Tag Archives: Competition

Shooting While Breathing

I got a great email with the following question that will be the subject of today’s post:

Hi Steve,

I was wondering if you had any thoughts about breath control and how breathing (best) figures into the shot cycle? In the book you recommended, Professional Archery Technique, by Kirk Ethridge, Mr. Ethridge recommends to “[i]nhale deeply as you raise the bow, and exhale as you draw. When you are at full draw, your lungs should be empty.” (p. 36) The rationale seems to be one of relaxation and stillness. 

On the other hand, both Byron Ferguson (Become the Arrowp. 18) and Anthony Camera (Shooting the Stickbow, 2nd ed., p. 275) advocate inhaling on the draw, allowing the chest to expand at anchor — though for different reasons. (Ferguson’s seems to be about using the inhalation to expand the chest and further bring the drawing elbow/arm into alignment; Camera’s seems to be that the act of drawing itself creates a natural expansion and therefore inhalation, though “while there is little if any chest expansion [at full draw], the logical progression is to continue inhaling, albeit at a slower rate.”)

What are archery coaches recommending? Is there one best (or better) answer, or is this simply a matter of “what works for you”? (For myself, the logic of breathing in makes sense, but I find the inhalation difficult on the draw, and it feels like I am having to hold my breath while at aim. I tried Ethridge’s suggestion and found, if nothing else, that I felt more relaxed/still while at aim. That seemed to be a plus. But is this physiologically “wrong”?

* * *

As far as I am concerned, you can do nothing wrong in this regard as long as you are open to what is happening to your body. The goal, is to be still and strong at the moment of release.

The only scientific study I have been made aware of reports that we are steadier/more still if we have slightly less than a whole lungful of air at that moment. If you want to try that, end with that (full breath, partial exhale) and work your way back to the beginning of the shot. I am unaware of any other serious studies, but they may exist. That, of course, is in archery. There is a great deal of study on breathing in weightlifting. In lifting very great weights, the common wisdom is to exhale upon exertion. This technique lowers internal pressures in the body and prevents injuries such as hernias. But in archery, the weights involved are not so great, so I think we are free to do almost anything.

So, I recommend you experiment as you have been doing. Try a number of breathing patterns. (Rick McKinney’s book, The Simple Art of Winning, lists several more.) The goal is stillness and control at the moment of release.

I have a couple of caveats.

  1. Note whether the source is referring to Recurve/Traditional form or Compound form. I think the requirements for these forms are different enough to require different approaches (Rec/Trad has max draw weight and min time at full draw, while Compound has reduced DW and greater time at FD).
  2. Take into account your personal situation. I tried all kinds of breathing patterns and couldn’t settle on one, so I just breathed as close to tidally as I could (look it up). Then I was diagnosed as having asthma which cleared a few things up. If I held a little long I ended up out of breath, so I included an extra breath into my pattern and it really helped.

So, don’t feel confined by what other people recommend and use your sense of how still and comfortable you are up to the moment of release, coupled with how you feel thereafter (you do not want to be panting and out of breath) as your guide to a consistent breathing pattern. There is no physiologically right or wrong that I can perceive in this topic.

Note For serious archers, this gets worked out one way or another, either through investigation (as you are doing) or through feedback training (doing something over and over until you find what works). Archery is a repetition sport and one based upon feel. Breathing irregularities lead to different feelings that have nothing to do with archery, so breathing needs to be consistent, whichever pattern you choose or learn.

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Will Wonders Never Cease?

For decades, competitive rules did not allow finger tabs to be marked in any way to guide those of us who string walked while shooting Barebow. You were allowed to use stitching on a tab if manufactured in, but not allowed to add any marks.

Well … New Rules! Consider what World Archery has adopted:

22.3.8.1.

