Tag Archives: Competition

We Can Learn from Teenagers

Here is an interview of a young phenom from Hawaii.

Formula for Success: How Liko Arreola Is Rising to the Top of the Archery Rankings

Here is a taste of the interview–

In practice at home, I don’t keep scores because, for me, it will lead to expectations and pressure in tournaments. My practices focus mainly on trying to perfect quality shot executions.

Her father is training her and seems to be providing wise leadership.

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Mea Culpa

When we stopped producing bimonthly issues of Archery Focus magazine a year ago, I said offhandedly that I would have more time to post things on this blog. Clearly that has not happened. I believe I underestimated how much stimulation was involved interacting with authors and the topics they chose to write upon.

So, if there is a topic you would like me to address, please comment below and tell me what topics you would like to see more on and I will do my best to meet those requests.



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One of Master Coach Bernie Pellerite’s favorite sayings is that archery is not a sport, it is a discipline. While I won’t argue that statement either way, discipline does seem to be at the heart of competitive archery (and every young archer’s parent’s hearts).

The word has unfortunate connotations or alternate meanings. Many people think of discipline primarily as being associated with punishment (or bondage, oh my!). But here we are looking at a secondary definition of the word, namely “2 : to train or develop by instruction and exercise especially in self-control.” Maybe we would be better off using the term “self-discipline” instead.

The words discipline and disciple have the same roots which is the meaning I tend to focus on. Our very best competitors often have a near-religious commitment to their archery practice.

Ack, you may have noticed I love words and enjoy word play and have distracted myself, something archers are not supposed to do.

The point of this post is that everyone, to a person, advocates that competitive archery is best expressed by repetition of one’s shot process, while focusing on that process so as to adhere to it faithfully.

The objective of target archery, the goal, is to shoot close groups of arrows into the highest scoring zones of one’s target. So, why is being disciplined to follow the exact same procedure the “winning formula” in so many people’s minds?

The point of this post is that everyone, to a person, advocates that competitive archery is best expressed by repetition of one’s shot process, while focusing on that process so as to adhere to it faithfully.

There are, in my mind, a couple of contributing factors. For one, if you just performed a series of steps that resulted in an arrow landing in the X-ring of your target, if you shoot the next shot differently, will that increase or decrease the likelihood that the next arrow will land in the same place? I remember a rather embarrassing episode at a California State Outdoor (NFAA) Championships. I decided for some reason to shoot this event with a release aid that I had just bought a week or so prior. (I know, I know, but it makes a nice “Boy, was I stupid!” story to tell as a coach.) On one target (35 yard Field, I think), as I was drawing to anchor, I hit my chin with my thumb, which tripped the release aid. When I checked the result, it was a 5 (on a 5-3 target face). Yeah, sometimes it is better to be lucky than to be good. Now, do you think that I should have tried to replicate that shot with my next arrow? No? (You passed the test!) But, do you know why? The reason why is that that accidental trick shot I pulled off had been done exactly one time and I had “memories” of thousands of replications of my standard shot to draw upon. This is why we have “Recovery Techniques,” to wipe away the influence of a bad shot (no matter how well it scored) and to be able to get back to replication our “good” shot, the one practiced ad nauseum, as we were doing.

Underlying this is the fact that we are better at physical tasks that we are repeating than doing them without such a repetition. And, we now know, that even an imagined task attempt makes one better at replicating such a task.

Biologically, we have determined that an imagined physical task activates the same muscles as when doing the task, so at the very least, you are running wiring tests for the task. Since muscles are activated by nerves, if you activate the same muscles in the same sequence, you are likely to get the same muscle activity. Of course, if you shut your eyes on the second attempt, all bets are off for an aiming sport. Using the exact same muscles without the feedback as to whether the bow was properly positioned is not a guarantee of success. (And I once was soundly beaten by a woman at a novelty shoot, who closed her eyes just before her release aid tripped. Go figure.)

Biologically, this behavior is reinforced in the form that nerve impulses are easier flowing if they are preceded by the exact same nerve impulses. It is as if the previous nerve action primes the channel for the next one.

I do not expect that focusing on repetition of one’s shot process will be moved off of center of an archer’s attention any time soon, if ever, because of the reasons behind that practice.

Postscript I am currently working on a book on principle-driven coaching. I was trained as a negotiator back in my working days. Our favorite process was often described as “putting the whys before the whats.” By focusing on the whys before getting into “solutions” allows one to understand the issues better and, more importantly, allows everyone to see how all of the others see those issues. This results in solutions, the “whats,” which are more effective in addressing the problems.

And I think this is an approach we, as archery coaches, might benefit from, if . . . if we only knew what the “whys” were! I am taking a shot at doing this, if only to see if I can get the “ball rolling” as it were, and interest others in doing the same.

