trying to change. There is no priority order, per se, except in my recommendations of things to put on the list which tend to got from “most” to “least” bang for the buck or, if you will, return on investment. If the returns from form work are very modest at the beginning, it can lead to questioning whether any improvement will come from such work, or from working with any coach. So, I try to start with things that affect group size the most.

I ask that my students keep two lists, actually: the first three items on one and then all of the others on a later page (out of sight, out of mind). I do this to confine the work being done to just three items at a time, with work being limited to just one, then another, then the third. If two or more items are addressed at once, feedback can be muddled and what the work on one item provides in the way of progress, work on the other may actually diminish . . . and we would not know. By actually working on just one thing at a time, the feedback is on that thing, and that thing alone. Helping students decipher the feedback is an import aspect of form coaching. They need to be able to identify when they have done it “right” versus not doing it right. (Archers are looking for “signs.” We need to provide them.)

Whenever any one of the three items on the top page of the list is dispatched (good enough for now is the criterion), a line is drawn through that item and another is promoted from the secondary list. In this manner, the amount of work to be done doesn’t look overwhelming and the list of items crossed off shows how much successful work has been done. (And it will show that everything comes around again as the level of quality of the archer improves, so do the standards of “acceptable for now.”)

The trick is getting them to read The List before they shoot . . . religiously! This point seems to need reinforcing a great deal.

But the question of the title of this post still needs to be addressed: Do they have to do it right?

The short answer is “no.” There are way too many champions, from the Olympics/world championships on down who have had very visible form flaws to argue otherwise. Some champions are idiosyncratic in the extreme. But these archers have learned to handle their particular form and make it work. One recent men’s Olympic gold medalist shot with no finger sling and every video I saw, in which I could observe his bow hand through the shot, showed him “grabbing his bow,” a known form flaw (that a bow sling can help solve). But this “flaw” is only a problem if the grab leaks back into the shot (while the arrow is still on the bowstring). If this did happen, it didn’t happen enough to deny the archer his gold. He had learned to make it work . . . for him.

Many archers shot for years and years with idiosyncratic form and the question in working with them would be “Is it worth the effort to correct these flaws?” In most case, the answer would be “no,” because the amount of work would be huge and the amount of benefit very small (if any). This, by the way, is why copying “pros” or “elite archers” is fraught with peril. They have worked out ways of dealing with their deficiencies that may not even be visible. It is very easy to grab the flaw and not the compensation.

The safe thing to do is for archers still learning the basics, therefore, is to avoid as many flaws as possible. Each odd tidbit of form or form flaw is a potential source of dispersion of the arrows in one’s groups and why would you want to willingly adopt such a thing? (The key point is willingly. So many of the old school archers who possessed such flaws and still won, did not know they were building in flaws into their shots.)

Imagine building a house or car and deliberately building in flaws but making them okay by adding extra bracing, or a supercharger to replace squandered horsepower. Not having the flaws in the first place is always easier and less expensive (in materials and effort). The knack is catching these “mistakes” before they become part of the design.

I have reached the point that I believe that each and every archer’s form is personal. All archers of a style are quite alike but also different, so an archer can’t just shoot like their archery hero and be done with it. They have to craft their own personal form. Our job is to help them do that without obvious flaws that will have to be compensated for later.

And, to point out the obvious, as better and more coaching is being made available (Hoorah!), more and more archers will be not be giving away points from obvious flaws in their form. So, the competition will be getting better and no archer can afford to adopt practices that give away points, thinking they can compensate in some other way, and still compete.

 

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The Role of Clarity in Learning and Coaching Archery

I am working on a book project with Mike Gerard currently and it is a book of archery drills, a resource long needed. One problem we face is all drills have to be performed in a context and the book is a collection of drills, without supplying the overall context. Each drill has a description of what it addresses, but what the archer is trying to accomplish in toto is upon him or her.

It is extremely important for a serious archer to have a clear understanding of what they are trying to do and how they intend to do it. Otherwise I am reminded of the old joke of a bus driver who turns to his passengers and says “I have good news and bad news. The good news is we are making good time. The bad news is that we are lost.” Who cares what your rate of progress is if you do not know where you are going.

