Tag Archives: Coach Training

The Problem with Monkey See-Monkey Do Archery

Currently archers and archery instructors are engaging in what I call “monkey see-monkey do” personal improvement planning. If we see a recent champion doing something different, we attribute their success to that new “move,” because, well, no one else is doing that and everything else the winner did was just like what everyone else was doing, so their success surely must be due to what they did that was different and new.

Brilliant logic … just wrong and I mean “Flat Earth wrong,” not just incorrect.

The classic example of this thinking being wrong was a winner of the Vegas Shoot one year did so wearing a glove on his bow hand. The reason was he had a hand aliment that contact with the bow aggravated. This didn’t stop quite a number of people who showed up at the next Vegas Shoot wearing gloves on their bow hands.

There are a number of things operating here that need to be taken into account.

Survivorship Bias
So, you notice that a winner had a different, maybe a new, move. So is the success rate 100%? Did all of the archers who tried the new move experience success? What if I told you that of the ten archers who had incorporated this new form element into their shots, nine of the ten had achieved success, meaning podium-level making success? Okay, now we are talking! Nine out of ten, surely that proves this is the magic move!

Uh, no.

Just as the winners write the history, only the survivors are even present to tell their story. What if 100 archers had incorporated this new form element into their shots, and of the 100, nine experienced great success, one experienced a bit of success and 90 got so frustrated with their inability to shoot well that they gave up the sport and are doing different things now? Different, no?

The problem with this MSMD approach is we only have the winners (aka survivors) to examine in any detail. The losers aren’t around to be evaluated.

Random Winners
Another problem we have is random winners. I remember seeing the scores shot in a North American IFAA Championship shoot, held in Florida one year. About 50% of the entrants and winners came from Florida. Like most archery championship shoots, this one was open to anyone willing to pay the entrance fee, but the farther away you live the less likely it is you will attend. That is just a matter of fact. And don’t you USAA/WA fans look smug at this, one of the first world championship shoots put on by the newly created FITA organization (now World Archery) was held in Sweden. The vast majority of the entrants were from Scandinavia.

So, there are some basic qualities winners need to have: they need to show up, they need to have archers better than them not show up, … do you see where this is going?

An oft quoted statistic is that 95% of competitions are won by 5% of the archers. I have no idea whether this is true, but I suspect the core of it is: people who win often or consistently are quite few. And they win a lot. The only times these things happen is when there is a truly transcendent player in the mix, like Tiger Woods was to golf, or when the competition is just not that great. I suspect, in archery’s case, it is the latter. In Olympic circles, the U.S. was dominant from archery’s reintroduction into the Olympic Games, but when they faltered, Korea became dominant (at least on the women’s side). Now Korea’s dominance is slipping and I suspect that winner’s circles will become more egalitarian as the quality of “the competition” goes up.

And The Solution Is …?
Gosh, danged if I know, but there must be more reality and science in archery if we are do get away from just mimicry as the mainstream of archery instruction. We need to acknowledge that there are as many “techniques” as there are archers and there is no “magic” in technique. We need to know why things work the way they do. We need to know more about the application of corrections. We need to know more about the mental game, particularly as to its application.

I am looking forward with much anticipation to finding these things out. It sounds like fun!

 

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Training Your Mind to Monitor Your Shots

Archery is described from time to time as a kinesthetic sport, one in which “feel” is a predominate mode of its expression. This is a simple consequence of our preferred sensory intake mode, vision, being entirely engaged in sighting or aiming. This leaves the rest of the shot to be monitor by the other senses. Hearing, smell, and taste aren’t much help, so that leaves the tactile sense (touch) and the sense of balance (often left off of the list of basic senses).

So, how good are you at monitoring the feel of your shot? How good are your students? Most, I suggest have no idea. I am not sure I do, either. But there are some things to do.

