Tag Archives: Coaching Behaviors

Seek and You Will Find!

While the discussion of the question of whether boys and girls should be coached the same goes on I found some resources that may interest you. Of course, the first thing I found was a paper that seemed perfect (“Sex Differences in Sports Across 50 Societies”) but like so much research now, the publisher wanted $36 to get a copy. (None of which goes to the authors, by the way, which just adds to the reasons why I will not play their game. If anyone wants to buy it, read it and report on the contents, I wouldn’t be opposed.)

Next I found a paper (for free) entitled: “Sex Differences in Sports Interest and Motivation: An Evolutionary Perspective” which you can find here.

And then I found “Gender Equality and (Elite) Sport” which you can get, again for free, here.

Both of these seem interesting enough and apply to the question.

I would like to know what the archery participation rates are in a country like Korea. Participation is, in essence, by invitation. There is no reason that different numbers of boys and girls would be selected as they do not compete with one another and the numbers of Olympic and World Championship medals available to each sex are the same.

It seems that the more people who participate in a sport, the higher the level of performance. This is obvious in an example like Korea which went from an Olympic archery nonentity to a powerhouse, fueled to some degree by a massive increase in participation. (Obviously other supports like coaching and opportunities to practice, etc. also apply.)

 

 

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Should We Coach Male and Female Archers the Same Way?

I have had this question in mind for quite some time. I have even asked a couple of authors to tackle the topic. Most seem to think of the topic as a land mine they do not want to step on. But, as is said, fools rush in where angles fear to tread.

Let’s tackle this topic!

* * *

There are some general observations that I can pull out of my head that apply to this topic. For example, we don’t seem to coach youths and adults the same way. Both groups have special needs. There are some indications that boys and girls on team sports need to be addressed differently. If you look to the world of professional sports, female athlete earn less than male athletes, universally. Is this a form of prejudice or is there something there?

One of the reasons offered for why these disparities continue to exist is a gender difference in the “willingness to compete.” This has actually been studied and proves out across cultures and around the world: men tend to be more willing to compete than women are. On the other hand, every prediction I have read about women participating in sports has been woefully wrong (women were not strong enough to run long distances like marathons, too genteel to participate in boxing, wrestling, MMA, etc.)

That said there are real physiological and psychological differences between men and women. One of these I used to characterize as “there are very few women who want to be recognized as the baddest dude in town.”

There are group dynamics studies that I find fascinating. A number of these studies addressed how people behaved in single sex group conversations (imagine a circle of friends standing around chatting). These studies seemed to conclude that men saw their participation as a way to show that they were superior to that group and didn’t really belong there, they were just “slumming.” An example of this is a group of guys telling jokes. There is definitely a competition going on and everyone is trying to be the most compelling story teller (a symbol of their superiority?). Opposed to this the dynamics of women in a group is a model of inclusiveness. Rather than trying to prove themselves superior to the group with their conversation, they seem to be trying to prove that they indeed belong in that group. I guess it is easy to see why at parties, the guys often end up sitting around a TV swapping sports stores while the gals end up in another room telling stories that bond them to that group.

Interestingly, when women were asked to compete just against themselves and not against others, they showed as much competitive will as do men. Why is it that women do not choose to compete against others, but are eager to compete when the opponent is themselves? Anybody who tells you they know the answer to this question is probably fooling themselves and possibly you, too.

Archery is a sport in which archers compete against themselves (there is no defense, they cannot affect how the other competitors perform, they can only compete against themselves), consequently my guess is that women are as competitive as men in archery.

So, should men and women be trained the same way … in archery?

The floor is now open!

I really want to hear from any of you who have something to say on this topic. If your comments are illuminating, I may write this discussion up for Archery Focus and you will get your name up in lights! (Yes, you can contribute anonymously, but I am suspicious of any comments that even the author doesn’t want to own.)

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Being Driven Crazy by Psychology

There is a burgeoning field of scientific endeavor which is the study of the acquisition of expertise. I am trying to write a book on the mental game of archery and since there is too much material for one person to study, one needs to do a lot of reading to find out what others say, hence my interest in this subject. Anything that helps us understand how to make expertise more attainable, makes us better coaches.