An Aside Please note that any serious archer will have better scores as they train … initially. Even if the form and execution chosen are flawed, practice will make them better at it, so scores alone cannot be our guide. Scores will plateau at some point that they will either be good enough or not and you can’t tell that until they plateau.

Now, you can well imagine that I can disclaim on proper archery form and execution for weeks, non stop. Setting that aside, it is key to have some clarity of purpose in this regard, even if it is wrong. There are a number of reasons: for one, we are not absolutely sure what is the “right way” to shoot arrows from a bow. For another, if we do not know what we are trying to accomplish, we are massively stuck, because we can never tell if we have achieved the level of technique and skill we desire. If we can do that, figure out where our bus is going and whether we are there yet, we have a chance because we can evaluate whether that particular form and execution actually works for us. If your archer has perfected her technique and it isn’t giving her the results she wants, then she needs to be doing something else. (Which brings to mind the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.)

As a coach, our role is to help athletes clarify what they want to do and how they want to do it. Initially they may not know exactly what to do, so this is a journey we take with our athletes. The clarity arrives over time. It is vitally important that such clarity is highly prized, even down into what you ask from your archers. If they do not understand what you want them to do, the odds are not good they will achieve it. Clarity regarding the overall task should drive what you do from day to day, including selecting drills to bolster a small part of your archer’s technique or skill.

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Shooting While Breathing

I got a great email with the following question that will be the subject of today’s post:

Hi Steve,

I was wondering if you had any thoughts about breath control and how breathing (best) figures into the shot cycle? In the book you recommended, Professional Archery Technique, by Kirk Ethridge, Mr. Ethridge recommends to “[i]nhale deeply as you raise the bow, and exhale as you draw. When you are at full draw, your lungs should be empty.” (p. 36) The rationale seems to be one of relaxation and stillness. 

On the other hand, both Byron Ferguson (Become the Arrowp. 18) and Anthony Camera (Shooting the Stickbow, 2nd ed., p. 275) advocate inhaling on the draw, allowing the chest to expand at anchor — though for different reasons. (Ferguson’s seems to be about using the inhalation to expand the chest and further bring the drawing elbow/arm into alignment; Camera’s seems to be that the act of drawing itself creates a natural expansion and therefore inhalation, though “while there is little if any chest expansion [at full draw], the logical progression is to continue inhaling, albeit at a slower rate.”)

What are archery coaches recommending? Is there one best (or better) answer, or is this simply a matter of “what works for you”? (For myself, the logic of breathing in makes sense, but I find the inhalation difficult on the draw, and it feels like I am having to hold my breath while at aim. I tried Ethridge’s suggestion and found, if nothing else, that I felt more relaxed/still while at aim. That seemed to be a plus. But is this physiologically “wrong”?

* * *

As far as I am concerned, you can do nothing wrong in this regard as long as you are open to what is happening to your body. The goal, is to be still and strong at the moment of release.

The only scientific study I have been made aware of reports that we are steadier/more still if we have slightly less than a whole lungful of air at that moment. If you want to try that, end with that (full breath, partial exhale) and work your way back to the beginning of the shot. I am unaware of any other serious studies, but they may exist. That, of course, is in archery. There is a great deal of study on breathing in weightlifting. In lifting very great weights, the common wisdom is to exhale upon exertion. This technique lowers internal pressures in the body and prevents injuries such as hernias. But in archery, the weights involved are not so great, so I think we are free to do almost anything.

So, I recommend you experiment as you have been doing. Try a number of breathing patterns. (Rick McKinney’s book, The Simple Art of Winning, lists several more.) The goal is stillness and control at the moment of release.

I have a couple of caveats.

  1. Note whether the source is referring to Recurve/Traditional form or Compound form. I think the requirements for these forms are different enough to require different approaches (Rec/Trad has max draw weight and min time at full draw, while Compound has reduced DW and greater time at FD).
  2. Take into account your personal situation. I tried all kinds of breathing patterns and couldn’t settle on one, so I just breathed as close to tidally as I could (look it up). Then I was diagnosed as having asthma which cleared a few things up. If I held a little long I ended up out of breath, so I included an extra breath into my pattern and it really helped.

