Tag Archives: Form and Execution

Finger Release Basics

I was watching a video about the finger release put out by Merlin Archery (UK). I very much like Merlin Archery; they put out quality goods and quality information. In this video, however, while everything they said I agree with, there is much they left out that would clarify what they were trying to say.

I insist that coaches should know what they are talking about (even though I do not always), so here are a couple of statements/claims made about the release and what there is to back them up.

You should not try to open your fingers to effect the release of the bowstring.
This, of course, is spot on, but the videos “reason” for doing this is that it creates more string path variation, which is true, but it doesn’t say why it does so. The why of this is simple: you aren’t fast enough. Your fingers aren’t

Nope! Doesn’t correct for shooting a right-handed bow left-handed, either.

fast enough. So no matter what you do with your fingers, the string, powered by the bow, still has to push them out of its way back to brace. And, if you try to open your fingers, they become stiff (due to the tension of the tendons trying to make the fingers move) and being stiff they are harder to push out of the way. Newton’s third law is involved (action-reaction) the string is pushing harder on the string, therefore the fingers are pushing harder on the string, which makes for more side-to-side string motion (because of the finger’s orientation of being slightly to the side.

You want to have the release hand move back in the same plane as the arrow moves forward.
Again, this is spot on but the reason why was omitted. If the release is clean the string hand will move away from the bow in the same plane that the arrow is leaving it . . . if . . . if the archer is pulling straight back away from the bow. So, why do we want this? We design the bows so that the string moves back toward the bow in, or very near, the central vertical plane of the bow, that is the bow is designed for maximum energy transfer when the string returns to its brace position in a straight line. In order to get the string to do that you have to pull away from the bow in that same plane. If you are pulling in that direction and release cleanly, your hand should move in the direction the force applied through it was moving: force straight back, motion straight back.

They do mention plucking as a common release flaw, but characterize it as something the archer is doing; it is not. Plucking occurs because the force being applied is not straight back, but straight back and out away from the archer. When the release occurs, the string hand moves back and away from the archer’s face because that is the direction the force is pulling it. The key point here, is that if you are pulling straight back alone, the hand will fly straight back upon the release. If it flies in any other direction, the pull was in the wrong direction. The pulling force determines the direction the hand will move.

A common mistake beginners make is to have a “floating anchor.” The anchor position is an inch or more out in space to the side of the head. Coaches then tell these archers that the hand must be pressed against the face and so, the archer . . . sensibly . . . bends their wrist to make the touch, leaving their elbow out to the side where it was. This can be considered a sure-fire recipe for plucking. It is named “having a flying elbow.” To pull straight back, anatomically, the draw elbow must be straight back (in the same vertical plane; it always comes down to that central plane of the bow).

There are drills . . . and they can be misleading
There are drills for improving the release but they can create more problems that they cure. In the video, they mention the Two Anchor Drill.

The Two Anchor Drill?
In this drill the first anchor is the normal one, the second anchor is the earlobe or similar point and the drill is to get the draw hand to go from Anchor Point #1 to Anchor Point #2 from release to followthrough

This is all well and good, but this is not something that the archer is to do, it is just something that is to happen. Basically, if the archer does everything else correctly, they will hit the two anchor points automatically (the hand moves straight back and as long as the arms are kept up, there is a limit to the range of this motion and it is typically when the fingertips of the draw hand hit the ear). But students are often literal-minded. They start by trying to move their hand that way. (“There is no try!” Shut up, Yoda!) This is quite wrong. Using the “second anchor point” as a recognition factor is fine, but using it as a target for a movement is problematic.

Another common example of this mistake is the instruction for an archer to touch their shoulder with their fingertips at the end of their followthrough. I am convinced this was a made up drill given to an archer to show them the path their release hand needs to take and that archer achieved some success doing this and so other archers copied them. This is a stupid move. (I apologize if you have used this drill before, but please stop.) Here’s why. Reach out and touch your shoulder with that arm’s fingertips. In what direction is the elbow pointing? In my case it is almost straight down. Where do we want the elbow to point? At full draw it is roughly straight back, away from the bow. It is traveling on a somewhat flat arc, slanting slightly downward as the elbow goes to anchor and through the followthrough. To get it to point straight down is to change its path considerably and if this happens right after release, the normal distribution (aka Bell curve) of this in space and time will have part of it happening before the string leaves the fingers on some shots.

