Tag Archives: Form and Execution

Are You Steady?

This is a BowJunky video that shows the apertures of top compound archers while shooting during competition. Whether you coach compound or recurve primarily, this is well worth watching.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=166&v=8Ls7xv3_0Uc

Even top flight compound people show aperture movement while aiming. Do realize that compound bows are easier to hold steady than recurve bows due to their greater mass. [ More mass means more inertia, which equates to harder to move.” The simplest example is how much harder it is to move a boulder than a pebble. They are both made of rock and their size is not an issue … their mass is the issue.] Conclusion: recurve apertures move, too … probably more so than compound apertures.

You are steady when the movement is minimal, not when it stops. What “minimal” is must be learned … and improved upon if possible.

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Follow-up On What Constitutes A Relaxed String Hand

I have mentioned a number of times that I think the “Three Pillars” of consistent accuracy in archery are two relaxed hands combined with good full-draw body positioning. I go a question regarding how relaxed the string hand should be (for finger releases).

Here’s the question:

Hi Steve,
I was recently reading your post (video review) about the importance of a relaxed draw hand. I’ve read elsewhere a suggestion that one can check this by *gently* touching the thumb and pinky together as a means of assuring the hand stays flat and relaxed (think Boy Scout sign). Can you think of any reason why touching thumb and pinky during the draw and anchor might be a bad idea? 

Thanks in advance!

And here’s my answer:

* * *

A Boy Scout Salute

As to the draw/string hand, we teach the “three-fingers under” string grip to beginners using … the Boy/Girl Scout salute! Touching the little finger nail with the pad of the thumb, puts both little finger and thumb into exact correct positions. We ask them to: make the salute, curl their fingers, then slide the curl up under the arrow (always touching the arrow … for safety, we also suggest a “deep hook” without getting too detailed, aka “stay off of your fingertips”). When they reach anchor, they are told to “drop” those fingers, that is relax them. This solves the problem of where to put the thumb on the string hand. It actually has to be slightly tucked under the jaw, so there is a minimal amount of muscle tension associated with putting it there. The three finger salute puts them in the proper position from which their subsequent relaxation gets them where we want them to be with regard to being relaxed. Getting the thumb out of the way is necessary to make a tight anchor, which is one that allows the archer to see the arrow point/sight aperture looking along the inside edge of the bowstring.

So, sounds as if you are good to go!
Steve

PS Do write in if you have follow-up questions. Don’t count on me being perfectly clear all of the time (or even some of the time!).

 

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Apertures Float Like a Butterfly

We get letters ♫ … I got an email recently regarding apertures from a compound archer. Some interesting points were raised. Here it is:

Steve,
I’m working on a steadier hold. I switched to a dot from my aperture because the new (kinda) 80 cm target for compound @ 50m didn’t work with the aperture I’d been using for the 122cm target. That aperture also worked perfect in my garage at 28 feet as well as 18 m indoors. The dot seemed to be the same size at all distances. I was doing holding drills this week and tried both the dot and empty aperture, then noticed something interesting. When using the dot, it wanders out of the gold and you don’t want to take a shot when it does that but when using the aperture you always have some yellow in the circle made by the aperture even when the dot would be out. It’s an illusion, somewhat, you’re always in the yellow while you’re “out” with the dot even though it’s really the same position you’re holding on.

Here’s my response.

* * *

For compound people, there are a multitude of rings in different diameters and thickness … and colors to try. You can even combine rings and dots and use one or the other under different situations.

You were perceiving what is called relative steadiness. A bigger dot seems to move less than a smaller one (possibly because the extent of the motion is a fraction of the diameter of the larger dot, rather than a multiple of the diameter of the smaller one). Same is true for larger rings/apertures v. smaller rings/apertures. If you are using a central dot in your aperture, you want to have the dot be small enough it does completely cover the gold, nor does it leave the gold often. This is why I prefer a larger ring decal on my scope lens apertures. The gold floats inside of the ring and provides the information my brain needs to see that it is “centered” in that ring.

Imagine a dot so big it covers the gold. (Some have used old sight pins with beads glued on the tip to create such a thing for indoors compound archery.) In this situation one feels the urge to move it off to see if the gold is actually behind the dot. If you are in a situation like that, due to the distance to the target, it is better to “see” the dot as being inside, say, the blue ring, and looking to have it centered in that ring because the gold is not helping. On a target like the NFAA Hunter targets, you are SOL as there is only the small central dot on the face and no outer rings to help as with the parti-colored target faces.