So, don’t feel confined by what other people recommend and use your sense of how still and comfortable you are up to the moment of release, coupled with how you feel thereafter (you do not want to be panting and out of breath) as your guide to a consistent breathing pattern. There is no physiologically right or wrong that I can perceive in this topic.

Note For serious archers, this gets worked out one way or another, either through investigation (as you are doing) or through feedback training (doing something over and over until you find what works). Archery is a repetition sport and one based upon feel. Breathing irregularities lead to different feelings that have nothing to do with archery, so breathing needs to be consistent, whichever pattern you choose or learn.

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Anchor Positions (Finger Shooters)

John William's "center anchor."

John William’s “center anchor.”

I was struck by a photo of an archer from the recent past who used a center anchor to some effect, namely John Williams of the USA, the 1972 men’s Olympic gold medalist (see photo at right). Currently, there has been an almost universal adoption of the “side anchor” specifically the variant in which the string touches the corner of the chin, but not farther back (see photo below). This post is about why these changes have been made.

Most beginners think that these things are about string positioning but really they are about head positioning. By having the string touch certain parts of the head, at multiple points if possible, this guarantees that the positions of the head and the all-important aiming eye relative to the bow are made more repeatable. The archer must still try to endeavor to hold his/her bow in the correct orientation and hold their head in the correct orientation besides, but consistency is much improved by monitoring these other “touches” tactilely.

Brady Ellison's "side anchor."

Brady Ellison’s “side anchor.”

Very few people use a center of the chin anchor position any more because it often requires a substantial tilt of the head to line everything up. This we consider to be suboptimal because when we tilt our heads, there are physiological repercussions. When our eyes aren’t level, we lose some of the benefits of binocular vision, for example our depth perception and ability to estimate distance are degraded. For another thing, we actually lose physical strength when we tilt our heads because this is a submissive posture. Recall your posture when your Mom caught you with your hand in the cookie jar (or whatever). Dogs will actually drop their heads to the side exposing their jugular veins to convey helplessness to another dog. This is why people of power want you to bow your head; it puts you into a weak, almost powerless posture and your body and mind accept those positions.

Now look at the two photos; which of the archers has eyes that are level/horizontal?

The idea of the string touching your nose is also a head positioning element. If the nose and string do not touch, what should you do (or ask your student to do)? Certainly you do not want to tilt your head to make this happen for the reasons mentioned above. You also don’t want to move your anchor position back along your jaw. Since your fingers are curled around the string toward you, when the string it loosed, the act of the string pushing your fingers out of its way causes the fingers to push the string back (Newton’s third law). This means that as the string moves forward it also moves toward the archer. High speed video has shown that when the string is held against the face behind the corner of the chin, the string drags along the archer’s face as it leaves, causing ripples in the skin! This drag lowers arrow speed and is a source of variation we do not need.

Positioning the string at anchor at the corner of the archer’s jaw allows the string to leave its position without drag on the archer’s skin and allows the archer’s eyes to remain level.

If there is no nose touch or too much touch and some is desirable, it is possible to create what you want by changing the length of a recurve bow, for example. The Korean women, who have short noses, tend to use longer bows, which provide less acute string angles at anchor. Compound archers who use a nose touch have learned this the hard way as bows being manufactured now are much shorter axle-to-axle than they were in the past, making vastly more acute string angles at anchor, making a nose touch harder to achieve. Be aware, though, that nose touches are less useful to compound archers because they have peep sights, acting as an additional alignment point to the face touches. So, going to great lengths to get a nose touch on a short ATA compound bow is probably not worth doing.

Throughout archery’s history we have learned through trial and error and by emulating the more successful, a process I describe often as: monkey see, monkey do. We are now teasing out why the things that work actually work, which means we are reaching a level of understanding at which we will have more control than ever over what we do to maximize our own and our student’s effectiveness.

