Tag Archives: Form and Execution

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!




Filed under For All Coaches

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.

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.


Filed under For AER Coaches, For All Coaches

Do Your Students Have Balance Problems?

A key element of consistent accuracy is being still while executing shots and a key part of being still is maintaining good balance. Let’s explore this.

Do Your Students Have Balance Issues?
Rank beginners often adopt some interesting body moves at full draw: shuffling their feet, swaying back and forth, etc. Sometimes this is due to simplistic thinking, e.g. “Hmm, I am aimed off to the left so I will move over to the right … shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.” More often it is due to balance issues. The bow is a heavy object for a young child and holding it out at arm’s length is challenging. Most archers who stick with it some develop relatively stable form and we stop thinking about the role of balance in their shooting. This may be a mistake.

So, how do we check to see if they are struggling with balance? I’m glad you asked.

The simplest way is to watch them shoot. Pick out a spot near their head and line it up with a point in their visual background. If they are swaying of moving substantially at full draw, then you will see that pint on their cap (or whatever) moving. Also look for an inability to hold good, erect, full draw posture. If they are constantly shift their weight on their legs or front to back, then they are having problems. For a more sensitive “tell” you can watch the tip of their long stabilizer (if they use one) if it doesn’t settle into a single spot, with slight movements around a center of motion), there may be a balance problem. If they shoot Barebow recurve, the top limb tip can serve for this check.

What to Do About It
For young archers, serious drills are probably not the answer. Often their balance problems are rooted in holding a relatively heavy bow up at arm’s length. If they seem relatively still at full draw, but when the string is loosed either their bow drops like a rock or they tend to tip a great deal to control it, they have a common problem. An adult holding up a six-pound weight at arm’s length is no hard task, but for a 10-year old, holding up a four pound weight at arm’s length is quite difficult. The deltoid arm muscles responsible for holding their arm up haven’t developed much by that time. A partial solution is to have them spread their feet out a bit more. We can’t be specific because we don’t know if their stance was already somewhat wide or quite narrow. If their stance is quite narrow, have them open the width of their stance until their heels (not toes) are as far apart as their shoulders.

A commercial balance board, many of which are available.

In the companion article for archers in this issue, we describe self-exploratory activities based upon balance and stance. One option to address these issues is to lead them through these exercises.

Drilling for Balance There are all kinds of balance training gear available at reasonable costs. These can be as simple as a round disk of plywood with a board or half sphere attached to the bottom to more complicate devices involving inflatable disks. If you are a DIY person, you can make such things yourself. A piece of 3/4˝ plywood large enough to take their stance on, with a small piece of 1˝x 1˝ or 2˝x 2˝ wood running down the center of the short distance (across the stance line) makes a good “wobble board.” Kids have a great deal of fun shooting while standing on such a rig.

An even less expensive piece of drilling equipment can be made from swim noodles (see photo below left). Cut a couple of eight inch pieces of a swim noodle and place one piece cross ways under each of your archer’s feet. Then they shoot while trying to keep their balance standing that way.

All of these pieces of rehab/training equipment work by requiring extra effort to create and retain balance.

Regular drills and scoring games can be used to keep this kind of practice from becoming boring.

Practicing and Assessing by Themselves
There are things archers can do to improve their balance by themselves, even when they are not at the range.

They can take a couple of minutes when they are at the range and while shooting at a close butt. Simply shoot a number of arrows while sighting across a bow hand knuckle. If they are used to shooting off of their arrow’s point or using a sight, they need to shoot a number of arrows to get used to the correct height to hold the bow or they could line up their aperture/arrow point with their point of aim and then switch to looking at their knuckle. The object is to shoot and have the knuckle stay relatively lined up with the mark chosen before, during, and after the shot. Doing five or more shots this way at each practice session will lead to an appreciation for how steady they are and whether progress is being made to becoming more steady. If they are more steady, they are probably more balanced.