Small dots make you feel more jittery, larger ones less so, but larger rings/apertures include the ability to see what is behind the aperture while keeping the sense of stillness.

We are never perfectly still. The fact that out hearts beat continuously, and each beat changes the location of our center of mass slightly, which means we can never be perfectly still. So apertures, scope lenses, dots will always be seen to be moving. Small objects moving a distance equal to their own size appear to be moving a lot. A large object moving the same distance appears to be moving very little. The empty ring aperture (recurve) and the ring decal applied to scope lenses (compound) provide the best of both.

Again, these are my opinions, my analyses. There ain’t no gospel here. If you are someone which an elevated innate sense of calmness, you made need no extra help like this. I am not one of those people and was born jittery, so I needed all of the help I could find. Steve

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Are You in Control of Your Shot?

I just wrote a piece with the possibly too cute title of “To Get Control Over Your Shot, You Have to Give Up Control, While Remaining in Control.” The point of the piece was all archers go through a phase in which they attempt to force the bow to shoot well. They grip their bows fiercely, they concentrate fiercely, and they distort their bodies trying to look down the arrow shaft to aim better, for example.

All archers need to learn that the idea of physically controlling their bow to get the outcome they desire is a road to poor performances. What is needed is physical control of ourselves, not the bow per se. We are trying to create a situation by which our actions can create a successful shot. The bow cannot draw itself and the arrow cannot select a true path to the target. These are things we must do and must control. What we must forgo is trying to control the outcome of the shot. You have to give up some control of your shot. Striving for complete physical control always interferes with the bow doing what we ask of it.

The attempt to hold the bow in the exact position needed always fails because, as I said in the piece I am working on “The bow and arrow are physical objects, made of quality materials and proper dimensions and organization. They will act the same way under the same conditions . . . if . . . if they are not interfered with. Holding onto the bow through the power stroke and arrow launch is a source of interference, simply because we are incapable to doing something twice in the exact same way, let alone many dozens of times in fairly quick succession.

We need to learn to cradle the bow, not squeeze it, so that when the string is loosed, the bow acts as if it were merely hanging in space by itself. You have to give up some control over the bow (limiting yourself to drawing it, positioning it, and loosing the string) but you have to “remain in control” of your mind.

The main point of the article is that to be consistently accurate you need to shift those attempts at excessive control of the bow over into controlling your mind.

If you allow your subconscious actions with the bow to vary away from your normal shot sequence, aka your “plan to shoot shots,” you will be defeating yourself. Mentally, you have to require your subconscious self to stick to “the plan.” This is why we must be “present” and “aware” consciously while shooting, but not really thinking anything. We are watching, ready to blow the letdown whistle if any deviations to “the plan” are spotted. If you fail to monitor your shots and exert complete mental control over, well, yourself, as soon as you experience any disappointment, your subconscious mind will change the plan to make things “better.” Rather than make up something on the spot, it is more likely to pull something off of the shelf that had been practiced up “before.” If you have ever had an old “bad habit” pop up on you during a competition, now you know where it came from. (They never go away, they are merely sent to the bench.) Any deviation to your current “plan” is highly likely to be counterproductive as it hasn’t been practice or practice recently, not has it been vetted as something that works well for you.

Does this make any sense to you? If it does, does it affect how you teach your students?

 

 

 

 

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More Video Critiques

I am once again plodding where angels fear to tread. The last time I reviewed some videos, I got flamed … oh, well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

My main point in all of these “reviews” is to encourage you to view all archery videos (and magazine articles, and books, including my own) critically and not just accept them at face value. The videos I address here are from the Archery Winchester site (ArcheryWinchester.com) which I recommend to you highly because they take a science-based approach and use a lot of high speed and stop motion video in their explanations. I do not, however, find their videos to be perfect.

The Archer’s Hook
In this video, they cover a lot about a recurve archer’s finger hook. I will comment about one misstatement and one omission in this otherwise good presentation.

A “classic” string grip.

