Tag Archives: consistency

Sources of Inconsistency, Part 3

Note If you haven’t read parts 1 & 2 yet, please do so, it will make this more understandable.

So, my student and I found some time to work together this past weekend and to make a long story short: mystery solved (we think).

The issue is a lack of consistency indicated by a drop in scores on the NFAA indoor 300 round (60 arrows, 5-1 scoring) from the 270-280 range to the 240-250 range which had to have a cause. In all such cases, there is the question: “Is it me or my equipment?” So, my student took his backup bow to league just before the lesson and shot a score in the 250s, so we know that the problem wasn’t based entirely in the equipment.

But a sound approach is to remove all of the equipment issues first as it is then easier to focus on the form/execution issues with the bow giving good feedback. After shooting some to warm up we did a bare shaft test (three fletched, two bare) while I watched his arrow flight. There was definitely some poor arrow flight involved in the vertical plane and the bare shafts were higher than the fletched group. So, the suspect was a “too low nocking point;” measurement also indicated that it was on the low side (and the nock locators were too easily moved, which was likely the source of the problem). We replaced the top nock locator, tying on a new one with each loop cinched tightly. (This keeps the locator from moving until it is glued down or turned on purpose.) This locator was moved up by about one-eighth of an inch compared to the old one. A retest showed the bare shafts grouping and closer to the fletched shafts (but still slightly high) with the arrow flight improved. We could have continued in that vein but there was something else: a form issue.

At full draw my archer’s shoulders were slightly tilted (front shoulder high). This can happen even to the most serious archers who also have real lives. Family and work intrudes upon our archery and we lose focus and continuity. By this I man we have a mental and/or physical break from practicing our good form. Slight changes drift in and are accepted as normal. As I watched, the subtle shoulder tilt was causing his draw elbow to move as much down as around during followthrough. This, I suspect, is also a contributor to the high bare shafts. If the shoulders are tilted, the drawing forearm is out of line with the primary force line (PFL) we desire. In this case, it is below. This changes the angle the draw hand and fingers make with the bowstring (slightly) causing the string to be pulled a little more down, in this case, rather than just back along the PFL. This cause shots to go high.

So, I asked my student to thrust his “away” hip back and to exaggerate it. His first attempt got his torso vertical, his shoulders level and his arrow into the X (just luck but bolsters coach’s reputation in any case). My student reported that he though he had pushed his “away” hip a great deal whereas he had moved it only a smidgeon. This is a phenomenon reported by both golf and archery coaches, “you have to ask for a lot to get a little.” (This one is going into Volume 3 of The Principles of Coaching Archery!)

We therefore devised a little experiment. He has a mirror set up where he shoots at home to check his posture. With a vertical tape line or a plumb line hung just in front of it he is going to work on getting his spine plumb and his shoulders level. Then we are going to recheck his bare shaft test. This may well get us a perfect test and no further adjustment of the nocking point locators will be necessary. If not, then additional nocking point tuning is needed. When this is all done, I think this student will be back to championship level form.

To Summarize

It is not uncommon for a small flaw to creep into an archer’s form. Elite archers have to practice many days a week to ensure that this does not happen, and then it even happens to them from time to time.

Competitive recreational archers face all kinds of distractions: job/school changes, significant other changes, births of children, etc. All of these are opportunities for their form to become different. Since we all age and change with age, such time related differences are to be expected and the others just fit into this normal trend. Very good archers experience only small changes but because they expect relatively good scores, these still show up on their score sheets.