Similarly they can play balance games, while waiting for a bus or even watching TV. Simply pick up one foot and count how many seconds they can manage to keep it off of the ground (one thousand one, one thousand, two, . . .). Obviously they need to switch feet so both legs get worked out.

Back at the range or even at home they can draw on a target POA, close their eyes, count to a number (start at three, then move up when that become easy), then open their eyes to see if they are still lined up. If this is done at home, unless there is a home shooting station, this is best done with no arrow on the bow. This can be a game of “how long can you hold still at full draw.” It is a balance workout as well as an archery stamina workout.


Balance and stillness can be trained for. For your youngest charges, simple stance adjustments are suggested but not much more. With serious archers, more complicated training can be done with inexpensive or DIY training aids.

Do realize that balance is something that is invisible until you look for it and just because it is out of sight, it should not be out of a coach’s mind.



Filed under For AER Coaches

To Pre-Draw or Not to Pre-Draw, That Is the Question

I sent a video link showing Darrel Pace and Rick McKinney shooting at the 1984 Olympics (Los Angeles) to a Recurve student of mine who is working on speeding up his draw. He is quite an astute student who wrote back immediately with these questions:

Hi Steve,
Thanks. I note that Pace is only a few inches from his face at a pre-draw, at 5:35 in the video. Also he goes from this position to a couple of inches under chin/jaw before back up to anchor. Lots of movements going on. What’s the benefit to drawing below the chin/jaw and then up into the anchor? I’m aware I draw pretty much straight to my face. I remember the summer evening archery lessons where I was taught to do this. Along with T shape, square stance, tuck my chin down (something we had to undo).

And here is my response (somewhat augmented as I had a chance to think more deeply).

* * *

In American-style Archery (my term), you pretty much draw to anchor (with stops along the way). In is Kisik Lee’s teaching that you draw to 1+˝ below the chin and come up. I believe he claims it helps to set the rear shoulder/facilitate “loading” … I am unclear on this. (Have you read the USAA book “Archery?” This is the cheapest book covering Coach Lee’s teachings, also called the NTS or National Training System. I wish they had called it the National Teaching System because I don’t see training mentioned much.)

In Coach Lee’s description, you draw exactly that low until the string touches the corner of your chin, then you come up. This practice does give you a draw length indicator (if your head position doesn’t move, if …).

I found the whole “pre-draw” idea puzzling because everybody did it a different way. (I have written about this: “The Pre-Draw Redux” in AF 10-1) The first formal Instructor’s Manual of the NAA (now USAA) does not mention a pre-draw. I think it is a rather recent invention. Since starting and stopping muscle contractions results in more variation in muscle tension and therefore feel, I suggest we do away with it all together. (As an analysis tool, I always suggest you think about what if you carried it to an extreme: what if you stopped 5X or 10X on the way to anchor? If 1X is good, … ?) That stop may be being used to do something else, as I indicated, but does doing that require a stop? I don’t know.

In KSL’s technique, the “Set Up” element eliminates the pre-draw by skipping over it … or you could say he institutes it as being required as the final body position of the Set Up phase. I would like to find out what was happening elsewhere physically and mentally during a pre-draw as you have noted. It might have just been copied from the way others shot and then used as a point or marker in time/space in which other things are done, such as positioning the sight aperture, checking string alignment, etc.

Please realize that McKinney had his dad as a coach and Darrel basically didn’t have one (he did grill everyone he ran into, though). Modern coaching of archery hadn’t been invented yet. (I am not sure it has even now.)

PS Tucking your chin down is something you do (mildly) to use a high anchor. You do the opposite for a low anchor. So, if you were being taught to shoot with a high anchor, they were right. This is an ongoing problem with archery instruction. What is said specifically is generalized. Coaches need to do a better job of pointing these things out.

A Bald Face Plug
In this post I referred to an article in a back issue of Archery Focus magazine. If you are not subscribing, you are really missing out as you get complete access to all of the back issues when you subscribe. That’s thousands of articles written to make you a better archer and coach. You can get it here: www.archeryfocus.com. Here’s the cover of the latest issue:




Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

What Should an Archer be Thinking While Shooting?

