Tag Archives: Coaching Behaviors

Paralysis by Analysis

You may know I use golf coaching and golf training literature as templates for their archery equivalents. Golf and archery, field archery especially, have many commonalities. And the world of archery is far behind golf in its coaching literature and supports.

One of the coaching commonalities seems to be that we have dissected our motions into tiny little bits and then exposed those bits to the wrong audience. Dissecting an archery shot into tiny bits for analysis is perfectly suitable, in fact desirable, for coaches. It is a source of misery and confusion for archers. We can see this most clearly in golf.

Note that the archers arms are pointing up and to the left, while the club is pointing to the right. The angle thus created is referred to as “lag.”

I just saw an advertisement for a book entitled “The Release: Golf’s Moment of Truth” by Jim Hardy. In a golf swing the “release” refers to the practice of releasing the wrist cock created by the golfer on the back swing. At address a golfer’s club shaft is aligned with his/her arms. When the club is swung back overhead, the wrists “cock” the club so the club head is farther back than the golfer’s hands. Once the downswing has begun, the club head lags behind the golfer’s hands, substantially, and golfer’s are taught to preserve this “lag” until the last possible moment, because when this “lag” is released, a great whipping action is created, delivering more force to the golf ball, causing it to fly farther (if struck correctly). This releasing of the “lag” is called, most sensibly, “the release.”

All of this occurs in a small fraction of a second, of course, so this information is of no use to a golfer—coaches yes, golfers no. The authors have apparently created a system described by the acronyms LOP and RIT to help golfers break this tiny moment in time into even smaller units. LOP stands for “Left arm, Outward, Pull” while RIT stands for “Right arm, Inward, Throw” apparently a recipe for a good release of the lag in a swing.

All of this information may be good information for coaches, but in a golfer’s mind, they can only lead to confusion.

If you coach Olympic Recurve archers I strongly recommend you read this book. I recommend you don’t recommend this to your students.

We do the same in archery. I have found USA Archery National Coach Kisik Lee’s two books fascinating (and am eagerly awaiting the promised third book on coaching) … but I never recommend them to archers. Why? They contain too much information they can do nothing about. I cringe when I hear archer’s talking about LAN2, scapulae, 60:40 weight distributions, and the distribution of finger pressures on the string. An archer is looking for subconscious competence. When he/she is shooting, there are no conscious thoughts attached to making the actual shot. They are consciously aware of shooting, but they are not thinking about shooting, certainly they cannot be thinking about the details of making the shot. That leads to “paralysis by analysis.” This term was invented around 1956 (I think) but shows up in works going back to Aesop’s fables. In general it refers to overthinking a problem.

A coaches job is to take concrete knowledge (and even hunches) and turn them into actionable things archers can do. Archers then judge those actions by how they feel and how they affect their results. Supplying the background information is usually a mistake. (Some archers, typical those described as being Type As, want their coaches to demonstrate this knowledge, but usually just to check to make sure the coach knows whereof he/she speaks, not because they need that information.)

In golf there are golfers tying themselves in knots trying to increase their smash factors, change their launch trajectories, decrease or increase their spin rates, and create more lag and a better release. If the golfer is a professional, literally steeped in golf for a living, this might be helpful. For an amateur, this is the road to paralysis by analysis. Same is true in archery.

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More on Coaching Males and Females: Same or Differently

A reader sent the following link (http://www.asep.com/news/ShowArticle.cfm?ID=260) for an interesting article on this topic. I don’t know if it is behind a pay wall or not as I am a “member” so to speak of the organization. So, let me know if you can’t get to it.

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Coaching Simplified

As a good coach, you pay attention and try to learn about the “right way” to shoot and the “right way” to coach. We do our best to support you in those efforts. And, as we progress along that path, there comes a time when we have to admit that “the right way” does not exist.

The impression is had that serious archers are getting ever closer to that perfect form and perfect execution that will lead them to success. In reality, it is quite the opposite. Coach Kim of Korea said it perfectly when he said archers are “all the same, all different.” He said this in the context of his experience in which every archer is taught the same standard form at the start, but as the archer progresses that form is adapted to fit the archer, leaving every archer in a different place from the others. Instead of all archers converging on this idealized form and execution, they are all diverging toward personal, idiosyncratic form and execution.

Before you freak out, wondering “what am I going to teach?” or “how will I know what is right to do?” think about this. When students are taught in school how to write, is the goal that they will all become the same writer, writing the same way about the same things? When they are taught math, is it to always solve the same problems, the same way? Or do we take some satisfaction when they branch out on their own and approach things in novel ways?