I have also seen people shoot a static release (aka dead release) and then flip their hand around to touch their shoulder, the two motions being completely disconnected and hence of no value.

So What Should You Recommend?
The only people I recommend working on their release much are compound people who have been using their release aid incorrectly. For “fingers” archers, I generally focus on the key that their fingers are to be relaxed at the point of release and if they do it correctly, their draw hand will slide straight back alongside their face as a consequence. This establishes the correct cause-effect relationship. I also recommend good full-draw-position, one in which the draw elbow in coplanar with the central vertical plane of the bow, the arrow, the sight aperture, the long rod, etc. (I teach them how to check other archers and they can teach other archers, or their patents, or . . . , to do this check for them.) If their draw hand isn’t reacting correctly, they know it probably has to de with relaxing their string fingers or the positioning of their draw elbow, two places where a corrective action will actually work.

 

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Now What Do You Do?

I often write to you as archers and not coaches, because I want to put you in the position your students are in, to think and feel as they do, so you will be able to help them when they are in that situation.

I just got off the phone with an author with whom I was discussing what you do when you get into a shoot-off or other situation where winning is close enough to be tasted. This author prefers not to use the word “pressure” as in “competition pressure,” instead he uses the phrase “moments of high personal value.” We, of course, as archers and coaches talk about competition pressure, which is not a helpful term at all, being almost entirely negative in connotation. (When you think of pressure, is there anything positive, happy, whatever that comes to mind? No?) So . . .

Here’s the scenario: you are in a shoot-off for a medal/award at a competition you have always wanted to “win.” So, as you step to the shooting line, what is your plan?

I have read and heard all kinds of positions regarding this situation, most of them focused on how to adapt to a “high pressure” situation. And, most of them, I think, are misleading if not outright mistaken.

Think about this. (Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

What I and others have come up with is this thinking: I got into this situation by . . . what? . . . by focusing on making shots one arrow at a time, by executing my shot process as consistently as I know how.

So, should I do something differently now?

What, are you crazy? Shoot arrows in a process you just made up or you haven’t practiced or used throughout the tournament? No!

You need, as the adage goes, to “trust your shot” or “shoot your shot.” The question, therefore, becomes “how do I do that, now that the situation has changed?”

You were shooting along, not paying any attention to your score per se, immersed in your process, and now you are in a shoot-off for an award. What has changed? Well, for one, your score is now known to you and everybody else! In a one-arrow shoot-off, if you shoot second, you will also know what arrow score you need to get.

The very first time I was in a one arrow shoot-off was a simulation put on in a training program. So, the two of us came to the shooting line and in my head I was saying “I don’t care, or even care to know, what he shoots. I will just shoot my shot.” Then the other guy shoots his shot and the supervising coach shouts out “It is a 6!” And the thought jumps into my head “All I need is a seven or higher!” What the heck! Where did that thought come from? I specifically indicated I didn’t want to know and just wanted to shoot my shot and yet, my ears still worked and my brain still processed the information and my imagination (whose job it is to prepare us for possible future actions) tells me all I need is a 7 or greater. Mentally I struggled to get my shot off as I desired.

So, what do you do?

This is what I recommend: Know yourself! You need to pay attention to how you behave in such situations and allow for that and accept that as “normal.” In those situations I, for example, tend to shake more so there is more apparent movement in my sight’s aperture. I also tend to shoot faster. By noting what happens I know that the increased motion of my aperture doesn’t affect my scoring ability (much or at all), so I can accept that as being “normal.” To avoid rushing my shots, which means shooting at a different tempo, I will take a couple of deep breaths (Please, no Zen breaths, if such things even exist.) and let them out just before shooting. This tends to moderate my tendency to go faster. Then I just try to shoot my normal shot.

On top of all that, if I can’t get off my shot in good order and have to let down, I experience big-time “fear of failure” symptoms. To compensate, I try to avoid any possibility of not getting my shot off by relaxing as much as possible (tensing up, shortens muscles, and makes things feel different).

The only way you, as archer, or you, as coach, can find out such things is to make it important to note them. Writing down one’s responses to such situations makes them easier to recall the next time that situation occurs. The absolute key is: okay, the situation is different, it is a moment of “high personal value,” but the solution is to focus on shooting the shot(s) that got you into this situation in the first place, not changing your attitude (You gotta be aggressive, man!) or, gasp, modifying your shot on the fly, a recipe for losing if there ever was one.