What should an archer think while shooting? This is a question often asked even though it isn’t asked often enough. There is, no surprise, not a whole lot of data to examine, but I did run across a 2013 survey of 28 PGA Tour professional golfers who were asked about what their favorite “swing thought” was (“swing thoughts” being the golf equivalent of archery “shot thoughts”). Here’re the results: 18 pro’s said they didn’t think about anything at all during their swing, 10 who did claim to have a swing thought said it was to focus on a spot a few inches in front of the ball, to encourage swinging through the ball, 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. (Read that last sentence again. SR)

Now golf is more dynamic than archery, but it has many similarities to archery. This is one of those.

  • Golfers do their analysis and thinking between shots, so should archers.
  • Golfers inspect the lie of their golf ball, obstacles in their way, potential hazards, the landing zone they want to hit and how far away it is, the wind, club selection, and on and on, but when it is time to hit the ball, they do two things: they visualize the shot they want to hit (this is a form of instruction to the subconscious processes that control our muscles; it equates to “this is what I want you to do”), and they stop thinking consciously (it is just a distraction). Archers should do the same.

There is one exception: when you find yourself or your archer making a mistake repeatedly, it is okay to have a “shot thought,” a short phrase designed to emphasize a correction, shoring up a weak point as it were. An example is “strong bow arm” or “finish the shot.” This phrase is though only at the point in one’s shot sequence where it is appropriate. Mumbling “finish the shot” to yourself mentally in the process of raising the bow and drawing it is not recommended, only after aiming when one is finishing one’s shot should the phrase be invoked. And, this is a short term process, which should last a few shots and then stop. I have known people who use a shot thought through a whole round. (I tried this myself; I don’t recommend it as it seems to focus too much attention on one part of the shot routine, thus drawing attention away from other parts. It, it seems, becomes some sort of magic talisman; use it and you will score well. It isn’t. Don’t be fooled into this kind of magical thinking.)

So, the answer to “What should an archer be thinking while shooting?” is “Nothing is best.”

Note I consider a shot to begin when the bow is raised and end at the end of the followthrough. This defines “while shooting.” What happens between one shot and the next is the post-shot routine (scoping the arrow, analyzing any fault, etc.) and the pre-shot routine for the next shot (checking the wind, slope, any adjustment suggested by analysis of the previous shot, etc.).

Another Note Shot visualization is not magic. You cannot use a visualization process to any great effect if you haven’t practiced the process you are attempting. The mental instruction that a visualization is cannot train the muscles to do what they are untrained to do.

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Do You Believe In … ?

Do you believe that there is a perfect shooting technique out there? And, if you mastered that technique you would automatically become a very, very good archer? There seems to be a fair number of archers and coaches who seem to believe this.

As a sport, and maybe representative of the wider culture, we also tend to believe in “talent,” that some people are born with a hard-wired ability to do . . . something. Otherwise, how do we explain young people who have abilities far beyond their years. While we do not deny that people have various physical and mental abilities, there is no evidence for this opinion that stands up to scrutiny. I tend to think it is a manifestation of our own ego protection at work. If that athlete just beat the stuffing out of me, it must be because he has a “natural gift” I was not given (aka It was not my fault!). It is harder to admit the truth: the other athlete prepared better, worked harder, or was just at a higher level of performance that you are currently.

This is the pernicious aspect of a belief in talent, if you believe you either have “it” or you don’t, what becomes of striving to get better?

A belief that there is some magical technique, is also akin to a belief in talent. It is not helpful and it is not based upon any evidence. If you believe that there is some essentially correct technique, the farther from which you get the poorer your performance as an archer will be, you are on the wrong path.

Ask yourself:

  • Is there any other sport in which this is the case?
  • If there were such a technique, should we not have found it by now? (People still argue about the “right” and “wrong” ways to do things.)
  • Do champions show a conformity of technique? Since they are performing the best, they must have technique closest to the ideal.

