Tag Archives: Coach Training

Things Go Better with Coach!

One Archer, Five Different Coaches
If you took one archer’s shot, videoed it and showed those videos to five qualified archery coaches, you would likely get five different explanations of how to fix their flaws. However, I will argue that any one of them could potentially help the archer improve, but only if a couple of conditions were met.

First, the explanation from the coach for the changes recommended should resonate with the archer, aka the coach speaks their language. They need to respond to the communication in a way that makes sense and motivates them. Second, the archer would need to stick with that one coach’s voice as they continued to work. If they listened to all of the coaches at once, they would be worse off than when they started. You can’t make successful changes with too many voices floating around in your head. This is why “tips” and online videos are not good guides to better scores. (They can be helpful, but only for a specific topic and short term.)

Continuity Is Needed
Continuity is a problem that exists at every level of archery when it comes to coaching. Because changes occur only slowly, our instincts can be to switch coaches more often than is helpful, let alone being the guy who will take advice from anyone on the practice line at his club. Even the best archers in the world can cycle through a number of coaches rapidly when they don’t see immediate results.

If you want to give yourself the best chance of making meaningful changes to your form or execution, you need to stick with the same source of advice for “a while” and allow it to work. I don’t know how long that period is or should be but I also don’t know of anybody who does – that’s the challenge.

Archers develop shots that are unique to them. Yes, they look like everybody else, but they are different. Before I work with a serious archer I want to know what they think their issues are. I want to see them shoot and I want to know what their common misses are. Some archers can effectively shoot in ways that would undermine other archers. We recently had an Olympic men’s individual champion who shot with his string thumb behind his neck and with no sling (and yes, the videos showed him “grabbing the bow”). But if these things, these “form flaws,” are not problems for an archer, would you recommend they change them? Why? (I would not.)

This happens often enough when I work with young archers. These young people often haven’t developed enough muscle to keep their bow arm up through their shot. So their bow arm drops a little when the string is loosed. There is no immediate cure for this (although if their bow is too heavy, I suggest lightening it; young recurve archers do not need side rods or back weights, for example) so I tend to “leave it for later” (although I reinforce that work will have to be done at some point—just not now). If that archer sees another coach, they may see the “dropping of their bow arm” as a major flaw they need to work on . . . right now.

This is why I counsel archers who are seeing me or other coaches short term (something I recommend) that they should always take notes and discuss what was addressed with their “regular” coach to see how it fits into their improvement plan. Even “tips” from others on the practice butts, need to be brought to the regular coach for discussion. One of them may actually help.

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Do You Want the Long Answer or the Short One?

Toward the end of my teaching career when a student asked me a question I asked them “Do you want the long answer or the short one?”

In archery I expect that athletes would want the short answer to their questions. Their priorities are finding out which things are worth their time and effort to try and then figuring out whether those things work for them.

Coaches, on the other hand, should ask for the long answer. They should know the background, even the history, of the things they teach. They could also know the science of what they recommend. It would be nice to know all of the pitfalls when archers first try certain moves, and lots, lots more.

The students I taught were generally taking chemistry as a service course, to provide background for the things they were truly interested in, not because they were going to be applying that knowledge. It did not offend me that they, almost to a person, asked for the “short answer.” The rare chemistry major I encountered, would occasionally ask for the long answer, as is appropriate. That I asked my adult students this question and then accepted their judgment, I felt, was a sign of my maturing as a teacher.

When archery coaches are in “teaching mode” the most important principle to apply is “know your student.” If they are serious competitive archers, give them the short answer and ask if they want to know why. If not, don’t hold it against them, that’s not their job to know those things; it is your job. If they are beginning recreational archers, always, always give them the short answer. And tell them funny stories, they like those.

Oh, and when you email me with questions, it is perfectly okay to ask for “the long answer” or “the short answer,” I will understand.

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“So-Called Mental Skills Coaches”

I was reading an article about the 2019 U.S. women’s national soccer team and encountered this: “The US have often employed sports psychologists and so-called mental skills coaches over the years, although there is not currently a full-time staff member working in either of those roles.”

“So-called” mental skills coaches . . . hmm.

Why not “The US have often employed sports psychologists and mental skills coaches over the years, . . .”? Why “so-called”?

Sports coaching seems to be an established field, but I suspect that is because there are coaches who make a great deal of money doing that as a job, rather than there being standard (or non-standard) criteria that qualifies you to do it, such as doctors and lawyers and beauticians have.