The above post is along those lines . . . knowing the whys of everything we do and then allowing them to dictate what we do.


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A Technique for Banishing Negative Thoughts

Here’s a technique I learned recently regarding something to do when negativity raises its ugly head, typically after a bad shot. Yes, this is a mental recovery technique. Give it a try and if it works for you, recommend to your students.

This technique takes some time, so you have to be conscious of the shot clock if there is one. The technique, itself, is simple: you take five slow steady breaths, counting each one and, after a couple, look around at your environment at something beautiful or interesting. So, outdoors, it might be a cloud or a tree; indoors maybe an arrow curtain or a poster. This process can be repeated but . . . time . . . you have to watch the clock if there is one (no, not obsessively).

Why I Think This Works When we are shooting in competition we obsessively focus upon our shot process, weaving conscious and subconscious mentalities to do so. This minimizes our inner world a great deal (we are excluding “distractions,” which includes the bulk of what normally occupied our minds). So, when we are overwhelmed by negative thoughts it is because we have created a cage, so to speak, to contain them and not let them “get away.”

This technique focuses on another internal process, a neutral one, which breaks the pattern we usually follow when shooting and, hopefully, our breathing is slow and steady (no panting allowed!). Then we deliberately get out of that mental cage to look at something irrelevant to shooting that tells us we are not trapped in a cage with our negative thoughts.

If you try it, let me know how it worked for you and whether you intend on teaching it to your students. (Note I teach such things because even if my serious competitive students have never had such an experience, they will then know that others have, so if they do it is not something that is “just happening to them,” and it gives them something to do in the event.)


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“We do not become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. Rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon.” (Yuval Noah Harari)

One of the hardest things for young or newly competitive archers to deal with is their own expectations. Youngsters manage to fit fantasies of winning competitions into the swirling thoughts of sugar-plum fairies that seem to circulate in their heads. And, well, I was an expert in harboring unrealistic expectations of winning (through practice, practice, practice).

An expectation, according to my online dictionary is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” Any time you hear or think the word “future” in association with your archery alarm bells should go off.

Score expectations can be especially pernicious. There is a scenario I cannot prove but strongly suspect that can get you off track because of a score expectation. As an example, consider this scenario: you are in a competition, you are focused on executing your shot routine and everything is going along fairly well. Then comes a short series of poorly-scoring shots. At that point, consciously or subconsciously, you can realize that meeting your score expectation has just disappeared and you experience some disappointment. If this disappoint continues for any length of time, your subconscious mind (SM) can conclude that “this isn’t working” and go into “improvisation mode,” which your SM is very, very good at. Actually, since all of your previous shot routines/sequences are stored in long-term memory, what usually happens is that your subconscious mind latches onto one of these older sequences and soon, you notice you are making mistakes you haven’t made in years, mistakes that caused you to rework your routine to improve it. More than a few people have reported experiencing “old problems” popping up during competitions and when I asked them if those were instances in which they were experiencing disappointment, many said yes. (I can’t prove this, this is speculation but it makes some sense to me.)

So, expectations can come with some dangers attached. But we do need to know what is “normal” and what is not when we are shooting. The classic example is an archer who shoots three 10s in a row and then starting off the next end shoots an 8 . . . and reaches up to adjust his sight. (Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!) If shooting normally results in three 10s in a row and then an 8 comes up, it wasn’t because his sight was incorrectly set. The 8 was his fault, not the bow’s. If we end up “correcting” for a problem that isn’t real, we will just make the situation worse. So, we need to know what is “normal” and what is not; we need to know . . . what to expect.

So, expectations are normal, expectations are needed, but they can be a source of screw ups. There is a fine line between the two scenarios.

Archers need to know their normal group shapes (hopefully round), and normal group sizes. If you start an end off with a shot that scores 6, if 6s happen to you, then that is a normal shot, move on to your next shot. If you shoot 8s, 9s, and 10s, and almost never a 6, then something went wrong with that shot and you need to figure out what went wrong and correct it before you shoot another shot.

Distinguishing what is “normal” from what is not is an archery skill every competitive archer needs to learn, without falling into an expectations trap that leads to disappointment. If I find myself feeling disappointed at any point in a shoot, I take a short time out and wash it out of my systems by appreciating what archery gives me as an outlet, even just as an outdoor activity to enjoy, then I go back to shooting, normally.

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And the Best Archery Teacher for 2022 is . . .

There is a saying about experience being the best teacher, but it is often misquoted. Here is the full quote:

“Experience is the best teacher, but a fool will learn from no other.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Usually what you hear is “experience is the best teacher” which I have used in the past but amended with “but it is a brutal way to learn something.” It seems that in the past, we taught young archers “how to shoot,” and then introduced them to competitions to complete their education. When you look at how much more than the basics of “how to shoot” is to be learned, it seems we archery coaches have been derelict in our duty.

