Tag Archives: Coaching Behaviors

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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Coach Lessons

About a week and a half ago, I had a number of coaching lessons scheduled, probably the last face-to-face lessons I will be giving for several months due to the pandemic, and I had a bit of an epiphany. I had finished my last lesson and was packing up to go and I struck up a conversation with another archer, as we archers so often do. This gentleman has had a couple of coaching sessions with me recently so we were acquainted. He was at our indoor range trying to get a new bow set up and tuned for his 16-year old son.

There was clearly something not working as he seemed frustrated. The conversation naturally gravitated to the issue: his son and he, both Recurve archers, had been recommended the same arrows over the phone. This rang an alarm for me, not because of the phone conversation, the dealer referenced was quite reputable, but because of the situation. The son looked a couple of inches shorter than the dad and when asked, that was confirmed along with the fact that dad’s draw weight was seven pounds higher than the son’s. I asked about their draw lengths and he said, “they are the same.” To my eye, and brain, they should have had about two spine groups difference between their shafts.

Now, I say “about two spine groups difference” because arrows are very sensitive to “cut length.” The rule of thumb is there is a one inch difference between spine groups. (Go ahead and look at any spine chart and that is about how they work out.) So, an arrow two spine groups too stiff could be made shootable by cutting them two inches “too long,” too long being longer than the recommended cut length.

So, the son is shooting bare shafts to set up these arrows and, again, my eye immediately told me the problem. Being two inches shorter than his dad, the son’s draw length should have been one inch shorter, but it was not. It was clear, to my mind, why it was not in that the youth was leaning away from the target, which results in a raised bow shoulder. So, I asked the dad about this. “Was this a new adaption to his shot or had it been there for some time?” This leaning away from the target is a time honored adaption youths make to deal with a bow that is just too heavy (the shoulder muscles responsible for holding the bow up against gravity, the deltoids, develop rather late). But, this may have been a habit developed when the youth was younger or recently adopted and I wanted to know which it was. It seems to have been around for some time, so I explained what was going on. The net result is that a high bow shoulder leads to an overly long draw length.

So, we did a test to see if he could handle the physical mass of his new bow. The test is simply to hold the bow with one arm in full draw position (we had to adjust his posture a touch) and count . . . slowly . . . one thousand one, one thousand two, . . . etc. If you cant make it to “five” before the bow starts to descend, the bow is definitely too heavy. If the bow begins to drop after five, it is probably too heavy. If you can get to 10 without the bow dropping, then it is probably not too heavy and if you can keep going past ten, you are as strong as you need to be. The young man passed the test which means he no longer had a need to lean away from the target.

So we got him “plumb” and raising the bow without raising his bow shoulder and checked his draw length. It was now roughly an inch shorter than his dad’s. The dad asked me what else they needed to do and I responded, without thinking, “Nothing, everything will just cascade down because of that one correction,” and it seem to do just that.

I said my goodbyes with the hope that their tuning session would go well from that point onward.

On the drive home, I realized that I hadn’t really thought things through . . . consciously. I just “looked” and “saw” and spoke. I spent a little time figuring out the “whys” involved on the way home, for example when you lean away from the target, if you think of the bow arm as being just part of your reference system, the leaning of the upper body moves the head, and your anchor point, farther away from your bow hand (and the bow). This is what causes the “too long” draw length. When the archer stands plumb (straight up and down) the rear elbow is elevated, the angle the fingers make on the bowstring becomes square, for all of the reasons that we adopt that form, those postures, in the first place, so if you remove the lean, everything else just falls into place.

The young man involved sucked all of this up and made the corrections needed in just a shot or three. (He learns fast as many of the young do.)

But the lesson for me, and possibly for you, is to accept that your intuition is a very useful tool. I didn’t think all of this through, I just reacted to the situation. This can lead to chasing one’s tail, as I have done many times before, but that chasing is probably also part of the learning process. And if my intuition doesn’t work, and sometimes it does not, then thinking through everything consciously is necessary.