Mental Scans
A small set of activities can improve your understanding of the feel of what is going on while you are shooting. While shooting blind bale (short distance, large butt, no target face), start with a set of “scans,” that involve paying attention to how parts of your body feel during a shot with your eyes closed, start with your feet then your ankles on another shot, knees, hips, etc. One body part per shot. Are things moving? How are they moving? Are they moving correctly? Also do a balance check. During a blind shot concentrate only on how balanced you feel.

As usual, we are training our subconscious minds by directing the attention of our conscious minds. We are telling our subconscious minds what is important and what we are trying to do. We are teaching our subconscious self “the plan” and then we must hold it to the plan if we want a high level of consistency.

Form Checks
We can also check how our “feel” corresponds with the “real.” (In golf they have a saying “the feel isn’t real,” meaning that you need to check everything and then associate whatever you feel with whatever is really happening.”

Eyes Closed, Eyes Open Drills Again, blind bale, pick a spot to shoot at and either place your sight aperture on it or your arrow point, whichever way you are aiming. let down, close your eyes, draw on that spot, and then open your eyes. When doing this I do not pay much attention to the Up-down position of the aperture/arrow point, just the left-right position. If you can’t seem to end up close to that spot (again, L-R position), it might be you are fighting your stance. If you end up consistently left, try turning your stance to the right and try again. (Some people insist the stance that allows you the greatest success in this drill is your “natural stance,” the one in which your lower body is not fighting your upper body’s positioning.)

Mirror Drills “Closet mirrors” or mirrors designed to be mounted on doors are quite inexpensive and can be mounted so that archers can “shoot” directly at them or shoot with the mirror up the line. (Make sure it is square and plumb. If not your image is distorted.) If shooting in the direction of a mirror, it is important to not shoot the mirror! I suggest a let down after each rep. The drill procedure is the same: draw with eyes shut on a target, then open your eyes at anchor. You can see many things in this reflected view. Are you standing straight up and down? Is your bow being held straight up and down or is there a cant? Are you hunching your bow shoulder? Arching your back?

With the mirror up the line, when you get to anchor, open your eyes and turn your head to see the mirror image. Are your hips tilted? Are your shoulders square and “down?” Again, let down when you are done looking. (A line can be placed on the mirror with a length of thin tape to help gauge “straight up & down.” make sure it is plumb.)

Any flaws in “your plan” must be scheduled to be fixed in practice … immediately! these have #1 priority. If you are doing anything incorrectly, the worst thing you can do is pretend that everything is okay and go ahead and shoot a lot of arrows. The absolute worst thing to do is compete in this state.

Shooting Recall Drill
There is a drill called “Recall.” In this drill, as soon as you have release an arrow on target, you turn up the line and tell your coach/shooting partner/video camera where you think the arrow landed. Then either you or your helper spots the arrow and calls its actual location. When I do this, I replay in short-term memory where my aperture was a the moment of release and use that as my best guess as to where the arrow would land, moments later.

The purpose of this drill is to acquaint you with your built-in “instant replay” system. When in competition there are two things you need to do on every shot. One is to evaluate whether or not you made a good shot (and if not why) and you need to determine where the arrow landed. These may not match. Good shots can be blown off course by gust of wind and bad shot can land in the middle. This information is needed to create a plan modification for the next shot (allowing for the wind, whatever) or if a bad shot was made (which is where the replay is needed to figure out why), correct it as soon as possible as repeating bad shots is not a recipe for a good score.

I recommend you try these yourself (if you haven’t already) and then teach them to your serious students. As always, be on the lookout for other drills in this same vein. I will appreciate it if you send along any such drills you find as I am trying to compile a master list of drills (and what they are for) and make them available to one and all.

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How To Start Archers in the Mental Game

This is such a great question! I asked the questioner if I could blog on it to give the best possible answer I could. Here’s the question:

Good afternoon Steve,
My friend suggested I reach out to you for help regarding being able to coach my NASP kids about the psychological aspects of archery, and how I can help them overcome certain struggles. I started with the NASP program in September, but it was only volunteering in a P.E. class at a couple of the high schools where I live. The kids loved it so much, so they took it to the school board, and we are now in the second week of having a competitive archery team. I’ve been shooting for just over two years, and have found recently that their questions are difficult to answer because I struggle with the mental side of archery myself. (Really, who doesn’t? It’s such a mental game, yet we love it so much!) So, my question to you is, how do I coach them effectively when their struggles are also my own? Any advice would be much appreciated.
Thank you!

