Tag Archives: Coach Training

Last Chance?

Lancaster Archery is clearing out “Simple Maintenance for Archery” (see https://lancasterarchery.com/products/ruth-rowe-2nd-edition-simple-maintenance-for-archery) for US $4.95 which is a steal. (Thanks to Ron Kumetz for the “heads up” on this sale.)

We contacted Ruth to see if she wanted us to republish this very, very valuable book and she was not interested. We are considering creating something to replace it, but that may or may not happen.

Get’em before they are gone.

This is the cover of the First Edition. The sale is of the Second Edition.

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Follow-up to “We Can Learn from Teenagers”

I was discussing my last post’s topic with the colleague/friend who brought it to my attention (Tom Dorigatti) and in that discussion Tom pointed out that:

You may recall that she (Liko Arreola) won the Women’s Championship at Vegas last year and a 15 year old young lad won the Men’s Championship at Vegas in 2022, too.

In bouncing these things back and forth in my mind, I followed on with “I think this is a combination of a couple of things: good coaching and a willingness to be coached on the part of the young athletes. Combine those with the benefits of youth (no mental scars, steady nerves, etc.) and great things can happen.

We didn’t get the coaching, at least until we were much older. So, we had pounds of bullstuff circulating in our heads and with no guidance in the mental game, equipment, etc. we created all kinds of blocks to good performance.”

I was thinking of professional golfers who fondly remember being able to putt brilliantly when they were in youth golf, but can’t “find the magic” again now that they were competing at the professional level. Those pros had accumulated a vast number of failed putt images in memory, so when they are to block out any expectation of the success of a putt, there is still this wall of memory holding back a flood of negative thoughts to contend with. (Think of the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike.)

As we age we accumulate many, many positives to build upon, but also things we consider as failures. It might be best if we didn’t label our shots as “successes” or “failures” but that seems an almost automatic process—maybe we can train ourselves to not do that. Not having those stores of memories tagged as successes or failures may make it easier to clear our minds and execute our damned shots.

As the young lady stated (“In practice at home, I don’t keep scores because, for me, it will lead to expectations and pressure in tournaments. My practices focus mainly on trying to perfect quality shot executions.”) self-knowledge is always the key. Some philosopher long, long ago gave the advice “Know thyself.” Still seems to be good advice, especially for archers.

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Is This a Form Flaw?

Is this a form flaw (Depositphotos_107864868)?

What do you think?

Most people fixate on the unorthodox string grip, but that is not the essence of the problem. There is such a thing as a “palm out” string grip. The thing is that if you were to use one, you must shoot an opposite-handed bow. This gentleman needs a left-handed bow to shoot right-handed, palm out.

I collect “stock photos” of archers. They indicate to the photographer what archery is and many photographers have no idea what they are shooting. I especially abhor photographic re-enactments of Wilhelm Tell’s shot (apple on boy’s head, etc.) These photos abound on stock photography sites, and it will only take one such to suggest to an impressionable youth that “he could do that” and tragedy is the result (probably for his little brother).

We ran a two-part exploration of the “palm out” string grip in Archery Focus magazine (Issues 10-4, 10-5 by Brian Luke) and every such “innovation” has its pluses and minuses. For one, the palm out string grip does not allow plucking of the string. That’s a plus. But it does attract attention one doesn’t always appreciate (e.g. being mocked by fellow archers). It also may serve as a potential treatment of target panic, being enough of a change as to be considered by your subconscious mind as a new shot, and so old mental baggage may not be attached to it.

The necessity of the opposite-handed bow has to do with the finger string grip loose of the string. On an ordinary setup, the string slides toward the archer, placing an off center force on the nock of the arrow, causing the arrow shaft to flex, first in toward the bow, and then back and forth. Ordinarily when an arrow flexes into the bow, there is the bow to absorb that force (through a cushion plunger or a patch of leather on the bow, etc.). Since the fingers in the palm-out grip are pointed the opposite direction, the flex is in the opposite direction and rather than the bow/plunger being there to absorb the force of the flex, there is only air and the arrow can easily move away from the bow with nothing to stop it. This is why left-handed bows have risers the mirror image of right-handed bows, and why traditional archers using a thumb grip of the string, rest their arrows on the outboard side of their bows, rather than the inboard side.