A separator between the fingers to prevent pinching the arrow may be used. An anchor plate or similar device attached to the finger protection (tab) for the purpose of anchoring is permitted. The stitching shall be uniform in size and colour. Marks or lines may be added directly to the tab or on a tape placed on the face of the tab. These marks shall be uniform in size, shape and colour. Additional memoranda is not permitted. On the bow hand an ordinary glove, mitten or similar item may be worn but shall not be attached to the grip of the bow.

Leave it to them that the marks on the tab must be “uniform in size and colour.” Why? Who cares? One archer can use blue marks and one can use green but an archer may not use blue and green at the same time? Does this offend the aesthetic senses of the WA Pecksniffs?

If you are going to allow archers with sights to put any sight marks they want on their sight (I color code the odd and even numbers of yards/meters in ten yd/m increments, to prevent mis-setting my sight (see photo).) why not let Barebow archers have the same ability? John Demmer’s tab as simple black marks on a white piece of table from 5 m to 50 m in regular increments. He knows which is which but why allow Recurve archers color coding support, even to the point of printed numbers on their sight tapes, but Barebow archers get little monochrome tick marks only?

I guess we should be thankful for small favors.

The lesson I take home and you probably should do, is to always check the rules before your archer competes. Things do change, occasionally for the better.

PS Memoranda is plural so the sentence “Additional memoranda is not permitted.” should be “Additional memoranda are not permitted.” Or “Consulting written memoranda is not allowed,” or … sniff.

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How to Judge Distance to Archery Targets

I got an email with the following question: “Any tips on estimating distance when shooting 3-D?”

Good question!

Archery competitions have included unmarked yardage elements for, well, ever. Obviously bowhunters hunted game for thousands of years with no distances to the prey supplied, so being able to figure out how far to shoot is a valuable skill. Modern competitions, though, have included some innovations, such as rules that ban mental schemes for determining distance to a target! WTF?!

The use of such techniques, being mental, was hard to police, so it turned out if you wanted to win, you had to cheat (along with all of your competitors), that is using the techniques while pretending not to! FITA, now World Archery, went so far as to publish the techniques to “level the playing field” while keeping them as being illegal! (See Understanding FITA Field Archery, an extract from the FITA Field Guidelines booklet published by FITA in 1995.)

Hey, World Archery! How about making these techniques legal? After, all they are just mental skills that everyone can learn to do. Then no one would be forced to cheat to win an unmarked shoot!

The first person to publish these techniques and blow the cover of those using them was Kirk Ethridge in his book Professional Archery Technique, which is still in print because we made it so. (I hot linked it if you want a copy.) I will leave it to Kirk to discuss the fine points as he was the first.

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Why Archers Need to Absolutely Positively Write Things Down

Note This is a follow-up to “The Post Tournament Review Process”

I have to begin by saying that I have known a great many archers who were far better archers than I was who did not follow this advice. They kept everything in their heads (well, part of it; there is way too much info to memorize it all). So, I am not saying that if you do not keep written records that you will not be able to be come very, very good. What I am saying is that it is highly likely that you will not become as good as you could have become if you forgo keeping written records. This I will attempt to convince you of.

In the book Thinking Fast and Slow, the author (the brilliant Daniel Kahneman) points out that there seem to be two systems that we use to “think:”

System 1 This system is effortless, automatic, associative, rapid, parallel process, opaque (in that we are unaware of its workings), emotional, concrete, specific, social, and personalized.

System 2 This system is effortful, controlled, deductive, slow, serial, self-aware, neutral, abstract, asocial, and depersonalized.

Playing a hunch is an example of System 1 thinking; math homework an example of System 2. Setting aside whether these characterizations are true and correct, I think there is enough truth in them to address the recommendation at the top of this post.

