Tag Archives: Coach Training

What Do Coaches Need?

I took on the task to elevate the art of coaching archery when I  realized I was not going to be able to get anyone else, or any organization, to do that. Okay, so I have a big ego, to believe I can help somehow. Actually, I figured someone has to help archery coaches and if I don’t do it, who will? I did try to enroll others in this task, but.…

There was so much that needed to be done, that could be done, but what should I do? I was told I wrote fairly well and I enjoyed that, so that’s what I decided my contribution could be: to create a coaching literature for the sport of archery. I started by asking the coaches I knew to write a book about “coaching archery” that I would get published … somehow. At first all I got was No,” followed by No, no way, Hell no, uh ah, sorry, no can do … and so on. Recently I have been having more success in getting really good coaches to write about coaching (to the point I am swamped with book projects and have less time to do other things like post stuff here).

So, the point I am getting to … ever so slowly … is that I always have my “feelers” out for anything I can learn about coaching. Recently I saw a copy of an old Archery World magazine on eBay with an article in the table of contents that I knew I had to have (so I bought it). The article was “How the Olympians Will Be Coached” by Bud Fowkes. Bud Fowkes was our first modern Olympic coach in 1972 and this was the July 1972 issue of that magazine. (If you do not know, archery was kicked out of the modern Olympic games after the St. Louis games because of a lack of consistent structure (rules, rounds, etc.). It took almost 65 years to create FITA (Now World Archery) and argue out the details to get back in.)

In that article, Mr. Fowkes states “So, I believe a coach must first be a teacher or at least fully understand the teaching methods before he or she can successfully do the job.” (emphasis mine)

Since it is, as we all know, a small world, I had just gotten off the phone with Larry Wise, one of our most (I think just “most”) prominent compound coaches. And guess who Larry’s mentor was … uh huh, Bud Fowkes. And can you also guess what Larry’s former occupation was? He was a math teacher. Larry understands “the teaching methods.”

Teaching shows up in many, many ways in archery coaching. Obviously, if you train other coaches, that is a form of teaching. If you work with beginners, that is mostly teaching. There are just many, many ways in which being a good teacher equates to being a good coach. It isn’t all of coaching, but a healthy part for sure.

So, I have my next task on my to do list. Explain “the teaching methods” in a way helpful to archery coaches. Luckily, we all have a touch stone. If we had a really good teacher when we went through school, we at least have that memory to help us. Unfortunately, I suspect that those memories are more than a bit vague, but if all you have is a warm feeling toward that teacher, at least you have an idea of what kind of impression you want to leave your archers with.

Now all I have to do is find the time to write the stuff … <sigh>.

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Should I Upgrade to Premium Limbs?

I have an Olympic Recurve student who is also a coach and he has been considering moving up in draw weight. I gave my standard recommendation: start with inexpensive limbs until you settle on a draw weight that clicks, then move up to higher end limbs then. Jumping into a new set of high end limbs can be really expensive if they do not work out.

Here is the question I got back today:

These $81 36 lb. limbs are working fine for me. I think I could even go to 38 lbs. My question is what real ROI do I get by upgrading to Win&Win limbs for $400 or so? There’s got to be solid reasons why the Korean team uses them rather than my A+ limbs.”

And here is my answer:

* * *

With regard to the high end limbs, the elites use them because they are sponsored and don’t have to pay full price or at all (in part). With regard to quality and performance, yes, they are better but … most archers (IMHO) are not skilled enough to realize the benefit or all of the benefit. In the Frangilli’s book The Heretic Archer, Vittorio and Michele did an evaluation of a large selection of limbs, which most people have neither the time, money or skill to do. Their conclusion … at that time … was that the quality of the limbs was determined primarily from the quality of the components in the limbs. All of the designs were so similar as to be the same. The differences were small, mostly noticed in the form of the harshness of the shot, not in significant differences in arrow speeds or anything else. So the differences in limbs are small (and expensive).

As long as the inexpensive limbs work for you (you have a baseline of personal comparison with your old higher end limbs) I’d stick with them. If you wanted to try a heavier pair of limbs, I would go up 4#, not just 2#, because you can back them out 10% so 38# limbs can be backed out to 34.2# which overlaps substantially with the 36# pair. 40# limbs can be backed down to 36# (40# – 10%) which is your 36# limbs maxed out … ta da! These are the nominal draw weight values (@ 28ʺ), not at your draw length, but I think it gives you the idea. Once you settle on a pair of limbs and a draw weight adjustment, shoot those for a while. Then, if you can borrow a pair of high end limbs of the same specifications, you can make a direct comparison as to whether the $$$ limbs are better. For one, they should feel more “taut” and energetic. The arrows should hit higher on the target for your old sight settings, etc. If you don’t find enough to get excited about, stick with the less expensive limbs and use the savings to buy other gear!