What is it that qualifies one as a “mental skills coach”? When I look at my favorite mental skills coach, Lanny Bassham, he not only invented himself and his business as a mental skills coach, he invented his curriculum, too! There are now education programs just coming into existence that are certification programs, so “certified mental skills coach” is a phrase now coming into being. (Lanny’s company, Mental Mangement Systems is offering some of these.)

Note As an aside, it took me a long time to realize that a certification program was one that had a certificate at the end. What the certificate establishes is that you completed the program in good order, nothing more, nothing less. Basically it is just a “certificate of completion” for a course of study. The value of the certificate is derived only from the value of the program, or it should, although some programs seem to limp along, harvesting their former reputations along the way.

So, what is it that qualifies one as an “archery coach,” then?

In the infancy of archery coaching in this country, which was not that long ago, what qualified you as an archery coach was the fact that you coached archers. There were few of them and no, count them—zero, zilch, nada—archery coach training programs.

What qualifies one to coach archery is still evolving, although evolving chaotically in my opinion. There are a number of things that are needed to make “archery coach” a more recognizable position, far from being a “so-called archery coach,” and they do not involve getting a high paying job with a professional team or major university. One of the things I found missing when I first got a coaching certificate (a Level 2 certificate from the then National Archery Association, now USA Archery) and that is any kind of professional literature for archery coaches. I searched and searched and searched and found exactly two books on coaching archery, both of which were on how to teach a college archery classes (and one of them was published in 1935).

I can’t remember exactly when it was I took on the task, the mid-2000’s I think, but I decided to make the attempt to create a professional literature for archery coaches. (No shrinking violet I.) I went about and used my position as editor of Archery Focus magazine to ask every coach I knew to write books about coaching . . . and got turned down every . . . single . . . time. So, I wrote one book myself (Coaching Archery, WAF 2009) to get the ball rolling. The project got turned down by traditional publishers, so we formed our own publishing company, Watching Arrows Fly, which now has about a dozen titles on coaching (and many more on other archery topics, all available on Amazon.com) and a half dozen more coaching books are on the drawing boards. (I am editing, designing, and laying out one such currently—Bob Ryder on Coaching Collegiate Archery).

It is a start.

We made an abortive attempt to create a community for archery coaches. We called it The Archery Coaches’ Guild. The effort is on hiatus because we just didn’t have the resources to pull it off. We spent many hundreds of hours and a fair amount of money on it only to end up back on the proverbial “square one.” It is doable as we designed it as a virtual community (around a web site) but we just couldn’t get it done.

At some point or other, when I am brave enough, I will take a shot at writing an outline of archery coaching knowledge. Part of that “tree” will be a branch, a stout branch, labeled “Mental Skills” or the “Mental Game of Archery.” (So-called metal skills coaches, my ass!) Other branches will include archery equipment knowledge, the role of technique and how to teach it, how to develop archery skills, how to compete successfully, how to operate a recreational program, the science of archery, etc. My thought is if I create such an outline and share it widely, it will stimulate people to write about these topics. If we can accumulate the coaching wisdom of current coaches then future coaches will not have to “start from scratch,” as it were, developing their coaching kit. And, if they add their acquired wisdom on top of ours, well, maybe we will have something of great value to coaches going forward and, through them, to all archers.

 

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We Should Work Them Like Rented Mules . . . Not!

The general approach to youth sports with the goal of creating adult champions and elite athletes is to engage kids in serious training at a young age and make sure they specialize in that sport because there are many, many hours of training needed. We have espoused the contrary opinion that children should not specialize in archery at an early age, that they should explore other sports and participate in a variety of them. Many of the things they get out of participation in other sports are beneficial to their archery in any case.

Two recent “articles” highlight these points. Here’s an excerpt from one:

The 10,000-Hour Rule For Sporting Success Is Largely A Myth, So Let Kids Dabble by Sean Ingle

A Danish study, which looked at the differences between 148 elite stars in multiple sports – including canoeing, cycling, rowing, sailing, skiing, swimming, track and field and triathlon – compared with 95 near-elite athletes in the same disciplines, found a similarly surprising picture.

As the academics noted, the near-elite athletes accumulated “significantly more training hours as early as age nine and continued to complete more hours through early adolescence until age 15” compared with elites. The elites also had their first national and international competitions at an older age. It did not matter. The elites intensified their training regime during late adolescence and went past them.

Epstein notes that the research points a similar way in most sports. “Eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in which they will eventually become experts,” he writes. “Instead they tend to ‘sample’ a wide number of sports in an unstructured or lightly unstructured environment” before specialising only later.