A promising viewpoint on the attainment of expertise is Ericsson’s work on what is called “deliberate practice.” Ericsson’s claim is that undirected practice has minimal benefits, the main one being making us more physically fit to perform the task at hand … maybe. But if you want to improve the quality of a performance, highly focused practice  is necessary, with the focus on a specific aspect you wish to improve, using directed drills/exercises to that end.

The mainstream press, though, has asked the omnibus question: Is practice all you need to develop expertise? And lately they have brought up a number of topics researchers claim have a role. One of these is “working memory.” Working memory is a hot topic in psychology right now which is why people are trying it out for a leading role in … you name it. (Such is science: when topics are “hot” a whole bunch of scientists jump on that bandwagon. This is probably a manifestation of scientists looking for a place to work in which results are easier to get, not unlike gold prospectors.) working memory is how much information you can cram into your mind and hold it there while you are working; this is definitely “short-term memory.”

Working memory is now claimed to play a role in sight reading of music and any number of other performance-related fields. Apparently the people making these claims haven’t looked at a performance critically. For example, studies show that in order for a musician to play from music they are reading, they have to “read ahead” several notes ahead of where they are playing. It was discovered (by the simple expedient of covering up the music and exposing it at rates the scientists could control), that professional musicians read ahead farther than amateurs. But to the researcher’s surprise, the difference was very small. When reading music and playing, there is an optimum read ahead distance: if you are to close to the playing time, musicians stumble. They apparently do not have enough time to translate the symbols into actions. If they get too far ahead of playing, they also stumble because they tend to forget what they had read before they are supposed to be playing it. So, working memory does play a role in sight reading music (reading as you are playing) but the part working memory plays is as part of a chain of events. Obviously if you do not have enough of working memory, you will struggle at this task. Other studies show that “experts” have more working memory than amateurs in this arena. So, the question I have is: does working memory get improved through practice? If so, then the question (Is practice all you need …) is too broad.

Yet, huge claims are being made regarding the role of this bit or that bit when it comes to practice. How any one of us is to make any sense of the current state of research is beyond me (literally). There seem to be some reasonable conclusions one can come to with regard to practice that have low chances of contradiction later.

  • So, should archers practice? Yes. Practice is a route to better performance. But, how effective the practice is is dependant on how smart you practice. So, practice as focused as you can.
  • Is there a way to project the amount of practice needed to meet a goal? No. Longer practice sessions do not seem to be as effective as more frequent shorter ones. (What “longer” and “shorter” are is ill-defined.) If you want to perform consistently, you must develop to the point you can shoot larger numbers of arrows in a session than required for performance.
  • It also seems that the best physical practice for a performance is the performance itself. So, if you are a pianist, play the piano. If you are an archer, shoot arrows.
  • In order to tell what works and what does not, you must … keep … records of your performance. Memory alone just doesn’t work.

My feeling is the question “Is practice all you need to develop expertise?” as discussed in the mainstream press, supports the meme that there are natural “talents” for particular activities: a talent for math, a talent for the violin, a talent for baseball. This is not only unsupportable by any science (the existent of sport- or activity-specific “talents” has no evidence supporting it) but is a toxic concept; even if it were true, there is no benefit from believing it.

Performers who believe in “talent” tend to quit easier when they encounter difficulties, believing they “just don’t have a talent for math or whatever.” They also shy away from greater challenges because they have no idea how far their “talent” can take them and they don’t want to test something they don’t understand. Plus, since this talent-thing is responsible for their ability, why practice? These reactions to the belief in the concept of talent have been documented and seem to make sense.

If you don’t believe in “talent” then the outcome is determined by how much you learn and how hard you practice. If your performance isn’t good enough, you either need to work harder or smarter (better: both). This nonbelief in talent has this benefit in that we can now see the effect of deliberate practice upon skills developed and it is quite positive.

 

 

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Lessons from YouTube

youtube-logo-full_colorAs an archery educator I often decry the unavailability of quality information for archers and coaches. As time goes on, though, more and more information is being made available, especially in video format, which is probably a good thing. Video has many strengths in that one can show the viewer things that are hard to describe, etc. but there are also weaknesses. If someone creates a 20 minute instructional video, you have to view the whole twenty minutes to see what they have to offer; skimming is hard to do with a video. Also, if you want to go back and re-view a small section, finding it is not easy unless you wrote down a time mark for that section. Clearly, though, both print and video have strengths that guarantee their continued use.