I suspect that many archers look at their bows as being on a ladder. As they gain expertise, they expect to get more and more expensive equipment. We often start with used gear, then graduate to buying new. We buy less expensive gear while we are finding out what spine arrows work for us, etc. Then we move up. In many cases, this is justified. A $350 bow sight flat out functions far better than a $35 bow sight, but is it far superior to a $250 bow sight? And the sight isn’t responsible for performance. Things like bows, limbs, tabs, release aids are.

There is almost zero help in deciding whether an equipment upgrade will provide benefits to an archer at any skill level. The manufacturers want you to buy their gear. The responsible ones will tell you that you do not have enough skill to benefit from Fancy Bit XYZ but you have to consult with someone highly skilled in making those decisions and most shop staff don’t have that kind of expertise. (I have seen this happen and it is a joy to see.)

Most coaches are not trained well enough to help. I have yet to see any aspect of a coach training program address such things.

Let me know if there is anything else I can help with!

 

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Pet Peeves: #2 A Tall Tell Tale

In the previous post I introduced stock photography and websites offering photographs for sale. One of the largest topics for archery-related photographs for sale is based upon the tale of William Tell, a tale in which a cruel politician forces the hero to shoot an apple off of the head of his young son. The hero, of course, pulls off this shot, but I will leave the rest of the story for you to find if you are not at all familiar with it. (I have seen the story enacted as a stage play in Europe; it is a tourist attraction.)

The number of photos on the Tell theme is myriad. Real apples, cartoon apples, people with apples on their heads and fake arrows through their skulls. In actual practice I have seen wigmaker’s dummy heads used to perch apples on to be shot off and other such “novelty” shots at fundraising events.

But there are consequences. Almost every year somebody is shot in the head while re-enacting this shot (see x-ray).

My all time favorite story illustrating this bad idea happened in 1993: a man was shot through the skull with an arrow by a friend trying to knock a fuel can off his head and survived with no brain damage. Surgeons removed the arrow from the man’s head by drilling a larger hole around the tip at the skull’s back and pulling the arrow through. Paramedics saved his life by restraining him when he tried to pull the arrow out himself in the helicopter on the way to the hospital. “If he had succeeded, the flanges slicing through his brain would have killed him instantly,” said a neurosurgeon at the hospital. The arrow’s tip went 8 to 10 inches into his’ brain. He lost his right eye.

Shot through the eye with a broadhead-tipped arrow and all he lost was the eye … and possibly a friend.

Drunken yahoos aside, this is a very attractive meme to young boys.

I discourage talk of it. I refuse to allow humanoid targets, paper or 3-D, to be shot at, and apples are banned at my lessons. I encourage you to do likewise. we cannot eliminate this meme but we can discourage its re-enactment.

(And don’t get me started on Archery Tag. It may be fun but it is a bad idea.)

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Working on “The Real Problem”

I had a fairly full day of lessons yesterday and a couple of things came up that were instructive that I will share with you.

In one case I had a very frustrated Recurve student who has been shooting well of late, but recently has had a problem with fliers, even clusters of fliers. By this I mean while putting most of his arrows in the gold, suddenly putting an arrow in the blue or black. Sometimes as many as three arrows in a six arrow end were such “fliers.”

“What am I doing wrong?” he wanted to know.

We talked a bit to find out how his shots felt and he said they all felt the same. He also said his tune was “good” and that the environments he had been shooting in were not the cause (wind, etc.). So, I asked “What do you think you were doing differently on the ‘bad shots’?” and he said “Nothing.”

I agreed.

So, before I continue, put on your coaching hat and think on what you think was wrong. I’ll wait.

* * *

Got it figured out?

Here are my thoughts. Please note that I am never sure of any diagnosis. I consider each situation a trail I am trying to sniff out, just finding a direction to go in first, all the while looking for confirmation or at least some response to the changes I recommend be made. (As a former college teacher, I used to joke with colleagues that we were being paid to look and sound like we knew what we were talking about. I do not want to give you the impression that I am some sort of tuning guru.)

