I am currently working on a book on coaching archery from first principles, my effort to supply “whys” for all of the “whats” we propound. Currently I am working on an equipment chapter and the following questions came up and while they don’t necessarily involve fundamental principles of coaching archery, I decided to include answers to these questions. I am interested in any constructive criticism you might have and suggestions as to things to include, etc.
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As I have mentioned (ad nauseam?): archery equipment purchases are a minefield for newbie archers and/or their parents. So allow me to address the two questions here, even though they do not necessarily involve first principles.
Do I Need My Own Equipment?
When beginners start in archery, they generally will use “program equipment,” that is equipment supplied by the instructional program. The criteria for what makes good program equipment are: it has to last, be affordable (aka less expensive), suitable for beginners (low draw weights and draw lengths common to the kinds of beginners being taught—adult, youth, etc., easy to maintain and repair, sturdy (it has to last), it has to perform fairly consistently, and it has to last! (Did I mention it has to last?)
Few of these criteria are invoked when buying personal equipment.
Here is the guiding principle for equipment acquisitions—in order to learn to shoot well, your equipment must give good feedback. To give an archer good feedback, his equipment must be fitted to them. For example, I can pick up a 48˝ recurve bow, but if I were to draw it to my 32˝ draw length, it would either break or the bowstring would slip off the limb tips. There is no way I can shoot that bow with good form. So, in order for equipment to give good feedback it must be fitted and to be fitted, the archer must shoot fairly well. This sounds like a scheme out of the book Catch-22, but it really does make sense.
When I fit an archer for equipment they wish to purchase, we need to list all of the parameters involved in the purchase. Things like the color of an arrow’s fletches is basically a personal preference, but the length and heftiness of the arrow is not. Those are based upon the bow’s power, the archer’s draw length, whether they have their fingers on the bowstring or shoot a mechanical release aid, and how well they shoot. So, arrows are tested to find the sizes that will work best for the archer, and then color choices and whatnot can be made. The same is true for bows. If a recurve bow is being purchased, the bow’s length, draw weight, and draw length all must be factored in. But if the archer has only shot a few dozen arrows, his draw length may be all over the place: longer one shot, shorter the next, with no two measurements the same, so what do we use to measure the arrows?
So, the equipment purchasing pattern goes: (a) an archer shoots with program equipment (or borrowed equipment) until they develop somewhat consistent archery form. This is indicated by being able to shoot groups of arrows that land in roughly the same place on a target face, somewhat consistently. Then comes (b) the archer is fitted for his/her own equipment and that equipment is acquired. This equipment will then give the archer better feedback and so they will learn more and at a higher rate than if they had stuck with program equipment. If they are confined to using borrowed equipment/program equipment, their progress will plateau fairly quickly.
This first acquisition of fitted equipment is a major turning point in pursuing the sport of archery. After a few months or even weeks of lessons, archers or their parents are asked to shell out some hundreds of dollars to get equipment tailored to the archer. Please note one can use inherited or hand-me-down equipment or borrowed equipment, but that equipment must fit the archer, otherwise there is no point. I have seen young archers trying shoot bows their uncle gave them that were physically too heavy and too hard to draw. Their little bodies were twisted into pretzel shapes to hold up that heavy bow at arm’s length and then draw it. None of that helps. I use tests to see if the weight of the bow is too much; tests that show whether the draw weight is too much, tests to come up with a draw length that is close. But, with regard it growing youths, we are always providing some “room to grow” into those purchases, and I will be sharing those tips as we go.
Do I Need Better Equipment?
This question is similar but different from the one above. In this situation our archer has had equipment fitted to him/her that has either been outgrown, or the equipment is hindering their performance, rather than enhancing it.
If the archer in question is a casual, recreational archer who is satisfied with their performances but has clearly outgrown their equipment, then equipment of roughly the same quality, just of larger sizes needs to be sought out.
If the archer is dissatisfied with their performance and it seems as if the equipment is holding them back, they need better, not just different equipment. So, if your archery child is really enthusiastic about archery, why not just buy them top-of-the-line gear and have done with it? This sounds reasonable and I have even heard other coaches recommend this, but there are some, actually many, drawbacks to this. If the archer is young and still growing their working draw weight and draw length may go up in leaps and bounds. You may need replacement recurve limbs at the end of a summer, when you bought new limbs at the beginning of summer. Do you want to be replacing $100 limbs or $1000 limbs? In addition, equipment designed for advanced-to-elite archers can be quite finicky to operate. Small variations in execution can produce major errors. That level of equipment assumes a high level of execution and without it, it may perform worse that cheaper equipment. (See “Patience” by John Vetterli in Archery Focus magazine, 8-3, about half way through John relates how he over bought equipment and how it delayed his progress.)
The rule of thumb I use is the level of equipment should match the level of the archer: beginners should get beginner-level equipment, intermediate archers should get intermediate-level equipment, and advanced-to-elite archers should get that level of equipment (close to top-of-the-line or there). Of course archery manufacturers don’t help you out with accurate labels of the levels of what they are selling, but there is a price correspondence: beginning level equipment is the least expensive; advanced-to-elite equipment is the most expensive, and intermediate level equipment is in between. (If you are just starting at the intermediate level, look at the low end of intermediate priced gear; if you have been an intermediate for a while, look at the higher priced end of the intermediate equipment range.
And we always recommend that you “try before you buy.” This is the really big advantage of a good archery shop. Most shops have a place to shoot and if they are selling what you are interested in, they will allow you to shoot it to see how it feels (within reason, though). If you then buy from them, the tend to set up the equipment for you and adjust it if necessary. These services justify a higher price for your bow or arrows than you can get online. Don’t just compare prices, compare prices and services.
How Do I Know If My Equipment is Holding Me Back? This is not an easy question to answer. One obvious example is if all of your aluminum arrows are slightly different lengths and are somewhat bent. Getting a set of weight-matched, straight arrows will result in an immediate score increase.
Another case is “making distance.” Young archers compete in age-range competitive categories. As you move up in age, the competitive distances increase and the target faces get smaller. Young archers using light drawing bows often encounter this problem when they move up to the next age-competitive category. In order to hit the target at their new longest distance, they have to hold their bow much higher, so high that their arrow point or bow sight aperture are lined up way above the target. Careful aiming is no longer possible and, well, tilting that far up distorts an archer’s form and undermines achieving good, consistent archery execution.
What is needed to “make distance” is lighter arrows, a stouter bow, or possibly both. Both of those things will produce flatter arrow trajectories, leaving the archer with his/her arrow point or sight aperture on a recognizable spot on the target face, allowing careful aiming and having archery form near what it is at the other, closer distances.
Since this is not an easy question to answer, this is where the help of an experienced archery coach can really help. In lieu of a coach, a very experienced archer may be of help in answering this question.
For some strange reason WordPress has decided all of the text of my posts is to be italicized. I have not yet figured out what to do. Any ideas? Steve