Tag Archives: Coaching Behaviors

The Missing Link in the Mental Game of Archery Has Been Found!

Larry Wise has just published a new book on the mental game, Planning to Peak in Archery, but it is not just another such book; it is much, much more. In my opinion what has been missing in archery training is a way to create a mental plan for a serious competitive archer. Beginners and intermediate archers can be taught various mental tools (positive self-talk, process goals, affirmations, etc.) but this is a little like trying to create a machine shop starting with a few hand tools: files, ball pein hammers, etc.

How are we to go about creating the so highly desired “mental program” that is so often talked about? Well, Larry Wise has taken all of his skill as a high level archery coach and as a classroom teacher and created a system to develop mental programs that can be used by anyone participating in an aiming sport.

Archery has been missing this pragmatic aspect of the mental game for a long, long time. (Not that other sports have developed systems like Larry has. We may be out in front for the first time as sport coaches!)

I recommend this book wholeheartedly. When I think of the mental game of archery, I can’t think of anyone who has a better handle on it than Larry Wise. This is an absolute “must have” book if you are a serious archery coach or a serious competitive archer.

Full Disclosure In developing this book, Larry used me as a sounding board and as a copy editor for which I was paid. But if you asked me to point to one significant idea of mine in this book, I would not be able to. All of the credit goes to Larry.

Steve Ruis

Planning to Peak in Archery is available directly from Larry at www.larrywise.com. It is $24.95 and if you order it directly from Larry, you should be able to sweet talk him into signing it.


  • Section I: Forming Your Archery Perspective
    Learning Basics
    The Building Blocks Of Performance
    Engaging In Present Process Thinking
  • Section II: Developing Your Preparation Skills
    Practice With A Purpose
    Setting Your Goals
    Pre-Tournament Preparation
    Tournament Site Practice
    Post-Tournament Evaluation
    Helping Yourself With Self-Talk
    Shooting Beyond Target Panic
  • Section III: Adjusting Your Archery Attitude
    The Three C’s: Commitment, Composure, Confidence
    Did You Hear What Coach Sutter Said
    There Are No “Deserves”
    The Myth Of Pressure
    The Big Questions For Aspiring Athletes
  • Section IV: Engaging Your Mind Through Focus Mapping
    Understanding Focus Shifting
    Mapping Your Breathing Pattern
    Plotting Your Primary Muscle Group Loading
    Mapping Your Attentional Focus
    Focus Mapping For Advancing Athletes
    Pre-Start, Pre-Shot, And Downtime Routines


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Form and Function

If you saw a young archer shooting at your range and their form was, well, let’s say “unusual,” what would you say if asked for your opinion? I’d say, “Let me see your target face.” If the target tells me that he groups really, really well, then I would say that everything was fine, just fine. If his arrows were hitting all over the face, I’d ask if that were normal and if he/she said yes, I would say that if better performance were wanted, then some changes were going to be needed.

You see, as coaches, we need to distinguish form from function in archers. The comment has been made often enough that champion archers were winning with less than perfect form. In some cases it was almost bizarre. There have also been archers with impeccable form who never won. (If you have to choose between form and function, always choose function.)

I recommend that we teach beginning archers a form that is near optimum for those archers. (We start with generic form and then tailor it to the archer.) The reason why I avoid idiosyncratic form is that it takes longer to learn; that is it takes more effort and more time to learn. But if an archer has idiosyncratic form and they shoot lights out, then “don’t touch,” is my advice. They don’t get extra points for “style.” Form and function are not linked inextricably.

There are obvious examples of form and function being tied together: for example, if an archer stands with their bow side foot behind the shooting line and draw side foot ahead of that line, they have just made shooting a bow very, very much more difficult. Of course, that young performer who shoots a bow with her feet while doing a hand stand indicates that such limitations aren’t necessarily absolute, still it is far easier to shoot using something akin to “standard form.” There are reasons for this and I am currently working on a book (Coaching Archery from First Principles) in which I will endeavor to lay those out. And, it is clear, that the differences between things like slightly open stances and very slightly open stances are so small as to be only felt by an elite archer. But even beginners can feel the difference between a very open and a very closed stance. So, there is always a matter of degree involved and blanket statements like “an open stance is required” are just silly. The question is always “how open need the stance be?”