Part of my diagnosis was due to knowing my student well enough to know that he was a “blame himself first” person. He took responsibility for everything. Taking responsibility is good but with regard to missed shots, there are three potential clusters of reasons: the environment (wind, twigs in the flight path of your arrow (field archery), hummingbirds (it happens), etc.), your equipment, and you. The key point is that if you do not find the right cause of the problem, anything you do will not only not solve the problem, it will probably make it worse. For example, if you have a form problem and you keep buying new equipment to solve it, well you ain’t gonna solve it.

In this case, I felt the most likely cause of the problem was that he had a “critical tune.” This is a bit of jargon that isn’t easy to explain (but I will try). Consider the variable of bow draw weight. For a given arrow, if you start at a “too low” draw weight you will get poor results, indicated by group sizes or positions, say. If you then incrementally increase the draw weight in steps of a pound or two, and continue to test for group size, you will get better results, better results, better results, and eventually poorer results, then even poorer results. If you were to graph these results you would see a line in the profile of a hill. The line would go up, up, up, then flatten out somewhat and then go down, down, down. At the middle of the top of the mesa just described, you will have the optimum draw weight for this combination of bow-arrow-archer. We call that a spine match (changing the power of the bow to match the spine of the arrow). Tune charts suggest that the top of the plateau of the draw weight “hill” is about five pounds wide (approximately!).

A tuning space graph, this one for brace height. In any tuning space variable, you may have more than one “peak” you can tune onto. To get to the highest peak (best performance) it is important to always start tuning from a well set up bow (set everything back to manufacturer’s specifications).

Now there are a lot more variables in the tune of a recurve bow than just draw weight. If you combine all of the variables into one graph (what I call a “tuning space” graph) what we want is a hill with a flat spot on top and we want a tune that is right in the middle of that flat spot. This provides the most “forgiving” tune we can make. The term forgiving refers to your setup’s ability to tolerate variations in your shot and still produce good results. We are not talking about “mistakes” here, mistakes are things done wrong that you could have done right. The variations involved in normal shooting are the quite small differences from shot to shot, simply because we are not robots. Even if you shoot an excellent group, in that group some of the arrows are higher that others, some are more to the left, right, down, etc. If you shot them all the exact same way and the arrows were perfectly matched, each shot would have broken the arrow of the previous shot and archery would be very, very expensive. We all make shots that are almost the same but not quite the same. The range of the variations starts out large when we are beginners and gets smaller as we become more expert, but they never disappear into some form of perfection.

A “critical tune” is a tune where you are not in the middle of the flat spot of the hill in your tuning space graph, but when you are right on the edge of the flat spot. With this tune if you make a variation that pushes you back toward the middle of the flat spot, well, no harm, no foul. But if you make a mistake the other way, a flier is the result. Think of this as walking along the edge of a cliff. If you trip and fall away from the edge, there is no problem, If you trip and fall over the edge … ahhhhhhh!

So, if this student had a critical tune, what does one do?

Well, you could start by cutting arrows shorter or other drastic things, but I prefer to start with adjustments that can be put back and with small adjustments first, large adjustments later. The procedure is to make an adjustment to see if there is an affect.

My recommendation was for this student to shoot a ten arrow group and count the fliers/note the size of the group. Then I asked him to put a full turn onto his plunger/pressure button and test again, then another full turn, etc. What we were looking for was an effect, a change in group size, number of fliers. So, one turn on—no effect, two turns on—no effect, three turns on—no effect. So the button pressure was set back to where it was. (Because you often have to do something like this and then set it back, take notes!) Next he took a full turn off from his original setting and voila, better group, no fliers. He asked “What do we do now? Were we done?” I suggested that that whole turn (a large change, by the way—start with large changes and only go to smaller ones to refine a fairly good setting) that created better test results might be right next to another setting that would create even better results. One more turn and test, one more turn, etc. The idea was to find the flat spot in button pressure tuning space and try to get in the middle of it.