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Adapting Standard Form Recommendations

One of the difficulties coaches have to deal with is students who cannot “do it the right way,” that is the way arrows “should be” shot according to the instruction manuals. I recently received a request for help from a coach who has a student who is very large bodied. The student’s physical size and body composition affects everything about his shooting, apparently. There are a number of important points that arose in our email conversation that I want to share.

Recommendations Are Just That
Recommendations regarding how to shoot are just that: recommendations. They are not requirements. Many great archers, in the past and today, did and do not shoot like the standard recommendations suggest. Here is some of what I had to say regarding a stance difficulty.

“Regarding the stance and balance first. The form recommendations that are made are just that … recommendations. Unfortunately there is little in the way of coach instruction as to how to adapt those positions for those with either physical infirmities or just different bodies (morphologies).

“The key thing is for the archer to be balanced. If that requires a wider stance, fine, if that requires a closed or oblique stance, fine. The goal is to be balanced … and the reason for the balance requirement is for us to be able to be still when shooting. Your archer needs to know that so he can monitor his stillness at full draw. If he is swaying back and forth or slowly shifting from one position to another, something needs to change. What that is will have to be determined by experimentation.

“Regarding ‘Due to the large amount of flesh on his frame, he cannot rotate to the straight line position required.’ Body rotation is not ‘required’ but is recommended. The basis of the recommendation is to make a more stable shooting platform; stability leads to better balance and greater stillness at full draw. The objective is a good full draw position from the sternum upwards, so work backward from that. Don’t make him rotate to that position. Have him get to that position (I have archers use a very light drawing bow, e.g. 10#) and then move his lower body until he is most comfortable—without losing the good full-draw-position (aka ‘Archer’s Triangle’ aka ‘The Wedge’). That is the best starting point. After he learns to shoot from a good full-draw-position, he can then explore changes in his stance, with the only changes allowed being those that do not disrupt that full draw position (which means some stances will be possible, others not so). Please note that, in my opinion, the recommendation for an open stance requires a considerable rotation of the body in that the shoulders have to be 10-12 degrees closed at full draw. An open stance is fighting this position by positioning the feet rotated in the opposite direction (thus requiring a torso rotation for the shoulders to get there). Beginning archers do not need us making shooting more difficult. I suggest we consider doing it the easiest way and then adding “refinements (like an open stance) when the archers interest and body of work suggest it might be worthwhile.

“Regarding ‘He has been unable to find a set anchor point due to the fleshy area under his jaw line.’ You might want to consider using a kisser button. It may be that in the future he ‘finds’ a consistent anchor position but there are a great many archers who have a similar problem (often because their jaw lines are closer to vertical than horizontal). A kisser button can allow this archer to develop his form, enjoy the sport, and make considerable progress. If I am not mistaken, one of the current men’s Olympic team champions uses a kisser button. It is not a crutch, just an aid like so many other things.

It Is Best to Work Back from First Principles
When trying to fit what seems to be a square peg into a round hole (an idiom indicating an unwise effort to fit things that do not) it is better to work from first principles. Unfortunately coaching education doesn’t supply this framework and I am not sure that coaches have taken this to heart as professionals.

The “stance issue” is a clear example. Instructions are often stated as “you must do this” or “you must do that” regarding your stance. I have done this myself in my writings. It is done to impress the importance the writer places upon such things … but it conveys the wrong impression.

Let’s look at this working backward from what we want. We want high scores on archery targets. High scores are created by tight arrow groups in the highest scoring location. Arrow groups can be relocated (moved around) by aiming/sighting techniques, so our fundamental job as archers is to shoot tight groups. Tight groups come from being able to repeat one’s shot process accurately, many times. To be able to repeat one’s shot sequence accurately, one needs to be able to relax and focus and be still under the tension of the draw and then be able to execute a clean release. So, what has a stance to do with this?