In every aspect of archery form and execution, what I call “form elements” (Once a chemistry teacher, always a chemistry teacher.), there are fundamental principles at their core. Often these principles are simple laws of physics or biology (anatomy, kinesiology, etc.) and because of the issue of “degrees” being involved, everything has tradeoffs, pluses and minuses, pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages. So, the existence of such things is never in doubt, so we much focus upon the magnitude of them. A tiny difference between slightly open stances and very slightly open stances is a much smaller issue than between which foot should be on the target side of the shooting line. One form element is highly flawed, the other is, meh, maybe a moot point.


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Coaching Pride is a Funny Thing

I have mentored a few coaches along the way. One of the most successful is Brent Harmon, who was just honored by USA Archery as one of their Developmental Coaches of the Year (see here).

I gave Brent his L2 and helped him with his L4 and a number of other things. We have had many long conversations about archery and coaching and the most valuable thing I passed on is, I would guess, was encouragement (and warnings about burnout).

As to his recognition: all of the energy was his, all of the ideas were his, all of the followthrough was his, and of course, I still felt pride that he was recognized so.

Coaches often experience a feeling of pride when our charges, colleagues, etc. get some sort of recognition or achieve some lofty goals, e.g. championships, making teams, winning medals, etc. and we were a part of that process. Helping any of them along the way, was why I was in the coaching game as it was. I have spent more money on the process than I have made, so it can’t be viewed as an American-style success, but there is a certain emotional reward in being part of the solution and not part of the problem.

“Feel the pride, let it go, go back to what you were doing” is the advice I am giving myself.

And just to show you who I really am, being a retired chemistry teacher, I had a tee-shirt that read “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the precipitate.” If you understood that joke, you like me, are probably overeducated. Steve


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How Important is Willpower to Archers?

I was reading a post on the Medium.com website (You’ve Been Sold a Massive Lie About Willpower by Sean Kernan) and I encountered the following:

Each day, 205 people went about their lives, walking through Germany, going to work, going on dates, doing the routine things of everyday life.

Every few hours, their phone beeped. An app asked about their difficulties with self-control (since their last check-in).

They were part of a study that produced a paradoxical result: the people who reported being best at overcoming temptation also experienced the least amount of temptation.

Put another way, a signal of good discipline was not having to use it at all.

A separate study had a parallel conclusion: people who exerted more self-control felt more exhausted and achieved fewer goals.

This runs in sharp contrast to the absolute fetishization of willpower.

Hustle culture would have you believe that willpower is a vessel to unlimited motivation and success.

What does this say about our recommendations to our athletes regarding their practicing? What do you think?

* * *

If you want to read the full article, it is here.


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Complexity vs. Simplicity

In an exchange on my coaching blog the topic of “simpler is better” came up. This is a precept I have felt has merit for a long time. It seems intuitive . . . but is it? Is simpler really better than more complex?

Lets take as an example a Compound-Release archer and compare one to archers of the past. A longbowman had technique and equipment that needed maintenance, as well as skilled craftsmen to create. When compound-release archers came along, a great deal more complexity was injected into the sport (bowstrings and cables, and release aids, oh my!). Bow sights and bow sights with moveable apertures were invented, and then computer programs were written to ensure the most consistent sight markings possible.

Those bow sights involved bubble levels for an archer to determine whether or not his bow attitude was correct and consistent. Release aids were invented, along with D-loops, to make the release of the string smoother and more consistent. Stabilizer rods were invented to help hold the bow still for aiming and at the moment of release. Jigs were invented to make sure that these bow sights and stabilizers were optimally set up.

Compound-release archers produced higher levels of success at “hitting the target” than had previously been seen. So, was the increased complexity worth it? Apparently so, yes, if the goal is consistent accuracy. (Yes, I know traditional archers have more fun, I are one!)