So, we found that spot and I told him he needed to shoot a bit at that setting before doing anything else. My student wanted to know what would be next if more “correction” was need. I suggested brace height tuning. The plunger button is probably the finest tuning adjustment you can make (I did check that the button was neither too weak or too strong, just but pushing on it several times with a finger). I have learned recently that brace height tuning is a great deal more useful than I thought. I was asked how to do that tuning and I told him that it was done the same way as with the button, shoot for a benchmark group and then add 8-10 twists to the bowstring and test again, then repeat. You are looking for a response. If things get worse, go back to where you started (take out all the twists put in) and then take out twists, test, repeat. Again, you are looking for that plateau or range of brace heights that give you the best results and then you want to be close to the middle of that “flat spot.” Once you find that happy middle ground, you can refine your brace height (or whatever) with smaller increments of change.

Happy student, happy coach!

At the core of this problem, though, was that this archer didn’t trust his assessment regarding his shooting. Everything felt well, but since the arrows hit in the wrong place, he must have done something wrong. He was not making mistakes! Just a subset of his normal variations were causing those shots to fall off the cliff of his tuning space hill. This, of course, gets compounded when you think it was because of something you did, so you begin trying slightly different approaches, which makes for greater variation, not less (you haven’t practiced your improvised new shot) and this results in more fliers and more frustration.

Oh, and please note that we are all tinkers and we will, with nary a thought, make adjustments on our bows: we change the plunger button setting, clicker position, we tweak the position of the peep site in our bowstring (compounders), we rotate the nocks on our arrows “by eye.” Often these usually unrecorded “tweaks” accumulate to being a quite different tune from the one you created so carefully during you tuning sessions. People even change arrows, thinking their tune “will hold.” It won’t.

If you need a resource for tuning procedures consider Modern Recurve Tuning, Second Ed.

* * *

Another student reminded me that archer form is a kind of closed system. Any change you make, has consequences elsewhere. In this Recurve student’s case, he had opened his stance a bit to get some of the tension out of his neck. He reported feeling more comfortable while shooting as a consequence.

The problem that comes from such changes is that anything you do with your stance should not have any effect on the arrangement of your shoulders, neck and head. If it does, you changed something else, too. In the case of the stance, when you open your stance, you are rotating your feet in the opposite direction you need to rotate your shoulders to get into good full draw position. The fact that the archer reported less neck strain simply meant that he wasn’t rotating his shoulders as far as he was previously, ergo his line was poorer (and his groups spread left-right accordingly).

If your feet are open and your shoulders need to be closed (10-12 degrees by my reckoning) then everything in between is pulling the shoulders the wrong way. To get a benefit from an open stance, a great deal of flexibility is needed.

Neck strain is a common complaint of Recurve archers. It is caused by having maximum draw force on your body at full draw, which means you benefit from the bracing that standard full draw position provides (which directs the forces involved down the lengths of basically incompressible bones). But this means we must get very close to our bows and therefore we need to turn our head farther than if we were shooting a compound bow, for instance.

The only solution of the neck strain problem is to create more range of motion (in both directions!) for the turning of your head. Since this involves neck vertebrae which are quite delicate, you should seek professional help regarding the stretching routines needed to accomplish this.

* * *

Both of these students are “of an age” and I am very impressed when older folks want to continue in the Olympic Recurve discipline. Of all of the archery disciplines it is the most physically demanding, requiring the greatest strength, stamina, and flexibility. Light weight, stiff carbon arrows really help. Dropping down from the draw weight shot as a youth, helps, but nobody beats Father Time. As we age we get weaker, have less stamina, and are less flexible. That so many older archers are still shooting this way is very impressive to me.

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Attempting to Perfect Their Shot (Don’t Bother)

Many archers are working to “perfect their shot.” I argue that this is a mistake. What they need to be working on is enhancing their skill. Let me explain.

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that you perfected your own shot in practice yesterday. Every arrow was going into the target center, making groups smaller than the maximum scoring area (the de facto definition of “great groups”). Everything felt easy, nothing troubled you. Your mental program meshed with your physical activities like never before. You were at peace and performing like a man/woman possessed.

That was yesterday.

Today, well today is a different day. You are one day older. Today you are feeling stronger/weaker. You are more/less focused. You … I guess you get the point. The old saying is you can’t cross the same river twice, meaning that the water you walked though the first time has flown away.

Surely, though, you will be very, very close to that wondrous state of yesterday? Will you? There is a saying in golf that “a very good round is seldom followed by another.” This saying tells us that you can’t take that performance with you when you go to bed at night.

Why is this so? Well, I can’t say definitively but it seems that the difference between an excellent shot and just a very good one is very, very little. Rick McKinney is fond of saying that to hit the 10-ring on a target at 90 meters, the arrow point needs to be in a specific circle one sixteenth of an inch wide (about one and a half millimeters wide). Arrow point in that circle, and the aim is good, outside of that circle and not so good … and then there has to be a perfect loose to back that aim up.