Damn, we learn something new every day . . . if we are lucky!

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Putting the Whys Before the Whats

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.”

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Mea Culpa

When we stopped producing bimonthly issues of Archery Focus magazine a year ago, I said offhandedly that I would have more time to post things on this blog. Clearly that has not happened. I believe I underestimated how much stimulation was involved interacting with authors and the topics they chose to write upon.

So, if there is a topic you would like me to address, please comment below and tell me what topics you would like to see more on and I will do my best to meet those requests.

Steve

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Teaching Beginners: Dealing With Eye Dominance

I was having an email conversation with my friend and colleague, Ron Kumetz, when he shared this approach to starting beginners with eye dominance included. “I solved the problem of having kids get hung up on ‘handedness’ by marking the bows ‘LE’ (for “Left-Eyed”) and ‘RE’ (for ‘Right-Eyed’) instead of ‘LH’ and ‘RH.’ If you never mention anything about which hand is dominant they never ask questions.”

Ron’s argument is that “a beginner has no particular coordination of their limbs for archery so why not start them off with as few obstacles as possible? If they don’t read any catalogs to see that bows come in right-handed and left-handed versions they won’t know it has anything to do with that.”

He shared that he was “an example of what happens if you try the ‘go with handedness first and see how it goes’ approach.” Ron has very limited vision in his right eye, and he was started shooting right-handed because of his hand dominance.

In our programs (back when we had programs teaching “rank beginners”) we began with the “go with handedness first and see how it goes” approach out of expediency (not having to test for eye dominance or even explain what it is, etc.). And we trained our coaches to detect behaviors showing that a wrong decision was made: tilting of the head to aim with the off eye, archers shooting arrows way left, trying to anchor under the off eye, etc. We also trained them how to get that archer into the right bow, not blaming them or anything really, or accepting “blame” for giving them the wrong bow, etc. These “corrections” were to be made within the first session, the earlier the better.

So, how do you deal with rank beginners? Do you have a special approach that will help others? If so, please share it in the comments!

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At Least They Are Trying

I once sat down with the Executive Director of USA Archery and gave him several pages worth of ideas to support coaches (I know it was several pages because he took notes). These were ideas that would support coaches as well as create income for USAA, something they were always keen upon. Most were obvious ideas, like offering through their existing online store things like windbreakers and ball caps that say “coach” on them, whistles, wind gauges, discounted books and DVDs on coaching, wind flags, score cards, even basic bows and other things needed to run youth programs.

Each purchase would put money in USAA’s pocket but also send a signal to their coaches that “We support you!”

The response at that time and mostly since was enthusiasm at first and then <cricket, cricket, cricket>.

I just got in my Inbox an email from UK Coaching that said:

Dear Steve

Would you like to save money on your …
weekly food shop?
coaching equipment?
restaurant bill?
holiday travels?
gym membership?

Upgrade your account today and for only £24 a year – that’s less than 50p a week – you’ll have access to Coach Perks, our latest fantastic benefit for UK Coaching Club Subscribers.

Now most of these 250+ discount coupons are from corporate sponsors, so they aren’t coaching or even archery related, but they are an encouragement to expand participation in their site and could offset the cost of their dues. And membership is not just for discount coupons as they also are offering “as well over 1,000 practical coaching tips, guides, videos, webinars and podcasts. And so much more!”

At least they are trying to support coaches.

PS Archery GB in the UK is also running a coach information site, called The Learning Hub, which has chat groups, mini-courses, videos, certifications, a function by which coaches can get their questions answered(!), etc.