What brought this topic up was the recommendation of a YouTube video by NuSensei, who has myriad instructional videos available, many of them suitable for beginners and developing archers. I do recommend Mr. Nu’s effort as his videos are mostly informative. But when I found his stuff a while back, I viewed several of his efforts and noticed that each of them seems to either leave something important out or include something strange, or both. For example he has a video with the title “Tab or Glove?” This video addresses the question of “Which is better?” which often comes to the minds of beginners looking to purchasing their first archery gear. I would prefer that that question (Which is better?) be never asked because it implies that there is an absolute answer when, really, each of the two (gloves and tabs) have strengths and weaknesses that make them better in certain circumstances and worse in others. In this video Mr. Nu emphasizes the protective nature of both in that the pressure from the bowstring on a heavier bow can cause nerve damage, even permanent damage, in the string fingers. The gloves and tabs are padding, so to speak, to distribute the force, lowering the pressure on the fingers. But in discussion the advantages of gloves and tabs in this function, he compares a well-made glove with thick padding with a thin tab and then concludes gloves are slightly better. He also notes that a glove need not be taken off to use one’s fingers to, say, pull arrows, but later demonstrates that a tab can be swung around to the back of your string hand to free up for fingers for such jobs, but gives the nod to gloves anyway.

What is left out are the important things. Gloves are preferred by traditional archers and hunters for the simple reason that once attached to your hand, you cannot drop them. Tabs can be dropped and lost as any tab user will tell you (from direct experience). A lost tab can ruin an entire day of hunting. (Compound bow hunters prefer wrist strap releases over ones held in the hand for the same reason. You cannot drop or lose one because it is strapped to your wrist, plus it is always “at hand” and you don’t have to reach into a pocket to find it.)

A big advantage of tabs over gloves and the primary reason tabs are preferred by target archers doesn’t get mentioned. When the bowstring is loosed, we want our fingers to come off all at the same time, together. (We want a chord, not an arpeggio, if you are a music student.) The glove doesn’t tie the string fingers together in any way, where as a tab encourages them to act in concert as it, to some degree, ties them together.

In another NuSensei video “Anchor Point,” Nu discusses the basics of anchor position, but again, amongst the basic solid information there is something strange and something missing. When discussing the “low” or “Olympic” anchor position and comparing it to the higher anchor positions he claims that the low anchor position is “stronger” in that it has more contact with the face. This is not even close to being true in the first place and certainly not the reason for the existence of the low anchor. The advantage of the low anchor over the high has nothing to do with contact area. The advantage of the low anchor and why all Olympic recurve archers use it (well, not all, but almost all) is because they shoot longer distances. The low anchor has a larger gap between nock and aiming eye, thus angling the arrow more upward, allowing a more level form when shooting longer distances. Conversely, the high anchor has an advantage over the low when shooting short distances, such as indoors, in that the bow doesn’t have to be held so low to compensate for the anchor being low. Some beginners comment that indoors they feel like they are aiming at the floor (they are) and the low anchor makes this worse.

Nu also misses the key point of all anchor positions, the alignment of the string with the aiming eye. By having the string plane tangent to the pupil of the aiming eye, we effectively are aiming the bow so that the arrow will strike the target along a 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock line through the point being aimed at. The anchor position is for consistency, yes, but also for accurately gauging the windage (left-right aiming) of the shot. If you are not looking right along the edge of the string, you are guessing more than controlling the windage. This is so important to compound archers that they use a peep sight that allows them to look right through the bow string, a more accurate position from which to control windage.

While most of Nu’s videos I have reviewed are helpful, each of them seems to either leave something out or include something strange (like the low anchor being “stronger”).

This is the problem with YouTube and other videos. They are almost always written, directed, shot, and posted all by one person. There is no critical review of the content of the video. So, crowd sourcing instructional content is not necessarily a good idea. We will be better off when these things are done by teams. Like YouTube, the team doesn’t have to be in the same place. Mr. Nu is in Australia, for example. A content reviewer could be anywhere there is an Internet connection. The complication is that the scripts for these pieces would have to be written out ahead of time to be reviewed and I suspect that many of the YouTube creators do not work from a script.