I think the concept “simpler is better” is too simple. Archers are pragmatic, if nothing else. If additional complexity is warranted will be determined by whether results are affected positively and, really, nothing else. Compound-release archers may want to trim their shot routines to be as simple as possible (which is what I recommend . . . as a starting point) but if adding a little something here or there results in better scores, then “more complex is better.”

I think “simple” is easier to master and it is how we start archers off. We teach a standard, simple form . . . and, if the archer blossoms, we start the process of making their shot routine their own and certainly making it more complicated. (Have I mention mental programs?) Simple is a good place to start from, but not necessarily a good goal.

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Speeding Up and Slowing Down

I read this recently: “During piano lessons, my teacher pushed me to my ceiling on speed, then slowed the piece down and we practiced the isolated parts I stumbled over. Then, we incrementally sped up.”

This seems to be a teaching technique we could apply to our student-archers. Asking them to shoot faster than they are accustomed to (Faster! Faster!) will cause them to stumble where their technique is weak, no?

What do you think?


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Under the Chin or Side of the Face?

There is a healthy debate going on in UK coaching circles as to the “best way” to start beginners, often focused upon which anchor to use, a high anchor (side of the face, corner of the mouth) or a low anchor (under the chin).

Most of these debates are characterized by program coaches claiming they have the “best success” using one or the other. What seems to be left out are the mechanics of the situation.

Here is my take on this question.

The low or under chin anchor presupposes the archer will be using a bow sight. Bow sights are problematic for beginnings because they are using “borrowed” program bows. Until they get their own equipment that they can sight in, there is no use in introducing bow sights. (And don’t think we didn’t try.)

Our approach is to teach Barebow, then introduce other accessories, such as stabilizers and bow sights, in stages and by so doing introduce archers to many of the different styles of shooting that are available to them.

On top of that, beginners are started on large target faces at short distances. The strategy here was summed up by a catch phrase used in USA Archery: “Early participation, early success.” This is no longer used but I think it shows some wisdom. In our programs we even deleted the “safety lecture” to create a system in which participation, aka shooting, occurred as early in the first lesson as possible.

Note Before you freak out about the safety lecture being dumped, please realize we did our research. For one, after having observed quite a number of these safety lectures, we realized that a sizable fraction of the students were not paying attention. In addition, the lecturers were also not paying attention; it takes work to keep your audience engaged and seeing large numbers of your audience tuned out should ring alarm bells. And, finally, we learned that safety rules are best learned in context. We often stop our lessons to point out a safety rule. We ask the assembled students to repeat rules back to us. And we repeat as often as necessary. (We also post range rules and point to them as we explain why things are done the way they are.) In addition, we point out when students do things correctly, by name, to make sure that we don’t come off as always being negative, only pointing out things that are wrong.

Back to the Anchor Point Discussion: When targets are at short distances, a high anchor is (a) a better technique as the points of aim are closer to where the archers are looking, (b) a safer approach as arrows tend to land short of the target butt or on the target butt, and rarely over the target butt, which makes finding all of the shot arrows easier, lending to more shooting per lesson. When teaching aiming, we teach aiming first and then sighting later. Since sights on program bows are way more trouble than they are worth, aiming “off of the point” is an easy aiming technique to teach. (We developed protocols for teaching both.) With a high anchor, points of aim are often on the target face and so easier to teach (we use the target clock face).

Once point of aim is learned, transitioning to a bow sight (if they own one) is an easy process (and yes, we wrote a protocol for it—coaches are too often left on their own without even an example of a technique for teaching something).

And, the under chin anchor gets taught when it is necessary to “make distance,” that is to reach farther targets with reasonable POAs/sight aperture pictures. By then student-archers understand that lowering the nock end of the arrow gives greater cast from the same bow position.