* * *

I asked this very same question when I first started working with Lanny Bassham of Mental Management Systems: “where do you start on the Mental Game?” And at the time both he and his son Troy answered simultaneously “You start with the parents!” Lanny has a new book out on this very topic I am reading and will review in Archery Focus soon.

Since I do not think you have this option as a NASP (National Archery in the (U.S.) Schools Program) Coach, I will respond differently. :o)

The first thing you need to do is educate yourself. I am working on a book covering all of the mental skills available to archers and coaches, but I don’t recommend you wait for that as right now I am beginning to suspect I might be dead before it gets finished. A very good place to start is with Lanny’s first book “With Winning in Mind.” Another good starting point is Troy Bassham’s “Attainment.” Both are available on Amazon.com and some bookstores. Both of these worthy gentlemen were very highly decorated rifle shooters, so these books are not tailored for archers, which I think is a good thing. They do have some archery specific materials they created based upon the work they did with us and quite a few good archers, including Brady Ellison. (They have some good YouTube videos posted, too.)

This will get you started and then, with practice and further study you will have more to share with your students. (A maxim we favor is: you can’t give what you do not have.)

To get your students started right I suggest three things: monitoring self-talk and the Rule of Discipline for them and for you: distinguishing between things to be done in an archery shot and things that just happen.

Monitoring Self-Talk
I am not going to be going on at length on this topic. I will just hit the highlights. (Try clicking “Mental Training” on the word cloud (over in the right margin) and that will bring up all previous posts with that tag; you may find some of immediate use.)

Self-talk is “what you say to yourself about yourself,” usually in the privacy of your own mind. We often say rather nasty things in this mode: “I am so stupid!” or “I always score poorly on the last end.” Unfortunately these can be interpreted by our subconscious minds as suggestions or commands! Gulp! Such comments are usually made out of frustration and are rarely true.

Here is an example I use often:

At a competition it starts to rain: Archer A thinks “Oh no, there goes my chance for a personal best score! I hate shooting in the rain!” while Archer B thinks “Oh-oh, here comes the rain. I am glad I brought my rain suit. My score will suffer but so will theirs and if they get bent out of shape, they’ll do even worse. I could win this thing!” Which do you think will do better from then on in this tournament, A or B? It should be obvious.

This is not a form of self-delusion or hypnosis. It is just a “looking on the bright side of life” approach to archery. Out on a field range, you approach a target that has challenged you in the past, should you dread it or think “I’ve been working really hard recently and today I might just set a new personal best on this target. Let’s see!” It works. Do not allow yourself the all too ordinary negativity we are accustomed to think about but look forward to new opportunities to test and prove your skill.

The Rule of Discipline
Archery is all about training your subconscious mind to perform under the gaze of your conscious mind. If your students follow this rule, they will learn faster than anything else they can do, because basically this rule says “don’t shoot shots you know are wrong.” If you go ahead and shoot shots you know are not right, you are telling your subconscious mind it is “okay to not follow the plan,” it is “okay to improvise” and this we do not want. Here the rule is in all of its glory:

If anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from the environment, you must let down and start over.

If their conscious mind doesn’t focus on what they are doing “now” the shot will be bad. But it is the subconscious mind that is in control of all of your muscles, so it needs to be trained as do exactly what needs to be done and to not deviate from the plan. A deviation from the plan results in a letdown and a loss in energy; this your subconscious mind interprets as a bad thing and so is corrected. The conscious mind often does little else but insist on a letdown when something seems wrong.

The Difference Between Things To Be Done In an Archery Shot and Things That Just Happen
Beginning archers often confuse things that happen naturally in the course of an archery shot with things that are to be done. They end up trying to do something they should not and it produces poor results and frustration.