Why might this be? Part of it is that early specialisation and highly structured training can lead to lower motivation, burnout and potentially increased injury rates. But there is a more fundamental point that Epstein wants to make: acquiring skills in multiple sports, often via unstructured play, helps develop creativity and equips people better to handle fresh challenges later in their sporting life.

Also, on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel recently there was a segment called The Norwegian Way (Season 25, Episode 5, Air date: May 21, 2019). This segment focused on Norway’s youth sports programs, which basically focus on inclusion and fun and not winning and losing. Races are run but lists of finishers aren’t produced. Soccer/football matches are had but the score is not kept. Competitions are had but as far as possible kept local so as to not create traveling expenses for parents. Participation is key and participation fees are low . . . and if the fee cannot be afforded by a child’s family, the children are allowed to participate anyway. Coaching is egalitarian, not focused on finding the “talented” athletes. This is for kids from 6 to 12 years of age. If a child after that point wants to participate more significantly, then focused training and all of the rest kicks in. By the way, Norway’s traditional sports are winter sports and Norway took more medals than any other country in the last Winter Olympics. Apparently their youth programs haven’t undermined their success.

Also interesting is how they pay of all of their youth sports programs and elite training facilities: sports betting. The government runs the sports betting programs in country and skims their sport program funding off the top.

The takeaway for archery is important here: focus upon participation and coaching and fun, not upon “talent development.” Shoving kids into competitions with medals and trophies is unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. We are, of course, the country which has decided more often than not to give identical trophies to one and all participants in a youth sport. It would be less expensive and create less trash to give none.

Another takeaway is that competitive youth sports are dominated by the relative age effect. To make competitions “fair,” youths are put into age groups. But studies have shown that the kids at the “older” end of each of these age brackets dominate and as a result receive special attention, so they dominate even more. This biases such competitions in favor of more physical mature youths, not necessarily more talented. Just forgoing the “judging” aspects of the youth programs would solve this problem.

Let me know what you think.

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Finger Release Basics

I was watching a video about the finger release put out by Merlin Archery (UK). I very much like Merlin Archery; they put out quality goods and quality information. In this video, however, while everything they said I agree with, there is much they left out that would clarify what they were trying to say.

I insist that coaches should know what they are talking about (even though I do not always), so here are a couple of statements/claims made about the release and what there is to back them up.

You should not try to open your fingers to effect the release of the bowstring.
This, of course, is spot on, but the videos “reason” for doing this is that it creates more string path variation, which is true, but it doesn’t say why it does so. The why of this is simple: you aren’t fast enough. Your fingers aren’t

Nope! Doesn’t correct for shooting a right-handed bow left-handed, either.

fast enough. So no matter what you do with your fingers, the string, powered by the bow, still has to push them out of its way back to brace. And, if you try to open your fingers, they become stiff (due to the tension of the tendons trying to make the fingers move) and being stiff they are harder to push out of the way. Newton’s third law is involved (action-reaction) the string is pushing harder on the string, therefore the fingers are pushing harder on the string, which makes for more side-to-side string motion (because of the finger’s orientation of being slightly to the side.

You want to have the release hand move back in the same plane as the arrow moves forward.
Again, this is spot on but the reason why was omitted. If the release is clean the string hand will move away from the bow in the same plane that the arrow is leaving it . . . if . . . if the archer is pulling straight back away from the bow. So, why do we want this? We design the bows so that the string moves back toward the bow in, or very near, the central vertical plane of the bow, that is the bow is designed for maximum energy transfer when the string returns to its brace position in a straight line. In order to get the string to do that you have to pull away from the bow in that same plane. If you are pulling in that direction and release cleanly, your hand should move in the direction the force applied through it was moving: force straight back, motion straight back.

They do mention plucking as a common release flaw, but characterize it as something the archer is doing; it is not. Plucking occurs because the force being applied is not straight back, but straight back and out away from the archer. When the release occurs, the string hand moves back and away from the archer’s face because that is the direction the force is pulling it. The key point here, is that if you are pulling straight back alone, the hand will fly straight back upon the release. If it flies in any other direction, the pull was in the wrong direction. The pulling force determines the direction the hand will move.

A common mistake beginners make is to have a “floating anchor.” The anchor position is an inch or more out in space to the side of the head. Coaches then tell these archers that the hand must be pressed against the face and so, the archer . . . sensibly . . . bends their wrist to make the touch, leaving their elbow out to the side where it was. This can be considered a sure-fire recipe for plucking. It is named “having a flying elbow.” To pull straight back, anatomically, the draw elbow must be straight back (in the same vertical plane; it always comes down to that central plane of the bow).