It seems the vast bulk of our thinking falls under System 1 and it is that system that values “stories” or as the news people say, “narratives.” When I taught professionally I argued that we are primed to learn through stories. Stories hold things together. They make sense of why things happen. They make it clear why Action B followed Action A, etc. Children are told stories that have morals behind them (“And the moral to the story, children, is …”). Unfortunately we tend to, uh, well, embellish stories. We tend to make the story come out as we want it to rather than just as it did. There is even an adage that says “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

How does this affect archers, you ask? Allow me to answer you via a story.

* * *

Consider the following scenario: in competition an archer shoots their first arrow which lands at 6 o’clock in the 7-ring. What should he/she do? What he/she should do, of course, depends on whether this was a “good shot” or a “poor shot.” This distinction is made absent the result of the shot. If it felt like a normal good shot, it was . . . unless . . . unless say the archer wasn’t paying full attention to their process. If this was the case, he/she might be able to discern that fact through a little analysis. So, if it felt as if it were a good shot, was the outcome a good outcome? Was that 7 “normal?” Here is where problems occur.

It is unfortunate but when we enter into a competition, we have hopes for a high score. We think that we will shoot high scoring arrows with occasional poorer scoring arrows mixed in. But when do those lower scoring arrows show up? Good question. Most likely they show up randomly; they can show up on the first arrow as likely on the twelfth arrow or the last arrow. But our expectations for a good score can result in that initial 7 to lead us to think there will be more of them, even worse scoring arrows, leading to a poor score. The disappointment associated with this may lead us to make a change in our sight setting, or execution. Our subconscious minds might translate our disappointment with that shot into changes we are not even aware of. But if the shot was “normal,” then any change is moving the archer to a less successful setup/execution with the result being a guaranteed lower score.

So what’s an archer to do?

First we must recognize that first arrows are problematic. The excitement of shooting is at a high. There is no previous good scoring shot to imprint upon (to use in a mental rehearsal), and there are those hopes and dreams for a good overall score. I remember working toward a perfect score of 300 on the NFAA indoor round (60 arrows, 5-4-3 scoring). I can’t tell you how many times I had the thought “If the first arrow isn’t a five, I’m done,” but it wasn’t just a few. But this only happens when you are chasing a perfect score. The first arrow of any competition may be your lowest or highest scoring arrow.

I ask my students to monitor what their “normal groups” are. For the sake of this story, this student, when shooting at this distance at a ten-ring target face, typically “holds the 8-ring.” This means the vast majority of his arrows score 8, 9, or 10 . . . with a rare 7 from time to time. So, was the score of that 7 just shot “normal” or not? If there is no other evidence to tell you different, shooting a 7 is normal for this student.

If you keep records, you have the opportunity to explore those records to see what reality actually looks like. You can go through a score card on which all of the arrow scores are recorded and identify your lowest scoring arrows. You can then see when they tend to occur. This gives you a number of advantages: one is an ability to distinguish between your hopes/fears and reality. Another is a recognition that lower scoring arrows happen and they probably happen less now than a couple of years ago. (Hey, I am making progress!) Another is that is there is a regular pattern, you can train for that. For example, if your low scoring arrows always happen in the last few ends, maybe your fitness level is not high enough. If they occur on the first few arrows,maybe nerves need to be addressed. Maybe there is a psychological factor.

If, on the other hand, you discard those score cards and take no notes, all you have are your stories. Here’s another example.

* * *

You are in a tight shoot-off with a fellow competitor and you get to the last arrow with the score tied. On the last arrow, you shoot an 8 and he shoots a … 9! Most people automatically blame the loss on that last arrow. “If I had just shot a 10 or even a 9,” we think. But if you go back to the scorecard you probably get a different picture. In this case (I am making up this story), our losing archer had a three point lead that was steadily eroded as the shoot-off continued. What about the arrow scores that caused him the loss of his lead? Had he been leading by three points and both had the same last arrows, he would have won by two points.

This is typical of System 1 thinking. We have oodles of biases built into our System 1 thinking, one of those is we tend to overvalue the most recent events and devalue earlier ones. These biases developed over very long periods of time and are actually useful in many cases, so they are not to be disparaged, but they also can be problematic.