The difference in “feel” between the two states is almost nonexistent. The visual pictures of the aperture on the target of the two aims are indistinguishable.

Searching for perfect technique and then thinking that is enough to get you on the winner’s podium is a fool’s errand. The reason it is is not just that you are different from day to day (you are, you know this) but that the task is different, too. Even indoors the conditions are not identical from day to day. Outdoors, the conditions vary widely (think wind, angle of the sun, whether you are standing on flat firm ground or squishy mud, or…, or….

What is better to focus on once your technique is solid is your ability to adapt. If you are breezing along in a tournament and you suddenly shoot a wild arrow into the 3-ring, do you think “Hmm, I’ll have to take a look at the arrow and if there is nothing wrong it, add that to the list of things to work on in practice next week.” Of course not! If there is a problem you need to fix it right away. All of the champions in the aiming sports think the same way.

All elite performers know their personal tendencies, the errors and mistakes they are prone to, and also know how to fix those in real time. This is the core of acquired skill as an archer.

Now you could have your students just go compete and wait for things to show up and experiment with solutions as they perform (exactly how we learned!) but this is a costly approach. If they are just a bit more organized, take a few notes, ask a lot of questions, they can be better prepared for the eventualities.

  • Do you show your students how to inspect their bows and arrows for defects?
  • Do you simulate problems happening during practice rounds so they can practice adapting?
    • Do you ask them to keep lists of their common mistakes?
    • Do you ask them to write down solutions to “problems” whether they worked or didn’t work and examine those in practice?
    • Do you counsel your student-archers to keep their ears open for possible solutions to problems encountered when shooting when talking to other competitors?
    • Do ask your students to take notes after competition sessions?

If not, you are leaving it to “experience” to teach them what they need to learn. And, while experience is “the best teacher,” it is also brutal. For example, would you want your students to learn about target panic by getting it? Or would you like to caution them (sensibly) and then show them how to avoid it?

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New Blind Archery Coaching Course Available

British Blind Sport is offering an online course for coaches (link below). I looked all over their pitch and couldn’t find what they were charging. (When we buy retail we expect there to be a price tag prominently displayed on everything, no?)

Here is a bit from the pitch “Coaching People with Visual Impairments is packed full of helpful tips, practical solutions and vibrant videos that will increase coaches’ knowledge, assurance and skills of coaching participants with VI, ultimately, making their practice more inclusive. The course is suitable for anyone coaching and is fully accessible to VI learners.”

If you take the course, let me know I will probably ask you to write a review for Archery Focus, but you will get paid for that review.

Here’s the link: https://www.ukcoaching.org/courses/learn-at-home/coaching-people-with-a-visual-impairment

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An Archer’s Focus: Internal or External?

I realize that I haven’t written about this much (or at all?) and since it is a major part of the mental game I should get started. This has to do with whether an archer needs to focus their attention internally or externally.

So, an archer with an external focus will look at the target and visualize the arrow hitting dead center and then execute the shot. An archer with an internal focus will focus on how their body positions feel and their back tension and how the followthrough feels as the shot is finished. So, which should an archer have, do you think?

In the past, I would have been tempted to say “both,” but now I know better. It seems almost irrefutable in my mind that archers need an external focus. There are many ways to demonstrate the truth of this but I will leave those up to you to find for now.

Archers need to have an external focus, focusing on the bow, the arrow, the conditions, and the target.

The purpose of the shot sequence (shot routine), is to guide the archer’s attention to the externalities of a shot. First we consider the position of our feet, then we select an arrow and attach it to the bow, attending only to these tasks. Before we raise the bow, we visualize a perfect shot as a way of showing our subconscious minds the “plan” it is to adhere to. Then we focus on the target and execute the shot. with an external focus.

The reason that focusing on “both” won’t work is the limitation of the conscious mind to hold thoughts simultaneously. We used to say that our conscious minds could only hold one thought at a time. Recent experiments in psychology, however, have shown that we can get as high as two thoughts simultaneously. The subconscious mind does not seem to be so limited and can simultaneously track quite a few things, which is why we leave the “feels” part of the shot up to it (there are many, many feels associated with a good shot).