When reviewing any archery content, in any form whatsoever, I strongly urge you to think through what you’ve heard, otherwise you are going to be like those people who think “such and such has to be true, otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed to put it on the Internet,” that is clueless.

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I Need Help Finding a Coach

QandA logoThis question came in to the blog:
“Need a coach. Looking for a coach in or near NE Indiana (Ft. Wayne-ish). I’m finding limited results; some Level 3’s and more Level 2’s. What is the best way to vet out a good coach for indoor and outdoor Olympic recurve? I don’t want some body that hunts with a compound bow, just passed a test, and knows little to nothing of proper form and release of a recurve bow. Please help steer me in the right direction.”

* * *

This is a common question which highlights a common problem and I wish I had a handy solution for you.

Since you are aware there are some L2 and L3 coaches in your vicinity I assume you have consulted USA Archery’s Coach Finder function on their web site. Since the recent explosion of interest in target archery, there are many, many more coaches available which is a good thing, but the questions are still: how do you find a good one and how do you find one that has the skills and knowledge to help you, specifically as an Olympic Recurve archer?

Now this is a recurve coach who knows what he is doing, national champion and L3 coach Gabe Querol.

Now this is a recurve coach who knows what he is doing, national champion and L3 coach Gabe Querol.

Obviously you do not want a compound coach, but do realize that the demand for compound coaches is far, far less than for recurve coaches. (Trad coaches are in even less demand.) I came up through the compound ranks and because I took coaching seriously, I spent a great deal of time to learn both Olympic Recurve and Barebow Recurve. Because I have never competed in Olympic recurve, though, I tend to encourage my more advanced students to try other coaches and do, in fact, hook them up with other coaches. It is flattering that after seeing high level coaches, some of these students return to me for coaching but that may be because I am “local” and hence more available to them.

This is part of the problem, the very, very good coaches are quite spread out, so you need to establish your need. Are you an advanced archer or aspiring elite archer? If so, you are going to have to travel some to find the people who can help you. If you are an aspiring advanced archer, i.e. not their yet, you are much more likely to find help locally.

Another option is remote coaching. Recently I have been coaching archers as far away as Portugal, Germany, and Iran. This is done by the archers sending in video clips, often taken at my direction, and me sending comments back. Follow-up discussions are via email or phone. One of my regular students is three states away for the summer and we have been working together this way through the summer. (And for the curious, yes, I do charge for such lessons … but not always.)

How to Find a Good Coach
Step 1 Find a coach.
Step 2 Determine if he/she is a good one.
Both of these steps are somewhat difficult. If, in your case, you think an L3 coach might be helpful and they are local, you have completed Step 1. (The original design of the L2 training program was to create coaches for youth groups, and not to train them for individual coaching. That training has undergone a recent overhaul, but I suspect it is still much the same, so if you are looking for an individual coach (to work with you one-on-one), the L3 training is the first one to address that need.)

The second step is harder. Even highly credentialed and experienced coaches may not be right for you (or you for them!). So, some “sounding out” is needed and you can do much of this via email, text, or over the phone. Do ask your prospective coach about their experience in archery, both as a coach and as a competitor. It is not a common practice but you could ask for references. (I would like to see this become commonplace. Because it is not, us coaches don’t keep references handy and prospective students aren’t offered them.)

Ask if they have had successful students. It is important to consider what you determine as success. If you are on the hunt for championships, you should look for a coach who has coached many champions, no? If you are looking for equipment help, maybe having champions as students is not so important. I currently have a student who aspires to be an Olympian. I have never even attended an Olympic Games, let alone coached an Olympian, so after a while I hooked this student up with a colleague who has coached on the field at an Olympics archery competition. (There is no substitute for experience.) There are not a lot of these coaches available, so I suggest you will not be able to be very “choosy.”

The key aspect of an archer-coach relationship is whether you communicate well. This can only be found out by working together, so if you find a coach acceptable on paper, you need to arrange for a lesson to “give it a try.”

Some coach’s and archer’s personalities clash. Some can’t hear one another. Some fit together “like hand in glove.” To find out about this, listen careful to how this prospective coach says things. Do they make sense to you or do they tend to confuse you? Is there a fit between your needs and your coaches skills? Maybe your largest needs are in equipment or in the mental game, and so is the coach knowledgeable about those topics? Have they had any specific training or just the general training that comes in those rather short coach training classes? Ask lots of questions and see if you get clear responses. As a coach, I am also interviewing you. I want to know as much as you want to know whether we can work together.