Uh, huh.

So, this is not so shocking as you might initially think. What this leads us to, though, is coaching based upon foundational principles. There are things that cannot be jettisoned in an archery shot. For example, you cannot skip drawing the bow. The bow is a mechanical device into which we load energy by changing its shape. We must draw the bow. Manufacturers of bows must make limbs that are resilient, that is that will recover quickly to a previous shape. Bow limbs made out of modeling clay probably won’t work so well. Some things just can’t be dispensed with.

So, what are the crucial aspects of shooting arrows from a bow?

The Indispensable Principles
I am confining this discussion to target archers. We love to see our archers shoot an arrow dead center. Bulls-eye! (We used to award a little plastic medal for a beginning archer’s first such shot.) But an archery tournament isn’t: unpack, set up, shoot a 10, pack up, and leave. We are expected to “do it again.” Tournament scores are made up of multiple ends of multiple arrow shots, as many as six in a single end.

What we all want is high scores. High scores are achieved by placing as many arrows in the highest scoring zones as you can. The de facto definition of optimal arrow group size is, therefore, “small enough to fit into the highest scoring ring.” And, since groups of arrows can be moved anyplace by sighting techniques, our goal as archers is to shoot “tight groups,” that is groups with closely spaced arrows. Tight groups come from being able to repeat one’s shot process precisely, many times. To be able to repeat one’s shot sequence precisely, one needs to be able to relax and focus and be calm and still under the tension of the draw and then be able to execute a clean release. So, for us coaches, this is our first principle. Anything that supports this is good, anything that detracts is bad. Period.

Realize that we are ignoring the role of equipment at this time. The fundamental principle governing equipment is that the equipment shouldn’t limit performance. So, if your archer has a set of misfit arrows of different weights, lengths, and spines and are bent in addition, nobody, not even a shooting machine, could shoot tight groups with those arrows. For now, we are assuming your archers’ equipment is not limiting their performances. Your responsibility as a coach involves equipment issues, we are just not addressing them right now.

So, what does, for example, body position have to do with this fundamental, or first, principle? This is a ridiculous example, but it does serve: consider what would happen if you had your students shoot (or try to) with their feet on the other side of the shooting line? Ordinarily, a right-handed archer would have their left foot toward the target and their right foot away with the shooting line running between. What if their right foot were toward the target and the left foot away? Would they be able to shoot? Our guess is “no.” Maybe one or two inventive students might switch hands and try to shoot left-handed and make it work, but to shoot right-handed, this recommendation is “nuts.” Now this was clearly a ridiculous suggestion but stances are not black and white. They are all shades of gray. You were taught about even or “square” stances, open stances, and closed stances. There are more, by the way, but there are also fine points with regard to open and closed stances. There is the matter of degree: how open or closed are you talking about?

If you read books on archery form, they almost always recommend one kind of stance, but almost never explain why, nor do they often explain how to tune that stance for various archers. Our primary fundamental principle helps us and it works best if both the archer and coach know the principle. Obviously this is not something you teach to beginners, but should to serious competitive archers. Knowing what is desired allows archers to discern what helps and what doesn’t.

If a stance helps an archer be still and calm at full draw just before and during the release, then that is a good thing. If it detracts, then not.

Bows that are too hard to pull, stances that don’t allow archers to get into a fully braced full draw position, bows that are hard to hold up through the shot because they are too heavy all are negative factors. Bows which are too hard to pull distort form and fatigue muscles that result in shakiness, not stillness. Bows which are too heavy cause an archer to “drop their bow arm” upon release which creates larger groups but is an equipment issue, and is not the archer’s fault. And if that equipment issue is allowed to persist, it will train the archer to drop his/her bow as part of their shot sequence!

There are other fundamental principles. One I use is I ask my students to remove all unnecessary motion from their shots. For example, quite a few students raise their bows well above their full draw positions and then lower them into place while drawing. I ask them to just stop at the correct position on the way up and skip the trip, taking the bow up farther and bringing it back down.

If such motions are allowed to remain in the shot, they must be orchestrated, timed, and trained into the shot but they do not add anything. Raising a bow higher than necessary and then lowering it is sometimes claimed to help people draw the bow. I suggest these folks need to prove this somehow as it makes no sense. If they don’t think there is energy involved they should hold their bow in their “Address” or “Set-up” position, then raise their bow up six inches (or whatever) and lower it six inches and then repeat that 71 times. That is the amount of energy they are using in a Ranking Round that doesn’t in any way improve their shot. Of course, this is archery. You don’t have to do it “right,” you can include useless form elements into your shot, but the cost will be extra training time and effort and potentially lower scores, and the benefit is … what?