There are drills . . . and they can be misleading
There are drills for improving the release but they can create more problems that they cure. In the video, they mention the Two Anchor Drill.

The Two Anchor Drill?
In this drill the first anchor is the normal one, the second anchor is the earlobe or similar point and the drill is to get the draw hand to go from Anchor Point #1 to Anchor Point #2 from release to followthrough

This is all well and good, but this is not something that the archer is to do, it is just something that is to happen. Basically, if the archer does everything else correctly, they will hit the two anchor points automatically (the hand moves straight back and as long as the arms are kept up, there is a limit to the range of this motion and it is typically when the fingertips of the draw hand hit the ear). But students are often literal-minded. They start by trying to move their hand that way. (“There is no try!” Shut up, Yoda!) This is quite wrong. Using the “second anchor point” as a recognition factor is fine, but using it as a target for a movement is problematic.

Another common example of this mistake is the instruction for an archer to touch their shoulder with their fingertips at the end of their followthrough. I am convinced this was a made up drill given to an archer to show them the path their release hand needs to take and that archer achieved some success doing this and so other archers copied them. This is a stupid move. (I apologize if you have used this drill before, but please stop.) Here’s why. Reach out and touch your shoulder with that arm’s fingertips. In what direction is the elbow pointing? In my case it is almost straight down. Where do we want the elbow to point? At full draw it is roughly straight back, away from the bow. It is traveling on a somewhat flat arc, slanting slightly downward as the elbow goes to anchor and through the followthrough. To get it to point straight down is to change its path considerably and if this happens right after release, the normal distribution (aka Bell curve) of this in space and time will have part of it happening before the string leaves the fingers on some shots.

I have also seen people shoot a static release (aka dead release) and then flip their hand around to touch their shoulder, the two motions being completely disconnected and hence of no value.

So What Should You Recommend?
The only people I recommend working on their release much are compound people who have been using their release aid incorrectly. For “fingers” archers, I generally focus on the key that their fingers are to be relaxed at the point of release and if they do it correctly, their draw hand will slide straight back alongside their face as a consequence. This establishes the correct cause-effect relationship. I also recommend good full-draw-position, one in which the draw elbow in coplanar with the central vertical plane of the bow, the arrow, the sight aperture, the long rod, etc. (I teach them how to check other archers and they can teach other archers, or their patents, or . . . , to do this check for them.) If their draw hand isn’t reacting correctly, they know it probably has to de with relaxing their string fingers or the positioning of their draw elbow, two places where a corrective action will actually work.

 

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Now What Do You Do?

I often write to you as archers and not coaches, because I want to put you in the position your students are in, to think and feel as they do, so you will be able to help them when they are in that situation.

I just got off the phone with an author with whom I was discussing what you do when you get into a shoot-off or other situation where winning is close enough to be tasted. This author prefers not to use the word “pressure” as in “competition pressure,” instead he uses the phrase “moments of high personal value.” We, of course, as archers and coaches talk about competition pressure, which is not a helpful term at all, being almost entirely negative in connotation. (When you think of pressure, is there anything positive, happy, whatever that comes to mind? No?) So . . .

Here’s the scenario: you are in a shoot-off for a medal/award at a competition you have always wanted to “win.” So, as you step to the shooting line, what is your plan?

I have read and heard all kinds of positions regarding this situation, most of them focused on how to adapt to a “high pressure” situation. And, most of them, I think, are misleading if not outright mistaken.

Think about this. (Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

What I and others have come up with is this thinking: I got into this situation by . . . what? . . . by focusing on making shots one arrow at a time, by executing my shot process as consistently as I know how.

So, should I do something differently now?

What, are you crazy? Shoot arrows in a process you just made up or you haven’t practiced or used throughout the tournament? No!

You need, as the adage goes, to “trust your shot” or “shoot your shot.” The question, therefore, becomes “how do I do that, now that the situation has changed?”

You were shooting along, not paying any attention to your score per se, immersed in your process, and now you are in a shoot-off for an award. What has changed? Well, for one, your score is now known to you and everybody else! In a one-arrow shoot-off, if you shoot second, you will also know what arrow score you need to get.

The very first time I was in a one arrow shoot-off was a simulation put on in a training program. So, the two of us came to the shooting line and in my head I was saying “I don’t care, or even care to know, what he shoots. I will just shoot my shot.” Then the other guy shoots his shot and the supervising coach shouts out “It is a 6!” And the thought jumps into my head “All I need is a seven or higher!” What the heck! Where did that thought come from? I specifically indicated I didn’t want to know and just wanted to shoot my shot and yet, my ears still worked and my brain still processed the information and my imagination (whose job it is to prepare us for possible future actions) tells me all I need is a 7 or greater. Mentally I struggled to get my shot off as I desired.

