Tag Archives: Form and Execution

Using NTS for Barebow Recurve

I received an email from a reader with an interesting question:

“I was reading your blog archive on Barebow Recurve and there is a topic that would be good to address – using NTS for Barebow Recurve. I shoot Barebow Recurve and attempt to use and teach NTS, finding that it can mostly be followed except for the anchor point. What has been your experience?”

And here is my answer …

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To teach NTS or not, that is the question. (Everyone trolls Shakespeare!)

The question asks whether NTS would be appropriate for Barebow Recurve. The question, though, is not a simple one, or rather the answer is not simple.

The NTS or U.S. National Training System is misnamed as it is not a system, but a shooting technique. I think technique is very important; every archer should have one. The NTS is a technique designed for elite target archers. So, the first thing I would want to know are what are the goals of the archer. If they are a recreational archer, my answer would be no. If they were a competitive archery, but not a really serious one, the answer would also be no. If they were a serious competitive archer or asked to be taught the technique, then I would teach them, but only so long as they were making progress.

To learn any elite sport technique requires a great deal of practice, so there is a substantial commitment of time and energy necessary to even make the attempt to learn it. If that isn’t what is being committed to, why start such a task?

Secondly, I have to ask something else. Are you a Barebow Recurve archer with a primary interest in Field Archery? The NTS is designed to be shot on a flat target field. Field archers are shooting uphill, downhill, and on sidehills. The NTS focuses on a clicker to control draw length, whereas Field Archers do not get to use a clicker and even if they did, stringwalking, the most common sighting technique, would require a different clicker setting for each crawl, so it is quite impractical.

Think of cars. A Ferrari is a really cool marque. But if you needed a vehicle to haul trash to the dump, would that be your choice? Would you take a cement truck to a NASCAR race? My point is the technique chosen has to be mated to the archery “game” being attempted.

NTS is not well mated to FITA Field, plus Barebow Recurve target archery (on a flat field) is not seriously undertaken outdoors much anymore (indoors, yes). Note Barebow was in serious decline is now making a comeback, of which I heartily approve.

I wrote an article once that compared the NTS (then called the BEST method) with the best available compound technique. I found that about 40% of NTS overlapped with elite compound technique, yet I heard many people saying that the NTS should be undertaken by compound archers. In my opinion, that would have been a mistake. Those recommendations were just manifestations of enthusiasm, not well thought out points.

The technique employed has to be designed around the archery game/style to be engaged and equipment desired.

Note BTW, a Compound NTS has been drafted but not widely publicized yet. I hope to have articles on it in Archery Focus soon.

 

 

 

 

 

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How Can You Tell What is Better? (Or What is Best?)

Note Sorry about this being so long. I didn’t feel I could make the point otherwise and I didn’t want to split it arbitrarily. Steve

As a coach I am a professional advice giver. My clients are trying to get “better” and their definitions of that term are various to the point of contradiction, but at least we have some very clear indicators of “better,” competition round scores being the most obvious.

I also found myself in a recent comment saying “I am never satisfied with the ‘I just like it better’ approach to equipment recommendations. I much prefer for there to be reasons as to why such changes might be advantageous.” In archery, though, there isn’t a lot of “there” there when it comes to foundational reasons for believing why something is better than something else.

Allow me to address two topics in this regard: equipment changes and then form/execution changes. The question is: how do I tell if A is better than B?

Making an Equipment Change: Is It Better?
I am going to take the easiest and most likely to be profound change to examine: a change in arrows. Our starting point is you have a perfectly set up bow and arrow system that you have tuned to a ne’er thee well. You shoot excellent scores with this rig, but there is no such thing as perfection, so you want to explore whether some element in your equipment could be made “better.” The argument is that “better” equipment, in the hands of a skilled archer, results in better scores. I do not think this principle needs to be proven. It is not only self-evident (Look at how much better these straight arrows group, compared to the bent arrows I was shooting!) but the history of archery equipment development offers countless examples. As just one, the inclusion of carbon fiber into arrow shaft designs have made for lighter, stiffer arrow shafts that have in turn resulted in higher scores. For another, modern string materials have improved arrow speeds and equipment consistency and have also improved scores.

But this does not justify a switch from what our archer is doing now to another arrow. Typically, for elite archers, these changes are stimulated by offers of support from a different arrow manufacturer, but can also be stimulated by the previous manufacturer going out of business. Whatever the cause, we need some way to tell if a new piece of kit is better than the old.

We do have testing metrics that stand in capably for round scores. One of these is group sizes. If our archer shoots round groups centered on the target face, we can use something as the metric score (scoring rings divided into tenths and scoring down to the tenth as an easy way to measure group sizes.

There are considerations we need to make in addition to simple testing. Very few archers are so consistent that their scores do not vary from day to day or even group to group on the same day, so what ever test we come up with are best done “side-by-side” in time and location. For our arrow test, we would have to keep everything a constant, especially the bow, and as much as we can the archer, so the new arrows would have to be fletched identically to the old and adjusted so they are tuned to the bow in its current configuration. Then, our archer can shoot an end with the A Arrows and an End with the B Arrows, measure both groups, then shoot the BS again and the As again, then measure the groups. After many groups being shot, with no advantage given to one arrow over the other (which is shot first or second, etc.) you may come up with a result.