It is a good thing we can hold two things consciously in mind because there is a point in our shot sequence where we do just that. It is where we are aiming just prior to the loose. We must maintain our sight picture (of where against the background we want to hold our sight’s aperture or arrow point) while also focus on finishing the shot. Sighting is a point that is much discussed but finishing the shot is not. Some people recommend a focus on the tightness of the back muscles involved in the “hold.” This, however, is an internal focus. Some focus on the position of the draw elbow as a substitute, again an internal focus. Some, who use a clicker, focus on the clicker, but I think that is a mistake in that it gives the clicker too much power. It is better to set the clicker up so that it corresponds to proper posture and let it take care of itself, the same being true for release aids (set them up so that they go off when posture is good and not otherwise). I teach Barebow Recurve archers to use their arrow point as the signal they are to loose. They are looking at the point to aim in any case and what they are looking for is the back-and-forth movement of the arrow point to minimize (an indicator that stillness has been achieved). Both of these (aiming and movement checking) are external foci so we are good there. For Unlimited Recurve and Compound, we have to aim and then be patient as we wait for the release aid to trip or the clicker to trip, so there is some internal focus almost no matter what. This makes shooting with a faster tempo valuable as there is less waiting and anxiety associated with the waiting. What constitutes “faster” for archers varies with the archer, all of whom have “too fast” and “too slow” tempos to avoid.

In the followthrough, I tell my students that “the shot is not over until the bow takes its bow,” so after the shot, the archer is focused upon the behavior of the bow, thus providing valuable information about the forces unleashed by the release of the string (the bow should do the exact same thing after every shot, ideally).

The important of having an external focus is why I do not recommend Kisik Lee’s Total Archery books and similar books to archers. The information is designed for coaches, not for archers, and has a great deal to focus on internally. (The internality is part of the explanation for the external patterns recommended, not as a source of focus for archers, but given this information, can you expect archers to not use it?) Coaches have an outside-in viewpoint while archers have an inside-out viewpoint. The archer’s viewpoint must be directed to the external parts of shots and not be directed to what is going on inside their bodies. So, while it is important for coaches to know what is happening internally during shots, it is not helpful at all to archers and a potential source of a great many distractions.

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Why Archers Need to Absolutely Positively Write Things Down

Note This is a follow-up to “The Post Tournament Review Process”

I have to begin by saying that I have known a great many archers who were far better archers than I was who did not follow this advice. They kept everything in their heads (well, part of it; there is way too much info to memorize it all). So, I am not saying that if you do not keep written records that you will not be able to be come very, very good. What I am saying is that it is highly likely that you will not become as good as you could have become if you forgo keeping written records. This I will attempt to convince you of.

In the book Thinking Fast and Slow, the author (the brilliant Daniel Kahneman) points out that there seem to be two systems that we use to “think:”

System 1 This system is effortless, automatic, associative, rapid, parallel process, opaque (in that we are unaware of its workings), emotional, concrete, specific, social, and personalized.

System 2 This system is effortful, controlled, deductive, slow, serial, self-aware, neutral, abstract, asocial, and depersonalized.

Playing a hunch is an example of System 1 thinking; math homework an example of System 2. Setting aside whether these characterizations are true and correct, I think there is enough truth in them to address the recommendation at the top of this post.

It seems the vast bulk of our thinking falls under System 1 and it is that system that values “stories” or as the news people say, “narratives.” When I taught professionally I argued that we are primed to learn through stories. Stories hold things together. They make sense of why things happen. They make it clear why Action B followed Action A, etc. Children are told stories that have morals behind them (“And the moral to the story, children, is …”). Unfortunately we tend to, uh, well, embellish stories. We tend to make the story come out as we want it to rather than just as it did. There is even an adage that says “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

How does this affect archers, you ask? Allow me to answer you via a story.

* * *

Consider the following scenario: in competition an archer shoots their first arrow which lands at 6 o’clock in the 7-ring. What should he/she do? What he/she should do, of course, depends on whether this was a “good shot” or a “poor shot.” This distinction is made absent the result of the shot. If it felt like a normal good shot, it was . . . unless . . . unless say the archer wasn’t paying full attention to their process. If this was the case, he/she might be able to discern that fact through a little analysis. So, if it felt as if it were a good shot, was the outcome a good outcome? Was that 7 “normal?” Here is where problems occur.