And, I have been working on a book project lately which is how to coach archery from physical principles. I hope this will lead to me having a better understanding of what is going on and by sharing that will help you diagnose the technical problems you encounter. Maybe this story will become a “case study” for that book.

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Your Kids’ Coach Is Probably Doing It Wrong

The New York Times ran an article with exactly the title you see above (dated March 11, 2020). The subtitle might be even worse “Woefully underprepared instructors are contributing to a shockingly high dropout rate among young athletes.”

Here are some excerpts:

“I have played for, coached with and watched great coaches. At every level, there are capable sports instructors providing positive experiences for our children. The problem is, such coaches are greatly outnumbered by those who don’t seem to know what they are doing. This is true of programs both inside and outside of schools.”

“The youth sports industry is heavily dependent on the services of volunteers, typically parents or teachers. While these coaches may have wonderful intentions and enthusiasm for the game, that doesn’t mean they have the skills to provide useful instruction. The National Council for Accreditation of Coaching Education reports that in the United States, approximately 4 million out of 7.5 million youth and school coaches are volunteers. Fewer than 5 percent of youth sport coaches have relevant training; among middle-school and high school coaches, only 25 percent to 30 percent do.”

“Please, coaches: Take a moment to consider how your behavior affects the athletes. Don’t make my children hate the sports they once loved. Don’t make them switch disciplines every season in a desperate search for a coach who knows how to be a coach.”

“If you are fortunate enough to be called “Coach,” carry that moniker with pride. Seek out education and mentoring and do everything in your power to make sure that my child, and every child, has fun playing the sport with you because they feel valued and accomplished while learning to be competitive.”

Jennifer L. Etnier is a distinguished professor of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and the author of “Coaching for the Love of the Game: A Practical Guide for Working With Young Athletes.”

Arrogance on display aside (“Please, coaches: Take a moment to consider how your behavior affects the athletes.” So, she assumes coaches haven’t done this because if they had . . . ?) could this be a valid criticism of archery coaches? Possibly. But most academic researchers and writers on this topic focus almost exclusively on team sports. I have stopped buying and reading “how to coach youths” books and articles because of this focus, e.g. Chapter 1 How to Build Teamwork, etc.

Okay, I have a radical idea that is absolutely part of a solution for this “problem.”

Pay the damned coaches!

Archery organizations (primarily USA Archery) are notorious for adding additional requirements to acquire or keep a coach certification (and usually charging for the process, but not always). I resigned my Level 4 coaching certificate and USAA membership basically because they were charging me to provide them services. (Even though I have run JOAD programs in the past, I can no longer coach in them because I do not have a current (L2) certificate . . . not even as a guest coach.)

At a bare minimum, how about if you, coach, make it through an entire JOAD season as Head Coach, that they waive your membership fees for the next year? Or that they establish a fee structure for JOAD classes and how much of that income goes to pay the coaches. (We did this while in a community not exactly “rich” . . . we had waivers for student-archers who didn’t have the means to pony up for lessons. Otherwise you come across as saying “I am not going to pay you for your work but I am going to tell you how to do it,” and that doesn’t sit well with Americans, or really anyone.

When someone is being paid for their service the payer is in a better place to make demands upon those people regarding their service, training, and preparation.

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Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood . . .

I have written a number of times now that we, as archery coaches, should not be teaching ways to shoot bows as “right ways” and “wrong ways.” This tendency is a natural consequence of teaching beginners, who even if we do not use the terms “right” and “wrong” interpret things that way.

But we, ourselves, have carried the idea of there being a right way to shoot arrows from a bow to extremes, possibly as a way to sell what we are peddling (knowledge/competence, books, training programs, etc.).

Now, please realize that because I do not think we should be teaching “right ways” and “wrong ways” of shooting, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t right ways and wrong ways of shooting for you.

A shooting technique is something an archer builds. Because of the equipment, the laws of physics, and the task, everyone ends up looking quite similar but, as Coach Kim of Korea says “Everyone same, everyone different.”