Get your archers to keep such notes and keep them yourself if you haven’t been. Also, it is important to note how many times you did this successfully. If you just paint the scenario as being fraught with anticipation, it never becomes something that you are confident that you can do. You need to be looking for a “been here, done that” feeling, which can be created over time, but not if you cannot remember all of those occasions.

If you experienced archers have anything to add, please make a comment to share that with your fellows.

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Teach Your Students to Not Take the Advice of Others

Archery is a social sport and we all want to be helpful so archers are famous (infamous?) for giving advice freely. On the flip side of that archery coaches are trained to “not give advice unless asked.” It is permissible for a coach to ask an archer if they are open to comments, but if the archer says no, then we are to walk away with no prejudice.

So, the people who are trained as to how to give advice to archers are trained not to and those who are not trained, give it freely. This is another way in which archery and golf are similar. Same thing happens to golfers.

In order to be an effective coach, you need to work with a student and discuss things with them so that when you ask them to try new things, you and they know what the context is and also why you are asking for that change. Hopefully your archer understands your position, too. A random club member shooting at the practice butts has no such training or understanding of your student.

I used the example recently of the advice to “don’t grab your bow.” This instruction is not at all helpful as it doesn’t indicate what you are to do, just what you are not to do and that is how we get this:

Ughh!

This “solves” the “don’t grab the bow” problem, but creates a new one.

Do you know why?

I will start from bow hand basics to answer my own question. An archer’s bow hand (when shooting a bow with a grip section) is positioned at full draw with the palm vertical (roughly) and facing the target. The bow is nestled in against the muscle which makes the pad of the thumb (the thenar eminence), with the grip not in contact with any part of the palm to the outside of the “lifeline.” The hand is relaxed and the wrist is relaxed. The fingers softly curl because that is what fingers do. (Some archers who have had overactive fingers, gently curl the bottom three fingers alongside the bow to keep them under control. This is also acceptable.

So, why is this this way? Why not just grab the bow as if it were a pistol? If this is done, then the bow is resting on two muscles/groups: the thenar eminence and the hypothenar eminence. We all know that when we get tired or under pressure muscles can tense arbitrarily. In the “pistol grip” if the upper muscles tense more than the lower, then the bow will react (essential bounce) harder off of the upper muscles causing the bow to rotate downward. If the lower muscle is more tense than the upper, the bow will bounce “up.” Not much, but a rotation of the bow that elevates the rest an eighth of an inch (3 mm) before the arrow leaves will not score as well (as you just changed your aim substantially). And if the muscle tension jumps around (at does) you can be getting highs and lows for no apparent reason.

So, we isolate the bow on just one of those muscles, so that if tension creeps in, as it will, the direction of the bow reaction will not change. We also work at keeping the bow hand relaxed. Why? Because “Relaxed is Repeatable.” (A state of 23.5% of maximum tension is not repeatable.)

It is best that coaches know these “whys” as it helps build a coherent picture of what is happening and why in our minds. This enables us to troubleshoot better.

Is there any benefit to archers knowing all of these details?

No, they need to know things like “Relaxed is Repeatable.” This gives them something to do and a “reason” to do it but doesn’t involve ideas that draw them away from what they are doing.

So when an archery student is “grabbing the bow” what do you say? You do not (not, not, not!) say “Don’t grab the bow!” You might say, “Let’s work on your bow hand.” If they ask why, the reason is that the critical time in any archery shot is from when the string is loosed to when the arrow leaves the bowstring. The only contact you have with the bow during this period is through your bow hand.

The key principles are the bow contacts only the pad at the base of the thumb (Why? To minimize muscle contact with the bow.) and the bow hand and bow wrist are relaxed. (Why? Relaxed is Repeatable. The relaxed wrist makes sure that the relationship of grip to hand is consistent (a relaxed wrist automatically adopts the angle of the grip). Note The wrist will stiffen automatically when the draw begins (this was noted in Horace Ford’s book in the mid-1800’s), so you don’t need to do that. And, if you do, you might be setting the wrong angle which changes the contact point of bow with bow hand.