What if after many rounds, the average of the A Arrows was an average metric score of 8.9 and the B Arrows was 9.0. Is one better than the other? It seems easy to declare the Bs the “winner” and be done, but really this is a “too close to call” result. If you were to repeat the whole process the next day, you might get A: 9.1, B: 9.0. Maybe a difference of 0.5 in metric score average would be definitive.

So, let’s say that the old arrows scored better in the test than the new? Does that tell you whether the old arrows were better? This is a conclusion that many make fairly easily but I would not. The reason is that archery equipment is fairly idiosyncratic: small changes in configuration can sometimes make large differences in performance. I remember when Rick McKinney was heavily into the development of his McKinney II arrow shafts. On a particularly hot summer day (in Central California where 100+ degree days were fairly common) Rick spend many hours shoot his arrows with different fletches, down to comparing whether the new arrows grouped better with 1.75˝ Spin-Wings or 1.5˝ Spin-Wings. Arrow manufacturers make recommendations regarding best point weight and fletching for various applications (Rick’s company, Carbon Tech, also makes hunting shafts) but arrows targeting the elite competition set, need to be very refined, hence all of the “testing” out in the brutal sun.

Still, little is proven in these test. For our archer, if the old arrows had an advantage of 0.5 in metric score average, I wouldn’t say they were “better” per se, but that the new one’s didn’t seem worth the time and effort to explore. A great deal of time and effort went into the old rig, and to redo that process, I would want a better indication that better scores were in the offing.

I do not want to sound pessimistic, just that one has to be wary of “promises for better performance.” If you look at professional archers who are supported by a bow manufacturer, especially on the compound side, they have to switch bows every year or two as their sponsor brings out new models, yet, their round scores stay roughly the same. Basically, the differences in equipment from year to year are very small, the adjustments the archers have to make to “operate” the equipment well are also small.

This is on the elite end of the scale, of course. Large improvements in score are available to less accomplish archers using equipment not as well-designed and built.

There is something to say for making changes. My best friend was a sponsored archer and he got new bows fairly frequently and he stated that this actually helped him. It got him excited about having a new piece of equipment. It was necessary for him to “go back to basics” to create a good setup and tune, and the setting up process got him shooting someone more than he might do otherwise. So, new equipment can keep an archer’s head in the game.

My point here is: determining whether such changes are “improvements” or just “changes” is not easy. Think about how you would similarly test a new long rod stabilizer or arrow rest in the same manner as the above and you will see what I mean.

Making a Form Change: Is It Better?
As a coach, people perceive me as an arbiter of “right” and “wrong” when it comes to form and execution. The impression I got from my coach trainings reinforced this. You can even see this in archery instruction books which include drawings or photos of archers in “right” positions and “wrong” positions.

One must be very careful giving advice because just because something is not being done in a textbook manner does not mean it is wrong. There are too many champions showing off their medals whose form and execution include well-known “flaws.”

Before Making Suggestions of Changes Before a suggestion for a change is made, my hope is that I can link what my client is doing is the cause of some problem. A classic example of this is I had an older Recurve student ask me for help with a problem that was so frustrating to him that he was considering quitting. He was getting “high flyers” on short targets that barely stayed on target.

It took some discussion and observation to discover the problem. This student had been a gymnast as a youth and was quite thick through the shoulders. Because he had learned from “the books” that his draw elbow need to continue to move around toward his back, he was focussed on doing just that. When I observed him shoot, it was clear though that before the release of the string, his draw elbow, which was arcing around normal, reached a point where it changed direction and moved straight down. When this happens, it changes the angle the string fingers make with the bowstring, increasing the force of the top finger and reducing that of the bottom finger, a recipe for, you guessed it, high flyers, at a minimum vertically stretched out groups.

We can all swing our arms back around toward our backs, but that motion is restricted by the muscles creating it. The muscles in this situation are the famous ones, responsible for “back tension.” Those muscles bring the elbow around by contraction, but there is a limit to that contraction and then the movement stops. This archer’s muscles were large enough that his “stop” was just short of being in a state of good alignment. When the motion “around” was stopped by those muscles, the archer’s desire for continued motion resulted in more motion, just in another direction.

Unfortunately, all issues are not as clear cut.

What to Do? What to Do? Once a problem is diagnosed, then there is the problem of what to do about it. Too often, recommendations come in the form “try to conform to the normal way of doing things.” This the “you were doing things wrong, try to do them right” prescription. In the example given just above, the problem was created by . . . (wait for it) . . . trying to do it the right way in the first place. I have had more than a few students tie themselves into knots “trying to do it the right way.”

We settled on an approach in which he shot with his draw elbow just short of line. Some very, very successful archers shot this way. And, sure being “in line” is superior but if the archer can’t get their, what is “next best” is the real question.

The first major coach I ever heard address this situation directly was Coach Kim of Korea. He talked about how “standard form” was the place we started everyone, but then every archer departed from that to create their own personal form. He summarized this with one of the most profound teachings I ever received from a coach, Coach Kim said “Everybody same, everybody different.” We are enough the same to all start with the same suggestions for beginner’s form and execution, but because we are all unique, the form we end up with will be similar, but will depart from the starting point.

It is a coach’s job to help with that transformation.

How to Find Out if A Change is “Better”
Form and execution changes have a different set of metrics, ones more difficult to work with than those of equipment changes.