Writing’s Long List of Strengths
I have more than a few thoroughly modern students who, went I ask them to take a note whip out their smart phones and start typing. They do not know they are making a mistake by choosing a poor form of writing. Smart phones are problematic because there is too much information on them and one’s notes can be buried (amongst other things). By having a notebook dedicated to archery, all of your archery notes are in one place, you do not have to look elsewhere, nor do you have to wade through piles of irrelevant stuff to find your archery notes. I like segmented notebooks and put info of one kind or another in specific locations, making it even easier to find.

Conclusion
I am not advocating that you favor System 2 thinking over System 1 thinking, far from it. System 2 thinking is slow and laborious, again think math homework. But some System 2 thinking mixed in can make you a better archer or coach. Doing some System 2 thinking when you have the time to wade through a scorecard or analyze your groupings (in an attempt to answer the question: what is normal for me now?). This can reduce the impulsive nature that is normal for us most of the time. Writing those things down, makes them much easier to remember.

Just being able to tell the difference between a normal shot and a faulty shot is key to making the corrections that are required to shoot good scores. Leaving this up to a “gut feeling” can lead you or your students astray over and over. (The mistake that keeps on giving!)

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The Post Tournament Review Process

What do you do at the end of a tournament? If you are like I was, you would pack your gear, thank the tournament officials for their hard work, get in your car and drive home, thinking about anything but archery, if possible.

As a post tournament review process, this sucks. I do not recommend it to you.

So, what should one do after a tournament? There are a number of things and I think all of them are rooted in the Bassham’s oft quoted aphorism “You either win or learn; there is no losing.” The focus here has to be “what did I learn” especially in so far as it will help you perform better later.

Any number of things can be addressed in a post tournament review. The technical side of archery is about physical movement, which you can see and measure more easily. The mental side however, is about thinking, attitude and confidence but it is harder to measure. I think both need to be addressed. The key thing, though, is to avoid dwelling upon mistakes. The more you think about your mistakes, the better the odds you will repeat them (another Bassham aphorism). For example, if in the middle of a round, as a recurve archer, you struggled getting through your clicker, but you applied your first corrective (to run a relaxation routine) and that worked, the success of that action is worth dwelling on. It makes doing that corrective easier in the future and it reinforces your success in dealing with difficulties. If, instead, you whine to yourself and others about how many times you have struggled with your clicker, there is no positive reinforcement of “the fix” and there is positive reinforcement of struggling with your clicker, exactly what you do not want! Commiserating with others is a time-honored activity but that doesn’t make it an advantage.

Obviously if you were implementing process goals during your performance, you need to assess your performance with regard to those and plan on what you will do next time. But what else is there to do?

Rather than give you a list, I will give you a start. This is what I ask of my students when they attend competitions. I ask them to write two lists, within 24 hours of the shoot’s end. Each of these lists must have at least three things on them. The first list is “What did I learn?” The second list is “What will I do differently next time?”

These two lists can be compared with previous lists to learn a great deal. If the same thing shows up on the “What did I learn?” list multiple times, maybe you didn’t really learn it and need to set a goal around actually learning that. If you find the same thing popping up on the “What will I do differently next time?” list, then maybe you need to take that seriously and develop a process goal to make sure you actually do it.

Obviously, the “What will I do differently next time?” lists play a role in preparation for future tournaments, not just the list from the last competition but a collection of the recent lists.

The goal is to develop a regular tournament review process, one you could develop a form for (which is an option but not necessary). Regular means you do this every time the same way. Forms are handy so we don’t forget anything and emphasize that you must , absolutely must, write these things down, a topic I will take up in my next post.

 

 

 

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We Just Keep Getting Better … Or Do We?

I was just reminded that Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby horse race in 1973, setting a track record that still stands. I remember seeing that horse’s races on TV, they were outstanding performances.