All archery movements must be part of a repeatable shot and if not done the same way, leads to a feeling of difference between one shot and the previous one. This is how an archer makes adjustments throughout a round, allowing them to stay close to optimal performance throughout. Having a movement that has nothing to do with the quality of your shot is just inserting a source of “differences” that can be felt but which do not make anything better. Those differences can mask others or create unnecessary letdowns, etc.

Conclusion
Coaching from first principles is something I will be talking more about in the future. It is a different approach. If you are happy with the way things are going now with your students, by all means continue. But as you strive to learn more, to become a better coach, keep these ideas in the back of your head so you can see whether they work . . . or not.

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If Self-Image Determines Performance, Then …

I just read a wonderful piece on self-image by Lanny Bassham over at the Mental Management website (“Nutrients of Self-Image”) which I recommend you go read. What I want to comment on in this post is the role of the coach in all of this. Lanny’s main points (said and unsaid) are 1) that self-image determines performance, and 2) that to grow or boost one’s self-image, one needs praise from others as well as from one’s self.

Now you can’t magically become a winner by hypnotizing yourself to believe that you are a great archer, magically creating a non-existent self-image and equally non-existent expert archer. The way to the winner’s circle is not through dedicated bullshit. One’s self-image needs to be rooted in reality. If you regularly shoot in the 270’s on indoor 300 rounds, there is no way to develop a self-image of being a 300-shooter without actually becoming one. But the path to that state is hindered greatly if all you or your student gets is criticism. Praise is positive reinforcement and studies show that works better. It motivates people to work harder and that gets them closer to their goal.

Praise is Positive Reinforcement
So, what should you, as coach, do to supply praise? The keys to me are to praise effort first and foremost. And all praise needs to be rooted in reality. If you have a student who seems to be allergic to practice, praising them on how hard they work is not going to change their behavior, plus onlookers will think you are a bullshit artist or incompetent or both. All praise must be delivered based upon reality. And the important reality is on good work performed. (If they are doing all of the wrong things, they need advice, not praise.) It is up to the athlete to determine if the amount of effort they are putting out justifies itself. Most people “get off of the bus” when they realize that the amount of effort needed to reach their goals is not within them. The ones who stay on the bus are those that see that their efforts will get them to or near their goals.

Business people will tell you that you praise in public, but criticize in private. Hearing another athlete get praised for working hard delivers a message to others nearby. Hearing someone getting hammered by their coach may encourage some others, but it is more likely to discourage more. I think this is wise advice.

In a recent coaching website I saw an article entitled, “How to Deal with Athletes Who Do Not Take Advice.” (That may be inaccurate as I am working from memory but the gist is correct.) I have no problem with these athletes. Bo Jackson was criticized as being an athlete who didn’t take coaching advice. He did okay, don’t you think? (In American football and baseball.) Some athletes are self-directed almost completely and need very little from outside of themselves. The question itself brings up in my mind coaches whose reputation or remuneration is based on whether his team wins or loses and so this seems to be a question for the coach and not the athlete. If an athlete doesn’t want advice, I don’t give them any. Simple. Archery is an individual sport, so pressure from teammates to perform will not be much and the athlete is left to him-/her-self to determine if the effort they are putting out is worth what they are getting back.

I learned this in my teaching days. I made a rule I shared with my students that “I would work as hard for you as you do for yourself.” I did this to save my sanity because I had spent a lot of hours working for students who didn’t give a damn. Do I praise such students on their effort? Of course I did, and still do; it’s my job.

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The Art of the Possible (Score)

Okay, so I am addicted to watching videos of golf coaches coaching. This is because videos of archery coaches coaching are not available. In a recent viewing Golf Coach Hank Haney said that one can establish a “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” golf round score by subtracting all of the big mistakes (penalty strokes, two-chips/two-pitches, etc., and three putts). This provides you with a score that is closer to your potential that what the scorecard actually said.

This practice applies to archery score cards, also. Take a look at a typical score card. On a, say, ten point scoring face, there might be mostly 10s, 9s, 8s, and 7s, but an occasional “flier.” Take all of the sub-seven arrows scores and turn them into 7s (this being your “normal low scoring arrow”). So, if there was a three, add four points to make it a seven. If a five, add two; if a two add five. When you are done, you will end up with a score that is closer to your potential score than what the scorecard actually said.