Consider an archer who switches from his former form to that of Coach Whizbang. After a year of training he says “I feel I am a much better archer now than before.” But, is he? How can we tell? Is he just flattering his current coach? Is he slamming his former coach, who he fell out with? Did he make any equipment changes in the past year that could account for more success?

Lets say that this archer had a 4% increase in a particular round score. Is this an indication that Coach Whizbang’s teachings are “better” than the former coaches? To answer this question, I would want to know a great deal more. First, did this archer’s scores improve last year with his former coach? If we find out that his scores did improve last year, on that same round, by 5%, would that effect your conclusion? One of the limiting considerations of such changes, which all take considerable time to implement, is time. (This is the old “you can’t step into the same river twice” trope.) A true comparison would be with what the archer would have achieved had he not made the change and that person is no longer available to do any testing.

Feelings Having qualified my answer ahead of time, I do want to say that the archer’s feelings are not to be disregarded as being somehow not measurable. One of my students had the opportunity to visit another coach recently and he came home with different form. Whether this will translate into what his goals are (better scores) remains to be seen, but I am very positive and have told him so as he says his shot now feels more stable. From my viewpoint his shot now is more dynamic and fluid (he had a tendency to try to control his shot minutely and that is now less evident). His feeling of the stability of his shot alone is encouraging and worth my recommendation that he continue to pursue these changes. (How dare another coach take one of my students and make him better! Hey, it takes a village.)

Conclusion: Is There a Best?
Is there a best? A best piece of equipment? A best archery form? Of anything?

No.

The whole idea is not only wrong, it is hurting people who listen to discussions of such things. When people have protracted discussions of who was the greatest of all time (LeBron, Michael, Wilt?) only time is wasted on a silly question. But when archers are looking to implement form and equipment changes, the results can be negative to the point of people quitting the sport. Things are worth exploring . . . or they are not. If they are worth exploring, serious archers will expend considerable time and effort exploring their choices.

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A Recurve Dead Release Spotted!

Video of the 2017 Shoot Up Finals for the Barebow division at the Lancaster Archery Classic in Lancaster, PA has been posted on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39ppQpTQcz4). Recurve Barebow is more popular around the world than it has been in the U.S. (driven, I suspect, by the popularity of compound archery in the U.S.) but Barebow is on a rebound now and more and more people are attracted to it. Featured in these final matches are: Dewayne Martin, Scott Bills, Bobby Worthington, and John Demmer III.

Interestingly, DeWayne Martin shoots with a dead release, something very few recurve archers can pull off. (More and more I am coming to the conclusion that there are no absolutes in archery (e.g. You must use a “live” release in Recurve.), just some things make shooting “more or less difficult.”

View the video! Flinches! Creeping! Tape on the nose! Tournament nerves! Stringwalking! (Although the announcers were somewhat clueless about the advantages of a crawl.) At 29:18 a close-up of John Demmer III’s quiver (current WA world field champion) shows arrows with two different fletching patterns. This would not be allowed in a WA shoot. The Lancaster Archery Classic uses a mixture of NFAA rules and their own. (It is a private shoot, they can do as they wish. If they apply for a sanction from one of the governing bodies they would have to conform to that association’s rules. Note Many people do not know that the Vegas Shoot, while owned by the NFAA, is a private shoot with its own rules.)

John Demmer III, the eventual winner, and an elite Barebow archer, shoots with a tilted head. You don’t have to do it right, you just have to do it over.

If you shoot Barebow or your students do, watch this video. This gives you a good idea of what is possible, at least indoors. It gives you an idea of what “the best” can shoot under pressure and then you can determine how you stack up or how close your students are.

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Paying Attention to Hands

If you have read this blog at all you probably know that I follow golf coaches a lot, mostly because there are few archery blogs of any value (which is changing … slowly). The similarities between golf and archery are many, the primary difference is in golf, the golfer supplies the energy to the ball whereas in archery the bow does that work on the arrows (after being loaded up by an archer). But a comment by one of my favorite golf coaches, Darrell Klassen, really struck a bell:

… your hands are the body part designed to start almost every motion. Doesn’t matter the sport. Baseball, hockey, golf, tennis, football. You start every action with your hands. You don’t even have to think about it. Next thing you know, all the other parts come into play. Feet, legs, hips, shoulders…they all do their bit.

“The kicker is this (and this is where most of the mags just don’t understand). You can’t manipulate the sequence. Thinking about a part (like you shoulder turn) screws up the whole darn thing. There is however, one part of the sequence you can (and should) manipulate. Guess what that is? Yep, your hands. Thinking about changing what they will do (like their speed, direction, angle, start position etc) will change the whole sequence.

“Manipulate your hands, and you can create any shot you want. And your body will just follow.

In archery, our shot sequences have a step called “set your hands” which we often gloss over, but this step is critical to consistent accuracy. If the angle your bow hand makes on the bow differs, or the angle stays the same, but the position shifts left or right, the effect on the shot is significant. If the fingers on the string or release aid, change position or shift in the amounts of force each finger delivers, the effect on the shot is significant.

I work with quite a few Barebow archers who walk the string. A crawl that varies by as little as 1/16th of an inch will change the distance allowed for by 2-4 yards, all other things being perfect.

The positions of the hands on the bow and string/release are critical aspects of archery shots.