A good example of this is the finger release of the string. This is not something that is done, this is something that happens because of previous things that were done. The bowstring is pulling the archer’s fingers back toward the bow itself. This is because the archer pulled the string away from the bow and the bow is designed to resist that. When the archer wants the arrow to fly, what he does is he stops holding the string and the string leaves of its own accord, flicking those pesky fingers out of the way.

The muscles used to make a hook of fingers that wrap around the string are in the forearm near the elbow. When they relax, off the string goes. The rest of the forearm and hand need to be as relaxed as possible. This is so the string can easily flick those fingers out of the way. If the muscles in the hand are flexed, the fingers are stiffened and will resist that clean movement which will make the release of the string sloppy and the shots done that way poor scoring (they will tend to be low and left of where they are wanted on the target).

Yes, that is me and yes, I am posing.

If the archer tries to do something like move his/her fingers really fast away from the string, bad shots occur because the fingers are stiffened and the archer is not fast enough to move the fingers that far so you get the same result as above, a bad one. (A Coach’s Tell for this is the fingers will spread as the string hand moves out and away from the archer’s body rather than straight back away from the target (see photo).)

The loose of the string starts a cascade of things that mostly just happen. The archer only needs to keep his/her arms raised. The rest happens by itself.

I saw a proposed NASP curriculum that had archers touching their string shoulder with their string hand at the end of the shot. This is a bad idea because this is something that is done. And most people can only touch their shoulder with the fingers on the same side by dropping their elbow toward the floor. Since we do not want this to happen during the shot, it can’t happen until after the shot, so it has no affect on the shot. But, if that elbow drop creeps backward in time into the shot, it will result in high to very high shots. It is something I abhor; it is a useless motion that masks what we really need to pay attention to. We can do a shoulder touch really well and think we made a good shot because of that, but since it doesn’t affect the shot, that is an illusion which is not at all helpful.

Confusing “something that happens” with “something to do” results in bad shots. Bad shots result in discouragement. Understanding what is needed to make a good shot, what to do and what happens because of that, is partly a mental skill for coaches: you need to instruct them so.

There is lots to learn here, so if you have questions … any of you … fire away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Treating Tendonitis

I follow a blog called “Exercises for Injuries” by injury treatment guru Rick Kaselj of Canada. You’ll have to find his blog yourself as I couldn’t find a handy link to it. (I bought one of his shoulder injury products and that’s how I got on his list.) I tend to trust this source because he supplies sources for the studies he mentions and the ones I have checked have checked out. Also, be warned that his web-based ads are of the ilk of those irritating ads that go on and on and on and just when you think it is done, you get “But wait, there’s more.” I assume this kind of marketing works because so many people use it; I just find it tedious in the extreme.

Here is an excerpt form a recent blog post that has very interesting information regarding tendonitis which I believe applies to archers. I suffered from “Tennis Elbow” and a shoulder “inflammation” problem, both of which may not have involved an inflammation at all, which would explain why the treatments didn’t work (including cortisone injection).

* * *

Here they are three surprising things you need to know about Tennis Elbow:

#1 Inflammation
Many doctors and physical therapists still recommend icing and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for Tennis Elbow, in spite of the fact that the medical community has agreed that Tennis Elbow is not caused by inflammation.

This quote comes from a paper in the British Medical Journal: “Tendonitis such as that of the Achilles, lateral elbow [Tennis Elbow], and rotator cuff tendons is a common presentation to family practitioners and various medical specialists. Most currently practicing general practitioners were taught, and many still believe, that patients who present with overuse tendonitis have a largely inflammatory condition and will benefit from anti-inflammatory medication. Unfortunately, this dogma is deeply entrenched. Ten of 11 readily available sports medicine texts specifically recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for treating painful conditions like Achilles and patellar tendonitis despite the lack of a biological rationale or clinical evidence for this approach.”

There was also a study conducted in 2006. It was a controlled clinical pilot trial to determine whether icing decreases pain and helps to heal Tennis Elbow. The study had two groups of people with Tennis Elbow. The control group did exercises only. The test group did the same exercises and iced. Both groups showed the same amount of improvement, showing that icing provided no real benefit for Tennis Elbow.