It is unfortunate but when we enter into a competition, we have hopes for a high score. We think that we will shoot high scoring arrows with occasional poorer scoring arrows mixed in. But when do those lower scoring arrows show up? Good question. Most likely they show up randomly; they can show up on the first arrow as likely on the twelfth arrow or the last arrow. But our expectations for a good score can result in that initial 7 to lead us to think there will be more of them, even worse scoring arrows, leading to a poor score. The disappointment associated with this may lead us to make a change in our sight setting, or execution. Our subconscious minds might translate our disappointment with that shot into changes we are not even aware of. But if the shot was “normal,” then any change is moving the archer to a less successful setup/execution with the result being a guaranteed lower score.

So what’s an archer to do?

First we must recognize that first arrows are problematic. The excitement of shooting is at a high. There is no previous good scoring shot to imprint upon (to use in a mental rehearsal), and there are those hopes and dreams for a good overall score. I remember working toward a perfect score of 300 on the NFAA indoor round (60 arrows, 5-4-3 scoring). I can’t tell you how many times I had the thought “If the first arrow isn’t a five, I’m done,” but it wasn’t just a few. But this only happens when you are chasing a perfect score. The first arrow of any competition may be your lowest or highest scoring arrow.

I ask my students to monitor what their “normal groups” are. For the sake of this story, this student, when shooting at this distance at a ten-ring target face, typically “holds the 8-ring.” This means the vast majority of his arrows score 8, 9, or 10 . . . with a rare 7 from time to time. So, was the score of that 7 just shot “normal” or not? If there is no other evidence to tell you different, shooting a 7 is normal for this student.

If you keep records, you have the opportunity to explore those records to see what reality actually looks like. You can go through a score card on which all of the arrow scores are recorded and identify your lowest scoring arrows. You can then see when they tend to occur. This gives you a number of advantages: one is an ability to distinguish between your hopes/fears and reality. Another is a recognition that lower scoring arrows happen and they probably happen less now than a couple of years ago. (Hey, I am making progress!) Another is that is there is a regular pattern, you can train for that. For example, if your low scoring arrows always happen in the last few ends, maybe your fitness level is not high enough. If they occur on the first few arrows,maybe nerves need to be addressed. Maybe there is a psychological factor.

If, on the other hand, you discard those score cards and take no notes, all you have are your stories. Here’s another example.

* * *

You are in a tight shoot-off with a fellow competitor and you get to the last arrow with the score tied. On the last arrow, you shoot an 8 and he shoots a … 9! Most people automatically blame the loss on that last arrow. “If I had just shot a 10 or even a 9,” we think. But if you go back to the scorecard you probably get a different picture. In this case (I am making up this story), our losing archer had a three point lead that was steadily eroded as the shoot-off continued. What about the arrow scores that caused him the loss of his lead? Had he been leading by three points and both had the same last arrows, he would have won by two points.

This is typical of System 1 thinking. We have oodles of biases built into our System 1 thinking, one of those is we tend to overvalue the most recent events and devalue earlier ones. These biases developed over very long periods of time and are actually useful in many cases, so they are not to be disparaged, but they also can be problematic.

Writing’s Long List of Strengths
I have more than a few thoroughly modern students who, went I ask them to take a note whip out their smart phones and start typing. They do not know they are making a mistake by choosing a poor form of writing. Smart phones are problematic because there is too much information on them and one’s notes can be buried (amongst other things). By having a notebook dedicated to archery, all of your archery notes are in one place, you do not have to look elsewhere, nor do you have to wade through piles of irrelevant stuff to find your archery notes. I like segmented notebooks and put info of one kind or another in specific locations, making it even easier to find.

Conclusion
I am not advocating that you favor System 2 thinking over System 1 thinking, far from it. System 2 thinking is slow and laborious, again think math homework. But some System 2 thinking mixed in can make you a better archer or coach. Doing some System 2 thinking when you have the time to wade through a scorecard or analyze your groupings (in an attempt to answer the question: what is normal for me now?). This can reduce the impulsive nature that is normal for us most of the time. Writing those things down, makes them much easier to remember.

Just being able to tell the difference between a normal shot and a faulty shot is key to making the corrections that are required to shoot good scores. Leaving this up to a “gut feeling” can lead you or your students astray over and over. (The mistake that keeps on giving!)

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We Just Keep Getting Better … Or Do We?

I was just reminded that Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby horse race in 1973, setting a track record that still stands. I remember seeing that horse’s races on TV, they were outstanding performances.