The misstatement, or at least what I hope was a misstatement, concerns the position of the bowstring on the fingers. The statement made was that the string needed to be “as far out on the fingers as possible.” The picture accompanying this statement is for some strange reason using a slack bowstring, with the string lying on the pads of the top and bottom fingers so how far out is “far out” is debatable. Maybe it is the phrase “as possible” as needing definition.

My recommendation is the more load there is on a finger, the less on a finger tip it should be. To show you what I mean, pick up a strung recurve and place the bowstring on the pads of all three drawing fingers. Pull slightly on the bow string and you will find that the back of your string hand will become arched and tense. This is because of a lack of leverage. The fingers have to be held in this awkward position because if they relaxed, the string would slide off of the pads. And if the entire hand is going to be tense, well tense is synonymous with “slow” and the fingers will not be easily pushed away by the bowstring when you want to loose … and action-reaction, the bowstring will be forced farther out of the plane we want it to be in and we get a highly variable loose. This is called a “tip hook” and it has been tried and rejected. (It is likely the cause of the early retirement from competition by one of the most famous archers in the western tradition, Horace A. Ford, through severe tendonitis.)

The best hook involves being able to relax the string hand completely (relaxed fingers are quick fingers). The muscles making the finger hook are in the upper forearm, so they do not make the hand tense per se.

The primary force line (PFL) is referred to as the second one down on the left.

With regard to the angle of the string on the fingers, that is determined by two things and neither involves fingers. One is the height of the draw elbow. The “ideal” height (according to biomechanics) is the one that has the string forearm in line with the center of pressure of the bow hand on the bow. This line is called the “primary force line” (PFL) and to pull exactly on the line requires either the forearm to be on that line or several other forces to be involved, created by muscles we really do not want tensed. But, for some reason, quite a number of archers have elbow up above that line. Moving the elbow up away from the PFL turns the fingers so the third finger is harder and harder to engage and the first finger is pressing down on the arrow. If the elbow is lower that that line (a worse sin according to many), the top finger is pulled off of the string and the middle finger is pressed up against arrow.

The other factor is the rotation of the hand along the PFL. Classic archery technique recommended the back of the hand be flat (indicating the hand is relaxed … it gets pulled flat) and that it be perpendicular with the ground. This means that the fingers are square (sideways) to the string. This position, however, is very close to the edge of our range of motion, so is stressful to maintain. USA Archery’s national Coach Kisik Lee recommends that the hand be rotated … slightly! … to relieve this stress. The net effect, though, is that the string is no longer square to the fingers and must be on a slant to the fingers with the string out on the finger pad of the bottom (third) finger and the top finger wrapped more around the string.

Since everything … and I do mean everything … in archery is a compromise, this one may make sense. You buy a little comfort in the rotation of the hand about the string forearm (which equates to relaxation) and you give a little with regard to optimal placement of the fingers on the string. have your archers try both positions to see which they prefer.

Archery Form -06- Release and Follow Through
In this video which seems a bit inconsistent to my eye (the same releases seem to be being used as examples of a good release and a bad release) is good but fails to mention an important aspect of this discussion.

In target archery, our goal is consistent accuracy. The equipment can be set to be accurate (sights, set up, tuning, etc.) so the archer is responsible for the consistency as the equipment doesn’t vary (unless something breaks or loosens). This means we are fighting “Bell curves” in space and time. A Bell curve is a Gaussian distribution with is a natural distribution of many things in nature. For the repeated shots of an archer, this manifests itself in target hole patterns. Most of the arrow holes are closer to the center and fewer are encountered as one moves away. This distribution shows up in all of our body positions. If we were to photograph our draw elbow from away for a long series of shots and then superimpose them, would you expect all of the photos to overlap perfectly? No, you would not. (The phrase is “we are not robots.”) Most of the elbow photos would be clustered around an “average” position, and the few that differ from that position differ very little, the more difference from the average, the less likely is that to occur.

A Bell curve (normal curve, Gaussian distribution)

In order for us to be consistent, those photos need to be tightly group together.

The Bell curves are in space, like the photos show, and also in time. If we take a stopwatch to the shots, you will see that some shots go off more quickly than others and some more slowly. We are trying to make these Bell curves in time less spread out like we want the Bell curves in space less spread out. we want to repeat our process as exactly as possible because that is what produces the best results.