I was struck by the fact that race horses are vigorously bred and trained to run faster and faster and … 1973 was 45 years ago and Secretariat’s track record still hasn’t been beaten! And there are a lot of races on that track, not just the KD … every year. So there are limits to what can happen. At the very least the rate of improvement in the speed of race horses has slowed substantially.

We seem to think that archery scores will keep going up and up but the reason for that belief is what, exactly? Basically we have gotten higher levels of participation over the past few decades which means more competitors. Competition is simply a sorting of performances, it is not magic. If you have more participation, you will have more “better archers” and the level of competition will go up and the performance required to win will also go up. This is the “secret” to the “miracle” of Korean Olympic Archery, which is now being reproduced in China, India, Mexico, and other countries.

But sifting through larger and larger piles of archers to find the best is not an indicator of the level of skill increasing. We are just populating the “tails” of the Bell curve of archers.

Even so, the increased competition levels have increased the effort applied to training archers. What I wish is that more actual training information were available. In the U.S. we have a National Training System for Olympic Archery and, more recently, for Compound Unlimited Archery. But all they ever talk about is shooting technique, there is very little said about training or learning to score well or really anything else. If they know anything about these other topics, they aren’t pushing that information out into the rest of the U.S. archery community. Archery has been insular for a very long time, with archers and coaches hoarding their “secrets.” Even though this is less so now, in other sports there is more sharing of information. I recently learned, from one of our authors, that in running, elite runners sell their training plans. Maybe elite archers should do the same.

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Defeated by Skill or Noise?

It is becoming clear to me that high level competitions in sports, including ours, have a problem. They demand a winner, even though having a winner is not strictly necessary. If two people tie for first place, they could both be granted a “win.” If there is money involved, there is already a procedure in place: if two people tie for second, they do not bother with a playoff, they simple take the second and third place monies and split them (basically they get 2.5 position money). So, in a two-way tie for first, the first and second place money could be split.

In archery this is not entirely doable, especially now that we emphasize “head-to-head shoot down rounds.” Unless two archers are competing for first place, then an archer needs to be declared a winner in all previous rounds, because in each of those one goes on to compete again and the other, as the saying goes, goes home.

In Olympic competition, ties are broken with a single shot with the winner determined by the arrow landing “closest to the center.” Because of some matches being decided by a very, very tiny distances, World Archery adopted a rule that if the two distances to the center do not differ by at least a millimeter (roughly 1/25th of an inch), then another arrow must be shot. It is only fair. Or is it?

This shoot-off procedure has the appearance of being “fair” but in actuality it is about as fair as a coin toss would be, that it is the outcome is determined by random factors, noise actually. It has the appearance of a decision based upon skill but is really a decision based upon chance.

Consider two spectacularly good Olympic Recurve archers who have tied in their match, each of them having shot three 10s in each of their ends. Wow! So, they shoot a “one arrow, closest to the center shoot off” and one archer is declared the winner. Actually both of those shots were tens also. If you look at the targets you would see a number of arrow holes in the 10-ring. Some of those holes would be closer to the center, others farther away. This is what “grouping” is all about. By executing shot after shot consistently, we end up with a bunch of arrows closely clustered together. Some are always farther from the center of the group and some are always closer. If you set up a shooting machine (We are partial to Hooter Shooters.) and fire away from 70 m, what do you think you’ll get? Some people think you would get arrow after arrow hitting dead center, but that is not what happens. You get a group just like an excellent group shot by a human archer; some of the shots are farther from the center of the group and some are closer. This is a result of normal variation (even when there is no wind, etc.). The arrows are not perfectly identical, the shooting machine settings are not perfectly identical, and 70 m is quite far away so the hit points “vary” normally.

So, this “noise” is a part of our sport, whether the arrows are shot by machines or by humans. And having a match decided by a 1 mm difference (about that ççfar apart) is having a match decided by noise. The differences from the center need to be greater than the noise in the two signals to be really fair, that is based upon skill.