Once an archer has built their technique (through quality shooting) and then memorized it (through quantity shooting) then shooting their way is the “right way.” If they deviate from their technique, then they are shooting the “wrong way.” We each get to define what is the right and wrong ways to shoot and they apply just to us and no one else.

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

Bonus points if you recognize the song lyric in the title and can name the group that made that song a hit.

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What Frustrates You Coach?

I had a phone conversation this morning in which I said “The biggest problem in archery coaching is that the vast majority of coaches are volunteers.” Basically my point is that if you are paying someone to coach you, as is the norm in all of the other sports, you can be more demanding of them. Those demands can come from both clients and certifying agencies.

I then got a comment regarding my post on getting serious archery students involved in a team which expressed some concerns about local practices of their archery organization. Here’s a snippet from that conversation:

(Here) any one can subscribe to a coaching course but they will not coach afterwards. They are archers that want to learn what coaches teach. Afterwards, they think that they know as much as a coach and therefore don’t need to be coached.
I have spent six solid continuous years of coaching whilst attending seminars and coach trainings, and this is what I have to put up with?
It is no wonder that I am frustrated.
Maybe this could be the next “blog topic”? “What frustrates you Coach?”

While I do not want to host bitching or whining/whinging sessions, the so-called “Whine and Jeez Party,” I would like to hear from all of you about what frustrates you as an archery coach. I would also like you to suggest solutions for any problems you see, to keep things as positive as we can.

Having this information will help me decide what to write about and we may be able to pass on anything substantive to our local or regional archery organizations to see if they are receptive.

(And, yes, I have been described as being overly optimistic. :o)

Just hit the comment button and type like mad!

 

 

 

 

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You Cannot Unsee What You Are Looking At

I was reading a piece in The Guardian about the protests in Hong Kong, including horrific battles between the protesters and police involving tear gas and Molotov Cocktails . . . and a new weapon which had been introduced by the protesters: bows and arrows. (Target bows and arrows, I saw no hunting equipment in the videos).

So, in the top of the article photo, here are protesters, looking like paramilitary troops with body armor, helmets, and such and one person holding a bow with an arrow on it.

What is the first thing I see?

The “archer” is shooting a right-handed bow . . . left-handed.

That was the first thing I noticed consciously.

Sheesh.

Once you have trained yourself to see what an archery coach must see, you can’t “unsee” it. This ability, which must be trained in, also has some drawbacks. What you “see” automatically, can push aside other things that are important but take more effort to see, analyze, and understand.

This is something you might want to keep in the back of your mind as you progress as a coach, that you can train yourself to see just certain things and other things get pushed into the background, things that can be important. So, pausing to take a deeper look may be a good coaching practice.

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Less is More . . . More or Less

A question asked of coaches often enough is “How much should I practice?” and “How many arrows should I shoot?” If you work with youths (I recommend this as it keeps you fresh and immersed in the fundamentals if nothing else) you often find yourself just encouraging them to practice more. So many kids will attend a group lesson, say, once a week and that’s it. But this is not what I am addressing here. Here I am addressing this question as if it were coming from a serious archer, one who is going to try whatever you recommend. In my parlance, a serious archer is one training to win.

An Aside—If you aren’t sure what kind of archer you are working with, give them an extensive, preferably boring, drill to do. If they don’t do it, they are a recreational archer (who only shoot for fun and drills aren’t fun). If they do do it, they are a competitive archer. If they email/text you between coaching sessions asking for what else they can do, they are probably a serious competitive archer.

There are some discussions available in the literature regarding arrow counts and training loads. Archers are encouraged, for example, to vary their shooting loads (aka number of arrows shot per day) in “high, medium, and low” sessions. I use as a rule of thumb that a high load day is at least twice as many arrows as you would shoot in one day of the competitive rounds that are current. But there is a large scheme at work here. Consider the three phases of learning archery:

Phase One—Creating Your Shot
One could get the impression form all of the how to shoot books that an archery shot is like a suit of clothes. You find one that fits your needs and then you try it on and wear it. In reality, you have to make your own suit. An archery shot is personal. And, while there are many, many similarities in archer’s shots (created by the use of common equipment and the laws of physics) everyone’s shot is unique to them (some being uniquer than others).