We try to have reasons why we do the things we do and if we find a better way, we adopt that way as soon as possible. And arguments of “we have success in our classes” are weak arguments. If you did half of your classes one way and half the other way and then saw that one of the ways worked better, I would buy it, but just to say “we have success in our classes” is not being compared to the other method. (This is like people recommending their bow or whatnot as being the “best” of its kind because it works for them. But they haven’t tried all of the others, so on what is their opinion based? Answer: not much.)

You will find an earlier post describing how we introduce bow sights using foam tape and ball-headed pins. This is to show students what a sight does and is designed to help them decide whether they want to invest in a bow sight,


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Reading Old Archery Books

I am an intellectual, a geek, I know that. When faced with a task the tools that come to hand easiest for me are books and articles, etc. What I want to address here is “reading old archery texts” and why you might want to do so.

There is a general tendency among archers, mostly compound archers, to look at the latest and greatest as having more value. We want the latest equipment, the latest tuning methods, the latest technique tips, etc. This is because we have been led to believe that things are better now that they were in the past and that, in general is true . . . but not absolutely true. My friend and colleague Tom Dorigatti has a bone to pick with the phrase “new and improved” which is a bit of marketing nonsense foisted upon us through TV ads and now other media. He claims, quite so, that something cannot be both “new” and “improved” at the same time.

Basically I have read archery books dating from recent to hundreds of years old. I have learned many things, including the idea of back tension goes back centuries. But specifically, let’s look at one book, namely: Doctor Your Own Compound Bow by Emery J. Loiselle

I gave away my copy of this book, so I am operating from memory. My later version included a section on those new-fangled two wheel compounds. Most of the bow was about four- and six-wheeled compound bows. Never having shot one of those older bows I learned a lot in seeing how they were tuned. They were open-ended systems so you could feed cables through from one end and they would come out the other, giving you a huge number of tuning options. Two-wheel compound bows are a closed system in which one thing feeds into another and so provided many fewer tuning possibilities.

The two-wheelers were also less complicated mechanisms and thus less could go wrong.

Historical tidbits are dropped along the way. Did you know that the earliest compound bows used banjo and guitar tuning pegs for their cabling take-ups? There wasn’t anything being ready made at the beginning, so they used what they had.

Did you know that the early compound bows had no bow presses to help work on them. The bows were loosened until there was no tension on the cables or string and then dismantled, which meant that retuning was required for any such process.

Did you know that the first bow presses had a single point of pull, resulting in myriad broken handles (and the invention of the two point harness)?

Did you know that “creep tuning” was invented in the 1970’s?

Some of this knowledge is of just historical interest but much of it underlies the processes used on modern bows and why modern bows are designed the way they are.

Old archery books are available for a song and many of them have information that is pertinent today still. You may be surprised at how little archery form has changed, for example.

Happy reading!


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Our Suggestion Culture

In archery, beginners attract a fair amount of attention from well-meaning experienced archers. This is part of the target archery culture and is, by-and-large, a good thing, but . . . it isn’t a way forward. Well-meaning experienced archers want to share things that worked for them in the hopes that it will improve the newbie’s game, which is even more fun, and the newbie will stick with the sport. Tada!

Except it doesn’t work.

Sure, ask any archer and they will have a story of when “so-and-so suggested that I do such-and-such and it really improved my game.” If it involved a famous archer, the better the story. Except what they can’t remember is all of the cases when such tips were a complete waste of time and energy, of which there were a great many more.

Well, I am “Mr. So Why Is That So?” . . . so, why is that?

In most cases, the tip giver hasn’t watched you shoot for very long and doesn’t know what you are working on or what you have worked on, so if one does watch you shoot, and does ask “what are you working on,” and then asks “Do you mind if I make a suggestion?,” I’d say “Yes!” Because that might be the only time in your entire life where that happens. And the suggestion may actually be helpful . . . but think it though first, don’t just try it. Talk it over with a shooting partner or, better, with your coach.

More often than not, while you are practicing somebody will just start blathering away without even saying hello. I saw one guy lecture a pre-teen newbie compound archer about back tension . . . really! . . . as if that were going to help the youngster.