This has consequences for our form.

For example, when a shot is made we are taught to keep our bow arms in position until the shot ends. (I say “The shot’s not over until the bow takes a bow.”) The arrow leaves the bow in under 20 milliseconds (that’s 2/100 of a second) so it seems unlikely it will have any effect on our shots if we do no not keep our bow arms up. Letting your bow arm drop upon release is a form flaw called “dropping your bow arm” and it will result in low arrows. The reason? Well, when your bow arm drops “immediately” upon release, “immediately” is actually a Bell curve distribution of when the bow begins to drop. Since there is no exact signal for when this is supposed to happen, it can happen quite early, so early that the arrow is still on the bowstring and letting the bow fall is taking the arrow with it, resulting in low shots.

So, we keep our bow arms “up” through the followthrough (see the poster below).

What this video doesn’t suggest and could have that archers need to keep their string arms “up” through the followthrough also. If we do that the range of motion, the funky motion that is an archery shot, is constrained so that the string hand can get back no farther than the ear. if the draw elbow is dropped, the range of motion becomes quite large and the number of possible movements also becomes quite large and subject to the archer’s desires (this is where fake followthroughs, like touching your shoulder at the end of the shot, come from).

Confusing something that just happens with something you are to do always creates problems for archers. If both arms are kept “up” until the bow takes a bow, everything else happens as a consequence of the forces in play at the loose of the string. This leads to a major benefit to the archer! If the forces on the bow are consistent from shot to shot, the movement of the bow during the followthrough will also be consistent (as it is behaving as a simple, mechanical object). Your followthrough thus becomes a consistency meter. If your followthrough is consistent, you are being consistent. if you had a weird followthrough, you did something different on that shot and you need to look into it.

Elite archers deliberately do things weird in their shots, trying to “help” an arrow into the ten that was on the edge of a nine when the clicker clicked, for example. So, you will see bows pushed out to the left or right, creating weird followthroughs. I haven’t seen any evidence that these attempts to “help” an arrow score better actually work, but I have talked with compound archers who say they do it often and it works for them. (Compound bows, being substantially more massive than recurve bows are a different beast. Since they are more massive, compound bows can be pushed harder and will move less, so more control is available.)

I think the conclusion as to whether this is helpful is still out, so I do not recommend this to any of my students.

A Strong Bow Arm is a Must

Note the position of the cuff of Ms. Han’s bow arm sleeve
 as she progresses through her shot.

 

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When to Loose the String, Aye, That’s the Rub

I got a very interesting question regarding shooting Recurve Barebow. I believe the rather large number of questions coming in on this style this reflects a basic paucity of information on Barebow in books and whatnot and while we are working on that, there are a few DVD sources worth exploring if you are interested, namely: “Modern Traditional” (highly recommended) and the “Masters of the Barebow” series (I have not seen all of these but the ones I have were informative).

In this more traditional style a decision must be made regarding when to loose the string as neither a mechanical release aid or clicker is employed. (If you didn’t know, the clicker was invented as a cure for target panic, not as I thought originally, as a draw stop.)

Here’s the question:

Hello Steve,
I hope this email finds you well! Here are some lines on what happened over the last weeks trying to apply various aiming techniques in order to improve my shooting.

I was of the opinion, that moving from instinctive shooting to applying some aiming technique will cure one annoying thing that I experienced in competitive shooting situations: loosing the arrow at the moment, erroneously feeling it must be the right time for release, but, at the same time, knowing it is not the right time, and thus not being able to simply finish the meanwhile frozen in movement and consequently … loose the arrow and … miss. It feels like a yes/no short circuit.

In order to improve my form and try the various ways of aiming off of the point, I just got a pair of 24# limbs and matching arrows. It is amazing how well such a light bow spits arrows! The danger of being overbowed is thus ruled out. However, I now have to admit and accept, I have this target panic thing. I feel insecure and pretty much like stopping to compete this winter and work on this yes/no short circuit to finally end up in an unfettered yes-mode.

And here is my answer:

* * *

Using a light weight bow is a good idea most times, especially when exploring new form elements, but in this case it may be misleading. When you aim off of the point, you must decide when to loose. When you are shooting a stout bow, there is considerable pressure to loose the string because the holding weight is so high. When you drop down, you feel like you can hold a long time … which makes the decision to loose more obvious to your mind and can exasperate your problem.