What I Suggest
Al Henderson, one of the U.S.’s greatest coaches, is reported to have told archers that “the key is to do it wrong over and over again exactly the same way.” I do not recommend one deliberately seek out how to “do it wrong,” but I do believe there is a process and it doesn’t involve a quest for “doing it right.”

Technique is Important, Everybody Needs One An archer’s technique is something he/she develops over time. It is never exactly the same as anyone else’s.

The Farther You Are from Your True Technique, the Harder It Is to Learn It If you insist on a form element or an execution step that is suboptimal for you, you will incur a training penalty in that it will take more effort and time to learn. Once this step is learned, though, there is no evidence that it is any less effective than some other step. There could be a score penalty for doing things that are far from optimal, but experience tells us that many archers can succeed having quite unusual form, so this has not been demonstrated in fact.

Learn Your Shot and Then Own It So, a budding serious competitive archer needs to find a shot, specifically his/her shot. Then, through repetition, they have to own that shot. Once they have gotten that far, there is a continuous improvement stage in which minor adjustments are made from time to time: in equipment, execution, and form, but these are small compared to the initial effort to learn and own a shot.

Technique, Like Talent, Is Not Given, It Is Learned The process is one of exploration to find what works and doesn’t work. Clearly what works is something close to what everyone else is doing, hence the idea of “standard” or “textbook” form. But occasionally, what everyone else is doing turns out to be suboptimal. The example of high jumping technique comes to mind. Everyone used to jump looking at the bar. Now everyone jumps looking up away from the bar.

In an article about David Vincent, an prodigious baseball statistics creator, especially with regard to home runs, an observer commented “Like many so-called stat geeks, Mr. Vincent was obsessed. His computer skills were a necessary entry point, but unless this subject drives you, you won’t spend time doing it.”

Bingo. Young archers who demonstrate talent are driven, by love of the sport, or love of the attention it creates, or. . . . Part of this drive surely is rooted in success. If one tries, and fails repeatedly, enthusiasm rarely survives.

This was so important that an early motto for youth archery programs was “early participation, early success.” What this meant was to get a bow into a prospective archer’s hands, then shooting at large targets set at short distances to ensure some measure of early success. A new archer having to shoot at 20 yd/m or longer will probably do well to hit the ground with his/her arrows and more than likely not be inclined to come back. (“I tried that but I was not good at it.”) Such a “conclusion” comes well before any skill has been achieved that could be the basis for success on “normal” ranges, so “big targets, up close” became the watchword for beginning archery programs.

The phrase “unless this subject drives you, you won’t spend time doing it” is key. Talent is built, not something one possess. This takes time, time on task. Something about the sport has to supply the energy needed to come back for more. Channeling that energy into some ballet-like search for perfect technique is counterproductive.


Filed under For All Coaches

Barebow Arrow Considerations

There is an upsurge in interest in Barebow, both Recurve and Compound. (Yeah!) This is accompanied by increased levels of confusion regarding the role the arrow plays in the ability to shoot consistently.

Since there are many Barebow aiming variations (gap shooting, “instinctive” shooting, string walking, face walking, etc.) I am going to hop over these variations (all of which create tuning issues) and move to the heart of the matter: aiming off of the point.

Aiming Off of the Point
Using the arrow point as an aiming support brings many advantages and a few disadvantages. One disadvantage is it makes draw length even more crucial. For example, consider that the nock end of the arrow is below the aiming eye and the sightline. The line of sight being even with the arrow point means that the arrow is slanting upward (as it is with other styles, of course). Now, if you draw your bow a bit too far, the arrow slides back and downward lowering the arrow point, causing you to raise your bow up to get the point back to the sightline. Drawing your bow a bit long results in high arrow hit points in that you’ve made the bow a tad stronger, but raising the bow also contributes to high arrow hit points, so this “positive feedback” results in larger errors. Similarly, a short drawn bow, results in the arrow sticking out and up farther, which results in you lowering the bow, another double whammy! (This effect is prominent for longbow and recurve archers, less so for compound archers.)