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Discipline

One of Master Coach Bernie Pellerite’s favorite sayings is that archery is not a sport, it is a discipline. While I won’t argue that statement either way, discipline does seem to be at the heart of competitive archery (and every young archer’s parent’s hearts).

The word has unfortunate connotations or alternate meanings. Many people think of discipline primarily as being associated with punishment (or bondage, oh my!). But here we are looking at a secondary definition of the word, namely “2 : to train or develop by instruction and exercise especially in self-control.” Maybe we would be better off using the term “self-discipline” instead.

The words discipline and disciple have the same roots which is the meaning I tend to focus on. Our very best competitors often have a near-religious commitment to their archery practice.

Ack, you may have noticed I love words and enjoy word play and have distracted myself, something archers are not supposed to do.

The point of this post is that everyone, to a person, advocates that competitive archery is best expressed by repetition of one’s shot process, while focusing on that process so as to adhere to it faithfully.

The objective of target archery, the goal, is to shoot close groups of arrows into the highest scoring zones of one’s target. So, why is being disciplined to follow the exact same procedure the “winning formula” in so many people’s minds?

The point of this post is that everyone, to a person, advocates that competitive archery is best expressed by repetition of one’s shot process, while focusing on that process so as to adhere to it faithfully.

There are, in my mind, a couple of contributing factors. For one, if you just performed a series of steps that resulted in an arrow landing in the X-ring of your target, if you shoot the next shot differently, will that increase or decrease the likelihood that the next arrow will land in the same place? I remember a rather embarrassing episode at a California State Outdoor (NFAA) Championships. I decided for some reason to shoot this event with a release aid that I had just bought a week or so prior. (I know, I know, but it makes a nice “Boy, was I stupid!” story to tell as a coach.) On one target (35 yard Field, I think), as I was drawing to anchor, I hit my chin with my thumb, which tripped the release aid. When I checked the result, it was a 5 (on a 5-3 target face). Yeah, sometimes it is better to be lucky than to be good. Now, do you think that I should have tried to replicate that shot with my next arrow? No? (You passed the test!) But, do you know why? The reason why is that that accidental trick shot I pulled off had been done exactly one time and I had “memories” of thousands of replications of my standard shot to draw upon. This is why we have “Recovery Techniques,” to wipe away the influence of a bad shot (no matter how well it scored) and to be able to get back to replication our “good” shot, the one practiced ad nauseum, as we were doing.

Underlying this is the fact that we are better at physical tasks that we are repeating than doing them without such a repetition. And, we now know, that even an imagined task attempt makes one better at replicating such a task.

Biologically, we have determined that an imagined physical task activates the same muscles as when doing the task, so at the very least, you are running wiring tests for the task. Since muscles are activated by nerves, if you activate the same muscles in the same sequence, you are likely to get the same muscle activity. Of course, if you shut your eyes on the second attempt, all bets are off for an aiming sport. Using the exact same muscles without the feedback as to whether the bow was properly positioned is not a guarantee of success. (And I once was soundly beaten by a woman at a novelty shoot, who closed her eyes just before her release aid tripped. Go figure.)

Biologically, this behavior is reinforced in the form that nerve impulses are easier flowing if they are preceded by the exact same nerve impulses. It is as if the previous nerve action primes the channel for the next one.

I do not expect that focusing on repetition of one’s shot process will be moved off of center of an archer’s attention any time soon, if ever, because of the reasons behind that practice.

Postscript I am currently working on a book on principle-driven coaching. I was trained as a negotiator back in my working days. Our favorite process was often described as “putting the whys before the whats.” By focusing on the whys before getting into “solutions” allows one to understand the issues better and, more importantly, allows everyone to see how all of the others see those issues. This results in solutions, the “whats,” which are more effective in addressing the problems.

And I think this is an approach we, as archery coaches, might benefit from, if . . . if we only knew what the “whys” were! I am taking a shot at doing this, if only to see if I can get the “ball rolling” as it were, and interest others in doing the same.

The above post is along those lines . . . knowing the whys of everything we do and then allowing them to dictate what we do.