So, what do you do?

This is what I recommend: Know yourself! You need to pay attention to how you behave in such situations and allow for that and accept that as “normal.” In those situations I, for example, tend to shake more so there is more apparent movement in my sight’s aperture. I also tend to shoot faster. By noting what happens I know that the increased motion of my aperture doesn’t affect my scoring ability (much or at all), so I can accept that as being “normal.” To avoid rushing my shots, which means shooting at a different tempo, I will take a couple of deep breaths (Please, no Zen breaths, if such things even exist.) and let them out just before shooting. This tends to moderate my tendency to go faster. Then I just try to shoot my normal shot.

On top of all that, if I can’t get off my shot in good order and have to let down, I experience big-time “fear of failure” symptoms. To compensate, I try to avoid any possibility of not getting my shot off by relaxing as much as possible (tensing up, shortens muscles, and makes things feel different).

The only way you, as archer, or you, as coach, can find out such things is to make it important to note them. Writing down one’s responses to such situations makes them easier to recall the next time that situation occurs. The absolute key is: okay, the situation is different, it is a moment of “high personal value,” but the solution is to focus on shooting the shot(s) that got you into this situation in the first place, not changing your attitude (You gotta be aggressive, man!) or, gasp, modifying your shot on the fly, a recipe for losing if there ever was one.

Get your archers to keep such notes and keep them yourself if you haven’t been. Also, it is important to note how many times you did this successfully. If you just paint the scenario as being fraught with anticipation, it never becomes something that you are confident that you can do. You need to be looking for a “been here, done that” feeling, which can be created over time, but not if you cannot remember all of those occasions.

If you experienced archers have anything to add, please make a comment to share that with your fellows.

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Teach Your Students to Not Take the Advice of Others

Archery is a social sport and we all want to be helpful so archers are famous (infamous?) for giving advice freely. On the flip side of that archery coaches are trained to “not give advice unless asked.” It is permissible for a coach to ask an archer if they are open to comments, but if the archer says no, then we are to walk away with no prejudice.

So, the people who are trained as to how to give advice to archers are trained not to and those who are not trained, give it freely. This is another way in which archery and golf are similar. Same thing happens to golfers.

In order to be an effective coach, you need to work with a student and discuss things with them so that when you ask them to try new things, you and they know what the context is and also why you are asking for that change. Hopefully your archer understands your position, too. A random club member shooting at the practice butts has no such training or understanding of your student.

I used the example recently of the advice to “don’t grab your bow.” This instruction is not at all helpful as it doesn’t indicate what you are to do, just what you are not to do and that is how we get this:

Ughh!

This “solves” the “don’t grab the bow” problem, but creates a new one.

Do you know why?

I will start from bow hand basics to answer my own question. An archer’s bow hand (when shooting a bow with a grip section) is positioned at full draw with the palm vertical (roughly) and facing the target. The bow is nestled in against the muscle which makes the pad of the thumb (the thenar eminence), with the grip not in contact with any part of the palm to the outside of the “lifeline.” The hand is relaxed and the wrist is relaxed. The fingers softly curl because that is what fingers do. (Some archers who have had overactive fingers, gently curl the bottom three fingers alongside the bow to keep them under control. This is also acceptable.

So, why is this this way? Why not just grab the bow as if it were a pistol? If this is done, then the bow is resting on two muscles/groups: the thenar eminence and the hypothenar eminence. We all know that when we get tired or under pressure muscles can tense arbitrarily. In the “pistol grip” if the upper muscles tense more than the lower, then the bow will react (essential bounce) harder off of the upper muscles causing the bow to rotate downward. If the lower muscle is more tense than the upper, the bow will bounce “up.” Not much, but a rotation of the bow that elevates the rest an eighth of an inch (3 mm) before the arrow leaves will not score as well (as you just changed your aim substantially). And if the muscle tension jumps around (at does) you can be getting highs and lows for no apparent reason.

So, we isolate the bow on just one of those muscles, so that if tension creeps in, as it will, the direction of the bow reaction will not change. We also work at keeping the bow hand relaxed. Why? Because “Relaxed is Repeatable.” (A state of 23.5% of maximum tension is not repeatable.)

It is best that coaches know these “whys” as it helps build a coherent picture of what is happening and why in our minds. This enables us to troubleshoot better.

Is there any benefit to archers knowing all of these details?