So, Phase One is always the creation of a shot. This is best done using dedicated practice techniques involving low volumes of shots but high intensity of focus. Errors are corrected immediately. Drills are often done for extensive periods. (If a coach is to be employed at all, this is the best time.)

Phase Two—Memorizing Your Shot
Once you have created a consistently accurate shot (a sign of which is shooting consistently good groups) it is time to memorize your shot, that is learning it to the bone. In this phase you will shoot “your shot” so often that it becomes second nature. I should be able to wake you up at 3 AM and shove your bow into your hands and you should be executing good shots immediately because it is “normal” for you to shoot that way.

This memorization process involves shooting high volumes of shots. This is the first time high volumes of shots are to be attempted. Important Point—If volume shooting is a memorization technique, why would you do this before your shot is built? You would just be memorizing something you will be changing shortly.

This is not the mindless flinging of arrows so often mention as something to avoid (rather, one should never do this) but shots with full focus. How many shots per session is a variable to be winkled out. There are no tables to consult here! Archers are too variable in size, strength, ability to focus, etc. Arrow counts might stay low while the archer does physical training to increase strength or stamina. One has to feel one’s way along here. Archer’s need to learn to monitor muscle soreness; it’s location and intensity. (The wrong muscles being sore indicates the wrong muscles are being used!)

Phase Three—Maintaining Your Shot
Shooting high arrow counts is not done forever. Once an archer’s foundation is built (this often takes years, estimates I have seen being in multiples of 10,000 shots) the arrow volumes are cut back. First, there is no need for memorization and second, you risk repetitive stress injuries from over work. Occasionally, in preparing for major events, high arrow counts may be brought back as stamina tests and to reassure the archer that they still have it, that is the ability to function consistently during a long competition.

And . . .
Throughout all of this there are minor technique tweaks, often significant equipment changes, and injuries to work around, but these are all performed in the context of “your shot.”

You have probably heard the admonition to “Shoot your shot.” This is a warning to young archers to avoid improvising, to shoot the shot they have practiced. For a serious competitive archer, we try to help them make “not shooting their shot” difficult, abnormal, awkward, etc. And this does not necessarily involve high volume arrow shooting, which is only done when it is appropriate and is not a virtue in itself. (Yes, I am talking to you, Macho Man Archer.)

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

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

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

Tiger ca. two years old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kids! Teach Your Parents Well!

Back when we were running youth archery programs a regular staple of our programs was a “Parent’s Day” in which the parents/guardians got to shoot some arrows. A key element of these sessions was, if at all possible, to have the kids teach their parents.

This was a deliberate attempt at some role reversal (usually it is the parents teaching the kids) but also it was part of our recognition that archery was one of the few sports that kids, especially teenagers (Gasp!), willingly did with their parents. If the parents could get hooked on archery, there would be a new born family activity. My tag line to the parents was “We can’t let the kids have all of the fun.”

And, of course, teaching something is a sure way to reinforce the fundamentals in the kids.

Sometimes this practice bore strange fruit. There was a lovely family that was coming to our 4-H archery Saturdays. Claudia, my partner, taught the two boys their first arrows and they loved the sport. Soon, both parents were shooting also. After about a year or so of shooting, the “mom” of the family was approached by a member of our club suggesting to her that if she were to switch to Recurve Barebow, she had a chance of making a national team. Less than a year later she was in Croatia representing the U.S. in the World Field Championships. Just a few years later, she was World Barebow (Field) Champion. Not bad for a mother of two, pushing 50 years old.

One of the boys went on to become a collegiate archer and both “boys” are now fabulously well employed and successful. This could be one of those “see what you get of you practice” stories but it is rather a “you never know what might happen” stories.

Our intention then as now was to encourage a whole family to participate in our sport. We think it helps the sport . . . and the families, and we encourage you to do the same.

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