The key thing to realize here is seen in Coach Klassen’s comment “Manipulate your hands…. And your body will just follow.” If your hands aren’t quite right, there is a cascade of adjustments your body makes to make the whole movement conform to the desired outcome (the one you are envisioning in your mind).

Our hands contain many, many sensory nerve endings. The diagram (right), common to biology textbooks, is an attempt to show the relative concentrations of these sensory nerve endings. Note that our faces and hands have out-sized concentrations of the ability to feel temperature, pain, and pressure (the only three kinds of sensory nerves). The nerves we use in archery, of course, are pressure nerves. Because so much neural processing is dedicated to the data coming from out hands, a great deal of life energy is allotted to dealing with that information. So, if our hands are not quite right, we will squirm, inch, nudge, jiggle, or flat out shove other body parts to make them right. All of which are disastrous when looking for consistent accuracy with a bow and arrows.

So, if you have a student struggling with consistency, look to their hands; spend some time on their routines of placement, refine these if necessary. More than a few Olympic recurve archers have made a tattoo mark on their bow hand to aid them in lining their bow with that hand. Yes, it is that important.

 

 

 

 

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How Does Remote Coaching Work?

I thought you might benefit from seeing a few exchanges between a student-archer/colleague and a coach (me) showing you how “remote coaching” goes. I did not include all of the photos/videos of the student for reasons of privacy and to keep the length of this post down to something reasonable. Note The student is working with a local coach and learning NTS Recurve and consulting me on the side (because he/she can). This discussion took place over several days.
Steve

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Student
My coach has me working on basically bringing my draw hand down (on the draw) and then back up and under my chin once I was about to anchor. I was kind of hunting around for my anchor. I still am! I was also working on not moving my head around to try and find my anchor too. In trying to make this change to drawing under my chin, I started holding my bow hand too long. Chaos…

Coach
I can’t remember, were you shooting with a “corner of the mouth” anchor before? If so, learning to get to a “low anchor” aka “under chin” or Olympic anchor can sometimes be a struggle. A key point people tend to leave out is that if you are going for a low anchor, your chin needs to be higher than with the side of the face anchor. Ideally we would like to have the jaw line horizontal but not everybody is shaped that way. To give you an idea as to how much the chin has to come up I urge female archers to “channel their inner haughty princess” to get about the right angle.

Also KiSik Lee, or his co-author, confused a lot of people with his first book which had photos and words indicating that one needed to draw 2-3 inches below the chin and then come up. In his second book he corrected that to 1˝ or a tad more … in other words, just under the chin. The key points are you want to get to full draw quickly, into a position you can feel in your back and shoulders, then find your anchor position quickly. Often students, in an attempt to be exacting, work too slowly (trying to be oh, so correct) and as a consequence run out of energy on each shot, hence the feeling of struggling. The draw needs to be smooth and strong and quick but not rushed. Honestly, most men tend to draw too fast (at first) and most women tend to draw too slow (at first).

If you look at YouTube videos of some of the Korean women, you will see smooth, strong, confident draws that are quite quick but there is no rushing involved. Of course, that is what many tens of thousands of practice shots will get you, so don’t expect that level of performance. (They are, in effect, professional archers who train and compete six days a week.) But you can see in their form what the idea is that you are striving for.

Once you have practiced this a lot, you will find it is easier to relax unneeded muscles while executing your draw which will make it even easier.

For some reason, many coaches do not point out that you should do the bulk of your practice on a new form element with a stretch band or a very light drawing bow. (I use a 10# bow a lot in my coaching.) Once the student (You!) gets the hang of the move, then you can move up from 10# to 14 # to 20# to full draw weight quite quickly. It is much harder to try to learn a new move at whatever your full draw weight is.

Student
Yes, when I first started writing to you I was using a high anchor and started having string slap issues when I switched to a low anchor. Soon after I started corresponding with you, I found a coach. I believe I asked if you had heard of him, but I guess the archery world is big (even though it can seem extremely small at the same time). Ah, one thing that is bugging me is that I can’t seem to get my hand snug along my jaw. I do use a stretch band and I’m having success there. But once I put on my finger tab and pull my bow my hand seems to be nowhere near my jaw. I’m getting nice contact between my lips and the string though. I’m not sure if I’m putting too much emphasis where it’s not needed.

I have been watching Khatuna Lorig and Mackenzie Brown. My coach wanted me to especially watch Mackenzie because her coach uses the NTS. You’re totally right about drawing too slowly. I am guilty of this and it does make me tired. When I see pros shoot, they come to full draw so fluidly that it’s hard to see the “steps.”

I still have the 19# recurve bow I borrowed from my summer archery club. I’ll try and work with that after I work with my stretch band more.

Coach
Many people have a steep jaw line and the NTS “recommendation” of a lot of hand contact along the jaw is just not possible. (You need a bit of a square jaw for that to happen—see the photo of Coach Kim Hannah, her jaw line is more vertical, so she can’t do the full NTS anchor position.) Have your daughter take a still picture of your head and shoulders at anchor to see what you have going. A video isn’t necessary (unless you would like that).

Regarding the string slap, did your coach talk to you about rotating your elbow so the crease is near vertical?