No, they need to know things like “Relaxed is Repeatable.” This gives them something to do and a “reason” to do it but doesn’t involve ideas that draw them away from what they are doing.

So when an archery student is “grabbing the bow” what do you say? You do not (not, not, not!) say “Don’t grab the bow!” You might say, “Let’s work on your bow hand.” If they ask why, the reason is that the critical time in any archery shot is from when the string is loosed to when the arrow leaves the bowstring. The only contact you have with the bow during this period is through your bow hand.

The key principles are the bow contacts only the pad at the base of the thumb (Why? To minimize muscle contact with the bow.) and the bow hand and bow wrist are relaxed. (Why? Relaxed is Repeatable. The relaxed wrist makes sure that the relationship of grip to hand is consistent (a relaxed wrist automatically adopts the angle of the grip). Note The wrist will stiffen automatically when the draw begins (this was noted in Horace Ford’s book in the mid-1800’s), so you don’t need to do that. And, if you do, you might be setting the wrong angle which changes the contact point of bow with bow hand.

So, do you now know why outstretched fingers are not a good idea? Hint Make the fingers on your bow hand stiff. Feel your palm. Is it relaxed? (No.) Can you stiffen your fingers while keeping your palm relaxed? (No.) End of story.

Postscript I have mentioned before but will repeat that all advice given should be acknowledged. We suggest to our archers the phrase “Thanks for the advice! I will mention it to my coach at our next session.” This gets them off the hook from the expectation that they immediately try out the advice given. (Yes, they expect you to accept their wisdom and implement it immediately.) It may even be good advice, but how would your student know that? If it is bad advice (Gosh, what are the odds?!) implementing it may set back gains that had been made. (This is part of my argument that archery coaches should charge for their services. When a student takes the advice of some random archer and retards their progress because of that, you can ask “How much did they charge you for this advice?” and when they tell you there was no charge, you can respond with “And it was worth every cent.” Sometimes the economics of the situation can make a point you cannot otherwise.)

And they should bring such advice back to discuss, some of it may be good and if not, it gives you a chance to explain why.

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External v. Internal Cuing

A reader of this blog and Archery Focus sent me the following link (https://coachingyoungathletes.com/how-to-use-coaching-cues-most-effectively) regarding using two varieties of coaching cues: called internal and external cues. I recommend the article to you as being well worth reading, but I was asked for comment and examples of coaching cues of these types from the sport of archery. So, here goes!

The word “cues” in this context are things we say to characterize an action we wish an archery student to take. A classic one we have used forever, it seems, with beginners is to “stand up tall,” advice given to archers who are slouching. I have written about this bad advice before, so I won’t belabor the point again.

Here’s another scenario. Students who have struggled with being a bit overbowed can end up with a collapsing bow arm. At full draw their bow arm bends at the elbow more and more the longer they hold. Here are two instructions to help these students overcome this form flaw:
A—At full draw think of your draw elbow as being dead straight, not locked but dead straight, as if there were a rod in it.
B—At full draw reach gently with your bow arm toward the target. Don’t lean, just reach.

Which of these is an internal cue and which an external cue? I imagine you all got this one right: A is internal, B is external. The key distinction is that studies show that athletes respond much better to external cues than internal ones. I think there are not only good reasons for this there is quite good evidence backing it up.

Oh, the line between internal and external is “to the body of the archer.” The cue either references something inside or out of the archer’s body.

Cues? Cues? I don’ gotta show you no stinkin’ cues!

The primary difference, I think, is an external cue gives you something to do, while an internal cue gives you something to think about. This is why I avoid asking archer’s to visualize anything during a shot. Visualizing a perfect shot just before raising the bow, thus beginning to shoot, is a mechanism to provide your subconscious mind with a plan to execute (aka marching orders, instructions, etc.) Additional visualizations (think of your bow arm as if there is a rod in it, or think of your draw arm as a rope with a hook on the end, or . . .) are counterproductive because they confuse the instruction set just sent to the Subconscious Plan Receiving Room and they give you something to think about, not something to do.

So, as coaches we best serve our students by giving them external cues to guide their actions rather than cues that are internal to their bodies.

Postscript I have mentioned before the viewpoints of coach and archer are diametrically opposed. The archer’s viewpoint is from the inside out, while the coach’s is from the outside in. What athlete and coach need to know are thus quite opposite from one another. Coaches benefit, for example, from knowing the muscles involved in making shots, but the athlete does not. This is why there are some books I do not recommend to archers, Kisik Lee’s books being foremost. Archers think they will learn Coach Lee’s “secrets” but instead they find out that his books were written primarily to influence coaches and so only serve to confuse archers. (If I have to read another archer discussion on the importance of LAN2, I will scream.) If you coach recurve archers, you need to read Coach Lee’s books. If you are an archer, not so much.