#2 Shoulders
Many people (and health professionals) don’t realize it, but weak shoulder and scapular muscles can be a significant contributing factor to Tennis Elbow, because the elbows and wrists must be recruited to handle the more taxing, repetitive movements the shoulder and scapular muscles should be handling, but aren’t able to.

When we strengthen our shoulder and scapular muscles, it takes a lot of the load off of the elbows and wrists, thereby decreasing the strain and stress on them, which is what causes Tennis Elbow.

#3 Eccentric Contraction Exercises
There was a study done in 2005 that found that long-term, 71% of people using eccentric had completely recovered from Tennis Elbow as compared to only 39% that didn’t do eccentric and did only stretching (Martinez-Silvestrini 2005).

An eccentric contraction is when a muscle is lengthening while it is moving with resistance. Eccentric contractions produce collagen to help strengthen the muscles and tendons near your elbow, and this is what helps to heal your Tennis Elbow and prevent it from occurring again in the future.

 

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Paralysis by Analysis

You may know I use golf coaching and golf training literature as templates for their archery equivalents. Golf and archery, field archery especially, have many commonalities. And the world of archery is far behind golf in its coaching literature and supports.

One of the coaching commonalities seems to be that we have dissected our motions into tiny little bits and then exposed those bits to the wrong audience. Dissecting an archery shot into tiny bits for analysis is perfectly suitable, in fact desirable, for coaches. It is a source of misery and confusion for archers. We can see this most clearly in golf.

Note that the archers arms are pointing up and to the left, while the club is pointing to the right. The angle thus created is referred to as “lag.”

I just saw an advertisement for a book entitled “The Release: Golf’s Moment of Truth” by Jim Hardy. In a golf swing the “release” refers to the practice of releasing the wrist cock created by the golfer on the back swing. At address a golfer’s club shaft is aligned with his/her arms. When the club is swung back overhead, the wrists “cock” the club so the club head is farther back than the golfer’s hands. Once the downswing has begun, the club head lags behind the golfer’s hands, substantially, and golfer’s are taught to preserve this “lag” until the last possible moment, because when this “lag” is released, a great whipping action is created, delivering more force to the golf ball, causing it to fly farther (if struck correctly). This releasing of the “lag” is called, most sensibly, “the release.”

All of this occurs in a small fraction of a second, of course, so this information is of no use to a golfer—coaches yes, golfers no. The authors have apparently created a system described by the acronyms LOP and RIT to help golfers break this tiny moment in time into even smaller units. LOP stands for “Left arm, Outward, Pull” while RIT stands for “Right arm, Inward, Throw” apparently a recipe for a good release of the lag in a swing.

All of this information may be good information for coaches, but in a golfer’s mind, they can only lead to confusion.

If you coach Olympic Recurve archers I strongly recommend you read this book. I recommend you don’t recommend this to your students.

We do the same in archery. I have found USA Archery National Coach Kisik Lee’s two books fascinating (and am eagerly awaiting the promised third book on coaching) … but I never recommend them to archers. Why? They contain too much information they can do nothing about. I cringe when I hear archer’s talking about LAN2, scapulae, 60:40 weight distributions, and the distribution of finger pressures on the string. An archer is looking for subconscious competence. When he/she is shooting, there are no conscious thoughts attached to making the actual shot. They are consciously aware of shooting, but they are not thinking about shooting, certainly they cannot be thinking about the details of making the shot. That leads to “paralysis by analysis.” This term was invented around 1956 (I think) but shows up in works going back to Aesop’s fables. In general it refers to overthinking a problem.

A coaches job is to take concrete knowledge (and even hunches) and turn them into actionable things archers can do. Archers then judge those actions by how they feel and how they affect their results. Supplying the background information is usually a mistake. (Some archers, typical those described as being Type As, want their coaches to demonstrate this knowledge, but usually just to check to make sure the coach knows whereof he/she speaks, not because they need that information.)

