Tag Archives: Coach Training

Archery, Archery, Archery All of the Time . . . Right?

As a coach who works with young people (and I hope that you do, too) I see and hear opinions regarding “commitment to the sport” and “developing a practice regimen” often. Just the trope “it takes 10,000 of practice to develop elite-level skill” urges us to practice, practice, practice. After all, the icons of sport seem to all have started very early. Tiger Woods, possibly the greatest golfer of all time, had a golf club in his hands before he was one year old. I have seen archers shooting before the age of two. Start early, block out everything else, and you have a shot at greatness.

So, is this a message to deliver to our student-archers?

Tiger ca. two years old.

I think this is not a wise approach. For one it is laden with survivor bias. We crave information about the Tiger Woods of the world. What made him so great? How did he achieve what he has? But we never seek to survey the entire field. How many athletes took Tiger’s route and how well did they do? How many dropped out along the way? Answer: we don’t know.

There are, however, counter examples. Consider Roger Federer of tennis fame. Arguably one of the best male tennis players of all time, certainly one of the nicest. Here is an excerpt from an article in The Guardian in which Roger Federer’s early “career” was described:

“This boy’s mother was a coach, but she never coached him. He would kick a ball around with her when he learned to walk. As a child, he played squash with his father on Sundays. He dabbled in skiing, wrestling, swimming and skateboarding. He played basketball, handball, tennis, table tennis and badminton over his neighbour’s fence, and soccer at school.

“His parents had no particular athletic aspirations for him. They encouraged him to try a wide array of sports. He didn’t much mind what sport he was playing, so long as it included a ball. Though his mother taught tennis, she decided against working with him. “He would have just upset me anyway,” she said. “He tried out every strange stroke and certainly never returned a ball normally. That is simply no fun for a mother.” Rather than pushy, his parents were, if anything, “pully”, a Sports Illustrated writer would later observe. Nearing his teens, the boy began to gravitate more toward tennis, and “if they nudged him at all, it was to stop taking tennis so seriously”.

“As a teenager, he was good enough to warrant an interview with the local newspaper. His mother was appalled to read that, when asked what he would buy with a hypothetical first prize money from playing tennis, her son answered “a Mercedes”. She was relieved when the reporter let her listen to a recording of the interview and they realised there had been a mistake: the boy had said “mehr CDs” in Swiss-German. He simply wanted “more CDs”.

“The boy was competitive, no doubt. But when his tennis instructors decided to move him up to a group with older players, he asked to move back so he could stay with his friends. After all, part of the fun was hanging around after his lessons to gab about music, or pro wrestling, or soccer.

“By the time he finally gave up other sports to focus on tennis, other kids had long since been working with strength coaches, sports psychologists and nutritionists. But it didn’t seem to hamper his development in the long run. In his mid-30s, an age by which even legendary tennis players are typically retired, he would still be ranked world No 1.I” From “Generalise, Don’t Specialise: Why Focusing Too Narrowly Is Bad for Us” by David Epstein in The Guardian magazine, July 12, 2019.

Some authoritarian countries have decided to fuel their Olympic teams by rounding up promising youths and taking them to “training centers” and having them train around the clock, starting as early as three years of age. (The parents are allowed to visit from time to time, as long as they don’t get in the way.) In these cases, athletes can be considered as disposable. If there are enough of them, those who burn out can just be sent back to their villages.

I argue that this is no way to treat a fellow citizen. None of the archers I have worked with has become a professional archer, so why would I train them as if that were their goal? All of my students were destined to be something larger than archery and if archery stays with them and contributes to their happiness, I’d consider that a success.

Urging youngsters to concentrate on archery, excluding other sports and hobbies, is a bad idea. First, it is unnecessary (or at least no one has made the argument that it is necessary) and second it cannot lead to well-rounded individuals. Were you surprised at Tiger Wood’s comeback from self-inflicted relationship wounds and then injuries? I wasn’t. What else was he going to do? What else did he train to do? What else provides his core happiness?

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An Olympic Recurve Bargain

I can’t remember whether I have posted this before. (They told me “the knees go first!”) So, I will post it again.

For years I have recommended The Simple Art of Winning by Rick McKinney as the “bible” of Olympic Recurve archery, and I do still recommend it as one of the best books for those archers. But recently I have been recommending The Competitive Archer by Simon Needham a great deal, too. The reason is that it is chock-a-block full of practical advice, things like how to trim a tab and read the amount of wear on it, etc.

I was recommending this book more because Simon’s other book (The Art of Repetition), a masterwork was very, very expensive, being available only as a hardbound book. But Simon has made both of these books available in Kindle format, bringing their costs down below US $10, a considerable savings even over the paperbound The Art of Repetition.

If you are an OR archer or coach, I can’t recommend these three books enough.

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Professionalizing Archery Coaching

I see quite a few efforts to professionalize archery coaching. Personally I have undertaken to create a professional literature for archery coaches, for example (see the Watching Arrows Fly Coaching Library on Amazon.com). I am all for that but there are some wrinkles that need to be ironed out. USA Archery is foremost in coach development in the U.S. (which is not much of a brag as there is little to no competition from the other archery organizations).

USAA requires their coaches to take and pass the SafeSport program training (I did and did just before I resigned my position as a USAA coach). They are now advocating archery coaches take a Mental Management course (this was long overdue) and they are currently flogging TrueSport, an organization that has the mission of changing the culture of youth sport by providing powerful education tools to coaches.

So, the “requirements” for being a coach and staying certified are going up. But is that all there is to professionalization? What about support services? Apparently USA Archery is finally offering web site hosting for JOAD programs, even though most JOAD programs already have a web site and probably are loathe to change it over. Other than that . . . there is not much.

What about remuneration? It is interesting that USA Archery judges get reimbursed for their expenses (albeit only slightly so) but their coaches get nada, well, unless you are the national coach.

JOAD coaches get nothing. No pay, no recognition, and almost no support. I suggest that JOAD coaches that make it through a calendar year at the helm of a JOAD program should have their membership fees waived for the subsequent year. I think JOAD coaches should have patches available: one to identify them as a JOAD coach, and others to indicate years of service (5-year patch, 10-year patch, etc.). I think JOAD coaches should get a letter thanking them for all they have done over the past year every damned year. I think . . . probably too much.

If you want people to act like professionals, shouldn’t they be treated like professionals?

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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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