Make sure you talk about availability and fees. Does this coach insist upon frequent lessons or occasional? Which do you want? Are his/her fees reasonable? Can you afford them?

A key factor is that the two of you agree upon some common metrics. If you are a compound archer chasing perfect scores on the NFAA five-spot indoor target, you have an obvious metric: the score in that round (and X-counts and …). If you are an Olympic Recurve archer, the metrics are less obvious. (Simon Needham and I are currently writing a series of articles regarding what it takes to get to various scoring milestones in the 72-arrow Ranking Round (500, 550, 600, 650, etc.) so you may have goals that allow that metric to be used.) If you have no idea where you are going, how will you know whether you are making progress?

One of the questions I ask all new students is “Why do you want to be coached?” The younger students often shrug and say something like “to get better.” I follow with “What does that look like to you?” In order for me to help I need to know two things: where do you want to go and where are you now. (It is a little like asking for travel directions.) I can evaluate where you are at now in our first lesson, but I also need to know where you want to go to serve you well. You need to know the same things. So, a good sign is if your prospective coach asks telling questions, questions that a “good coach” wants to know (in your opinion, of course).

It would be helpful if lists of prospective coaches also included statements of their specialties, experience, qualifications, etc. but unfortunately we are just getting started in learning how to be good coaches, so those aren’t available yet.

Let me know if this helps.

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FYI

I found this great article about the role coaches play in the success of star athletes. Since they wanted US$500 to re-post it here, I am just adding a link.

FYI, for non-English speakers “FYI” is shorthand for “For Your Information”

Coaching Can Make or Break an Olympic Athlete

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Drawing Lessons

One of my Recurve students was struggling a bit with the NTS draw, specifically the ending of it. In that draw, the string is drawn until it contacts the “corner” of the chin, with the string fingers an inch or so under the jaw, then the string hand is raised into position under the jaw (+ detail, detail, detail, etc.).

If that gap is a bit large as many people concluded it should be from Kisik Lee’s first book, especially the pictures, there is a problem. The unstated aspect of this issue is if the archer’s chin is “down,” his chin blocks the draw by interfering with the string fingers on their way back. Recurve archers who shoot from a “high anchor” (corner of the mouth) have no such problem; there is nothing in the way of the string finger’s landing zone. But Recurve archers using a “low anchor” need to be taught to position their chins higher than archers who use a side anchor. Our jaw lines generally slope from the rear downward toward the front, so to get the hand under the jaw, you have to kind of “go around” the point of the chin.

If, though, in the NTS approach the draw was a bit too low, it encourages moving the head farther than if it were closer at the end of the draw. Your head moving down (the part where your nose touches the string) and your hand moving up have to negotiate a meeting place in the middle, which is a significant source of variation because very small changes in the position of the rear end of the arrow result in large differences in hit points. By raising your head the bare minimum, then drawing to a very short distance below your jaw, you can minimize this source of variation.

In the old days it was “set your head” and “draw to anchor.” Kisik Lee designed his approach in reaction to this instruction, which has the drawback of the archer’s chin possibly blocking the path of the draw fingers into position.

Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. The basic task is to get a good head position while getting into good full draw position (including an anchor point with a large amount of contact with the jaw to enhance the “feel” of being in the right place). Both of the described approaches are imperfect, so I suggested my student give the first one a try (the old school approach). In this I am definitely becoming “new school”! I think that if we tinker a bit our autonomic and subconscious processes will adapt whatever approach is chosen into one that works … if we know what works. Obviously bumping your chin while trying to anchor is not acceptable, but both of the above approaches will work if archers allow them to be tweaked by the wisdom inherent in their bodies.

The bow and arrow will teach us everything we need to know … if we can learn to listen and to hear them and if we do not assume we know what is right and wrong. Too often entrenched ideas of what is correct and incorrect dominate the teaching and learning of archery. Instructional books have diagrams showing “Correct” and “Incorrect” forms, for example. This then uses our worst tool (our conscious minds) to dictate the workings of our bodies. We try to force our bodies to comply to the conscious dictates of some form master. I am coming to realize that if we share with archers what they are trying to accomplish and then have them train their subconscious functions along those lines we will end up at a very good place faster and with less effort.