So, do you now know why outstretched fingers are not a good idea? Hint Make the fingers on your bow hand stiff. Feel your palm. Is it relaxed? (No.) Can you stiffen your fingers while keeping your palm relaxed? (No.) End of story.

Postscript I have mentioned before but will repeat that all advice given should be acknowledged. We suggest to our archers the phrase “Thanks for the advice! I will mention it to my coach at our next session.” This gets them off the hook from the expectation that they immediately try out the advice given. (Yes, they expect you to accept their wisdom and implement it immediately.) It may even be good advice, but how would your student know that? If it is bad advice (Gosh, what are the odds?!) implementing it may set back gains that had been made. (This is part of my argument that archery coaches should charge for their services. When a student takes the advice of some random archer and retards their progress because of that, you can ask “How much did they charge you for this advice?” and when they tell you there was no charge, you can respond with “And it was worth every cent.” Sometimes the economics of the situation can make a point you cannot otherwise.)

And they should bring such advice back to discuss, some of it may be good and if not, it gives you a chance to explain why.

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External v. Internal Cuing

A reader of this blog and Archery Focus sent me the following link (https://coachingyoungathletes.com/how-to-use-coaching-cues-most-effectively) regarding using two varieties of coaching cues: called internal and external cues. I recommend the article to you as being well worth reading, but I was asked for comment and examples of coaching cues of these types from the sport of archery. So, here goes!

The word “cues” in this context are things we say to characterize an action we wish an archery student to take. A classic one we have used forever, it seems, with beginners is to “stand up tall,” advice given to archers who are slouching. I have written about this bad advice before, so I won’t belabor the point again.

Here’s another scenario. Students who have struggled with being a bit overbowed can end up with a collapsing bow arm. At full draw their bow arm bends at the elbow more and more the longer they hold. Here are two instructions to help these students overcome this form flaw:
A—At full draw think of your draw elbow as being dead straight, not locked but dead straight, as if there were a rod in it.
B—At full draw reach gently with your bow arm toward the target. Don’t lean, just reach.

Which of these is an internal cue and which an external cue? I imagine you all got this one right: A is internal, B is external. The key distinction is that studies show that athletes respond much better to external cues than internal ones. I think there are not only good reasons for this there is quite good evidence backing it up.

Oh, the line between internal and external is “to the body of the archer.” The cue either references something inside or out of the archer’s body.

Cues? Cues? I don’ gotta show you no stinkin’ cues!

The primary difference, I think, is an external cue gives you something to do, while an internal cue gives you something to think about. This is why I avoid asking archer’s to visualize anything during a shot. Visualizing a perfect shot just before raising the bow, thus beginning to shoot, is a mechanism to provide your subconscious mind with a plan to execute (aka marching orders, instructions, etc.) Additional visualizations (think of your bow arm as if there is a rod in it, or think of your draw arm as a rope with a hook on the end, or . . .) are counterproductive because they confuse the instruction set just sent to the Subconscious Plan Receiving Room and they give you something to think about, not something to do.

So, as coaches we best serve our students by giving them external cues to guide their actions rather than cues that are internal to their bodies.

Postscript I have mentioned before the viewpoints of coach and archer are diametrically opposed. The archer’s viewpoint is from the inside out, while the coach’s is from the outside in. What athlete and coach need to know are thus quite opposite from one another. Coaches benefit, for example, from knowing the muscles involved in making shots, but the athlete does not. This is why there are some books I do not recommend to archers, Kisik Lee’s books being foremost. Archers think they will learn Coach Lee’s “secrets” but instead they find out that his books were written primarily to influence coaches and so only serve to confuse archers. (If I have to read another archer discussion on the importance of LAN2, I will scream.) If you coach recurve archers, you need to read Coach Lee’s books. If you are an archer, not so much.

Oh, and this is why serious competing archers should not be doing serious coaching at the same time. The tradition of archers coaching after they “retire” from serious competition is based upon a good idea. Mixing the two viewpoints only serves to confuse both minds.

 

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Five Reasons Archers Fail to Improve

Once again I am inspired by a blog post of a golf coach. In this case it was 5 Reasons Why Golfer’s Don’t Improve by Adam Young. I find there is a correspondence between these two individual sports that is very much worth paying attention to.

Here is how I translated the five reasons golfers don’t improve into five reasons archers don’t improve.