In golf there are golfers tying themselves in knots trying to increase their smash factors, change their launch trajectories, decrease or increase their spin rates, and create more lag and a better release. If the golfer is a professional, literally steeped in golf for a living, this might be helpful. For an amateur, this is the road to paralysis by analysis. Same is true in archery.

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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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For the Coach? For the Archer?

I was discussing a topic with a student and NTS came up. I generally do not teach the NTS, but elements of it are offered as options for archers exploring how to bolster particular form elements. In case you are unaware, NTS stands for National Training System. The nation is the U.S. and it is somewhat of a misnomer. I tend to think of it as the National Teaching System, because little in the way of “training” has been formalized. In any case, the NTS is all the rage in the U.S.

In this particular case, the student responded that he had read the reference I suggested but he said that often he was more confused rather than enlightened by the reading. This is not an uncommon result, as I find the NTS publications are mostly for coaches and not so much for archers. This is not confined to just the NTS but to many such writings.

I write mostly for coaches, but I do write for archers, too (Winning Archery, Shooting Arrows, etc.) and when I do I feel compelled to explain why certain things are recommended, that is I include the “why,” with the “what and how.” Otherwise one sounds just a little dictatorial: do this, do that, just shut up and do what you are told and I have never liked an authoritarian approach.

Coaches, serious coaches anyway, need to know the “why” behind all of the form, posture, and execution steps they teach. In acquiring this knowledge, a system of the shot is built in our heads which allows us to just look at an archer and “see” what seems to need work the most, for example. If we do not know the “whys” behind the “whats and hows,” we are left in the position of teaching archers the right way to do things based upon other peoples’ descriptions of “the right way to do things.” I am more and more convinced that there is no “right technique” or “correct technique,” that each archer must claim or build their own.

So, I am writing this to see if I can help you differentiate between “what the coach needs to know” from “what the archer needs to know.” Archers who are fed a bunch of “what the coach needs to know” may only be confused (the good outcome) but also may become discombobulated (the bad outcome), trying to do things that they should not and getting more mixed up than they were. The following may be oversimplified, but this is just my best first effort at making this distinction.

The What and the How
Archers are athletes. In general they need to know what they need to do and how they need to do it. The “why” is not going to be helpful as it confuses things and, in general, athletes need to keep things simple.

Usually a coach can get an athlete to try something different based upon their reputation as a “Quarterback Whisperer, or Pitching Guru, or Hitting Instructor, or Famous Coach, etc.” or based upon having a good relationship with the archer (they have worked together for some time, to the benefit of the archer). Once an archer agrees to try something different (it is their sport, I only ask, never demand), the only things they need to be focussed upon are “what am I to do” and “how am I to do it.” Then, they need to evaluate whether that change was correctly made and whether or not is was effective, as in “Oh, my groups are tighter.” or “My practice scores went up.” If the new form element works, they shouldn’t give a flying fart as to why it worked. (Why should they?)

The Why
Coaches, though, are better equipped to do our job if we know why something is preferable. For someone who, for instance, draws quite slowly, they might benefit from drawing more quickly. Drawing too slowly wastes energy, causes strain, and lessens the time an archer might have at full draw to do necessary things. Note If you don’t understand this, this is where people like me need to get better. To understand this, imagine being at full draw (compound or recurve, whatever). If you just wait, you will notice that it seems to get harder and harder to keep your bow drawn; it is not, the same number of pounds of draw force that are needed to stay at full draw doesn’t change (the bow is a mechanical object). But the energy supply of the muscles working to keep contracted to stay at full draw are running out rapidly, and the “it feels harder” is the signal that you are running out of time before those muscles stop working.

How much faster to draw the bow, if the archer agrees to try this, is not something that is dictated, it is something to be discovered. I generally ask the archer to try drawing too quickly and work back from there as it is normal to drift back to the status quo and if you only move up a little in draw speed, you’ll soon find yourself back where you were. So, the archer needs to experiment and try and test and feel his/her way to something new.