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And the Best Archery Teacher for 2022 is . . .

There is a saying about experience being the best teacher, but it is often misquoted. Here is the full quote:

“Experience is the best teacher, but a fool will learn from no other.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Usually what you hear is “experience is the best teacher” which I have used in the past but amended with “but it is a brutal way to learn something.” It seems that in the past, we taught young archers “how to shoot,” and then introduced them to competitions to complete their education. When you look at how much more than the basics of “how to shoot” is to be learned, it seems we archery coaches have been derelict in our duty.

This is the reason I wrote my book, “Winning Archery,” because I had collected hundreds of target archery books and the vast majority of them were “how to shoot” books. There seemed a great deal more to be learned if your goal was to shoot well, to shoot winning scores, as it were. In that book, I tried to cover some of the topics that need to be learned to become a winning archer that were not covered in the how-to-shoot books. And it is quite a fat book . . . and I didn’t exhaust the topic.

Here is an example. When you get close to a winning performance, most people are affected in predictable ways. One way is that we tend to speed up what we are doing. In a “feel” sport like archery, that changes how shots feel and subverts our error-checking processes. So, if you think you are close to winning, try slowing down a little (assuming you had sped up a tad), focus upon your breathing, trying for smooth, rhythmic breathing. (I got hot and bothered so much one time under these circumstances that I as actually panting.)

Here’s another example. For young Recurve archers, I teach them that they will experience difficulty getting through their clicker during a competition. (When you get tense, your muscles shorten, making getting through the clicker more difficult.) I teach my students that the first thing to do is relax. I even provide some relaxation procedures to try. And, if that doesn’t work and they are still struggling getting through their clicker, it is okay to not use the clicker for a while. Later, they can re-introduce it into their shot sequence to see if it is back to being okay. (And we practice this, yes.)

The alternative to these teachings is to just assume that “experience” will teach them what to do. The drawback to this is what I call the “here we go again” syndrome. When I experienced difficulties shooting, I got anxious. Later, when the same source of difficulty started to show up again, my mind gave me the “here we go again” signal and the anxiety was back in force, even though the problem had not fully manifested. The problem was uncomfortable enough that any hint of it led to my getting anxious and focused upon whether or not I was going to experience that difficulty or not, instead of focusing upon my shot sequence.

I also teach “poor shot recovery programs,” so my students will have something to do rather than “you will figure it out” when they shoot the occasional bad shot.

I refer to all of these things as “archery skills” and I start teaching them to serious students shortly after they have a consistent shot sequence. Actually writing down one’s shot sequence/shot routine is one of those archery skills. It is not part of “how to shoot” an arrow, but it is a part of becoming a consistently good scorer.

What do you think?

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The Myth of the Linear Draw (But, Wait, There’s More!)

When Kisik Lee came on board as National Coach for USA Archery, a discussion began on the merits of “linear” versus “angular” draws. I think the whole idea of a “linear draw” is based upon a mistaken interpretation. The linear draw is characterized as a draw in which the arrow slides straight back from its brace position (at address) to its full draw position. This behavior seems to me to follow from the usual development of young recurve archers.

When youths are taught to shoot, they tend to shoot with fairly good form and execution. (I separate form, which are our body positions, from execution which is how we get from one position to the next; some others do not, lumping it all into “form.”) And shortly into their first session they ask “How do I aim?” We tell them to just concentrate their attention on the spot they want to hit and their brain will figure it out (subconscious aiming). But more than a few students think there is a mechanism, an aiming mechanism, that if they can just figure it out will have them burying their arrows in target center like an Olympian, so they start experimenting.

The first thing they try is looking down the arrow shaft (also called “shotgunning”). This actually works at very short distances, but their technique is so poor (often tilting their heads way over to be able to “see”) that it usually does not. During this experimentation phase these experimental archers get another idea. If they set their bow into the correct position, the arrows fly into the middle of the target, so they estimate what that correct position is and then, so they don’t move away from that correct position, they monitor their arrow as they draw, making sure it doesn’t waver from where it was pointed at first. To do this the newbie archers kink their draw wrist severely so that the arrow slides straight back into what they think is the correct position. Thus, the linear draw is born . . . over and over and over, reinvented by myriad young archers.