This is the reason I wrote my book, “Winning Archery,” because I had collected hundreds of target archery books and the vast majority of them were “how to shoot” books. There seemed a great deal more to be learned if your goal was to shoot well, to shoot winning scores, as it were. In that book, I tried to cover some of the topics that need to be learned to become a winning archer that were not covered in the how-to-shoot books. And it is quite a fat book . . . and I didn’t exhaust the topic.

Here is an example. When you get close to a winning performance, most people are affected in predictable ways. One way is that we tend to speed up what we are doing. In a “feel” sport like archery, that changes how shots feel and subverts our error-checking processes. So, if you think you are close to winning, try slowing down a little (assuming you had sped up a tad), focus upon your breathing, trying for smooth, rhythmic breathing. (I got hot and bothered so much one time under these circumstances that I as actually panting.)

Here’s another example. For young Recurve archers, I teach them that they will experience difficulty getting through their clicker during a competition. (When you get tense, your muscles shorten, making getting through the clicker more difficult.) I teach my students that the first thing to do is relax. I even provide some relaxation procedures to try. And, if that doesn’t work and they are still struggling getting through their clicker, it is okay to not use the clicker for a while. Later, they can re-introduce it into their shot sequence to see if it is back to being okay. (And we practice this, yes.)

The alternative to these teachings is to just assume that “experience” will teach them what to do. The drawback to this is what I call the “here we go again” syndrome. When I experienced difficulties shooting, I got anxious. Later, when the same source of difficulty started to show up again, my mind gave me the “here we go again” signal and the anxiety was back in force, even though the problem had not fully manifested. The problem was uncomfortable enough that any hint of it led to my getting anxious and focused upon whether or not I was going to experience that difficulty or not, instead of focusing upon my shot sequence.

I also teach “poor shot recovery programs,” so my students will have something to do rather than “you will figure it out” when they shoot the occasional bad shot.

I refer to all of these things as “archery skills” and I start teaching them to serious students shortly after they have a consistent shot sequence. Actually writing down one’s shot sequence/shot routine is one of those archery skills. It is not part of “how to shoot” an arrow, but it is a part of becoming a consistently good scorer.

What do you think?


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Can You Dislike Practice and Succeed at Archery?

Way more often as not, you can read me answering this question as “no, if you do not enjoy the process, you likely will not succeed.”

But is this “attitude” fixed or can it change?

This is a good question and it does apply to archers. This is especially the case in that young archers often “succeed” at winning championships without practicing. These are archers who go to, say, a weekly JOAD session, which is as much social as it is instructive, and then attend competitions and win them. This can go on all the way up to state and national championships. This is a manifestation of a lack of competition. These kids do win without practicing because they can win without practicing. If more kids were practicing effectively, this would not be the case.

Since it is the case that some kids do win without practicing, they logically think that practicing, or practicing a particular way, is unnecessary. Of course, if they continue on, they will reach a point where they no longer win, and many of these kids drop out at this point, either because they have a fixed mindset and think their talent ran out, of they just didn’t want to have to work at the sport.

For the number who hit a wall and ask for help, there may be an answer: some people feel that you can trick yourself into enjoying boring subjects, like archery practice. This is a bit like neurolinguistic programming I guess, but all you have to do is get them to tell themselves that they like learning about archery. That they find it interesting. That they want to know more. Even remote curiosities about a subject, like searching online for “What are archery bowstrings made of?” should be encouraged.

Learning that they can “reframe” their own attitudes is a way to motivate them to go deeper into any subject. Even if the task or subject is boring, even if it is not something they would choose to do, this is a valuable tool which will also pay dividends later in life.

Of course, as a coach, making practice boring is not a plus; making it interesting and challenging is.


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10,000 Hours . . . or Not?

There is bandied about a much touted “rule” that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class in, well, anything. So, what do you think? Does this apply to archery?

I think this idea has been quite debunked. I personally am always suspicious of rules that include round numbers (why not 10,256 or 9,522?) and which supposedly apply to everyone equally.

I have stated often enough that there is no such thing as a talent for archery. What there is, I believe, are sets of fundamental physical and mental skills and attributes that make your efforts more or less productive. For example, if you are over 7 feet tall (2.15 m), I think you can forget about becoming a world-class archer, and it isn’t just because you’ll have a devil of a time finding equipment to fit (e.g. long draw lengths require long arrows and long arrows are heavier than shorter arrows, which therefore requires more driving force to get them to a distant target). Also for example, if you are not easily bored and can tolerate long periods of dull drills and practices, you will have an advantages over those who do not possess such mental attributes.

So, a general rule that doesn’t include one’s advantages and disadvantages and the number is clearly made up (is that 10,000 plus or minus 1000, or 10,000 plus or minus 1?) . . . not buying it.

