I had a friend comment that he saw a list of eleven “bullet points,” that is points of emphasis, that characterize the Holding phase of a shot. I have said this before but I guess it is worth repeating that a physical technique, such as involved in archery shots or golf shots, can be sliced into as many pieces as you want and coaches who slice large numbers of sections seem to be more knowledgeable, so there is an incentive for coaches to do this. It is also, in my humble opinion, a mistake. Albert Einstein said “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” What he was saying was “strive for simplicity, but avoid being excessive about it.” Slicing and dicing our shot sequence into many, many pieces is not movement in the direction of simplicity.
I have been working on a book, Coaching from Basic Principles, which has the goal of trying to simplify our work as coaches. Allow me to use this approach to address the Holding phase of a shot, as that example is before us, before making a list of all the things needed to be done after the anchor and before the loose.
What is Holding For?
Holding is a slice of time, just prior to the loosing of the shot for . . . for . . . well, what is it for? Have you thought about this?
I think the “hold” is linked to the reason it exists and that is we must shoot from stillness. In the movies, archers like Legolas or Arrow shoot while jumping off buildings, riding a mastodon, or using a shield like a skateboard to slide down a flight of stairs. Of course their arrows are optical effects, so they can be fabulously successful, but target archers need to be still at the time of the loose for the simple reason that to hit their marks, they must be placed in space correctly (Archer’s Triangle form, sight aperture on POA, etc.). If they are not still, they are moving and therefore they have to also place themselves in time (Now, no . . . now? Yes!)
So, we need to be still just before the loose and, of course, we do not want to inject extraneous motion into the loose, but that is another topic. So, do we just assume we are still at that point or do we look for verification? The entire context of a shot routine is a guide to our attention, so that we are attending to what we are doing so that we can bail out if anything goes wrong, so yes, we do check as to whether we have met the condition of stillness as a precondition of a good shot. But, how do we do this?
I wasn’t taught this and had to find it on my own, but that is true of much of my coaching knowledge, but I haven’t read this or heard this elsewhere, and I have read every book on archery technique in the English language, many of which were translated from other languages (French, Chinese, Arabic, etc.)
Here is what I see: as I hit my anchor position, and check to see if my sight aperture is on my point-of-aim (POA), my aperture is moving, oscillating back and forth, up and down. I have only had a dead still aperture twice in my life and I was so enthralled by the sight of it, I couldn’t finish either shot. So, the aperture goes back and forth, up and down around an alignment with the target center/POA, etc. Then anywhere from 0.5 s to 1.5 s later, the oscillations drop in magnitude. If I continue to hold, several seconds later, the oscillations increase in magnitude, often becoming larger than the beginning of the sequence, due to muscle fatigue, I believe. The “zone” starting at the beginning of the more quiet oscillations is my sign of stillness. If I hold too long, the increase in the size of those movements indicates a lack of stillness and an end of the stillness zone.
For Barebow archers, I use this stillness zone as the spot they are to shoot from. A sign, as useful as a clicker, to “shoot now.” (For Barebow archers, the oscillations are in their arrow points, assuming they are shooting “off of the point.”)
For Recurve archers and Compound archers there are things to do as they are watching the oscillations die: string alignment, bubble levels, scope-peep hole concentricity, etc. But the monitoring of the oscillations can be carried on subconsciously as the conscious mind is checking all of those things.
And, when the oscillations die or damp down, this is confirmation of stillness (or being as still as they can) so that is a “good to go” sign.
Can More Stillness Be Trained In?
I think more and better stillness can be trained in, because of feedback training. Just by providing feedback to your subconscious mind, things can and will get better. To start, archers need to be made aware of these motions. I ask all of my serious students to draw to anchor and hold while observing the motions of their sight aperture or arrow point. I then ask them to describe the motions. (I often have to prompt them about the magnitude of the motions, including asking them to repeat the process, focusing upon that.)
I suggest that the length in seconds of the “stillness zone” is an indicator of progress in becoming more fit, archery fit, of course. The magnitude of the oscillations being an indicator of degree of stillness. If, over time, the oscillations become smaller in magnitude, they are improving on their ability to be still at full draw.
Once the archer accepts the desirability of stillness at that point in their shot, the feedback they get from these checks are all the subconscious needs to make improvements as they go. Of course, if they aren’t working out, shooting significant numbers of shots, no subconscious efforts can overcome body neglect.
In the Book . . .
In the book I am working on, I try to list all of these basic principles, the knowledge of which should support coaches in directing their archers to better performances. And rather than there being eleven points of emphasis for something like a Hold, there is only one. Simpler is better, I suggest. And I do believe the “whys” will guide us better that lists of “whats.”