The point being, if you can eliminate your mistakes (or reduce them to a very small number, 1-2 per round) you will be shooting that score or very close to it. I went through a similar process in my NFAA field archery days. Through one long summer, I shot many practice field rounds with the goal of elimination all target scores under 18. (This is a 5, 5, 4, 4 minimum on those targets.) I did not chug along on this rounds and mumble “no low scores” or no “17s” like the Little Engine That Could, I just focused on shooting good shots and when I failed to hit that score goal of 18/20 on a target, I disassembled that end in mental replay to try to figure out what went wrong. (In almost every case it was a breakdown in mental focus, if you wanted to know … my mind wanders ferociously … as if you couldn’t tell!) The idea is to eliminate low scoring shots, or “working from the bottom end.” This can be a very helpful approach when coupled with “working from the top end” which is working to shoot excellent shots over and over.

One of the things I noticed when doing those rounds was if I shot a couple of fours early, then I became very conscious of “trying” to shoot the remaining shots as fives. This is, of course, not conducive to shooting fives, but it educated me as to the feeling of “trying” when I just wanted to execute good shots. I started to learn to shake off that feeling and get into a clean shot process. I also saw that my “misses” became smaller and smaller as I practiced this way. A great many things can be learned from a stint of working from the bottom end upward.

So, help your students see what is possible from where they are now. Too many are pessimistic about their scoring ability while too many others are overly optimistic. The optimistic ones need to see that even their “coulda, woulda, shoulda score” would not have won and the pessimists need to see where they would have placed had they shot their “coulda, woulda, shoulda score.”

Note This is my 279th post on this blog. That’s a whole lot of free advice! If you are grateful, think about buying one of my books (Steve Ruis on Amazon) or subscribing to Archery Focus magazine (www.archeryfocus.com). As you may know I am a retired schoolteacher, so I can use the money! :o)

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Do You Believe In … ?

Do you believe that there is a perfect shooting technique out there? And, if you mastered that technique you would automatically become a very, very good archer? There seems to be a fair number of archers and coaches who seem to believe this.

As a sport, and maybe representative of the wider culture, we also tend to believe in “talent,” that some people are born with a hard-wired ability to do . . . something. Otherwise, how do we explain young people who have abilities far beyond their years. While we do not deny that people have various physical and mental abilities, there is no evidence for this opinion that stands up to scrutiny. I tend to think it is a manifestation of our own ego protection at work. If that athlete just beat the stuffing out of me, it must be because he has a “natural gift” I was not given (aka It was not my fault!). It is harder to admit the truth: the other athlete prepared better, worked harder, or was just at a higher level of performance that you are currently.

This is the pernicious aspect of a belief in talent, if you believe you either have “it” or you don’t, what becomes of striving to get better?

A belief that there is some magical technique, is also akin to a belief in talent. It is not helpful and it is not based upon any evidence. If you believe that there is some essentially correct technique, the farther from which you get the poorer your performance as an archer will be, you are on the wrong path.

Ask yourself:

  • Is there any other sport in which this is the case?
  • If there were such a technique, should we not have found it by now? (People still argue about the “right” and “wrong” ways to do things.)
  • Do champions show a conformity of technique? Since they are performing the best, they must have technique closest to the ideal.

What I Suggest
Al Henderson, one of the U.S.’s greatest coaches, is reported to have told archers that “the key is to do it wrong over and over again exactly the same way.” I do not recommend one deliberately seek out how to “do it wrong,” but I do believe there is a process and it doesn’t involve a quest for “doing it right.”

Technique is Important, Everybody Needs One An archer’s technique is something he/she develops over time. It is never exactly the same as anyone else’s.

The Farther You Are from Your True Technique, the Harder It Is to Learn It If you insist on a form element or an execution step that is suboptimal for you, you will incur a training penalty in that it will take more effort and time to learn. Once this step is learned, though, there is no evidence that it is any less effective than some other step. There could be a score penalty for doing things that are far from optimal, but experience tells us that many archers can succeed having quite unusual form, so this has not been demonstrated in fact.

Learn Your Shot and Then Own It So, a budding serious competitive archer needs to find a shot, specifically his/her shot. Then, through repetition, they have to own that shot. Once they have gotten that far, there is a continuous improvement stage in which minor adjustments are made from time to time: in equipment, execution, and form, but these are small compared to the initial effort to learn and own a shot.

