Tag Archives: Competition

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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It Could Happen to You (or Your Students)

Recently professional golfer Viktor Hovland was flying to Hawaii to participate in a golf tournament. When his clubs finally showed up, there was breakage involved.

Why he wasn’t using a hard case is beyond me, but what do I know? (I always used a hard case when flying.)

So, could this or something like this happen to you? I suggest the longer you are involved in archery competitions and the more ambitious you become, the more likely something like this will happen to you.

So what should you do?

I remember Rick McKinney telling us that when he flew, his broken in finger tabs were not in his luggage but in his pocket. Everything else could be replaced.

Because of the wonders of modern communications, you do not have to carry a physical description of your bow, arrows, etc. with you, because you can park such a list online, in a Dropbox or whatever. But that list must exist and it must be updated every time you make an equipment change.

The story is somewhat old now, but champion compound archer Dave Cousins was flying to Sweden to participate in the World Field Championships and his airline lost his luggage, all of it. (I still don’t know whether it eventually turned up or not.) His teammates supplied a backup bow for him to use, including stabilizers and release aids, arrows, etc. After sighting in and practicing a bit, Dave was in second place after day one! If you think about all of the equipment variables involved, that is as close to an archery miracle as I have ever heard of.

Part of being a high level competitor is being prepared. And that isn’t limited to physical fitness and tuning your equipment. Preparing for the worst case scenario can be very helpful, even when the case isn’t worst. Plus, you may end up with a great story to tell your grandkids.

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More Damned Lists

I have written often enough about “The List” which is the list of things you are working on to improve upon and that that list is to he read every time you shoot arrows. But I also advocate other lists be drawn up. For example, after every competition I ask my students to create two list: one is Things I Did Well. I ask that at least three things be written to make this list, there can be more but not fewer. The other is Things I Will Do Differently Next Time. Again, a minimum of three things must make up this list. Note that there is no “Things I Did Wrong List” although the second list comes close to that. This is so the focus is on what was done well and what needs to be learned without negativity.

These lists are to be written, and completed within 24 hours of the end of the competition, the sooner, the better because memories fade quickly.

Using the Lists The lists are kept and used in practice planning and in tournament preparation. Before attending a tournament, for example, reviewing the lists from the last time you attended may be very helpful, reminding you of difficulties in that competition that you need to prepare for. More immediately, the Things I Will Do Differently list suggests drills and practice exercises to learn to do those “new” things. I put “new” in parentheses because the same item can show up on this list repeatedly, meaning you didn’t really learn to do those things.

All of this information is hard to keep in mind and if you try, you will be making more mistakes of memory than of archery. Things you promise yourself you will work on become “things worked upon” and even things done” without much effort. After all, you can’t learn that which you think you already know.

Lists are just a way to keep your archery mind uncluttered (these lists are to be written in a segment of your journal so as to be easily accessed and not have to be remembered) so that it can focus more and more over time on your shot process and all of the manifestations of archery skills, things that will actually lead to better scores.

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Hydrating While Competing

It is the warmest part of the year, much too warm in certain parts of the country, so what is the best strategy regarding being properly hydrated during a competition?

Eight Glasses of Water Per Day
Let us start by dismissing this rather silly bit of “common wisdom.” (It has been so thoroughly debunked that it was admitted by Oprah Winfrey.)

This bit of synthetic wisdom was made up out of whole cloth by a conference participant and there has been no evidence to back it up, even though it spread like wildfire. The first inkling I got that this was bogus is that there is no range based upon body size or age. So, an 85-pound youth is supposed to quaff down 64 ounces of water, as do I, a near 300-pound adult? And next I thought, but we evolved on the African savannah; how the heck are we supposed to drink that much water when we might encounter a water hole once a day or even less frequently?

Getting Thirsty
We have this bodily function called thirst. Is it not dependable? (Yes and no, as usual.)

For most purposes we can trust our thirst to keep us from being dehydrated. If you feel thirsty, drink something. Simple, but. . . .