Most advice givers are untrained regarding giving advice and their advice is completely out of context. They don’t know what you are working on and possibly don’t care. It is an axiom that, when you focus on one aspect of your shot, one shot element as it were, the rest of your shot goes south a bit. Often our advice givers are commenting on these shaky bits in your shot which are only shaky because you are devoting too much attention to the thing you are working on (a necessary condition to get better).

So, if you are approached by one of these advice givers, what should you do? Well, if it is not something you are working on at the moment, listen intently to see if you understand the advice. Ask for clarification if you need it. Thank them for their advice. A good thing to do is whip out your notebook and write the tip down. If you want to flatter the person giving the tip, ask their name and record that, too. Then go back to what you were working on.

Because adults believe that children should attend to what they say, there is this assumption that if an “elder” archer gives a young newbie some advice that they should try to implement that advice right away. So we teach our young archers to say, in these circumstances, “Gee, thanks, I will tell my coach the next time I see him/her.” This is a magical incantation that tells everyone that there is an older, wiser adult already teaching this youth and so it is okay for them to not immediately implement those suggestions.

This phrase works for adult newbies, too.

Talk to your serious students about this syndrome, otherwise you could be in a situation on making two steps forward in lessons and making one step backward when they practice between sessions, or worse, two steps forward and three steps backward.

If you have never asked a student where they got a new shot bit and have them tell you that it was “a tip I got at the range” . . . you will, you will. This is a major source of exasperation for coaches and confusion for archers as they are often told contradictory things.

Addendum Helpful things advice givers could do instead of giving shooting advice: encourage newbies to listen to their coach, encourage them to work hard, suggest that you might shoot a practice round with them, explain that there is a lot to learn, and that that it will take some time, but if they stick with it, they too can become an expert archer. And wait for questions to be asked before advice is given.

Second Addendum Since archery is a social sport, gossip plays a serious role. Gossip is not a negative thing you should never do. This is how parents discover, for example, who the boys are they don’t want their daughters hanging around with. Gossip is the transmitting of social information. What you and your students want to avoid is negative gossip. For example, youths who do not immediately take the advice of their elders can be described as being “stuck up” or “full of themselves.” This is why that magic phrase is so effective. It blocks off any negative gossip.

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It Is All About Feedback

What do coaches provide? There is a long list of things: information, wisdom, knowledge, emotional support, encouragement, etc. When it comes to counseling an archer with regard to his/her shot, the biggest boon is supplying feedback.

Archers cannot see themselves while shooting so coaches can watch and learn and also control what is going on. But with the video resources we now have available in our pockets, aka smartphones, we now have the capability of watching ourselves, so . . . who needs a coach?

I was thinking about this when I was writing my latest book, Coach Yourself! One would hope that a competent coach could provide a great deal more than a video recording. For one, we would know what to look for, know what is important and what is not. And, a biggie is that the archers, seeing themselves, compares what they see to . . . what? The only comparator they have are the descriptions they read about in magazines and books. Coaches, I would hope, have seen myriad archers . . . while thinking about form and execution . . . and so have a small encyclopedia of things in their heads as to what works and what doesn’t.

Now, consider the feedback loop archers have. Let’s say I decide to modify my stance somewhat. So, I do and I take a few shots. My shot now feels slightly different. Well, that is expected. Any change will feel different, but does it feel “better.” Do we really know how a better shot feels? Can we tell “better” from “different?” I do not think so.

So, our feedback loop is: a change is made and we shoot shots and see where they land. Are my shots centered better on the target? Are my groups tighter? So, the feedback loop is: shot—hit point. That’s it. That’s not very helpful.

I saw video in which an Olympic weightlifter was training. Their situation regarding feedback is much as ours is. They try something new and then they lift. Either the weight lift is successful, or not. And they have “how it felt” as additional feedback. This is identical to our feedback loop. But this chap had electrodes and wired dangling from his body. Researchers had been checking his musculature as he lifted and had recognized a pattern of muscle activation that was closely associated with successful lifts. But the lifter couldn’t feel that muscle or control it much at all. So, the team was supplying feedback. The guy would lift and then the team would tell him whether he had done a good job of activating that key muscle or not. Remember he can’t tell directly. But by providing the feedback, almost “yes you did/no you didn’t,” he learned how to flex that muscle consistently.