And if you are using a ledge on your tab I would suggest you reconsider that. The only use for a ledge is if you are having trouble reaching the target. If not, take it off, put it in a Baggie, label it and set it aside for experimentation later. A ledge really interferes with the NTS “hand along jaw line” position.

Also, these tabs that are providing places to put your thumb and little finger are just providing leverage for digits you do not want involved at all! (IMHO, of course! ;o) We teach beginners to make a Girl Scout salute (same as the Cub Scout salute but I like to tweak the boys). From there, they are to curl their fingers and slide them up under the arrow. This makes a classic three-fingers-under string grip. Once they reach anchor, they are allowed to break the contact between their thumb and little finger (by relaxing them) and voila (see photo—see pad of thumb and little finger nail touching). Once they get used to these positions they can adopt them with little effort and attention. The little finger is loose and is just in a relaxed (curled) position. The thumb is slightly extended but it ends up below your jaw line, out of the way. If the thumb is up anywhere else, it blocks getting into a good anchor position.

Looking at your photo at anchor, you chin is up nicely, maybe a bit too far! If you were to lower your head a tad, you would get a “nose touch” that is the string would touch your nose. As long as this doesn’t affect your release it gives you feedback as to whether your head is in the right position.

Note, also, in the second photo that the string and arrow are gone and your hand has not had time to move much, so who cares what it does thereafter? By observing the movement of your body parts after the release, though, you can infer the conditions during the release. We would like to see the string hand move straight back away from the target and stop with your fingertips just under your ear. This is not something you do, this is something that happens determined by using the correct muscles to pull the bowstring directly away from the target and then your fingers giving way when your back muscles are still flexing. Since you can only move so far in that position (range of motion) your fingers end up under your ear and stop because your shoulders cannot move any farther.

You look good in this photo.

Student
Thank you very much for the feedback. I have been concerned about the nose touch too. I will try to angle my head a bit and see what that does. My coach said it sometime almost looks like I’m moving my head away from the string. I’ve been trying to think about the release too; not plucking the string. I’ll continue to work. 🙂

Coach
If you can pluck, you are either out of line or not pulling with the right muscles. The release is something you shouldn’t think about. Observe it (take videos, whatever) and then adjust things. If your hand moves in any direction other than straight back, it is not your release that needs fixing, its your line or the muscles you have chosen to use.

The nose touch is not an essential. Play with a light weight bow . Get to full draw and move your head around. The key elements are that you have to have your head turned far enough (so your nose doesn’t block your vision), your eyes need to be level (for optimal vision), and your chin needs to be up (just a little bit, as we discussed before). Everything else is nonessential. So, if you can get all of that and a nose touch, it is gravy! Enjoy!

PS One of the joys of archery is you can do some rather hard work and see a benefit in short order. Often in work or family matters, projects go on and on and on (teenagers!).

Student
I picked up my 19# bow to work on this. So luxurious to have more than one to choose from. I find that when I work with the stretch band and I release it, my hand does go back to my shoulder. When I release with my bow my hand ends up somewhere around the right side of my chest. I’m working on it in a relaxed way.

Coach
The key is your draw elbow. If you maintain the arc of your draw elbow through the shot, it stays high and your hand will slide back until your fingertips are no farther back than under your ear (end of the range of that motion). This is the true end of the shot, for your body. We wait until the bow finishes its “bow” as a bit of overkill because that bow’s “bow” has information in it that tells us about the forces acting on the bow at the time of release, and … well … enquiring minds want to know such things. In order for your hand to go back farther, touch your shoulder, etc. your elbow must drop downward, which is a movement unassociated with the shot itself and so does not affect the shot and is, at best, an affectation, but one that misleads because how well you do that movement doesn’t tell you anything about the shot.

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Back Tension from Different Anchor Positions

QandA logoI got an absolutely fascinating question about anchor points just yesterday. Here it is:

Hi, Coach Ruis:
I am working on my anchor point and back tension. I typically use a split finger/chin/nose anchor point for my Olympic bow and sight. I also recently acquired a Samick Sage recurve I use for roving/stump shooting. I have been trying to figure out string walking/point of arrow aim for my Samick for stumping.

I started to use a three-fingers-under/corner of the mouth anchor to reduce the string walking crawl sizes relative to a split finger, under chin anchor. Using the corner of the mouth anchor and string walking, my crawls decreased ~75% in size. My precision using the corner of the mouth anchor has also improved noticeably over my under chin anchor (and the bow sounded much happier when loosing).

My question really is about back tension. When using the three-fingers-under/corner of the mouth anchor, all of a sudden I can easily feel the barrel of the gun through my upper back relative to the chin/nose anchor. My draw length increased a full inch using the corner of the mouth anchor, so I am guessing this is the cause of the new positive upper back sensation.

I am thinking that if I could get this sensation with my Olympic bow/chin/nose anchor, this would be a very good thing. How can I make this happen?

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There are quite a few changes going on in both of these anchoring positions. One you do not mention is draw arm position. When using a “high” anchor, corner of the mouth or higher, your draw arm position is different. (Stand up, assume the position of your low, under chin, anchor and then switch to the high anchor position and note the different positions of your draw arm at full draw.) The whole purpose of the low anchor is to be able to shoot longer distances. Back when everyone “shot off of the point” the line of sight across the arrow point and the point of aim (POA) fixed the arrow point in space somewhat. To get more distance it was necessary to lower the back end of the arrow, hence the lower anchor position for longer shots. This draw arm position affects the use of muscles in your back.