The “now … not now” problem has been experienced by many, many archers (including me). Here is something that can help. When you are making a shot, if everything is done right … and your arrow point is on your point of aim (POA), there is a sign you can use to signal, like a clicker clicking, that it is “time to loose the string.”

Take your 24# bow and with your target at home and do this experiment: get to full draw position in good form and observe the steadiness of the arrow point. Go a good long time and then let down. What most people see is that when they first get to their anchor point and “on point,” that is on their POA, the arrow point oscillates, then after 0.5 second to 1.5 seconds the arrow point oscillates less, then as time drags on, the oscillations get larger and larger (due to muscle strain). If you see this pattern (I think it is “normal”) then there is a natural way to build in a signal to loose the string. In any case, it is good to familiarize yourself with “holding your aim”! Too many archers feel like they can only hold on point for 0.000012 seconds and so must loose immediately when they “have it.”

If you see that pattern (it is there for sight shooters, too), the reduction in oscillation of the arrow point is a signal that you have become still and stillness is a requirement for accuracy. Stillness is never perfect but there is a decrease from the initial level of movement of the arrow point (or aperture) and a tiny bit later. That change in oscillation of the arrow point can be used as the signal that it is time to loose. You must see it and believe it (that it is a sign of stillness) to break the “now … not now” problem. The “now … not now” problem exists because there is no criterion for when to shoot, for what constitutes “now”. Your mind is debating over whether the current situation constitutes an acceptable time to loose, when you have given it no way to determine if that is true, hence the uncertainty fueling the “… not now”. If this makes any sense to you, it is worth trying, no?

* * *

Round 2

There was a follow-up to this exchange. Here that is:

“The “now … not now” thing occurs usually at some point between anchoring and finalising expansion into full back tension. The motion freezes in, I cannot continue the expansion phase to the end and prematurely release. The motion simply stops in between, when I get the feel: stop, release now, it is fine! I can hold the bow in this frozen position. There is no twitching the shot.  However, the arrow will leave the bow with different power compared to when everything is finalised properly. The funny thing is, that sometimes I really shoot tight groups that way and that burns as a success pattern into the neurons.

“I think, I tend to freeze the motion just when I subconsciously get the impression the right shooting symmetry is achieved to loose the arrow regardless of the level of back-tension. That is the case in tournaments. Maybe, it is not enough confidence in my back tension that augments in stressy situations and explains my 10% score difference. Well, that is why I seek remedy in applying some aiming off of something technique.”

And here is my response:

* * *

Re “The “now … not now” thing occurs usually at some point between anchoring and finalizing expansion into full back tension.” There is a tendency when archers are exploring new ways of shooting to talk oneself through the new steps. I hope you are not doing this as it detracts from what your conscious mind is supposed to be doing (watching, not giving orders).

“Finalizing full back tension” is a vague sort of feeling in one’s back and doesn’t form a good indicator of where one is in the cycle. Our subconscious minds are better than our conscious minds in making this assessment, but it is not a clean indicator of when to shoot. I suggest that you not worry about the state of your back tension as you work through this. Instead, once you get comfortable using the damping of the arrow point and loosing upon that signal, get someone to stand behind you to check your alignment at the point of loose (and that your elbow continues in it’s arc for a couple of inches (max) after loose). If both of those are good, you are good to go.

The circle on the target and the round top of the arrow point for a “figure 8” that makes an exact aiming position.

Re: “bringing it right up near the gold” When aiming off of the point, the best position for the point is to have the top of the arrow touch the bottom of the central scoring ring (or the central ring color) … precisely (not using a sight is not a license for sloppiness). This makes a “figure 8” to picture in your mind’s eye. There should be no conscious thoughts going on during this process. If there is, that is part of the problem. So, the arrow “touches” the gold and you are in good full-draw position and when the point (you have to be looking at the point anyway) settles to minimum movement, then that is the time to loose. We don’t have a clicker clicking to signal it is time to loose, so we use this more subtle technique. Again, none of this is occurring while there are conscious thoughts. If you hear things in your head … you are not in your right mind! (If I am allowed bad puns while discussing serious topics.)