Telling the Difference
So, if you are reading an archery resource (article, book, web site, etc.), how can you tell if what it is that you are reading was meant for you or not? Here’s my best advice:

  • If muscles are mentioned, or physics, or the word “why” is used, then that information is for coaches. If terms like: scapulae, LAN2, vector, rotator cuff, or other scientific or context-specific terms are being used, terms that you may not understand, then that information is for coaches.
  • If what to do or how to do it is being described, then this is for archers. If a drill or a practice technique is being described, then this is for archers. So, if an article is describing the benefits of having a higher draw elbow is encountered, and suggestions are given as to “how to give it a try,” it is for archers. If they start going on about shoulder joints and rotator cuffs, then they are speaking to coaches.
  • Now, in my opinion, coaches need to read all of this, the stuff for the coaches and the stuff for the archers. Since our job is to get both an inside and outside view of what is going on in an archer, we need it all. But archers are probably better off without all of the coaching stuff, cluttering their minds. Just skip over it. And, coaches shouldn’t spend much time explaining the “whys” to their students. The first rule of communication is: know your audience.

A Wish
I hope in the future that archery authors make the distinction better between what is directed at coaches and what is directed at archers. This will help everyone.

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The Art of the Possible (Score)

Okay, so I am addicted to watching videos of golf coaches coaching. This is because videos of archery coaches coaching are not available. In a recent viewing Golf Coach Hank Haney said that one can establish a “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” golf round score by subtracting all of the big mistakes (penalty strokes, two-chips/two-pitches, etc., and three putts). This provides you with a score that is closer to your potential that what the scorecard actually said.

This practice applies to archery score cards, also. Take a look at a typical score card. On a, say, ten point scoring face, there might be mostly 10s, 9s, 8s, and 7s, but an occasional “flier.” Take all of the sub-seven arrows scores and turn them into 7s (this being your “normal low scoring arrow”). So, if there was a three, add four points to make it a seven. If a five, add two; if a two add five. When you are done, you will end up with a score that is closer to your potential score than what the scorecard actually said.

The point being, if you can eliminate your mistakes (or reduce them to a very small number, 1-2 per round) you will be shooting that score or very close to it. I went through a similar process in my NFAA field archery days. Through one long summer, I shot many practice field rounds with the goal of elimination all target scores under 18. (This is a 5, 5, 4, 4 minimum on those targets.) I did not chug along on this rounds and mumble “no low scores” or no “17s” like the Little Engine That Could, I just focused on shooting good shots and when I failed to hit that score goal of 18/20 on a target, I disassembled that end in mental replay to try to figure out what went wrong. (In almost every case it was a breakdown in mental focus, if you wanted to know … my mind wanders ferociously … as if you couldn’t tell!) The idea is to eliminate low scoring shots, or “working from the bottom end.” This can be a very helpful approach when coupled with “working from the top end” which is working to shoot excellent shots over and over.

One of the things I noticed when doing those rounds was if I shot a couple of fours early, then I became very conscious of “trying” to shoot the remaining shots as fives. This is, of course, not conducive to shooting fives, but it educated me as to the feeling of “trying” when I just wanted to execute good shots. I started to learn to shake off that feeling and get into a clean shot process. I also saw that my “misses” became smaller and smaller as I practiced this way. A great many things can be learned from a stint of working from the bottom end upward.

So, help your students see what is possible from where they are now. Too many are pessimistic about their scoring ability while too many others are overly optimistic. The optimistic ones need to see that even their “coulda, woulda, shoulda score” would not have won and the pessimists need to see where they would have placed had they shot their “coulda, woulda, shoulda score.”

Note This is my 279th post on this blog. That’s a whole lot of free advice! If you are grateful, think about buying one of my books (Steve Ruis on Amazon) or subscribing to Archery Focus magazine (www.archeryfocus.com). As you may know I am a retired schoolteacher, so I can use the money! :o)

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Do You Believe In … ?

Do you believe that there is a perfect shooting technique out there? And, if you mastered that technique you would automatically become a very, very good archer? There seems to be a fair number of archers and coaches who seem to believe this.