 

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Adapting Standard Form Recommendations

One of the difficulties coaches have to deal with is students who cannot “do it the right way,” that is the way arrows “should be” shot according to the instruction manuals. I recently received a request for help from a coach who has a student who is very large bodied. The student’s physical size and body composition affects everything about his shooting, apparently. There are a number of important points that arose in our email conversation that I want to share.

Recommendations Are Just That
Recommendations regarding how to shoot are just that: recommendations. They are not requirements. Many great archers, in the past and today, did and do not shoot like the standard recommendations suggest. Here is some of what I had to say regarding a stance difficulty.

“Regarding the stance and balance first. The form recommendations that are made are just that … recommendations. Unfortunately there is little in the way of coach instruction as to how to adapt those positions for those with either physical infirmities or just different bodies (morphologies).

“The key thing is for the archer to be balanced. If that requires a wider stance, fine, if that requires a closed or oblique stance, fine. The goal is to be balanced … and the reason for the balance requirement is for us to be able to be still when shooting. Your archer needs to know that so he can monitor his stillness at full draw. If he is swaying back and forth or slowly shifting from one position to another, something needs to change. What that is will have to be determined by experimentation.

“Regarding ‘Due to the large amount of flesh on his frame, he cannot rotate to the straight line position required.’ Body rotation is not ‘required’ but is recommended. The basis of the recommendation is to make a more stable shooting platform; stability leads to better balance and greater stillness at full draw. The objective is a good full draw position from the sternum upwards, so work backward from that. Don’t make him rotate to that position. Have him get to that position (I have archers use a very light drawing bow, e.g. 10#) and then move his lower body until he is most comfortable—without losing the good full-draw-position (aka ‘Archer’s Triangle’ aka ‘The Wedge’). That is the best starting point. After he learns to shoot from a good full-draw-position, he can then explore changes in his stance, with the only changes allowed being those that do not disrupt that full draw position (which means some stances will be possible, others not so). Please note that, in my opinion, the recommendation for an open stance requires a considerable rotation of the body in that the shoulders have to be 10-12 degrees closed at full draw. An open stance is fighting this position by positioning the feet rotated in the opposite direction (thus requiring a torso rotation for the shoulders to get there). Beginning archers do not need us making shooting more difficult. I suggest we consider doing it the easiest way and then adding “refinements (like an open stance) when the archers interest and body of work suggest it might be worthwhile.

“Regarding ‘He has been unable to find a set anchor point due to the fleshy area under his jaw line.’ You might want to consider using a kisser button. It may be that in the future he ‘finds’ a consistent anchor position but there are a great many archers who have a similar problem (often because their jaw lines are closer to vertical than horizontal). A kisser button can allow this archer to develop his form, enjoy the sport, and make considerable progress. If I am not mistaken, one of the current men’s Olympic team champions uses a kisser button. It is not a crutch, just an aid like so many other things.

It Is Best to Work Back from First Principles
When trying to fit what seems to be a square peg into a round hole (an idiom indicating an unwise effort to fit things that do not) it is better to work from first principles. Unfortunately coaching education doesn’t supply this framework and I am not sure that coaches have taken this to heart as professionals.

The “stance issue” is a clear example. Instructions are often stated as “you must do this” or “you must do that” regarding your stance. I have done this myself in my writings. It is done to impress the importance the writer places upon such things … but it conveys the wrong impression.

Let’s look at this working backward from what we want. We want high scores on archery targets. High scores are created by tight arrow groups in the highest scoring location. Arrow groups can be relocated (moved around) by aiming/sighting techniques, so our fundamental job as archers is to shoot tight groups. Tight groups come from being able to repeat one’s shot process accurately, many times. To be able to repeat one’s shot sequence accurately, one needs to be able to relax and focus and be still under the tension of the draw and then be able to execute a clean release. So, what has a stance to do with this?