Shooting long distances also results in upper body tilt, which changes eye angle and lots of other things that affect “feel.”

Another point you do not mention is head tilt. In order to get a workable low anchor, I must tilt my head up slightly. If I use the same head position as I have with my high anchor for my low anchor shooting, my string fingers, positioned under my jaw line are on a surface sloping down, so when the shot is loosed, the top finger slides along the jaw line … downward which creates resistance and drag. By tilting your chin up slightly the path the string follows as the string flicks them out of the way is cleared.

Such are the sources of different feelings (along with the ones you mention).

My impression is that the high anchor encourages involvement of the muscles somewhat higher in your back, which when bunched up due to contraction are easier to feel. The low anchor involves muscles lower in your back which I suspect are somewhat harder to feel. (When archery coaches talk about using muscles lower in your back, they are referring to muscles lower … in your upper back.) So, I suspect that the difference in “feel” is real and you basically do not want to have the same feeling of back tension in both because that would mean you were using the same muscles when your arm angle was different.

If shooting Barebow as you describe (which I love) is relatively new to you, then the sensations in your back are relatively new and hence more noticeable. With time they might fade to the same level of feeling as in your high anchor shooting. Also, in many shooting techniques, surrogates for back tension are employed. For example, many of the Koreans focus on the feeling of the position of their draw elbow instead of the feeling in their backs. To some extent this is because the feeling of tension in the back diminishes due to humdrum regularity.

Another possibility is that you might need to open your stance when shooting Olympic Recurve. If you are particularly flexible, you may not be engaging your back muscles enough to get a strong feeling. In Rick McKinney’s book, “The Simple Art of Winning,” he claims that having an open stance allowed him to “get into his back” better. I found this puzzling at first, until I found some pictures of Mr. McKinney (in his prime) with his open stance and his draw elbow 2-3 inches past line. If he had been using a square stance, his elbow would have been even farther past line which have had negative influences on his shots. Unfortunately, their success lead to the adoption of the open stance by almost everyone, but this is a source of problems. In McKinney’s and Pace’s cases the open stance reduced their ability to get in line, which lead to a stronger feeling of back tension, strong enough that they could use that feeling to tell whether they were in the correct full draw position. If you are not as flexible as they were, this would be a mistake as it would probably reduce the quality of your alignment (as it does for hundreds/thousands of archers, young and old, I observe).

The only way to tell whether this is in play for you is to experiment a bit. I like to use a 10# bow for this, but any light drawing bow will do. Start with a square stance and draw to anchor and see what your back feels like. With a 10# bow you can play a little, moving your draw arm and shoulder around and feeling the effects of those position changes. Then open your stance by 10 degrees and repeat. Then another 10 degrees, etc. McKinney shot with about an 80 degree open stance when he was shooting in stiff wind (the torsion in your trunk helps stabilize your stance), so you can go as far as you want with this experiment … or as far as you can. ;o) The key thing is if you get a better feeling in your back with one of those stances and you can maintain good line, then this is something you might want to incorporate into your shot. The key element, though, is maintaining or achieving good line. In the Chicago area, you can recognize almost any recurve archer who has worked with me as they probably shooting from a closed stance. (Orthodox sources on form and execution do not even mention closed stances any more.) A closed stance makes it easier for you to get in line and after my students learn to shoot with good line I encourage to explore any other stance they want, as long as they maintain good line.

Is this enough food for thought? If not, do note that high and low anchors do change draw lengths (and affect tunes thereby). For compound archers changing from “fingers” to “release” or the reverse also affects draw length.

 

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More on the Mental Game of Archery

Regular readers of my scribblings will know that I raid golf instruction for ideas regarding archery. And my last post was on the Mental Game of Archery involved some golf stuff. Well, here is some more: a post by mental game (golf) guru David Mackenzie of Canada. As you read, see if you find anything that applies to archery. (If you don’t end up with “all of it” you need to look closer. Steve)

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The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Golfers
September 25, 2013
David MacKenzie
http://www.golfstateofmind

In my opinion, the top players in the world share 7 things in common beyond having a good golf swing. Here, they are.

  1. THEY PRACTICE IN THE RIGHT WAY

Life is short. So why anyone would want to spend hundreds of hours trying to improve in the wrong way is crazy. Beating ball after ball at the same target at the driving range and coming away thinking you’ve mastered the game only takes you backwards. How many golfers wish they could take their range game to the course? 99% of them. The other 1% (the elite), practice in a way that is challenging and simulates course conditions. Hitting a bucket of balls to the same target over and over is easy and it’s nothing like playing on the course. The top players make every second count when practicing, so they’re working all areas of the game to the max. The first thing to do in trying to get better at golf is to think about the way you practice, and change your routine. I’ve worked with many players of all abilities and one of the major factors in success is the way you practice. Make practice hard and as much like the golf course as possible.

  1. THEY ARE ABLE TO STAY IN THE PRESENT

Staying in the present means that you give whatever you are doing your complete, undivided attention with no distractions of the past or future. In golf, this means you’re not thinking about your score, how your playing partners might be judging your performance, why you think you just sliced that tee shot or 3 putted the last hole. All your energy is on the process of hitting shot at hand and then enjoying the walk in between.