Technique, Like Talent, Is Not Given, It Is Learned The process is one of exploration to find what works and doesn’t work. Clearly what works is something close to what everyone else is doing, hence the idea of “standard” or “textbook” form. But occasionally, what everyone else is doing turns out to be suboptimal. The example of high jumping technique comes to mind. Everyone used to jump looking at the bar. Now everyone jumps looking up away from the bar.

Finally
In an article about David Vincent, an prodigious baseball statistics creator, especially with regard to home runs, an observer commented “Like many so-called stat geeks, Mr. Vincent was obsessed. His computer skills were a necessary entry point, but unless this subject drives you, you won’t spend time doing it.”

Bingo. Young archers who demonstrate talent are driven, by love of the sport, or love of the attention it creates, or. . . . Part of this drive surely is rooted in success. If one tries, and fails repeatedly, enthusiasm rarely survives.

This was so important that an early motto for youth archery programs was “early participation, early success.” What this meant was to get a bow into a prospective archer’s hands, then shooting at large targets set at short distances to ensure some measure of early success. A new archer having to shoot at 20 yd/m or longer will probably do well to hit the ground with his/her arrows and more than likely not be inclined to come back. (“I tried that but I was not good at it.”) Such a “conclusion” comes well before any skill has been achieved that could be the basis for success on “normal” ranges, so “big targets, up close” became the watchword for beginning archery programs.

The phrase “unless this subject drives you, you won’t spend time doing it” is key. Talent is built, not something one possess. This takes time, time on task. Something about the sport has to supply the energy needed to come back for more. Channeling that energy into some ballet-like search for perfect technique is counterproductive.

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Should Coaches Necessarily Be Good Archers, Too?

I was watching a golf instruction video and the coach giving the lesson demonstrated what he was talking about by hitting the shots as described. All of these coaches, even when quite old, still play very good golf. When the PGA certifies its coaches, there is a score requirement, that is coaches need to be able to shoot a very good score on a course whose difficulty has been determined (no cherry picking of a really easy course to set your mark, the easier the course, the lower the score required!).

“If you are a coach what should be expected as to level of your expertise with bow and arrow?”

In contrast to that requirement, in all of my coach certifications, and there are a good half dozen of those, I have never been asked to demonstrate my skill as an archer (or as a coach for that matter). I have only been asked to demonstrate my knowledge by passing a paper and pencil test.

And even further extreme is the professed belief of many compound archers that if a coach is not a current or former champion, they have nothing to teach them.

So, if you are a coach what should be expected as to level of your expertise with bow and arrow?

In golf, there are specialists who deal with the equipment: fitters, club makers, technicians. In archery, not so much, so coaches need to know enough about their equipment, its repair and replacement, set up, etc., to be able to help their students. Archery coaches also need to know about form and execution, competition preparation and strategies, and a lot more (training, nutrition, the mental game, etc.).

And, archery is a sport in which “feel” is important, so experience is necessary. An archery coach who has never shot a bow and arrow is at a distinct disadvantage in being able to communicate regarding how a shot feels. So, my opinion is coaches need to be able to shoot, or needed to have shot enough in their lives to address all of these issues. Further, if you want to coach, say, traditional archers, you need to have some experience shooting traditional longbows and recurves in traditional manners. Do you need to have tried every technique you might want to communicate to a student? Well, in a word, yes. Tried certainly, mastered, no. Mastery only comes from years of practice. Most coaches have a major discipline (recurve, Barebow, compound-release, traditional, etc.) and in that discipline they need to have developed a fairly high level of skill. Do, they need to be “championship level?” I do not know what that means, or rather, it means something different to different people. I have taken medals in tournaments with the word “championships” in their name, but I was hardly an elite archer, ever.

Some times the best coaches come from the cadre of those who were “less successful” but tried everything to become more successful and, hence, are more knowledgeable. I consider myself one of those.

Nobody “knows it all.” So, if you find yourself in the position I found myself, where there were many students seeking help in a discipline that was not your forté, then take some lessons in that discipline, acquire (borrow, buy, rent, whatever) the required equipment and give it a try. Sign up for a tournament in your new style to put some pressure on the pace of your learning. My specialty is compound but I have had more fun competing in recurve and longbow events (possibly because there was no pressure to try to win) and I certainly learned a great deal from those experiences. I got such a baptism, from a bloke who was encouraging me to learn traditional styles by him getting me to sign up to participate in USA Archer’s Traditional Nationals. He even made me a longbow to compete with. I was not in good physical shooting shape at the time and it was a long two days (York, American, and Clout Rounds) so I got very tired, but I had a blast … and I learned a great deal.

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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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