Picture an archer on a rotating stand. He/she is in perfect full draw position. Off the arrow goes but misses the target three meters to the right? So what do you do? You rotate the archer so they are pointing more to the left. The next arrow just misses the butt to the left and…. You can see that the stance that holds up an archer so they can operate their bow with their upper body also plays a role in directing the arrows. (This is why I ridicule those who admonish archers to “not aim yet,” to only aim at full draw. Aiming begins with taking one’s stance and one would not set up to shoot arrows back into the spectators (those arrows wouldn’t score well) so we set our stance to make our arrows go into the target’s center. We aim our bows with almost every move we make.)

So, a stance has to provide stillness for the upper body and that stems from the archer being balanced. The stance also helps direct the archer’s bow toward the target. Current stance recommendations include stances that do not direct the archer’s arrows toward the target and require the archer to twist themselves to do so. This is clearly not necessary, especially so if the archer you are coaching cannot do the twisting.

If we start from those first principles (stillness, balance, focus, relaxation) and enroll the archer’s help, adjustments to standard form will be easier, I think.

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Helping Shape Archery Attitudes

Note If you are serious about coaching archery, please go to http://www.archerycoachesguild.org and consider joining The Archery Coaches Guild. We are days away from a formal launch of the website, but most of it is already there. We are creating a space in which coaches can interact with other coaches to help solve problems and grow as coaches. Come join us.  Steve

Helping Shape Archery Attitudes

If you have been coaching for some length of time it is almost guaranteed that you have encountered student-archers who had “bad attitudes.” Since your standing with those archers is not very high, there doesn’t seem that there is much you do to shape better attitudes. Let’s talk about this.

It probably is not helpful to tell your charge “you’ve got an attitude,” for that is shorthand for “you’ve got a bad attitude,” and it may not hit home. It may rather say “I don’t like you” and the response may be dislike in return.

Just so we are talking about the same thing, the “attitude” we are talking about here is “a mental position with regard to a fact or state; for example a helpful attitude, meaning a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state.” If that doesn’t help, we are talking about “how” people achieve their goals. Maybe their goal is they just want to shoot a good score or a score good enough to win a local competition. Important questions regarding achieving those goals are: what is their opinion regarding, say, “practice” with regard to achieving their goal? What about “talent?”

Is your student someone who people say is “talented” when it comes to archery? If so, do they believe those claims? And what does that mean to them? There is a trap in believing you have a “talent for archery” (we recommend that they don’t believe that as there seems to be no basis in fact for such a thing) and that trap is the fact that a talent is . . . what? Is it anything they can do anything with? Or is it just what it is, something fixed in them that they have no control over? If they believe the latter, studies have shown that people who believe they have an innate talent in them are often afraid to challenge themselves because if they fail, what does that mean about their “talent?” Did they run out of talent? Did it fail them? These are pretty scary situations because they mean something about, well, them. And they have no idea whatsoever what their talent is.

You can also easily see backhanded criticism of professional athletes, by endowing them with “natural talent” (“he has prodigious gifts” or “he is a huge talent”) as a way of saying “it is not him, it is a gift he was given; he didn’t earn it, it was a gift”). This statement ignores the amount of hard work needed to acquire any skill, implying they just naturally knew how to do those things instead of earning them through hard work. Conversely other athletes are described as “hard working” and “the first to come to practice and the last to leave,” implying that they “earned” their skills and weren’t just gifted them.

Some interesting studies about talent addressed student’s attitudes toward learning math. It seems to be true that everyone can learn math and that some learn it more easily than others. But many young people experience the following when they first begin to struggle: a parent or other adult says something like “That’s okay, kiddo, I didn’t have a talent for math, either.” This seemingly consoling statement is, presumably, meant to relieve the young student’s anxiety. Basically, they are saying “it is not your fault, it is because of nature or something (genetics); some people just don’t have what it takes to learn math.”

The problem with this “attitude” is that it offloads responsibility for performance onto something that probably does not exist. In other cultures, when a student struggles the parent/other adult reassures them by saying “you will just have to work harder, but I know you will succeed; you can do it.” Which of these two attitudes is more likely to result in a better outcome, do you think? And shouldn’t the same be true for archers?

Does practice help?

