Tag Archives: Coach Training

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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Emulating Others … and Trying, Just Trying

In the U.S. we have a hard time emulating other countries and I think that trickles down to our organizations emulating other organizations.

I just noticed that USA Baseball has a comprehensive Athlete Development Plan along with an Online Education website that has training videos for coaches, parents, players, “SafeSport Trained,” and Umpires. The catalog of courses for Coaches has 21 courses in it.

Wouldn’t it be nice …

Having a plan is one thing, implementing it is another. The reason I saw this was USAB had a TV add encouraging parents to enroll their children in USAB youth programs where they would be sure to receive proper instruction.

Wouldn’t it be nice …

I also noticed that:

UK Coaching has confirmed that 2018 will see the inaugural Coaching Week launched. Taking place from 4-10 June, Coaching Week will see a week-long celebration of great coaching take place across the nation.
To mark Coaching Week, UK Coaching is inviting people across the UK to share when and where they have experienced great coaching. To help people know what they are looking for, UK Coaching is currently working with agencies to develop the 10 Principles of Great Coaching, aimed to help define great coaching. These principles will help people recognise and understand great coaching.
Coaching Week will see great coaching celebrated across the nation, with UK Coaching working alongside a range of partners and national governing bodies of sport.

Apparently some people are trying to advance coaching.

Wouldn’t it be nice …

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The Problem with Monkey See-Monkey Do Archery

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

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

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

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

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

Uh, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Training Your Mind to Monitor Your Shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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