Aiming off of the point makes draw length control particularly crucial. On the plus side it provides amplified feedback in that regard and so may contribute to better draw length control. There are many other aspects of aiming off the point we leave to your further investigation.

The Effect of Arrow Length
The effects of variations in draw length can be made permanent by choosing a shorter or longer arrow. A longer arrow will result in a lower hold of the bow. A shorter arrow will result in a higher hold. So, for indoor targets, a longer arrow can be an advantage. Indoors, the distances are so short that most bows are over-powered. This results in points of aim (POA) being very low, off of the target face and maybe on the floor where there are few visual clues as to where the POA is. We would like to have a POA on the target face as a face provides many visual cues as to the POA’s location (e.g. a POA at 12 o’clock in the 5-ring). So, for indoors, most people favor a longer arrow. This cause the hold to be lower and the POA higher. Since the length of the arrow is one of the largest aspects affecting the tune, a stiffer shaft has to be chosen to compensate for the extra length.

Outdoors, the distances are much larger, and bows tend to be under-powered. Here a shorter shaft provides a higher hold, a lower POA, and more cast, but we need a weaker shaft so we can cut it as short as we can.

We accept as a given that one’s form will be more consistent when the arrow is near level than when the bow is held with the arrow slanted way up or way down. So, the closer you can create a setup, for you or your student, that is near that situation, the better.

Arrow selection is not a simple matter of just checking a manufacturer’s spine chart and selecting the shaft closest to the characteristics your archer possesses (DW and DL and bow type). In most spine charts, the entire row of choices determined by the DW are available to you. Limited only by arrows that are too short (as they are dangerous). Here is a row from a simplified spine chart:

Compound Bow

21˝ 22˝ 23˝ 24˝ 25˝ 26˝ 27˝ 28˝ 29˝ 30˝ 31˝ 32˝ Recurve Bow
29-35 lb 1214 1214 1413 1416 1516 1713 1716 1813/
1913 2013/

17-23 lb

Assuming this is the correct DW row, if the archer’s draw length is 24˝ AMO, a 1413 aluminum arrow is recommended. Shorter shafts are possible, but remember the arrow point is typically only about 1.75˝ ahead of the arrow rest at full draw, so a 1214 shaft could be used, cut to 23˝ but I wouldn’t go shorter. Other choices are: the entire rest of the row:
a 1416 shaft, cut to 25˝
a 1516 shaft, cut to 26˝
a 1713 shaft, cut to 27˝
a 1716 shaft, cut to 28˝
a 1813/1816 shaft, cut to 29˝
a 1913 shaft, cut to 30˝
a 2013/1916 shaft, cut to 31˝
a 2013/1916, cut to 32˝

All of these shafts and cut lengths should produce arrows of comparable performance. Keep in mind this is not this simple. As we move across this table row, the arrow shafts are getting heavier and we are losing cast thereby. (There are other issues, but this post is too long already.) All parameters in a spine chart, therefore, need to be taken with a grain of salt and if you desire to experiment with different length arrows, always (Always!) start with a longer shaft and cut it down in stages, testing for tune as you go (a bare shaft test is all that is necessary).

A Note Regarding Young Archers
Archers who haven’t achieved full growth probably should not play around with these ideas. For one, they are still growing and as their height increases, so does their draw length. Ordinarily I like to have at least 1˝–2˝ of extra length on their arrows just for safety (and the ability to shorten the shaft to get a better tune as they grow). These youngsters are better off working on their fitness and shooting form and execution than fiddling with equipment to get a slight advantage.

If a youngster, however, is having trouble “making distance,” the problem may be exacerbated by an arrow that is too long. I have seen some sticking out more than 5˝ past the back of the bow. In this case, a better fitting, resulting in a shorter arrow should help.


Filed under For All Coaches

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 …

* * *

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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Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

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?


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.


Filed under For All Coaches

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.


Filed under For All Coaches