I realize that I haven’t written about this much (or at all?) and since it is a major part of the mental game I should get started. This has to do with whether an archer needs to focus their attention internally or externally.
So, an archer with an external focus will look at the target and visualize the arrow hitting dead center and then execute the shot. An archer with an internal focus will focus on how their body positions feel and their back tension and how the followthrough feels as the shot is finished. So, which should an archer have, do you think?
In the past, I would have been tempted to say “both,” but now I know better. It seems almost irrefutable in my mind that archers need an external focus. There are many ways to demonstrate the truth of this but I will leave those up to you to find for now.
Archers need to have an external focus, focusing on the bow, the arrow, the conditions, and the target.
The purpose of the shot sequence (shot routine), is to guide the archer’s attention to the externalities of a shot. First we consider the position of our feet, then we select an arrow and attach it to the bow, attending only to these tasks. Before we raise the bow, we visualize a perfect shot as a way of showing our subconscious minds the “plan” it is to adhere to. Then we focus on the target and execute the shot. with an external focus.
The reason that focusing on “both” won’t work is the limitation of the conscious mind to hold thoughts simultaneously. We used to say that our conscious minds could only hold one thought at a time. Recent experiments in psychology, however, have shown that we can get as high as two thoughts simultaneously. The subconscious mind does not seem to be so limited and can simultaneously track quite a few things, which is why we leave the “feels” part of the shot up to it (there are many, many feels associated with a good shot).
It is a good thing we can hold two things consciously in mind because there is a point in our shot sequence where we do just that. It is where we are aiming just prior to the loose. We must maintain our sight picture (of where against the background we want to hold our sight’s aperture or arrow point) while also focus on finishing the shot. Sighting is a point that is much discussed but finishing the shot is not. Some people recommend a focus on the tightness of the back muscles involved in the “hold.” This, however, is an internal focus. Some focus on the position of the draw elbow as a substitute, again an internal focus. Some, who use a clicker, focus on the clicker, but I think that is a mistake in that it gives the clicker too much power. It is better to set the clicker up so that it corresponds to proper posture and let it take care of itself, the same being true for release aids (set them up so that they go off when posture is good and not otherwise). I teach Barebow Recurve archers to use their arrow point as the signal they are to loose. They are looking at the point to aim in any case and what they are looking for is the back-and-forth movement of the arrow point to minimize (an indicator that stillness has been achieved). Both of these (aiming and movement checking) are external foci so we are good there. For Unlimited Recurve and Compound, we have to aim and then be patient as we wait for the release aid to trip or the clicker to trip, so there is some internal focus almost no matter what. This makes shooting with a faster tempo valuable as there is less waiting and anxiety associated with the waiting. What constitutes “faster” for archers varies with the archer, all of whom have “too fast” and “too slow” tempos to avoid.
In the followthrough, I tell my students that “the shot is not over until the bow takes its bow,” so after the shot, the archer is focused upon the behavior of the bow, thus providing valuable information about the forces unleashed by the release of the string (the bow should do the exact same thing after every shot, ideally).
The important of having an external focus is why I do not recommend Kisik Lee’s Total Archery books and similar books to archers. The information is designed for coaches, not for archers, and has a great deal to focus on internally. (The internality is part of the explanation for the external patterns recommended, not as a source of focus for archers, but given this information, can you expect archers to not use it?) Coaches have an outside-in viewpoint while archers have an inside-out viewpoint. The archer’s viewpoint must be directed to the external parts of shots and not be directed to what is going on inside their bodies. So, while it is important for coaches to know what is happening internally during shots, it is not helpful at all to archers and a potential source of a great many distractions.