Picture an archer on a rotating stand. He/she is in perfect full draw position. Off the arrow goes but misses the target three meters to the right? So what do you do? You rotate the archer so they are pointing more to the left. The next arrow just misses the butt to the left and…. You can see that the stance that holds up an archer so they can operate their bow with their upper body also plays a role in directing the arrows. (This is why I ridicule those who admonish archers to “not aim yet,” to only aim at full draw. Aiming begins with taking one’s stance and one would not set up to shoot arrows back into the spectators (those arrows wouldn’t score well) so we set our stance to make our arrows go into the target’s center. We aim our bows with almost every move we make.)

So, a stance has to provide stillness for the upper body and that stems from the archer being balanced. The stance also helps direct the archer’s bow toward the target. Current stance recommendations include stances that do not direct the archer’s arrows toward the target and require the archer to twist themselves to do so. This is clearly not necessary, especially so if the archer you are coaching cannot do the twisting.

If we start from those first principles (stillness, balance, focus, relaxation) and enroll the archer’s help, adjustments to standard form will be easier, I think.

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Exploring Balance

Many students, especially younger ones, do not appreciate how important balance is in making quality archery shots. I see this most often in young archers muscling around compound bows that are too heavy. Combine that with a bit too much draw weight and getting to full draw becomes a dance routine.

To help students with their balance, the first task is to expand their awareness. Archers focussed intently upon their targets aren’t getting the messages sent in by their balance system. Here are a couple of things for them to try:

  • Start by having them shoot with their feet together. If they do anything that makes them lose their balance, it will need to be adjusted. (For some skeptical students you may have to demonstrate you can do it.)
  • Have them take their normal stance and then pick up their “away” foot (also known as the back foot) and touch it down on its tip. Basically you are asking your student to shoot off of one foot (with but slight assistance from the other). Again, if they do anything that makes them lose their balance, it will need to be adjusted.
  • Or have them take their “toward” foot (also known as their front foot) and swing it around to the other side of their away foot and set it down. Then shoot again.

Each of these is a variation of the others (so you will probably need only one of these drills;; the others are for the case that one approach doesn’t work: the archer can’t do it, the result is not achieved, etc.). The idea is to make obvious the things the archer is doing that cause loss of balance. The goal is the make the archer aware of the balance issue.

The issue is important because the draw is a large scale movement of the body and the bow. Following those movements it takes some few seconds to resume a still state. (Shots taken while not still have been classified as “drive by shootings.”) The time required to become still is affected by how well balanced the archer is. Obviously, spending a greater amount of time under the stress of the bow because of a jerky or wobbly draw will lead to fatigue more quickly and scores will suffer.

The obvious solution to many young archers is to draw very slowly. This is not a good solution because a very slow draw lengthens the time the archer is under the stress of the draw, just what we are trying to avoid. The best solution is a smooth, strong draw, one that involves a minimum amount of movement getting to full-draw-position and which results in a sense of stillness in very short order. Being balanced throughout the shot gives your archer the best platform from which to perform this action.

But … if they still doubt that balance is important, have them shoot from tiptoes. That will convince them balance is important. (Be sure they are shooting close up because the arrows often go very far afield which is why this drill is not #1.)

 

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Archery Form … Is Overrated

I just watched a YouTube video of Oh Jin Hyek describing his form (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bee3Q9sPjzQ), which includes poor shoulder alignment and a number of other flaws. Yes, this is the same Oh Jin Hyek who won gold at the 2012 Olympic Games (London). Also winning a gold at that Games was Michele Frangilli, whose form can best be described as idiosyncratic (and devastatingly effective as he has won everything in sight). And it was not that long ago that Viktor Ruban of Ukraine won an individual Olympic gold medal (2008, Beijing) grabbing the bow (no sling) and with his thumb behind his neck at full draw. The compound world is just as idiosyncratic.

So, why are archers and coaches so obsessed with describing and teaching and trying to adopt perfect archery form and execution? Clearly excellent, or even good, form is not needed to win.

I am not going to try to convince you I know the answer to this conundrum, but I do think we need to start discussing this because for all coaches, we need to know what to emphasize (as well as how to emphasize it and when).