Even though this is a real “stick bow” you can see the kinked draw wrist and the tilted head for “aiming,” exacerbated by using the dominant off eye to aim with).

Remember that these newbies have an instructor nearby, but not a coach per se. Archers who receive coaching are soon disabused of this practice by the mere expedient that they are taught to draw with a relaxed wrist. It is basically impossible to effect a “linear draw” using a relaxed draw wrist.

I tend to think of the linear draw as a straw man. It doesn’t really exist, except in rank beginners, but it is something to argue against. Even compound archers do not have linear draws. The reasons are simple. The draw arm hinges at the elbow. From the beginning of the draw, the elbow is out a bit from the central plane of the archer’s body. The force on the bowstring aligns with the elbow and when the elbow moves back, it does so in an arc. This pulls the nock of the arrow slightly out of line (away from the archer’s body) and then when the elbow completes its bend, it pulls the nock back into line.

The Equally Bogus “Aiming Too Soon” Concept
When I first encountered their writings, Recurve archery coaches were united in but one aspect. They all strongly advised against aiming too soon, or spending too much time aiming. Again, our beginners contributed to this somewhat. They aimed from the get-go, and then tried to draw sliding the arrow straight back (in a linear draw) so as to not spoil their aim. Some coaches taught vigorously against this “too early” aiming and it became dogma.

The mistake here is believing that aiming is a singular event, which happens just before a shot is loosed. I argue that aiming is a complex process, consisting of many parts. It begins when an archer takes their stance. If you don’t agree with this, try putting your bow side foot behind the shooting line and your string side foot ahead of the shooting line. Now take a shot. (Please do not hurt yourself or anyone else trying this.)

I tend to recommend what is called a “natural stance” to beginners. You find it by addressing a target (aperture/arrow point centered on the face), closing your eyes, drawing to anchor and then opening your eyes. If your aperture or arrow point is off line (left-right only), move your feet (both of them) until it is on line and repeat the process. Your natural stance is where you put your feet and your arrow ends up pointed in the right direction (left-right) because of how your body draws and anchors.

Not only does aiming begin at taking a stance, I generally stretch out the “final aim” from raising the bow (addressing the target) onward. What we don’t want to happen is to have to move our bows a great deal at full draw. We want to minimize the energy expended at full draw, and so we minimize the time spent at full draw. In this way we conserve energy and our last shot has as much energy available as our first (consistency is the goal). So, I want my archers to have their aperture/arrow point very close to their point-of-aim (POA) when they have completed their draw and anchor steps. To make it so, I have my archers determine how much their aperture/arrow point moves (relative to the target face) during this process by having them put their aperture/arrow point on target center at target address, then close their eyes, draw, anchor and open their eyes. Their aperture/arrow point will have moved. I then ask them, where would you have to start to get the aperture/arrow point dead center on your POA after the draw and anchor? Most figure it out rapidly. (It is a spot equidistant from the POA as the aperture/arrow point ended up at, but on the other side of the POA. So, if you start aiming at the X-ring of a 10-ring face, and your aperture/arrow point ends up in the blue at 5 o’clock, you should start in the blue at 11 o’clock.) I then ask them to practice this a bit, emphasizing that it is not an exactly thing, that they can make adjustments, but the idea is to get “close” to the POA so minimal corrections are needed in aiming. Minimal corrections of the aim at full draw take minimal time. Once an archer gets comfortable with this process, it happens naturally with little effort or calculation, even when target sizes and distances change.

So, aiming begins with the stance. It begins in earnest at target address (some call this a pre-aim) and then continues with great attention through the release (holding line of sight as long as possible, which means head position is held as long as possible and is less likely to move during the release).

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