Having these exact positions and exact movements provides exact “go-no go” signals to our subconscious minds. Vagueness encourages mental debates (… it’s good, no, it’s not … now it’s good! … argh!) that result in confusion and poor shots and can lead to target panic down that road.

Of course, none of this is 100% scientific knowledge. You are getting just my best estimate as to what is going on.

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An Archery Lesson from Last Night’s World Series Game 7

The 2017 championship for American professional baseball was on the line last night as the seventh game of a seven game series was played. Both teams were exhibiting signs of fatigue, both mental and physical.

The Major League Baseball season is very long, about seven months. The players play about 20 games to get into shape in “spring training,” then they play 162 games in the “regular season.” If they make the playoffs, a couple of teams in each league have a one game playoff (win or go home) to determine whether they can continue. Then teams play a best of five series (minimum three games, maximum five) in a first level playoff. If they win, they play a seven game series (minimum four games, maximum seven) in a second level playoff. And then, if they win that series, they play in the World Series in another best of seven series (minimum four games, maximum seven) to determine the champion for the entire year. That is a lot of games and a lot of focus required.

These are professional athletes, paid millions of dollars per year to perform for their fans. Surely the mental and physical pressures are something they are almost born to handle, no?

Last night, both teams wanted their starting pitchers to last at least five of the nine innings, six or seven innings would be wonderful. The other team could score runs, but only a few. This would take the burden of pitching off of the relief pitchers, specialist pitchers who pitch quite frequently, but don’t see many innings or batters, all of whom have been showing signs of ineffectiveness.

That was the plan.

The Dodger’s pitcher was substituted for in the second inning and the Astro’s pitcher was substituted for in the third inning.

Oops.

The reasons? Both pitchers were so focussed on the outcome of each pitch that they lost control of the process of making it.

This is exactly what happens to archers who “lose their shot” during competitions. It can happen to anyone, but the elites manage to get it back after one or two “bad shots,” but because they are competing against other elites, that can still lose them the competition. Ordinary archers can lose their shot and not get it back for days, if ever.

In archery, we need to be able to focus on our process, a process that we have proved to ourselves will result in high scoring, small groups of arrows in the target, each end. Once an arrow is shot, it is away and we can’t care about it. If we care about it so much we start worrying about how we are going to score well, we lose touch with our process. If we worry about past arrows or future arrows or our score or … anything other than executing our shooting process, we will “lose our shot.”

Our shot process is like a plan. We must train to execute the plan, then we need to commit to the plan, and execute the plan over and over and over. Once we lose focus on our plan, we will always tend to improvise and the improvised plans cannot be as good as the practiced plan and our score suffers.

Realize that these improvisations are not true improvisations, they are rather pieces of older shots we keep “on the shelf” to pull off in cases of emergency. Since we learned those older versions of our current shot, they are the most likely substitute when an improvisation occurs, no?

This is why we never, ever want to practice doing a shot incorrectly: it essentially tells our subconscious minds that variations from “the process” are acceptable and it creates another “off the shelf” option our subconscious may switch to when we become dismayed that our current process isn’t working, an option that is nowhere near as good.

In the case of the starting pitchers in last night’s game, the Dodger starter lost control over his curveball by allowing his fingers to be on the side of the ball, rather than the top. This results in a curveball that breaks from side-to-side more than up-to-down. The up-down breaking pitch is in the plane of the batter’s swing a very, very short time. The side-to-side breaking pitch is in that plane for a much longer time, increasing the probability of the bat striking the ball … and struck they were. The Astro’s pitcher lost control of the angle his arm was making with the ground, which changes the point in space the ball is released from which resulted in a loss of control of where his fastball was going. He walked several batters and hit batters (one twice) that increased greatly the likelihood that some of those batters will come around to home plate and score.

The bottom line? All competition pressure is created on a five inch playing field: the one between your ears. It is not created by external sources, you create it yourself. It is created by considering the future: what if we lose the game? What if I miss with this pitch? What if I get a nine on this shot and win the tournament? It is created when we dwell on past shots and lose contact with our current process.

There are players/archers who seem to thrive in such situations and we say they are “immune to the pressure.” Actually for those players, the pressure doesn’t exist because they do not create it. This is done by baseball pitchers throwing one quality pitch at a time with the attitude that if it gets hit, it gets hit. They can only control their own process and not the batter’s.