In addition I have seen archers succeed spectacularly without being close to that many years of deliberate practice and, basically I doubt their practice was all that deliberate (in Erikson’s sense).

Now, if archery were a sport as popular as golf or tennis, I think those 10,000 hours may not even get you close. This is another weakness of this rule: “world class” or “elite” means quite a few things depending upon how old a sport is and how much money is paid to professional practitioners. Tennis players and golfers get paid so much money at the top that competition is fierce. Minor sports, like archery, have few well-paid professionals and so those sports are dominated by amateurs whose time and effort are divided between family, jobs, and the sport. For example, do you hear much from the spouses of top paid professional sports practitioners about how much time their spouses spend at work? No? When your wife or husband is pulling in millions of dollars per year there isn’t much to complain about. (I made $2 million in my entire career as a college professor, $4-5 million if you correct for inflation, and today’s athletes can make that with two game checks (American football) or a month of sitting the bench in major league baseball.)

So, the competition to get “elite” or “world-class” status is sports varies widely.

So, what do you think? Is the “10,000 Hour Rule” useful or a waste of breath to discuss?


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How “Tight” Should Your “Tight Groups” Be?

There is a de facto standard as to how tight you want your groups to be: and that is you want all of your arrows to fit into the highest scoring zone of your target.

Fo example, let’s use an X-ring as the highest scoring ring of a paper target. (This way we avoid having to cover 10-rings, 5-rings, 11-rings, 12-rings, etc.) The largest group we could shoot and have all of our arrows “in” the X-ring would be this:

Six arrows, all scoring an X just barely from the “outside in.”

Actually this is an extreme case and not a reasonable goal because each of those arrow holes is subject to variation and if any were just a fraction of a millimeter farther out, it would be “out” rather than “in.”

This would be a more reasonable description of a desired group size.

The oft-stated goal of “all of your arrows in the same hole,” is just playing with words. Some compound archers are capable of doing this. I have seen Vegas targets with a single hole centered in each of the three X-rings. Of course, if they hadn’t used a multi-spot target face, they would have destroyed quite a few arrows. So, the saying “all of your arrows in the same hole” may be fun to say, but it isn’t an actual goal. Now this group has some “give” in it, that if one or more of those shots was a bit farther out, they would still count as an X.

I can remember getting proficient enough at Compound-Release shooting, that I would aim at a 15-yard target face on our field range and place my four arrows in the X-ring (first the 5-spot, then later the X-ring after a lot more training): upper left, upper right, lower left, and lower right. Yes, I aimed them to land in those spots and they did. (It probably involved a good measure of luck as I was never all that good on an ongoing basis. I had good patches and not-so-good patches, a sure sign of someone still learning their craft.

So, if your students or friends ask you “how tight do my groups need to be” you can answer them with “you want all of your arrows to be able to fit inside the highest scoring zone.”

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Archery—Ahead of the Game?

I have recently been working hammer and tongs on “A Guide to the Mental Game of Archery,” a book I have been working on for over ten years (off and on). And in Science News (January 26th) I read the article “How mindfulness-based training can give elite athletes a mental edge” by Ashley Yeager, in which she reports:

There’s also been an explosion of research into elite athletes’ mental health in the last few years, says sports and clinical psychologist Carolina Lundqvist of Linköping University in Sweden, citing a 2020 analysis in International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology. The research points to two promising psychological tools.

One is mindfulness — paying attention to, or staying in, the present moment without judgment. Another is acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT. In conjunction with mindfulness, the therapy trains a person to accept difficult thoughts or feelings rather than actively work to get rid of them. Studies have shown that these tools can improve athletic performance — and, importantly, lead to a richer life off the ice or the court.

I had already written on acceptance and mindfulness in my book. I had heard it advocated for quite some time that we needed to accept bad shots calmly, that everyone shoots bad shots, that we need to be wary of expectations (usually our own) as they can lead to disappointment while we are shooting, which can lead to other things, none of which are good for your score.

I and others have recommended exploring mindfulness, which the author perfectly described as “paying attention to, or staying in, the present moment without judgment” even though as archers we need to trim the things we fill our minds with severely and judgment is part of every post shot routine, e.g. “was that a good shot or a bad shot?” This is necessary to adjust one’s shooting routine if something came up that wasn’t part of the plan on that last shot (wind, damaged arrow, etc.). This always involves comparing a judgment of the quality of the effort and the outcome of the effort . . . for every danged shot. But those judgments need to be calm and somewhat detached.

I have been whining a lot about how many of our sport’s beliefs aren’t backed up by much of anything scientific, so it is good to see scientists paying attention to what athletes need to perform at a high level. It is also gratifying that coaches (others, not me, I was just following their suggestions) had identified some of the tools needed before the studies were done.


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