The issues involved are what I call “Bell curve” problems. If you take any parameter of form, execution, or equipment, you will find there is a range over which its setting provides optimal performance. In this case, nocking point location” like brace height or any other parameter would show this behavior:

Tuning Graph (150 dpi)If the nocking point is way too low, we would get very poor performance; at just to little too low, we would get something better but still poor; at just a tad low we would get good performance. Spot on would give the best performance; slight higher would cause the performance to fall off a tiny bit and the farther it got in the “too high” direction the worse things would get. We have just described a performance hill (a bell-shaped curve). Some parameters have more than one such hill (as alluded to in the diagram). Nocking point location probably has just a single hill and single hilltop. The center of that hilltop is where we want to be. The reason for this is the tops of those bell curves are relatively flat. If you have a slightly flawed execution, such as pulling down or up on the bowstring when the arrow is loosed, you subtly change the actual location of the point in space the arrow comes off of the string. If the fixed position of your nock locators, though, puts you in the center of the performance hilltop, a slight shift one way or the other doesn’t affect performance all that much. But, instead of being “top dead center” you are at the edge of the top (left or right, high or low), a slight change in another parameter can produce a relative large loss of performance.

In this case, a combination of a too low nocking point (a relatively recent change in the equipment) combined with a slight shift in form brought about a 20+ point drop in 300 round score. I suspect that the shoulder problem was there first and then when the nocking point locator moved … ooops!

What to Do In order for an archer’s equipment to be in order, they must tune it by shooting (and they can’t tune any better than they shoot) so the two are intertwined. When they achieve a stable state for their equipment and are shooting acceptable and consistent scores, they must document the heck out of their rig. You should insist on this. (I have a form I email to my students for this purpose. If you want a copy, send me an email at steve@archeryfocus.com asking for one and I will send it to you.) Having this record means that when things go wrong, you can measure up their rig to see if anything has gone wrong. (Some of these things are invisible (cracks in interior limb laminations, broken threads of bowstring material under the center serving) and may show performance effects before measurable manifestations of them show up. But these are rare.)

If you can correct any equipment flaws and the problem goes away, much the better. If it does not, then you must look to the archer. It is not uncommon for the problem to have multiple causes as did this one (I think).

Oh, did I mention that leveling my students shoulders (subtly) required his clicker to be moved? We moved it out about an eighth of an inch, later it will need to be refined. Shifting shoulders up and down, even subtly, affects draw length. All such changes go straight into the archer’s notebook to document them.

If you change one thing …


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Sources of Inconsistency, Part 2

QandA logoIn my last post I shared an email I got from a student (right-handed Olympic Recurve archer) regarding having bouts of “leftitis” while shooting in an indoor league. Since we hadn’t had a session in a while, I have nothing substantive to report, but our conversation continued. I asked “Generally left arrows means you are a little long in DL or you are plucking … unless, of course, you didn’t just lower your draw weight did you?

This question shows how complex most of these situations are. The reason I asked about the draw weight change is, if he had lowered his draw weight (he had not), even slightly, e.g. 1#, if his arrows were almost too stiff, this may have made them “critically” stiff. If the arrow spine is “critical,” that is on the bleeding edge of being right/wrong, then a very slight shift in technique can make them appear as they are here, “too stiff” or “too weak.” On days when you are feeling strong, everything seems fine (we don’t know that they could be better, which is always our problem) and on days when you are a bit soft, the arrows appear too stiff. This is always surprising to me because with a clicker draw length is “fixed,” but a crisp loose of the string is one thing and a slower one another and these can show up with a “critical” arrow spine. A crisp release gets the arrow where aimed. A loose/sloppy/slow release exposes the too stiff arrow (flies to the left). I don’t like the word “critical,” I think a better word would be “borderline” but that is the term in general circulation.

Equipment that is not quite in a “sweet spot” can show problems intermittently which can falsely point to an “operator error” when really it is an equipment error. We rightly think that consistent errors are probably due to equipment, inconsistent errors due to inconsistent execution. The key word is “probably.” A prime example of this is if a numbered arrow always flies to the left. It is probably that arrow that is a fault. But if one arrow in an end seems to fly left, but it is a different arrow each time, then it is probably the archer.

When we tune, our goal is to create a bow-arrow-archer system that minimizes the effects of slight “operator errors.” We want that tune to be in the “middle” of a performance peak (measured however you want) so that an error one way or the other will have a minimal impact on our performance. A tune that is on the edge of such a zone is the equivalent of walking along the edge of a cliff: a slight misstep in one direction is not problem, in another it is a major problem.