As a sport, and maybe representative of the wider culture, we also tend to believe in “talent,” that some people are born with a hard-wired ability to do . . . something. Otherwise, how do we explain young people who have abilities far beyond their years. While we do not deny that people have various physical and mental abilities, there is no evidence for this opinion that stands up to scrutiny. I tend to think it is a manifestation of our own ego protection at work. If that athlete just beat the stuffing out of me, it must be because he has a “natural gift” I was not given (aka It was not my fault!). It is harder to admit the truth: the other athlete prepared better, worked harder, or was just at a higher level of performance that you are currently.

This is the pernicious aspect of a belief in talent, if you believe you either have “it” or you don’t, what becomes of striving to get better?

A belief that there is some magical technique, is also akin to a belief in talent. It is not helpful and it is not based upon any evidence. If you believe that there is some essentially correct technique, the farther from which you get the poorer your performance as an archer will be, you are on the wrong path.

Ask yourself:

  • Is there any other sport in which this is the case?
  • If there were such a technique, should we not have found it by now? (People still argue about the “right” and “wrong” ways to do things.)
  • Do champions show a conformity of technique? Since they are performing the best, they must have technique closest to the ideal.

What I Suggest
Al Henderson, one of the U.S.’s greatest coaches, is reported to have told archers that “the key is to do it wrong over and over again exactly the same way.” I do not recommend one deliberately seek out how to “do it wrong,” but I do believe there is a process and it doesn’t involve a quest for “doing it right.”

Technique is Important, Everybody Needs One An archer’s technique is something he/she develops over time. It is never exactly the same as anyone else’s.

The Farther You Are from Your True Technique, the Harder It Is to Learn It If you insist on a form element or an execution step that is suboptimal for you, you will incur a training penalty in that it will take more effort and time to learn. Once this step is learned, though, there is no evidence that it is any less effective than some other step. There could be a score penalty for doing things that are far from optimal, but experience tells us that many archers can succeed having quite unusual form, so this has not been demonstrated in fact.

Learn Your Shot and Then Own It So, a budding serious competitive archer needs to find a shot, specifically his/her shot. Then, through repetition, they have to own that shot. Once they have gotten that far, there is a continuous improvement stage in which minor adjustments are made from time to time: in equipment, execution, and form, but these are small compared to the initial effort to learn and own a shot.

Technique, Like Talent, Is Not Given, It Is Learned The process is one of exploration to find what works and doesn’t work. Clearly what works is something close to what everyone else is doing, hence the idea of “standard” or “textbook” form. But occasionally, what everyone else is doing turns out to be suboptimal. The example of high jumping technique comes to mind. Everyone used to jump looking at the bar. Now everyone jumps looking up away from the bar.

Finally
In an article about David Vincent, an prodigious baseball statistics creator, especially with regard to home runs, an observer commented “Like many so-called stat geeks, Mr. Vincent was obsessed. His computer skills were a necessary entry point, but unless this subject drives you, you won’t spend time doing it.”

Bingo. Young archers who demonstrate talent are driven, by love of the sport, or love of the attention it creates, or. . . . Part of this drive surely is rooted in success. If one tries, and fails repeatedly, enthusiasm rarely survives.

This was so important that an early motto for youth archery programs was “early participation, early success.” What this meant was to get a bow into a prospective archer’s hands, then shooting at large targets set at short distances to ensure some measure of early success. A new archer having to shoot at 20 yd/m or longer will probably do well to hit the ground with his/her arrows and more than likely not be inclined to come back. (“I tried that but I was not good at it.”) Such a “conclusion” comes well before any skill has been achieved that could be the basis for success on “normal” ranges, so “big targets, up close” became the watchword for beginning archery programs.

The phrase “unless this subject drives you, you won’t spend time doing it” is key. Talent is built, not something one possess. This takes time, time on task. Something about the sport has to supply the energy needed to come back for more. Channeling that energy into some ballet-like search for perfect technique is counterproductive.

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