Imagine when you’re thirsty and you drink a glass of water. The water takes 75 minutes to completely reach your bloodstream, but you feel less thirsty within seconds. What relieves your thirst so fast? Your brain. It’s learned from past experience that water is a deposit to your body that hydrates you, so your brain dismisses your thirst before the water has entered your bloodstream. And, your brain prompts you with thirst well before there are any possible affects to allow for the lack of readily available potable water.

But. . . .

If you are really focused in on something, like being in competition, competing for a highly prized championship, you can shunt those feelings aside as being irrelevant. Thus you can become near dehydrated with no clear signal that you or your performance is in danger. You brain controls your thirst, and you are heavily engaged in controlling your brain, focused intently upon your task.

Dehydration Signs
If you feel the urge to urinate but cannot produce any urine, you are likely in the throes of dehydration. You can also feel weak, dizzy, and dozens of other symptoms (dry mouth, confusion, etc.). Clearly these are not helpful to an archery performance so, how are we to avoid dehydration?

My Hydration Strategy
I dress appropriately to the weather. Since I am very fair skinned I also have to restrict my sun exposure as well and something helpful for both is a wide brimmed hat (soft brim so as to not interfere with my bow). Clothing that allow breezes to evaporate sweat are cooling and so are also helpful.

I drink a mixture of 50% water and 50% sports drink, like Gatorade. The sports drink has a bit of sugar (too much actually) and minerals to replace those lost in sweat. According to my fitness trained son, the dilution of the drink allows for faster absorption. I sip this mixture all day long. Basically I have a routine of sipping this between ends, with lunch, etc. In this way, I eliminate any possibility of dehydration and I don’t have to think about it.

Competing out in the hot sun can result in dehydration because intense concentration on the task of shooting can shunt thirst signals into the background. To eliminate any chance of dehydration, I sip on a diluted sports beverage (your choice, just avoid energy drinks that are loaded with large amounts of caffeine) according to a simple schedule.

Dehydration is a dangerous syndrome, not to be ignored. We learn this lesson over and over every fall when a high school football player, driven by a need to success and overzealous coaches, collapses and dies. Or maybe we don’t learn the lesson as this seems to happen at least once every fall in the hotter areas of the country, which are even hotter now than before.


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Should I Rebuild My Shot?

This is a coaching blog so the question probably should be “Should I recommend that my student rebuild his/her shot?” That would be a bit long for a title and, actually, I wanted to put you in the position of the archer in this scenario to better understand it.

Rebuilding your shot is a massive undertaking and, because of that, it should be the very last thing you recommend. I teach that archery is an “experimental sport.” Everyone builds a shot that is simultaneously the same as everyone else’s in that style and unique to themselves. The surface appearance of a shot is controlled to a large extent by the laws of physics and it would be very unusual for anyone to have success making shots a radically different way. And, while the appearance is the same, if you look closely you can find differences, often idiosyncratic differences, in the ways people perform their shot.

So, the experiment is this: you build your shot and then you test it to see how well it performs. If it performs as well as you want, ta da, you’re done. If it doesn’t perform as well as you want, then modifications are to be considered. Basically this happens along the lines of an archer’s benchmark scores increase as they acquire skill but a plateau is reached and progress seems to stop. At that point, the archer’s equipment needs to be examined to see if it is holding them back—examples of equipment that limits scores are arrows that are bent (aluminum) or mismatched in weight (all kinds). If the equipment is adequate (it only needs to not limit the archer’s performance, it doesn’t have to meet any particular standard), then the archer’s form and execution have to be examined. Nuances of form not yet tackled, e.g. shooting rhythm, need to be examined. Only when all of the above have been eliminated as reasons for the performance plateau should you even consider a shot rebuild.

So, the key elements supporting a shot rebuild are: a legitimate performance plateau and all discernable causes of said plateau being eliminated. This list may seem short but it is not. It involves various tweaks in the archer’s current shot to see if just a small modification will do. If it does then the archer’s current shot has been refined and progress ensues, so no shot rebuild is to be considered. And there are a lot of elements in an archer’s shot that might be causing the performance limitation, including his/her mental game.