I was struck by the fact that race horses are vigorously bred and trained to run faster and faster and … 1973 was 45 years ago and Secretariat’s track record still hasn’t been beaten! And there are a lot of races on that track, not just the KD … every year. So there are limits to what can happen. At the very least the rate of improvement in the speed of race horses has slowed substantially.

We seem to think that archery scores will keep going up and up but the reason for that belief is what, exactly? Basically we have gotten higher levels of participation over the past few decades which means more competitors. Competition is simply a sorting of performances, it is not magic. If you have more participation, you will have more “better archers” and the level of competition will go up and the performance required to win will also go up. This is the “secret” to the “miracle” of Korean Olympic Archery, which is now being reproduced in China, India, Mexico, and other countries.

But sifting through larger and larger piles of archers to find the best is not an indicator of the level of skill increasing. We are just populating the “tails” of the Bell curve of archers.

Even so, the increased competition levels have increased the effort applied to training archers. What I wish is that more actual training information were available. In the U.S. we have a National Training System for Olympic Archery and, more recently, for Compound Unlimited Archery. But all they ever talk about is shooting technique, there is very little said about training or learning to score well or really anything else. If they know anything about these other topics, they aren’t pushing that information out into the rest of the U.S. archery community. Archery has been insular for a very long time, with archers and coaches hoarding their “secrets.” Even though this is less so now, in other sports there is more sharing of information. I recently learned, from one of our authors, that in running, elite runners sell their training plans. Maybe elite archers should do the same.

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Follow-up on “Committing to the Shot”

In a recent post (Committing to the Shot) I made the point that at some point or other, an archer (as well as golfers, baseball players, etc.) needs to commit to what they have planned to do in every shot. In the absence of such a commitment, our subconscious minds may come up with their own ideas on how to achieve the goal. What I did not do in that former post was indicate where this commitment needs to take place.

Golfers have more variables than we do: putts take different tracks at different speeds, the ball can be made to curve left or curve right, as well as go straight, shots can be hoisted up high where the wind will affect them more are shot down low where the wind will affect them less, the turf itself has different textures which affect the roll of the ball (the “fair way” vs. the “rough way”—those are the original terms), etc. In archery, we may have wind to contend with, and a shot clock, but little else, so the physical choices are fewer. Unfortunately, though, some of our choices include previously learned shot techniques, that have been shelved but can be called upon subconsciously.

Because of various factors, I suggest that the commitment needs to go after the shot visualization just before the raising of the bow. The visualization is a plan for the shot transmitted to the subconscious mind. The commitment is the command to the subconscious mind to “stick to the plan” and don’t consider other options (equal to a “Do Not Improvise” command). Either you commit to your shot at that point, with the sight, sound, and feel of such a shot just vividly imagined, or you need to change your plan and start over.

There is an aspect of timing involved here. From the visualization, there are just a few seconds before that “image” fades from short term memory, so it is “commit and go” time right after it.

Training This I do not recommend dumping all of this on an archer from the first moment they think they are serious about archery. I recommend that the shot sequence be taught as a series of physical steps first. When it has been learned then you can spring upon your students that the shot sequence is also the framework for all of the mental activities involved in shooting.

Shot Sequences The shot sequence or shot routine is basically a guide as to where we need to place our attention, not to micro-manage each step of the process but to be there to observe whether anything is going wrong. If you are looking at your arrow’s nock when it is being attached at the nocking point (in the context of a shot, of course), but your mind is on “going to MacDonald’s after practice because boy, are you hungry,” you are ever more likely to attach the arrow in the wrong place or with the index vane in the wrong orientation or…. You just need to be “there” and “paying attention.”

An Aside The phrase “paying attention” is indicative of the feeling we all have that our supply of attention is finite. Our supplies of other mental properties seems not so bounded, e.g. love, hate, finding things humorous, etc. I tend to agree with this as our attention has been woven into our mental processes very deeply. For example, much of the information that comes into our eyes that results in neural pathways being activated is just jettisoned in our brains. The small cone of focus of our eyes that we can control, acquires information that is much less likely to be jettisoned. If one is focused on what one is observing and one is “paying attention” that is attending to that task, the information is even more likely to get into short term memory which is the only pathway to long term memory and from which we can “re-play” events that go wrong for us. If we are not “paying attention,” the information involved is much less likely to be kept. (If you are interested in these phenomena, I recommend the book The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Norretranders to you.)

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