Oh, and this is why serious competing archers should not be doing serious coaching at the same time. The tradition of archers coaching after they “retire” from serious competition is based upon a good idea. Mixing the two viewpoints only serves to confuse both minds.

 

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Five Reasons Archers Fail to Improve

Once again I am inspired by a blog post of a golf coach. In this case it was 5 Reasons Why Golfer’s Don’t Improve by Adam Young. I find there is a correspondence between these two individual sports that is very much worth paying attention to.

Here is how I translated the five reasons golfers don’t improve into five reasons archers don’t improve.

  1. Flawed Thinking
    This is generally passed from one generation of archers to another in the form of helpful advice. As an example, it is not uncommon for an archer to grab his/her bow at the loosing of the string so as to not drop it. Of course, you know that “shoot, grab; shoot, grab” occasionally become “grab, shoot” and off an arrow goes into the woods. But often archers are told to “not grab the bow like that” but are not coached as to how to shoot with a relaxed bow hand. This is why we see so many compound archers shooting with outstretched fingers, which is another, different flaw that should be avoided. Often the people given the “don’t grab the bow advice” are shooting with outstretched fingers and are providing an example of what not to do in the form of advice of “what to do.” They will even praise a newbie for doing it as they do it.

This is not so much flawed thinking but a lack of thinking. It is applying correctives without understanding what they do in the belief that the people giving advice know what they are doing.

  1. Practicing Faults
    Beginning archers are often obsessed with “doing it right.” Where they get their information about the “right way to do things” is often flawed and they then end up practicing diligently doing it wrong, thinking they are doing it right.

A better way to approach this is acknowledging that is no one way to shoot a bow and everyone has to work out what works for them. (This will be opposed by people selling the “right way to shoot,” of course.) There are some basic constraints on building an archery shot, of course. Standing with your feet on the wrong side of the shooting line makes shooting way more difficult, for example. But within the basic constraints most people shoot slightly differently from their peers. Each archer has to build and refine their own shot, then they need to progress to what is better, not just what they think is “right.”

  1. Thinking You Are Not Capable of Doing It “That Way”
    The famous quote of Henry Ford is that “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” When you accept that you are incapable of doing something, you essentially stop any positive learning. If you think you can’t learn something, then your learning process is fouled up. (I keep beating this dead horse, but it won’t get up and run!) It is one thing to not want to put out the effort necessary to learn something, but another to think you “can’t.” This is not a growth mindset, it is a static mindset, and if you want to be an accomplished archer, you need to accept that you can learn to do anything you set your mind to learn.
  2. You Can’t Bring Your Practice Game to Competitions
    If there is a big gap between your practice performances and your competition performances, you are practicing wrong. The whole purpose of shooting practice rounds is to test your current state of skill at scoring. If the conditions that exist in the two arenas are vastly different, you aren’t measuring what you think. Would you expect to do well outdoors in a long distance competition only practicing indoors at short distances? Do you expect to shoot well in the wind when your practice facility is deal calm most of the time? Do you expect to be able to learn how to shoot uphill or downhill shots on a flat range?

As archers become more proficient, they also become more consistent. Their practice scores are more consistent. Their competition scores become more consistent and their practice scores and competition scores get closer together. This is deliberate to some extent because they work at including competition factors into their practice sessions.

  1. What You Are Doing Won’t Make You Any Better
    The common Internet meme called the “definition of insanity” being “doing something over and over and expecting different results” comes to mind. To the contrary, if you want to get better, you must do activities designed to make one thing better, specifically, at a time. This is why drills are effective. You can home in on something and practice it to make it better. This is partially why we have shot sequences, so we can look at the various stages of our shot making and evaluate them and find ways to make the weaker parts stronger.

Contrast this with what commonly passes for archery practice. (I know; I practiced this way for years!) We go to the range and shoot arrows on the practice butts for a time. Or we sit on the range and shoot practice rounds. If this worked, driving to work every day would make you a better driver (it actually makes you worse!). If this worked, students trying to learn algebra would just take tests over and over until they learned how to pass one. We do not do this because it does not work. Instead we read texts, we work though practice problems that have been demonstrated and then try our hand at solving practice questions that have answers we can check. Before we take the algebra test, we might take a “practice test” (the equivalent of an archer’s practice round) but we wouldn’t take practice test after practice test as a study method because it is too danged inefficient. We all know this. This is why teachers teach the way they do: break it down, learn the parts, put it back together, practice, practice, practice.