Only if all of those things have been tried, without success, should a rebuild be recommended.

What If the Archer Just Wants to Start Over?
Archers talk and sometimes they become convinced that another shooting technique is superior to the one they are using. Such decisions are subject to fads, some coach’s recommendations being viewed as being better than others, whims, and any number of other effects. I think that when such happens, the amount of work involved, the process, etc. need to be discussed with your archer so that they know what is involved and that this is not a “quick fix” by any means. I also teach that the archer is in charge. They make the decisions in the end. If the archer wants to go down a path I completely disapprove of, well, that’s my problem, not theirs.

What Are The Elements of a Shot Rebuild?
There are some aspects of a rebuild that differ from just learning how to shoot from scratch. Otherwise it is quite the same as starting from scratch.

The necessary indicators for a rebuild were mentioned above, and a rebuild has been recommended and decided upon, so what do you do? To start, some archers just want to be told what to do, others want to be involved in the planning. In either case you need a plan as to what form and execution is being looked for. In this, you will need to know what involvement level your archer is at to judge how involved they want to be in the planning.

In any case, a couple of significant issues pop up right away. Any “different” shooting technique will not be all that different as all shots “look alike.” So, whatever plan you engage in must emphasize the differences substantially. Each difference has to be a focus of attention for quite some time, otherwise regression to the mean becomes the problem. I refer to this regression as the “almost magnetic attraction of doing it the old way.” If the archer isn’t provided with a different feel, or different image of getting some shot element done, they will quickly slide back to doing it “the old way,” after all, they practiced doing just that thousands of times. For this reason, it is important to change some things overtly, some even whether they need to be changed or not. The element I think is most effective in making things feel different is an archer’s stance. For example, if they were shooting with an open stance, ask them to shoot from a closed stance. This change alone makes everything feel “different,” and since it happens first in the shot sequence, emphasizes the “different” nature of the new shot. The stance is ideal for this purpose because it can be “modified” later. If it only serves to break the log jam of the “old shot,” it will have served its purpose. If the “new shot” is not made tangibly different from the “old shot” there will be little difference between the new and old and it is unlikely the new will be any better than the old. (Note Sometimes the huge amount of effort invested in this process rejuvenates an archer’s interest and things get better because the archer is more engaged than he was when he was in the rut that resulted in the decision to do a shot rebuild. This is one reason why it is so hard to evaluate whether the new shot is “better” than the old one.)

If you avoid the above in your rebuild, a significant problem you will have is just with your archer staying the course. The number of archers who will just put their shot in their coach’s hands and do what they are told to do is vanishingly small. Most archers, having achieved some experience and success will expect to master this “new shot” quickly and be back to competing in tournaments right away. The same syndrome occurs when teaching adult beginners. Adults are used to mastering new things quickly and displaying “adult competence,” aka not appearing foolishly naïve and childishly unskilled.

Things that are subtly different are harder to master than things overly different. Archers going through rebuilds have been known to stop competing for a year to a year and a half. The reason is obvious: the competition and the desire to do well will encourage regression to their old shot. Subconsciously, our performance will be driven to “what has worked in the past.” All shooting techniques are stored in long term memory. Subconsciously, when performance is suffering, switches are made to other things “on file” that have shown success in the past. Every archer has experienced the shock of performing a form flaw that they eradicated years ago, usually when they were dissatisfied with their shooting when under pressure. That flaw was stored in long tem memory and is always available. This is why focus and mental control are so important to high quality shooting. The ease with which things are pulled off of the mental shelf like this is determined by repetitions. The more something is repeated, the easier it is to recall. The archer’s “old shot” was repeated a lot and the “new shot” should not be taken out for a test drive until it is in the #1 position, strongly, on that memory shelf. One thousand shots the new way are not enough to override 40,000 shots the old way. Rebuilds, therefore take time.