Since we now have remote scoring at major events, a simple, easy procedure is to have the archer’s shoot arrows, one at a time, until the pressure causes one to shoot an arrow that scores less than the other. If the tie continues and continues, think of the drama!

In indoor compound competitions it is not unusual to have small herds of archers tie with perfect scores at the end of a tournament. These are shot off by score and then, in some cases by switching to “inside out scoring.” Usually if your arrow touches a higher scoring ring on the target, you get the higher score. In inside-out scoring, if you touch a lower scoring ring you get the lower score. The problem with this is that the ties often include X-counts (Yes, those guys are good!) and the X-ring on the Vegas target is only 3/4˝ (0.75˝) wide. A 25xx aluminum arrow is 25/64˝ (0.39˝) wide which is over half as wide as the X-ring. If another competitor is using a skinny carbon shaft, then he has much more room for the noise in his groups than the fat shafted archer does. (The fat shafts were adopted (as well as designed and sold) to take advantage of outside-in scoring.)

Again, a score-based shoot-off would be better. Imagine the final two or three competitors lined up in front of two target faces each. Each shoots an arrow. If still tied, they shoot another … and another. The drama is huge as is the pressure as these are one arrow shoot-offs. Once an archer falters, he is done. But the degree to which this happens needs to be based upon more than the noise (aka scatter) in an archer’s groups and inside-out scoring with fat shafts is just a quick way to determine a winner. Unfortunately this is not really a skill-based determination, just a luck of a coin toss determination dressed up like a skilled-based decision.

 

 

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Committing to the Shot

I was watching the last few holes on the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf championship and I saw Tiger Woods do something uncharacteristic … well, several things actually. One of those has to do with archery. In his post round interview Tiger was asked about the poor shot he made on the 16th hole that ended his chances of winning the tournament. The old Tiger would have said something like “I made a mistake and there was no recovering from that.” He never went into detail, as if he were protecting proprietary secrets. This time he expanded on what happened. He said “I failed to commit to the shot.” He said he had at least three ways to play the hole and he described them. He chose one of these but failed to “commit to the shot” which resulted in the ball, instead of curving right as desired, curving left and going out of bounds, in effect a two shot penalty.

So, what does this have to do with archery? Good question!

As archers we face the same dilemma any time there is more than one way to take on a shot, for example we could aim off because of the wind or cant our top limb into the wind. Which should we do? Which ever we choose, we must commit to doing that and only that. If we do not, then we end up like Tiger. He wanted one shot, but he left his subconscious mind juggling three possibilities, with no one of them the clear set of instructions as to what needed to be done. As a consequence, he got a blend of multiple approaches instead of the one he wanted.

Even when we are shooting normally, we need to make a commitment to the shot we want to shoot. This normally takes the form of a pre-shot rehearsal/visualization of the shot we are to shoot (just before we raise the bow). This activity constitutes our subconscious mind’s marching orders.

This “commitment to the shot” is so important that Master Coach Bernie Pellerite recommends that compound archers put that step into their shot sequences, a practice he got from Hall of Fame Coach Len Cardinale.

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Ladies First—A Reaction

This is not a review of the new Netflix short documentary as I do not want to watch this enough times to be able to review it correctly; it is rather my first impressions of this archery-based documentary. Ladies First is the story of a young Indian girl’s foray into archery as a way out of her life in her Indian village, a village immersed in poverty, misogyny, and patriarchy, a village where women are beaten out of course by husbands or male relatives and there is no crime involved.

We cannot feel superior in this regard as it is not that long ago that we were much the same. I remember that the legal question of whether a parent’s children were their possessions or not was addressed. I remember when wives couldn’t get a credit card or even credit in their own name if they were married (it had to be as Mrs. So-and-So).