It’s easy to see how counter-productive it is not to be in the present – just think back to your last round where you started playing well and then thought about shooting your best score (into the future), only for your game to unravel. The same thing happens when you start to think about bad shots you hit (in the past). Being solely in the present is easier said than done I know (like everything else it takes practice), but there are good techniques to prevent these tension causing shifts in thinking. I’ve got plenty of techniques for getting better at staying in the present and relaxing in between shots in my Ultimate Mental Game Training System (2016 Edition).

  1. THEY CONTINUALLY WORK ON THE FUNDAMENTALS

Good players understand the importance of the fundamentals as it’s the foundation for a good golf swing. How you grip the club, how far you stand from the ball, how good your posture is, how good your ball position is and how well you align to the target are all way more important than just trying to swing the club correctly. The fundamentals need to be worked on continuously as it’s easy to get into bad habits, even for Tour players. It’s always worth a check up from your local pro to make sure you have these right. Alignment is the one that requires the most maintenance. You could argue that a consistent tempo is also “fundamental” to a good swing.

  1. THEY PLAY WITH VISUALIZATION AND FEEL, NOT SWING MECHANICS

The eyes are probably the golfer’s most important asset. Once they commit to a target, the top players imagine exactly how the shot will look, even what the ball’s going to do when it lands. How clearly you define your target and your shot shape before playing each shot will have a huge impact on how well you execute it. It quietens your mind and allows your subconscious play the shot, as opposed to conscious control with technical thoughts, which just doesn’t work as well.

  1. THEY WORK ON A HIGHLY REPEATABLE PRE AND POST-SHOT ROUTINE

The top players in the world all go through the exact same routine before (and after) every shot, even down to the number of practice swings and looks at the target. The routine acts to prepare you as best as possible for the shot, and going through the same sequence right up until you swing, means there’s no time for negative thoughts to creep in. Focusing on your routine also distracts you from the importance of the shot you are about to play – it makes every shot feel the same regardless of the situation. Your mind stays quiet.

  1. THEY KNOW HOW TO CALM THEMSELVES DOWN WHEN THE PRESSURE IS ON.

I’ve worked with enough players to know that the good ones know powerful techniques to calm themselves down to prevent nerves turning into panic and negatively affecting performance. They are very self-aware and know how guide their minds away from negative thoughts and towards positive ones. They use nerves to their advantage. There are many ways to do this such as breathing techniques or having special thoughts/places to go in your head in between shots. This could be looking up at the sky or the trees, anything to switch off your golf brain so you’re not thinking about your score or swing. I recently heard of a player that would try to solve math problems in his head when it all got too much out there! So there are countless ways to do it.

  1. THEY KNOW THE POWER OF ACCEPTANCE AND MOVING ON

Being able to accept every shot whatever the outcome should become a key part of your game. The optimal state for golf would be to become emotionally indifferent to good and bad shots. Most Tour pros have acceptance built into the routine and they tell themselves that although they have a positive intention for the shot, if it doesn’t go where they want it to, it’s better to accept it and move on, than get disappointed or frustrated. Try verbalizing this in your head before your next shot. Also, try making a deep breath or the action of putting the club back in the bag your signal that the shot is over and it’s time to get back into the present. There’s plenty of time to analyze your round when it’s over!

Ingrain these things and make them a habit!

 

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Thinking While Shooting

Occasionally I run into a student who has been thinking his way through every shot. It is always shocking when I discover this as I don’t look for it. I have been doing some writing about this topic lately and while doing so ran across this tidbit:
In a 2013 survey, 28 PGA Tour golf professionals we’re asked about what their favorite swing thought was.danger-sign-b

“Here’re the results:
•  18 pro’s said they didn’t think about anything at all during their swing.
•  10 who did have a swing thought said it was to focus on a spot a few inches in front of the ball, to encourage swinging through, instead of hitting at the ball or they focused on the desired shape of their shot.
•  None of them said they had any technical thoughts about their swing.”

From Darrell Klassen’s Cut the Crap Golf Blog

I also recall baseball great Yogi Berra being asked what he thought about while hitting and his answer was (approximately) “If I had to think while hittin’ I couldn’t hit nothin’!”

If you have students who are talking themselves through their shots (mentally), you need to find ways to discourage that practice. It is a real barrier to better performances.

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Principles-Based Archery and Coaching

I work with a few coaches who are trying to expand their archery knowledge so as to be able to work with more students. (Mentoring coaches is important. If you aren’t doing it—either as a mentor or being mentored—think about it.) In one case I am teaching a recurve archer/coach about compound archery. Some coaches are more comfortable sticking to what they know best and that is fine. You do not have to learn about multiple styles, you can specialize. I do think, however, that a principles-based approach can help coaches apply what they know to different styles of archery (for those interested) as well as different variables within their chosen style and my intent for this post is to give an example of this.

This comment is based upon a very good archery instructional video: “How to Find a Recurve Anchor Point” hosted by Archery 360 (a site of the Archery Trade Association) and this video was made in conjunction with World Archery. It is available on YouTube here.

This video is wonderfully made, with excellent production values and high quality presentations. The archers shooting demonstrated excellent form (this is not always the case). And, of course, I had a quibble.