Studies have shown that people can adapt their bodies to tasks they have no seeming contact with just by supplying feedback and encouragement. In one such experiment, subjects were asked to pay attention to a light on a wall in a bare cubicle and, if they could, get the light to flash keep the light flashing. They were then rigged up to various sensors and left alone. Subjects reported that the situation was quite boring, so when the light began to flash, it had their undivided attention. They reported some frustration in that they could get the light to flash but after a bit it would stop, then it would start again. But every time it started again, they were able to keep it going . . . until it stopped again. What the researchers were doing is picking a signal they wanted to see if it could be controlled. The subjects managed to raise their heart beat rates, for example when the light was set to flash when their heart rate went up. Then they switch to only allowing it to flash if their heart rates went down . . . and flash it did. They got the subjects to raise, then lower their respiration rates and, get this, raise and lower their blood pressure . . . all by just supplying feedback in the form of a flashing light in an otherwise boring situation.

What I took away from that experiment was two things: one was that we had more control over these autonomic process than I had thought and the other was that . . . feedback is very powerful.

So, as a coach how can you provide more and better feedback to your students. The obvious way to study form and execution to sharpen what to look for and what to recommend as things our archers might try, but consider this process. If you time a number of shots, you can find that many archers shoot higher scores when they shoot at a particular rhythm and keep that shooting rhythm consistent. Does this apply to your student? The only way to find out is to check it. So, your student stands fairly close to a fairly large target (unless very expert and then you can use ordinary target faces) and you ask them to shoot arrows. If you can put up two multi-spot target faces. Then with numbered arrows or numbered spots, your archer shoots a the spots while you time him/her with a stopwatch. (I use the period from when the stabilizer tip begins to rise to the sound of the shot being loosed as the time of the shot.) Then you collect the times and arrow scores for a largish number of shots 40-60. (This is why you have to number the arrows or spots and shoot them in order so you can match the times and the arrow scores.)

Archers who shoot better in rhythm will show that there is a sweet spot . . . in time . . . for their shots to occur and score well. If a shot is gotten off quicker than that or takes longer than that the score suffers. If such a bracket in time (for example 6-8 seconds) can be identified than you can use feedback to get your archer to always shoot in that rhythm. You simply sit behind the archer with your stop watch as they shoot. If they shoot before the right time, tell them “too quick.” If they get to the far edge of the sweet spot time zone, command them to “Let down!” Soon, the archer will recognize the timing themselves, e.g. “That was too quick, wasn’t it?” and will be shooting in the correct time more and more often to the point of “always” doing so (as much as we “always” do anything, of course).

If an archer feels uncomfortable at a particular rhythm, you can explore other rhythms through this feedback, just pick a slightly faster or slower rhythm/shot timing and then train on that, then of course, check to see if the scores follow. If the scores don’t follow, then that rhythm is not the one that the archer really wants, no matter how comfortable it is.

Start thinking about how you provide feedback and how you can improve that feedback. Consider also how you help your students use the feedback. Are you providing enough support, enough drills, etc. to allow them to grasp what you are recommending? we aren’t at the point of wiring up our archers to electromyographs just yet, although it is done for research purposes, just not for training, so the feedback has to be in forms archers can digest.

There are literally dozens of things we do now to provide feedback, e.g. “I am going to touch your scapulae with my fingers, try to move those touch points closer together as you draw.” Do you have a favorite form of archer feedback. If so, share it with other coaches in the comments.

Oh, and I hope it is clear now that a partnership of archer and coach that works has to be better than archer alone. The archer has access to all of the internal aspects of their shot and the coach can see all of the externals and together they can create a complete picture. (If they can communicate and cooperate effectively, and . . . , and. . . .)

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