  1. Flawed Thinking
    This is generally passed from one generation of archers to another in the form of helpful advice. As an example, it is not uncommon for an archer to grab his/her bow at the loosing of the string so as to not drop it. Of course, you know that “shoot, grab; shoot, grab” occasionally become “grab, shoot” and off an arrow goes into the woods. But often archers are told to “not grab the bow like that” but are not coached as to how to shoot with a relaxed bow hand. This is why we see so many compound archers shooting with outstretched fingers, which is another, different flaw that should be avoided. Often the people given the “don’t grab the bow advice” are shooting with outstretched fingers and are providing an example of what not to do in the form of advice of “what to do.” They will even praise a newbie for doing it as they do it.

This is not so much flawed thinking but a lack of thinking. It is applying correctives without understanding what they do in the belief that the people giving advice know what they are doing.

  1. Practicing Faults
    Beginning archers are often obsessed with “doing it right.” Where they get their information about the “right way to do things” is often flawed and they then end up practicing diligently doing it wrong, thinking they are doing it right.

A better way to approach this is acknowledging that is no one way to shoot a bow and everyone has to work out what works for them. (This will be opposed by people selling the “right way to shoot,” of course.) There are some basic constraints on building an archery shot, of course. Standing with your feet on the wrong side of the shooting line makes shooting way more difficult, for example. But within the basic constraints most people shoot slightly differently from their peers. Each archer has to build and refine their own shot, then they need to progress to what is better, not just what they think is “right.”

  1. Thinking You Are Not Capable of Doing It “That Way”
    The famous quote of Henry Ford is that “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” When you accept that you are incapable of doing something, you essentially stop any positive learning. If you think you can’t learn something, then your learning process is fouled up. (I keep beating this dead horse, but it won’t get up and run!) It is one thing to not want to put out the effort necessary to learn something, but another to think you “can’t.” This is not a growth mindset, it is a static mindset, and if you want to be an accomplished archer, you need to accept that you can learn to do anything you set your mind to learn.
  2. You Can’t Bring Your Practice Game to Competitions
    If there is a big gap between your practice performances and your competition performances, you are practicing wrong. The whole purpose of shooting practice rounds is to test your current state of skill at scoring. If the conditions that exist in the two arenas are vastly different, you aren’t measuring what you think. Would you expect to do well outdoors in a long distance competition only practicing indoors at short distances? Do you expect to shoot well in the wind when your practice facility is deal calm most of the time? Do you expect to be able to learn how to shoot uphill or downhill shots on a flat range?

As archers become more proficient, they also become more consistent. Their practice scores are more consistent. Their competition scores become more consistent and their practice scores and competition scores get closer together. This is deliberate to some extent because they work at including competition factors into their practice sessions.

  1. What You Are Doing Won’t Make You Any Better
    The common Internet meme called the “definition of insanity” being “doing something over and over and expecting different results” comes to mind. To the contrary, if you want to get better, you must do activities designed to make one thing better, specifically, at a time. This is why drills are effective. You can home in on something and practice it to make it better. This is partially why we have shot sequences, so we can look at the various stages of our shot making and evaluate them and find ways to make the weaker parts stronger.

Contrast this with what commonly passes for archery practice. (I know; I practiced this way for years!) We go to the range and shoot arrows on the practice butts for a time. Or we sit on the range and shoot practice rounds. If this worked, driving to work every day would make you a better driver (it actually makes you worse!). If this worked, students trying to learn algebra would just take tests over and over until they learned how to pass one. We do not do this because it does not work. Instead we read texts, we work though practice problems that have been demonstrated and then try our hand at solving practice questions that have answers we can check. Before we take the algebra test, we might take a “practice test” (the equivalent of an archer’s practice round) but we wouldn’t take practice test after practice test as a study method because it is too danged inefficient. We all know this. This is why teachers teach the way they do: break it down, learn the parts, put it back together, practice, practice, practice.

Archers need help figuring out what to do to improve. This is why Mike Gerard and I are writing The Archery Drill Book which we hope will be out in late summer or the fall. Drills in the book are accompanied by descriptions of what they were designed to accomplish and how you can tell you’ve accomplished that. We hope this will help. (We know this will help!)