The same is true for archers. If you are immersed in your process, focussed on what is happening now, unaccepting of any deviation of your “plan,” you will feel little pressure to perform. If you do feel pressure, then know that your are not in the “now” and in order to get away from that feeling of pressure, you need to refocus on what you are doing when you shoot. (Focussed on, not trying to control.)

Coaches cannot teach anything more valuable to their competitive charges than this.

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Mental Program Foundations: Attention

I am currently writing an article about how to create a mental program for shooting arrows. Everyone tells you that you need one but nobody tells you how to do it. One of the aspects needed is:
2. The archer’s mind must attend to things that result in consistent, accurate shots and not attend to things that have no or negative affects. Including unnecessary items on the list of things to attend to or leaving off important things increases error.

You will note that this is #2 on my list of the things needed, but don’t expect the full list here.

I was reading a blog post in which the following appeared “What we pay attention to is largely determined by our expectations of what should be present,” said Christopher Chabris, a cognitive psychologist and co-author of The Invisible Gorilla.

Relative size is just one of many pieces of information that contribute to our expectations. Without expecting something, we’re unlikely to pay attention to it, he says, and ‘when we are not paying attention to something, we are surprisingly likely to not see it.

Sometimes called ‘inattentional blindness,’ this phenomenon helps explain how dozens of people could walk by a tree festooned with cash—even looking directly at it—without seeing the money. This was the unexpected result when a woman set out to make a video of people’s responses to finding free money, a scenario that a psychologist later successfully recreated.

Inattentional blindness is something archers want to cultivate. Noticing the perfume or bad breath of an archer next to you can in no way help you shoot good shots. Wondering what that delightful aroma from a food cart portends for lunch possibilities is the same.

There is a story I heard, which is probably apocryphal as my attempts to confirm it went unanswered, but the story goes that at the Olympic Games (Barcelona), the archery field had a freeway nearby. During one session there was a horrific crash on the freeway, with emergency vehicles, etc. After the session one of the Spanish team members asked a fellow teammate what he thought of the crash. The teammate asked “What crash?” Guess who won the gold medal? (Yep.)

True or not, the story emphasizes the need to block out superfluous calls on our attention system, a system designed for interruptions!

 

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Coaching Simplified

As a good coach, you pay attention and try to learn about the “right way” to shoot and the “right way” to coach. We do our best to support you in those efforts. And, as we progress along that path, there comes a time when we have to admit that “the right way” does not exist.

The impression is had that serious archers are getting ever closer to that perfect form and perfect execution that will lead them to success. In reality, it is quite the opposite. Coach Kim of Korea said it perfectly when he said archers are “all the same, all different.” He said this in the context of his experience in which every archer is taught the same standard form at the start, but as the archer progresses that form is adapted to fit the archer, leaving every archer in a different place from the others. Instead of all archers converging on this idealized form and execution, they are all diverging toward personal, idiosyncratic form and execution.

Before you freak out, wondering “what am I going to teach?” or “how will I know what is right to do?” think about this. When students are taught in school how to write, is the goal that they will all become the same writer, writing the same way about the same things? When they are taught math, is it to always solve the same problems, the same way? Or do we take some satisfaction when they branch out on their own and approach things in novel ways?

Uh, huh.

So, this is not so shocking as you might initially think. What this leads us to, though, is coaching based upon foundational principles. There are things that cannot be jettisoned in an archery shot. For example, you cannot skip drawing the bow. The bow is a mechanical device into which we load energy by changing its shape. We must draw the bow. Manufacturers of bows must make limbs that are resilient, that is that will recover quickly to a previous shape. Bow limbs made out of modeling clay probably won’t work so well. Some things just can’t be dispensed with.

So, what are the crucial aspects of shooting arrows from a bow?

The Indispensable Principles
I am confining this discussion to target archers. We love to see our archers shoot an arrow dead center. Bulls-eye! (We used to award a little plastic medal for a beginning archer’s first such shot.) But an archery tournament isn’t: unpack, set up, shoot a 10, pack up, and leave. We are expected to “do it again.” Tournament scores are made up of multiple ends of multiple arrow shots, as many as six in a single end.