Archers need help figuring out what to do to improve. This is why Mike Gerard and I are writing The Archery Drill Book which we hope will be out in late summer or the fall. Drills in the book are accompanied by descriptions of what they were designed to accomplish and how you can tell you’ve accomplished that. We hope this will help. (We know this will help!)

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Brandolini’s Law in Archery

I was reading a thread on Archery Talk yesterday, something I rarely do, but a participant asked for comments as to whether people thought his draw length was too long (he supplied photos). In the comments, many people commented that his stance wasn’t open and, as a compound archer, he needed to shoot with an open stance.

I probably should have read more comments to see if anyone had the grace to tell this person how he could check to see if his draw length was close to correct at all (the draw elbow must be pulling directly away from the bow at release for maximum forgiveness which anyone looking over his draw elbow could verify) but I didn’t.

What this brought up in my mind was Brandolini’s Law. If you are unfamiliar with Brandolini’s Law it is:

The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

I apologize if you are offended by the blunt language; I wanted to quote the law exactly (this is the language used in Wikipedia).

As coaches I think it is imperative that you have valid reasons for recommending the form elements/changes you favor. In the case of the open stance for compound archers, I have never found a rational defense for it other than “that’s what everyone does.”

Consider that in elite compound form at full draw the archer’s shoulder line is parallel to the arrow as opposed to elite recurve form where the shoulder line points to the bow. This requires the recurve archer to turn his/her head more over his/her shoulder than the compound archer. This extreme turning of the head causes neck strain, headaches, etc. So, compound archers have less of this to deal with.

The open stance involves turning the feet the opposite direction from the direction the shoulders are turning, which results in many recurve and many compound archers being short of having good line (recurve archers want their draw elbows to be slightly past the arrow line (a form of pluck insurance) and compound archers want to be pulling straight back from the bow (in the same plane as the arrow line)). So, why turn your feet in the opposite direction?

The recurve folks say that the twisting/torquing of the archer’s body makes it more resistant to wind forces and more stable in general. This may be true but I have walked many a competitive line and seen: open stance, poor line; open stance, poor line, open stance, poor line, . . . This has been at youth competitions and at national championships and everything in between. My question is: is any benefit from an open stance enough to compensate for having poor line? My conclusion so far is: no. Having good line, as indicated for both compound and recurve archers, is a fundamental requirement for consistent accuracy. How still one is is also such a requirement and wind can make you move, but why is the open stance so prominent indoors where there is no wind? So far, the only reason I see is that having two stances is a bit of a bother.

There are places to start to determine if a student’s stance is helping or hurting their performances. One easy way is to have them draw upon a close target, aim at the center, and then close their eyes and hold. Count to some number (depending on how long they can hold) and then have them open their eyes, asking them if their sight aperture or arrow point has moved left or right of the original alignment. A little movement is to be expected but if the drift is substantially left or right of the original placement then their bodies are moving away from an unnatural position and toward a more natural one.

Like many things, I recommend to my archers that they adopt whatever it takes to get in line and learn to shoot with relaxed hands and good full-draw body alignment (the Three Pillars of Repeatable Accuracy). For many of my recurve students this involves shooting with a closed stance for a while. (Since the shoulders need to be 10-12° closed to point at the bow, that is a good place to start their feet to learn how to shoot while in line.) If they can learn how to shoot this way, then they are told they can experiment with any other stance they wish (there are many!) as long as they do not lose their ability to shoot in line.

Beginners often want to be told “how to do it,” but serious competitive archers must create their own shooting technique by trial and error. Some things are too valuable to drop, like shooting while “in line.” Telling people they have to shoot a particular way, especially when you do not know the reasons, is not a good coaching practice.

Postscript For those wanting to know why shooting while “in line” is necessary/desirable I offer the following (knowing full well I am on the TL:DR frontier).

If an archer is shooting with an elbow out away from their body (a “flying elbow”) they have a problem. The force of the draw tends to create a straight line from bow to draw elbow (consider the force vectors if you know what that means). This means that the string hand at full draw is out away from the face (in line between the bow and the “flying” draw elbow). The archer solves this problem by pulling their hand up against their face (bending the wrist more or less to do so). During the release, this inward force is no longer countered resulting in the hand flying out and away from the face (toward the force line from bow to elbow) in what is known as a “pluck.” This is why a flying elbow is associated with plucking and why it is considered to be a “form flaw.”

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