This brave young Indian female had to talk her way into an instructional program and then excelled so quickly that she became a world champion as a youth and then within a few short years, she was ranked the #1 female Olympic Recurve archer in the world. She then proceeded to contest others at the Olympics, both in London and in Rio de Janeiro, and lost twice. Each time, she received small mountains of negativism in her country. Each time her quest was pumped up to a ruinous level of expectation by the press, the general public, and even her parents who prayed for divine assistance, prayed for her to win (as if there were not more worthy things to pray for).

Being young and relatively inexperienced, she took this attention/criticism personally, which is perfectly understandable. It was pointed out that the Indian team had no mental coach and really no significant experience in Olympic archery. (India is an emerging power in Olympic Recurve archery.)

The painful thing to me is that there was no one to explain to her or to the public at large that winning an Olympic medal is a crap shoot, governed by random chance as much as by skill. Since I know that last comment will set some of you off, I will explain.

Back in the day, Olympic archers shot a Double FITA Round, which was two 144-arrow FITA International Rounds, the “FITA Round” of most everyone’s acquaintance. This was 72 arrows a day for four days and the highest total score won. Such a sifting process allowed for the best archers to win, but was about as thrilling to watch as a neighbor cutting his lawn. For the Olympic Games, more and more of a televised event, it was a sport that would soon be dropped. As Wikipedia puts it “The Olympic Round was introduced to target archery so that it could become more watchable as a competitive sport, the main focus of this being for the Olympics when shown on television. The round was developed by the World Archery Federation (WA; formerly FITA).”

So, the double FITA was transformed into the Grand FITA and finally through several iterations to what we have now. The latest “innovation” is the inclusion of “set scoring.” When 288 arrows were shot, a bad arrow, even a total miss, could be compensated for by excellent shooting following it. In the single elimination, head-to-head shoot offs for Olympic medals, first introduced in 1988, a poor arrow could spell doom, so this was solved by basically resetting the scores to zero after every six arrows. If you won the contest of the first six arrows, you received two set points (if there is a tie, it is one each). The first to accumulate six set points wins. If there is a tie at that point, a lone arrow, closest to the center, shoot off is done. Since a number of these one-arrow shoot offs were decided by less than a millimeter of distance to the center (from 70 meters!) a rule was put into place that the distance difference had to be more than one millimeter.

This “set system” allows for an archer whose total score is actually lower to win. This has already happened. A bad arrow may lose a set, but its effect stops at the beginning of the next set. In broader terms, the new rules make it harder for the better archer to win and easier for a weaker archer to upset a stronger one. If one then assembles the most talented archers and compares their scores, you will find that there is very little difference between them, so little that those differences are less than the variations in a single archer’s score, therefore whether Archer A or Archer B wins any particular match depends a lot on chance. If Archer A is the “better archer,” that is ranked higher, has a higher end average, whatever, but has a less than average performance for a match, she easily could be defeated by a slightly lesser archer having an above average match. Plus the ranking of the archers to determine who shoots against whom is arbitrary (based upon a 72-arrow, 70 m “Ranking Round”). The dominance of the Korean women has been on display no more obviously that they frequently are ranked #1, #2, and #3 after the Ranking Round, which means if they win out, one Korean woman will face another only in the medal rounds, thus maximizing their chance of medals.

This is the reality of the situation: for TV reasons, there are more “upsets,” less predictability, and more excitement, but there is a much less chance that the best archer will win. But the thinking of the Indian public and media was “She is the No. 1 archer, she should win.” This is quite simplistic thinking. I wonder what the actual success rate is for #1 archers entering the Olympic Games. I don’t have the energy to do such a study, but if you do, I will publish it in Archery Focus. I suspect that the percentage of times the #1 archer prior to the Olympics even medals is closer to 50% than it is to 100% and may be below 50%.