How Could We Know?
I often wonder what climate change denying politicians are going to say when they are proven wrong. I imagine it will be something like “I am not a scientist, how could I have known?” (The cynical me would ask “You didn’t question why the energy companies were giving you so much money?) The same question occurs regarding archery form and execution: what should we be emphasizing? What are the roots of winning form and execution?

I suggest a novel approach: we could ask.

Lanny Bassham’s Mental Management System was created because he asked. He asked fellow Olympic medal winners what their mental state was when competing. He took what he learned and went out and won everything in sight, too, including the gold medal that eluded him his first time around.

We could survey Olympic and world championship medal winners and we could examine them. We could rate their form and their execution, describe their strengths and weaknesses (we have video of most of the competitions, no?). We could look at their performances before and after their winning such prestigious medals to see if the winning was part of a longer-term trend or a surprise.

We could ask. We could ask them and ask each other.

What role does confidence play? (Apparently a lot.)

What role does being comfortable on a big stage play? (Apparently a lot.)

What role does picture perfect form and execution play? (Apparently not so much.)

That these questions are not even current in coaching and archery discussions says a lot about where we are. (Hint: we have no idea.)

What Should We Know?
There are so many questions that need to be asked. What role does shooting distance play? This came to mind because the aforementioned Michele Frangilli still owns two world records for indoor rounds: for the 18m 600 round he shot a 597; for the 25m indoor round, he shot a 598. That’s right, move the targets back 40% and the WR goes up! (Was it the 50% increase in target size? Was it the difference between the magnitudes of two changes (distance and target size)? Were these just his very best performances or did he flirt with such scores regularly?)

I would like to know how best to teach archery 8-year olds, and teenagers, and adults and how to distinguish excellent archers from just the very good and … and….

I’d be interested in hearing from coaches out there about things you would like to know. If I get enough responses/questions sent in I will share them far and wide.

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Communication is Hard and Then We Die

QandA logoI got a follow-up from that last post and I got something wrong (amazing isn’t it!). Here is the follow-up question and my response:

“What I’m having trouble with is the rotator cuff of my string arm. In order to ensure full expansion, I pull back until I feel an intense stretch in my rotator cuff. I’m pretty sure this is overdoing it, but to what extent should I expand?”

So, I got the shoulder with the problem wrong. First off you should not feel “an intense stretch in my rotator cuff” … ever! If you do, stop!Stabilizer + V Bars

There is a “slot” through which your elbow can go comfortably while making a shot. If your elbow is too high or two low, there can be a feeling of something “catching” … which is bad. How high or low your slot is depends on you. I have seen archers with quite high and quite low arm positions/slots.

You need to find your slot. With your lighter limbs on your bow try drawing (you don’t have to shoot) with your elbow way too high … then way too low. Focus in on the feeling in your draw/string shoulder. Then try draws at various other spots. Being of a systematic mind, I would go half way between “too high” and “too low” and then look to slots in the top or bottom half of that range depending on which seemed the most promising. So, eyes closed, focus on your shoulder, draw. Try different arm slots to see if you can find the one that works for you. It should be comfortable with no strain and no pain.

This is something I learned “along the way,” I don’t have any biomechanics to back this up. Let me know if you do.

Also, take it easy. You are still nursing an injury which you do not need to aggravate.

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Why I Follow Golf Coaches (Part 2 of ?)

I was watching another video by one of my favorite golf instructors (Don Trajan) recently and he said something quite profound. He was addressing the relationship of foot position to the golf swing and brought up the example of Ben Hogan. If you are not aware of Mr. Hogan, he is a golf demi-god, in the Hall of Fame, etc. But in discussing Mr. Hogan’s golf swing with a biomechanics specialist it was felt that Mr. Hogan was also one of the most supple and flexible golfers ever to have played the game. The estimate was that there are only about a half dozen golfers in this country who have the same degree of flexibility as Mr. Hogan did. Now, Mr. Hogan’s instructional book (Five Lessons: The Fundamentals of the Modern Golf Swing) is an instruction classic with almost a million copies in print. This means that all of the golfers using his book are The Five Lessonsfollowing the advice of someone who has abilities they do not have.