“Gee, I go to archery practice every week, I wonder why the others are getting better and I am not. Maybe I need better equipment.” We hear this from too many young archers. Just showing up is not “practice.” Showing up is a requirement for practice to occur, a minimal requirement. If they don’t show up when a range is made available for them to shoot on and you are also available to coach them, it will be much harder to get better. But there is no guarantee that if they do show up, things will get better, either. Practice, rather, is what you do to get better. If they are not getting better, then they are not really getting any practice, or certainly not any effective practice.

To become better, they must do things that make their scores better. If they adopt the attitude that “practice is what you do to get better,” and you have the goal of getting better, then there are some consequences. First they have to have some indicator of what “getting better” means. If they have a fair number of competitions where they are, they might be able to use their competition scores. If not, they might use scores on practice rounds. Whatever they choose to indicate their progress, they will have to keep track of those numbers. (Having a notebook and using it well is an absolute necessity for serious archers.)

You, as coach, can be helpful in determining things they can do to get better. But you can only make suggestions; we do not recommend making demands. Practice is not just showing up, but showing up, doing things differently, and noting which things work better and which don’t. This is why it is strongly recommended that each archer keep a list of the things they are trying and always (Always!) read that list before they start shooting, otherwise they could easily fall back into their “old normal” shooting and lose any progress they might have been making. You can help, by recommending the list, asking if they have read it (over and over and over—hey, it is a repetition sport!). We even go so far as to give out small spiral bound notebooks that students can keep in their quivers.

Coaches can also provide drills, with each drill described and a plan made, for example: “do this for two weeks and then we’ll check to see if you are better.” This drill then becomes a part of what they do when they attend your lessons (and hopefully if they are able to practice between lessons). Whether that drill is kept in their practice routine depends on whether it makes them better. You have the capacity to show them how those tests are made and whether or not their work is being directed correctly.

Don’t confuse an unwillingness to do the drills you recommend as a sign of a bad attitude, it may be a sign of a recreational archer. If the program they are in is only for serious competitive archers, then maybe they are in the wrong program. Shooting for fun is not a mistake, it is what the vast majority of archers do and drills aren’t fun. And recreational archers tend not to do things that are not fun (drills fall into this category).

Attitude is an important factor in archery. Successful archers tend to have an attitude directing them to work harder and smarter, from which they get better. They are willing to let their performance dictate what they should be doing in “practice.” They don’t worry that they are running out of talent, because there is no such thing. Coaches can help shape these attitudes by recognizing the differences between “recreational” and “competitive” archers (AER terms) and making suggestions accordingly.

The first rule of getting out of a hole you dug yourself is to stop digging.
Anonymous

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The Most Powerful Tool in an Archer’s Quiver is … a Notebook

I was watching a golf instructional video and the PGA Coach in the video was making the point that the most important tool in a golfer’s bag was a notebook. (I was watching a golf coach on video because how many archery coaches supply those for free? Answer none. Okay, I admit to trying to produce such videos, but it is harder than it looks and we only had our living room to use as a studio.)

Golf NotebookI had often told students that “the most powerful tool in an archer’s quiver is a notebook” so I was receptive to this message.

It is important to get archers started early on writing things down as there is too much information t keep in their heads. Having detailed measurements about one’s bow setup can prove invaluable, for example.

More importantly, notebooks allow archer and coach to see what is happening over time, Often archers can get frustrated because they have the impression that they aren’t making progress. A look through past scores in their notebook and at other indicators of work done and problems solved can often show the archer that they have made more progress that they thought, they had fallen into the “what have you done for me lately” trap.

A key use of a notebook I teach is to reserve the first five or six pages at the front and on the very top page, I ask them to list the top three things they are working on. If there are more items than three, they are listed on the next page down, out of sight.

Then, I ask them to always (religiously) read that list before shooting an arrow at any archery session (practice or competition). It is almost always the case that archers are working on something. If they begin “warming up shooting” without reminding themselves as to the things they are committed to changing, the pull of their “old normal” shot will have them shooting the old way through the entire warm up. There is nothing more confusing to an archer’s subconscious mind that alternating doing something two or more ways. By emphasizing “doing it right” during warm ups, such reversions to the archer’s old form will be minimized and the learning of the “new normal” will be faster.

When something is learned and no longer needs to be on the “top three list,” it has a line drawn through it and something from the next page down is promoted up. That top page, when it gets to the point here dozens of items have been listed and crossed off, is a powerful indicator to the archer of progress being made.

 

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