So, all of the crushing pressure and expectations were placed upon a youth with no ability to create reasonable expectations for herself, plus she had no experienced coach, mental or otherwise, to help her create such expectations. Did this affect the outcome? I do not know. I guess an analysis could be done of both of her performances to see if the rounds she shot were above or below her average. If she shot above her average, then a case for “losing” is bankrupt, she just got beat by an archer having an even “hotter” performance that round. If she shot below her average, possibly the pressure was a determining factor.

In any case, please do watch this documentary (Ladies First on Netflix) and if you have a different perspective please let me know. I believe it was billed as an uplifting sports story but while I found her story compelling, I was also dismayed at the failure of the public and the media to understand and the failure of anyone in WA to help them understand.

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Should Your Students Have a Score Goal for a Competition?

If you have never had a student going into a competition with a score he/she wanted to shoot, you haven’t been coaching long. The question addressed here is: Is this a good idea? I hope to convince you that it is not.

The first problem with shooting a specific score is that it doesn’t help you achieve that end. Note I am not saying one shouldn’t hope for a good outcome, just not have a goal for that outcome. A score outcome is what is known as an Outcome Goal, sensibly so. Outcome goals are incredibly useful … except in producing outcomes. Basically this is because the harder you focus on such a goal, the harder it is to achieve it.

Another drawback to outcome goals is they are future directed. When you are talking about hitting a particular score, you are talking about when the competition is over and that doesn’t happen until you have no further options at improving your score. And anything that distracts you from present-moment thinking while you are shooting is a distraction, not an aid.

To create a high score, a personal best, say, what one needs are Process Goals. These are things, which if they are done, increase the score you will shoot. They are based on improving the process of shooting the arrows. I learned a lot as a schoolchild in my short stint in boxing programs (through high school). The minute the competition starts, all thoughts of goals rush out of your thoughts (very, very quickly when you are being punched in the face). Your corner men are there to remind you, which they do by shouting at you (Jab, jab, jab, stick him, etc.). So, some reminder is needed for even a process goal to have any effect during a competition. And having a coach yell at an archer while they are shooting is not advised and may be against the rules.

To use this ability of ours a goal needs to be selected, preferably something you/they are working on to improve your/their scoring and a process of tracking progress and reminding is needed. I recommend a simple score card for the latter. Here’s an example. You have decided that having a strong mental program really improves your shooting, but you often forget to do it. So, your process goal is “I …” (Always I and always in the archer’s handwriting!) “I will use my full mental program on 85% of my shots.” This level of execution, the 85%, has to be high enough to be a challenge but not so high as to depress your archer at the end if they fail to hit it.

This goal is written at the top of a page of a small notebook (that fits in the archer’s quiver). Down the left edge, the ends are numbered (1-10, 1-12, whatever). To keep track of whether or not the archer’s full mental program was used, while walking to the target or waiting for a second line to shoot, he mentally recalls the end just shot and then writes hash mark for each correct execution ( | | | ). Then the goal at the top of the page is read again to reinforce that it is in play. If the archer can’t remember whether he used his full mental program (or whatever the goal is about) on a shot then it is a miss, not a hit. (Based upon the need to reinforce the ability to remember and focus on that thing.)

At the end of the shoot, the number of hash marks is added up and the percent calculated. If the goal was blown through, a much higher % is chosen next time. If your archer falls way short of the mark, chose a smaller number. You want numbers which are challenging, but doable. Success breeds motivation (believe it or not). Feedback needs to be on the thing being worked on and not superfluous things, so the first thing you want to do is discuss this outcome with your archer. Ask questions like “Did this work?” or “Do you think this helped you stay on your plan?”

Do not get ambitious and lay out four process goals for a competition or practice session. This is like giving a dog too many tennis balls to hold in his mouth. He will drop one, and then another, and then become obsessed in fitting them all in and lose tract of what he was doing before. I recommend one goal at a time. If you think your student can handle more, try two … but only in a practice round or practice session. Let me know if that worked for you and them.

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