The classic example of shot rebuilds is provided by Simon Fairweather of Australia. A world champion in the early 1990’s, he experienced declining performances for the better part of a decade afterward. Since the 2000 Olympic Games were to be in his home country, he embarked on a shot rebuild a year and a half ahead of time, with his then national coach, Kisik Lee. His declining performances must have fueled a great desire because it is quite, quite rare for an Olympic Recurve archer to rebuild his shot after ten years of elite competition. And he did medal in those Games. We don’t have records of those who rebuilt and failed to exceed their prior performances (another of the many glaring holes in coaching knowledge in our sport).

These are just my thoughts on the matter, of course. I have had only a couple of students rebuild their shots, so I do not have a lot of experience at this. I am unaware of a coach who does have a lot of experience in shot rebuilds (maybe Kisik Lee). This is a good indicator of how often these things happen.

Also, if nothing else, the difficulty of making a complete change in shooting technique shows the importance of guiding serious target archers when they are building and modifying their first shot. Build it right (really, reasonably close to being right) and they won’t ever need a rebuild. They will be close enough to their optimum shot, the best shot they can master, and will be able to achieve it through minor modifications over time.

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Some Thoughts on Competing Against Yourself (Personal Bests)

We encourage young recreational target archers to participate in competitions as soon as they are comfortable with the idea (and even before). We argue that competition fuels progress. Often times, however, we follow that up with the concept of personal best scores (PBs) and argue that they are really only competing with themselves.

So, why do we need those other people if we are only competing against ourselves?

There is, as is often the case, some truth in each claim, even if they contradict each other somewhat.

I am reminded of an experiment. Researchers asked cyclists to pedal stationary bikes as fast as they could and recorded their personal best records after several rounds of attempts. Despite the fact that the cyclists were sure, very sure, that they could go no faster, once they were put in a simulated race against a supposed competitor—which was really just an avatar set to their own best time—nearly all of them were able to beat their previous PBs.

Similar experiments have been repeated in the realms of academics, music, and art, with exactly the same result: individuals perform at a higher level when competing against external opponents than when working alone.

So, the idea of competition spurring athletes to greater performances that they thought they could have is supported by research, but we still have to deal with students who look at competition the wrong way. These students follow their placements during a tournament. They are obsessed with the scores of those they perceive of as their opponents, and when we tell them “they are just competing against themselves” they stare in blank amazement at our utter stupidity.

The cure for unproductive competing is not personal best scores. Those are good indicators of progress, but maybe not good goals in and of themselves.

As coaches we need to train our charges in how to compete: how to avoid distractions such as mind games, how to focus on those things that will improve their scores, how avoid evaluating their shooting until they are done, etc.

We need to teach them about comfort zones (and how to avoid their effects), about what to focus upon (shot sequence, mental game, recovery programs, etc.), and how to respond to “failures” (as they perceive them). Competition needs to fuel better practices. (“If I am going to beat “so and so” I have to shoot in the <scoring zone> so how do I get there, what do I need to do in practice to make that a reality?)

I guess I am saying is if we just leave it up to the competitions to teach them about competing, we are doing the equivalent of expecting the bow and arrow to teach them how to shoot, our guidance being unnecessary. It can happen, but good coaching can reduce the time needed and the pain experienced when learning.


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You Learn Something New . . .

. . . every day!

I am sure you are aware of what a Clout Shoot is. Every one I have attended had us shooting at a wand or stick and I knew another name for this competition was a wand shoot but I didn’t know why it was called a “clout” shoot.

But I recently read that in such competitions a piece of cloth was laid on the ground as a target (visible from afar). And “clout” is an archaic word for “cloth.” I should have realized this, having grown up reading stories in which Native Americans were described as wearing a “breechclout” which is a synonym of a loincloth.

I just didn’t think about it.

So, the question of the day is: Is it proper to offer a clout shoot when shooting at a wand? Wouldn’t it be more proper to shoot at a cloth . . . or call that shoot a “wand shoot?”

I suspect such idle thoughts may go away once the pandemic prohibition applied to our shooting grounds is loosened.


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