In discussing the characteristics of a high quality recurve anchor position they made the claim that the nose touch by the sting is intended as a mechanism to set the bow into a vertical position. This is debatable at best, actually I think this is wrong. Rather than a mechanism to set the bow into a vertical position, it is a mechanism to make consistent one’s head position. In the video, a illustration was drafted of how the bow being placed off vertical somehow changes the position of the string on the nose as a “tell” and this allows the archer to straighten his/her bow up so that it contacts the nose correctly. This might be true if the archer were struggling with holding his/her bow anywhere near vertical. It also might be true if archers didn’t put such a premium on the nose touch that they will tilt their head to make the nose touch the string no matter what. (Have you seen this? I have.) I think this concept of what the nose touch is for is misleading. For one, the nose touch is not calibrated such that one could detect a canted bow at all well. For example, could you determine a 3 degree bow cant at the tip of your nose? Our sense of touch is limited in the first place and the tip of our nose is not anywhere near as sensitive to touch as, say, our fingertips or lips. In other words, the tips of our noses are not up to this task. In fact, without our eyes, we are very limited in determining plumb or level positions of our own body parts.

A "nose touch" can be incorporated into a side anchor or a center anchor (as here) or in a totally screwed-up anchor. Its primary function is in controlinghead position, primarily head tilt.

A “nose touch” can be incorporated into a side anchor or a center anchor (as here) or in a totally screwed-up anchor. Its primary function is in controlling head position, primarily head tilt.

The actual context for the nose touch, I believe, is that the bow is raised into a vertical position after we set our heads to be level (we hope)—a level head is needed because the eyes need to be level to function optimally. The nose touch occurs at anchor, confirming that both head and bow are vertical and the head is not tilted up or down. One can keep one’s eyes level and tilt ones head up and down (do it now and you will be agreeing with me, aka nodding). But tilting one’s head up and down changes the distance from the nock to the pupil of the aiming eye, which changes one’s sight marks. One does not, I believe, adjust the verticality of the bow based upon the touch of the nose. The nose touch is almost all about head position, not bow position.

These things are not minor quibbles because they can mislead archers as to the procedures they are to follow. When should the bow be made vertical? I think this needs to be done at the end of the raise. (Keeping the bow vertical as long as possible locks in the feel of the bow being vertical when shooting. Compare this with, say, trying to make the bow vertical just before the loose.) When should the head be made vertical? I think this is just before the raise. After that point, there are many other things to do and we do not need to add to that list. Since we want to “bring the bow to us and not move our bodies to our bows,” we need to establish where we want the bow to go.

Note The entire shot sequence is based upon a “set and move on” basis, that if done quickly enough, the things done earliest stay where they were set.

So, the sequence for recurve archers is: set head erect, eyes level (establish line of sight to target), raise bow to be vertical, draw and anchor, establishing nose touch which confirms verticality and sets head tilt to be consistent shot after shot. Having to wait for “nose touch” to check bow verticality and adjustments if necessary is inherently imprecise and also wasteful of time and energy at full draw.

Compound archers, on the other hand, check whether their bow is plumb after they hit anchor. This is facilitated by letoff, creating a draw weight at full draw that is a small fraction of the peak weight passed getting to full draw (a 60# bow can have a holding weight as low as 12#), thus allowing more time at full draw to check things, plus the fact that their sight apertures have bubble levels set in them that allow bows to be set perfectly plumb (if the bubble level is correctly set up).

As you can see, I think there are sound physical reasons for doing these things at these times. It may be a small point, but an archer mislead leads to difficulties later when sequences need to be shifted around and a “new shot sequence” learned.

 

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Shoulder Problems Shooting Low Indoors?

QandA logoAn Olympic Recurve student has been struggling a bit with bow shoulder soreness and emailed me the other day with this question:
I have been doing many tests to understand why sometimes my shoulder hurts and I believe I found out why. I should keep my shoulder down, but sometimes I don’t and I don’t even notice. It happens more often when I’m shooting the lower target indoors. And a archer I meet at competitions told me that it happens to him as well and he is taller than me, so it should be even worse for him, and he has been shooting for some years. I believe that when shooting at 70 meters it is easier to control. Am I wrong?”

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They are two sides of the same card. When shooting at close range and your target face is low, archers tend to try to shoot with level shoulders and just holding their bow lower. This changes the angle of the arm entering the shoulder arm joint, which exerts an upward force on the shoulder which can result in a “raised shoulder” which can lead to injury. (The injury stems from throwing this upward force at the shoulder onto the relatively small rotator cuff muscles, whose job it is to stabilize the shoulder joint, but which are not up to this task, especially if high draw weight is involved.)

The solution is to keep one’s upper body geometry the same and make tilting adjustments using the lower body.

“The solution is to keep one’s upper body geometry the same
and make tilting adjustments using the lower body.”

To shoot the lower targets indoors without disturbing your upper body geometry, you have to tilt your upper body downward slightly from the waist (only). This is done by slightly (slightly!) pushing one’s hips away from the target (rear hip moves to the right if you are right-handed). Did I say slightly?

At 70 m it is necessary to do the reverse, push one’s hips slightly toward the target to tilt the upper body up slightly, thus keeping your upper body in the same geometry.

In this fashion we can shoot low and short using the same geometry as high and far … by tilting the platform (our lower body) from which we shoot.

When shooting up and down at extreme angles, there are other techniques but those are a different topic.

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