Coach Trajan’s statement was “When you read things and want to do things, do you have the physical attributes to do them?” Brilliant. Obviously this applies to the developmental arc of all archer-athletes who are striving for elite status. They do not have all of the attributes needed to support elite archery technique, so they work on their cardio fitness, they build strength and flexibility, and they refine their form so that they will. But what about the rest of us?

The example I refer to so often is the open stance adopted by so many. Realize that whatever is happening with regard to where your feet are positioned, your upper body has to conform to certain requirements: you have to be a full draw without fighting to keep your bow “on target” for enough time to establish your aim and that you are not moving before you can finish your shot. Whatever you do with your feet, it cannot disrupt your upper body geometry.

SAWModern American Olympic Recurve archery form was developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s by Rick McKinney and Darryl Pace. They won everything in sight and by so doing attracted the most people emulating them. Part of their shots was a quite open stance. McKinney mentioned in his classic book, The Simple Art of Winning, that he felt the open stance helped him to “get into his back” muscles better. Later, people reading his book (including me) took that as “an open stance facilitates use of the appropriate back muscles.” This turns out to exactly demonstrate the statement of Coach Trajan above.

It is my belief that this is an exactly 180 degrees incorrect interpretation. The reason I believe this is that in Olympic Recurve archery, the shoulders have to be rotated to be roughly 10–12 degrees closed. Rotation one’s feet in the open direction opposes the needed shoulder rotation and so cannot help accomplish that. So why did McKinney and Pace do it? My understanding is that they were both very flexible and could get their draw/string elbows considerably past being in line with their arrows. This is a source of variability that is not desired. The open stances restricted their ability to get past good alignment and helped them to become more consistent thereby. So, what help is this for people struggling to get to “good line?” None whatsoever. This is why I so often close up my student’s stances until they can establish good line and then, from there, go on to experiment with other stances.

So, when you read things and want to try things, I recommend you follow Coach Trajan’s advice and consider whether “you have the physical attributes to do them.” If you do not, either you have to commit to creating those attributes or (more often) consider other options. It is probably inimical to good form and execution to assume that just because Coach XYZ recommends this or that, that doing it would be good for you. Everything has to be explored and adopted based upon whether it fits your body and your mind and your goals before such a commitment can be made. A great help in that determination is a good coach. This is one of the main reasons I am working hard to become a good coach.

 

 

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Making Changes: How Do I Know I am Good to Go?

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,

I’ve mastered a new anchor point where I am now “in line.” However, I still have a slight tilt to my head (and you said tilting my head was a “no-no”). Is it necessary to eliminate this one problem? I’ve seen people with horrendous form at tournaments, but they still end up winning. Additionally, I turned the center of the target to pulp today, as well as outscoring the three compound shooters I was shooting with.
Thanks

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It all depends on what you mean by a slight tilt. You do not have to do it “right,” meaning exactly as prescribed in the textbooks, but you do have to watch out for is something that you adopt that you can pull off based on you being a good athlete, because that will vary a lot day by day. We want to structure a good shot though body positions that support good shots and that require little athleticism for that reason. This makes our shots more repeatable.

So, is your particular adaption of head position “in” or “out?” To test it you need to shoot for several sessions (or many) to see if you are being consistent compared to how consistent you were before (hopefully you are more consistent). Do your group sizes/scores/whatever change dramatically between “good days” and “bad days?” If so, that is not acceptable. Are the variations day-to-day small and acceptable? If so, you are good to go.

“Are the variations day-to-day small and acceptable? If so, you are good to go.”

And you are right to conclude that “good form” does not equate to “success.” Many archers with poor form win and others with good form lose. Having good form has one major benefit: it takes less effort to learn. Anything you do suboptimally requires you to practice more to make it consistent. Most archers have quirks of form that are suboptimal, but they are generally small and only required a small amount of training to make them regular. At the same time, you will notice, as would an observer ignorant of archery, that all archers look alike. They stand, they nock, they draw, they loose, they follow through, etc. All archers are more or less close to the same form as what is taught/learned is believed to be optimal.

 

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