As I said, I can’t really tell in this case until we get together, which will be this coming weekend. “Probably” more on this issue later.

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Sources of Inconsistency

QandA logoOne of my very best Olympic Recurve students wrote about his recent foray into indoor league action. His problem seems to be in consistency.

“My NFAA 300 scores have been good, kinda. A 285 is my best ever. A 281 is my best league score this year. But, that was followed the week after by a score in the 240s, and I just cannot explain what happened to drop the 40 points. I felt like there were a lot of great shots in there, but they’d be going left on the target. Same bow, same setup, absolutely no changes. This was the same kind of thing at indoor nationals where I felt I shot well but the score was horrible. Hmm, I continue to be puzzled. To end that bad league night (last week) I shot a 25 end, the first and only one of the night.”

Since we hadn’t had a lesson in a while and I hadn’t seen him shoot there wasn’t much I could say until we got together. Here is an expansion of part of what I answered.

* * *

Competitive target archery is a search for consistency. In every competitive archer’s beginning experience we learn that an arrow that doesn’t “group” with the others needs to be inspected for damage. We learn tuning procedures that support “tighter groups.” We refine our form and execution. In every case we are looking for the arrows to land closer to the center (accuracy) and closer to one another (precision or consistency).

Accuracy is easier to achieve than consistency. By adjusting one’s bow and arrows and form a bit, one can get to the point that they have round groups centered on target-center. The average positions of these arrows is “dead center” but we are not scored on our average position, but on the actual positions of the arrows, hence the need to get the arrows closer and closer together so that they will all fit into a highest scoring ring (the de facto “optimum group size”).

“Competitive target archery is a search for consistency.”

Whenever I see scoring inconsistency like that reported, the immediate suspect (for a Recurve archer) is lack of line. No one seems to point this out, but in the same vein as the philosopher who pointed out you can’t ford or even step into the same river twice (the original water has been replaced by new) we are never the same archer. Every arrow we shoot, we shoot as an older person, the additional age may be only a few seconds or 24 hours of several weeks or even years of a layoff. As we age, things change. If we work out and get stronger, things change. This results in what I call “form drift” and it doesn’t have to drift far to be “off.” And good alignment is one of the things that one cannot afford to lose without a severe scoring cost. (A caveat here: I just saw a video clip of our current Olympic Men’s champion shooting. He does not have good line. The cost of that is he has to practice almost every day, which he does. You and I cannot afford the cost of poor alignment.)

So, we will meet to see what can be seen but there may also a psychological effect involved. And I do not have any information regarding whether it is “in play” in this case, but it may well be. We all have busy lives. We have school or work and it’s demands. We have families. We have lives outside of archery. Consequently the amount of time we have to engage in a sport is limited. It is not unusual for the indoor season to devolve into a series of mini-competitions with no real practice occurring. We experience success or failure on any particular league night but we don’t do anything with that until the next league night. Anything that might have been learned from the previous experience has long since faded before the next league night, so we drift from one “test” to “the next” and wonder why we are not being consistent. Can you imagine taking a night class at your local community college that meets once a week and each week the teacher gives you a version of the final exam to see if you are ready to pass out of the course, but no other instruction? You would be clamoring for your money back. Don’t do this to yourself.

After every competition, I ask my students to make two lists: one list is “The Things I Did Well” and the other is “Things I Will Do Differently Next Time.” I ask that they have a minimum of three things on each list. If consistency, aka small groups, is on the “Did Well” list one week and then not the next, then your consistency is a variable (not a good thing) and you need to do something about it before the next “test.” If the same things keep popping up on the “Do Differently” list, whatever you are doing to implement that is not working.

Please do not get the impression that I know everything about this topic, far from it. The problem I keep pointing out is that a tiny bit of the solution to every problem is available from that coach there and another bit from this coach here. Until we archery coaches get better organized, we will not be able to definitively answer any of these questions.



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