What we all want is high scores. High scores are achieved by placing as many arrows in the highest scoring zones as you can. The de facto definition of optimal arrow group size is, therefore, “small enough to fit into the highest scoring ring.” And, since groups of arrows can be moved anyplace by sighting techniques, our goal as archers is to shoot “tight groups,” that is groups with closely spaced arrows. Tight groups come from being able to repeat one’s shot process precisely, many times. To be able to repeat one’s shot sequence precisely, one needs to be able to relax and focus and be calm and still under the tension of the draw and then be able to execute a clean release. So, for us coaches, this is our first principle. Anything that supports this is good, anything that detracts is bad. Period.

Realize that we are ignoring the role of equipment at this time. The fundamental principle governing equipment is that the equipment shouldn’t limit performance. So, if your archer has a set of misfit arrows of different weights, lengths, and spines and are bent in addition, nobody, not even a shooting machine, could shoot tight groups with those arrows. For now, we are assuming your archers’ equipment is not limiting their performances. Your responsibility as a coach involves equipment issues, we are just not addressing them right now.

So, what does, for example, body position have to do with this fundamental, or first, principle? This is a ridiculous example, but it does serve: consider what would happen if you had your students shoot (or try to) with their feet on the other side of the shooting line? Ordinarily, a right-handed archer would have their left foot toward the target and their right foot away with the shooting line running between. What if their right foot were toward the target and the left foot away? Would they be able to shoot? Our guess is “no.” Maybe one or two inventive students might switch hands and try to shoot left-handed and make it work, but to shoot right-handed, this recommendation is “nuts.” Now this was clearly a ridiculous suggestion but stances are not black and white. They are all shades of gray. You were taught about even or “square” stances, open stances, and closed stances. There are more, by the way, but there are also fine points with regard to open and closed stances. There is the matter of degree: how open or closed are you talking about?

If you read books on archery form, they almost always recommend one kind of stance, but almost never explain why, nor do they often explain how to tune that stance for various archers. Our primary fundamental principle helps us and it works best if both the archer and coach know the principle. Obviously this is not something you teach to beginners, but should to serious competitive archers. Knowing what is desired allows archers to discern what helps and what doesn’t.

If a stance helps an archer be still and calm at full draw just before and during the release, then that is a good thing. If it detracts, then not.

Bows that are too hard to pull, stances that don’t allow archers to get into a fully braced full draw position, bows that are hard to hold up through the shot because they are too heavy all are negative factors. Bows which are too hard to pull distort form and fatigue muscles that result in shakiness, not stillness. Bows which are too heavy cause an archer to “drop their bow arm” upon release which creates larger groups but is an equipment issue, and is not the archer’s fault. And if that equipment issue is allowed to persist, it will train the archer to drop his/her bow as part of their shot sequence!

There are other fundamental principles. One I use is I ask my students to remove all unnecessary motion from their shots. For example, quite a few students raise their bows well above their full draw positions and then lower them into place while drawing. I ask them to just stop at the correct position on the way up and skip the trip, taking the bow up farther and bringing it back down.

If such motions are allowed to remain in the shot, they must be orchestrated, timed, and trained into the shot but they do not add anything. Raising a bow higher than necessary and then lowering it is sometimes claimed to help people draw the bow. I suggest these folks need to prove this somehow as it makes no sense. If they don’t think there is energy involved they should hold their bow in their “Address” or “Set-up” position, then raise their bow up six inches (or whatever) and lower it six inches and then repeat that 71 times. That is the amount of energy they are using in a Ranking Round that doesn’t in any way improve their shot. Of course, this is archery. You don’t have to do it “right,” you can include useless form elements into your shot, but the cost will be extra training time and effort and potentially lower scores, and the benefit is … what?

All archery movements must be part of a repeatable shot and if not done the same way, leads to a feeling of difference between one shot and the previous one. This is how an archer makes adjustments throughout a round, allowing them to stay close to optimal performance throughout. Having a movement that has nothing to do with the quality of your shot is just inserting a source of “differences” that can be felt but which do not make anything better. Those differences can mask others or create unnecessary letdowns, etc.

Conclusion
Coaching from first principles is something I will be talking more about in the future. It is a different approach. If you are happy with the way things are going now with your students, by all means continue. But as you strive to learn more, to become a better coach, keep these ideas in the back of your head so you can see whether they work . . . or not.

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