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Helping with Plateaus

In Archery Focus magazine we run regular columns for coaches and students, elucidating our programs and the way we teach. Recently we have prefaced the titles of these columns with the header “Getting Serious,” because we have covered the basics over and over and, well, that drum has been beat. (Note Subscribers have access to all of the back issues, back to the beginning, so they can search for any topic they need help on.) So, we are now addressing how coaches work with serious archers and how archers can get serious about their archery.

One of the things that beginning serious archers have to deal with is plateaus in their performances, aka getting stuck on a score. When they first became serious, they improved in leaps and bounds, now they are stuck. This also occurred when they first took up the sport. Some of this perception is illusory. For example, we used a scoring system in our first classes to define levels of accomplishment. We used a modified indoor round outdoors with a perfect score being 300 points. The first plateau was 50 points. Then there were others. Many archers jumped past 50 points in their first testing. Some would make 50 point improvements in sequential scores. Progress in scoring was often made fast. But progress of this kind always slows. This is because the first 50 points is easy, the last 50 points, getting from a score of 250/300 to 300/300 is very difficult. You start with just a few good arrow scores taking you to score you wanted to a few poor arrow scores making that score impossible. So the perception of progress is biased toward the “fast” end of the spectrum at first and the “slow” end later.

Our serious archers, though, get used to a certain level of performance and establish a comfort zone, then find themselves stuck on a performance plateau. Often you can hear archers in this state say things like “No matter what I do I score thus and so.” So, coach, what do you do to help?

Helping with Plateaus
Almost always newly serious archers have no perspective as to how much effort is needed to make progress (nor do they understand that progress is harder and harder to make at their end of the scoring range). So, the first thing you need to do is sit down with them and list out all they are doing. For some, the answer is clear why progress is lacking; it is due to lack of effort. Kids are somewhat notorious for attending classes or JOAD sessions once a week and expecting that to be sufficient “practice.” Adding a practice session or two between classes will help a great deal. They, of course, will need help planning what they need to do at those sessions and you should help with that.

For student-archers who are “putting in the time,” the enemy is usually the definition of insanity often ascribed to Albert Einstein, which is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

The weapon needed to conquer this problem is the lowly notebook. More than a few archers spend their practice sessions socializing and not working on their shot or whatnot. Like the dieters asked to keep a log of what they eat, asking archers to keep a log of what they do during “practice” can help identify if a) they are doing enough and b) are they doing the right things.

If you yourself spend any idle time at a range, observe what people do for “practice.” You will see a great many people “just shooting” and others “shooting for score” (a practice round). Neither of these are effective practice. Their benefits are few. One such is they are developing some shooting stamina and another is they are benchmarking their scoring ability (practice rounds are tests, not homework). But there are better ways to develop stamina than just shooting, for example. For recurve archers, instead of just shooting, could do Double Draws or Reversals to build shooting stamina. Double Draws are just that, you draw to anchor, let down to your predraw position, draw again and loose. Reversals are drawing and holding for much longer than ordinary times (done in sets like weight lifting because they are weight lifting). Note Reversals should not involve shooting at the end unless you are very close to the butt. The fatigue they create is substantial and can create wild looses.

Real practice involves working on your shot to get better, so the big question is: what needs to be improved? This is where introspection and notebooks are absolutely necessary. Archers need to become cognizant of where they fail to perform and, if they can, why they fail. Do the poorly scoring arrows come at first or toward the end when a good score is on the horizon? Or do they come in the middle of rounds due to a loss of focus? Serious archers, to be really serious, need to study themselves and their sport to improve their own performances and their own equipment. Keeping notes on what is and isn’t working, another use for the lowly notebook, is very, very helpful. Seriously.

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A Source of Poor Line

Note I have not been posting much lately because I have been very busy and also caught the danged flu, the one that hangs on for weeks and weeks. I hope to be posting more frequently again. If you have questions you need answered, please send them to me either through a comment or via email. Steve

A fundamental of good archery form is to have good alignment, often referred to as having “good line.” A simple glance at the shooting line at any local archery tournament will show you that good line is not easy to find. There are a number of reasons for this but I want to focus on one major cause of poor line.

When shooting a recurve bow, the optimal posture at full draw is described by the Archer’s Triangle. Looking down on the archer’s head, we would see the archer’s drawing forearm in “line” with the arrow, the two forming one side of the triangle. The archer’s draw side upper arm forms another side and then the archer’s shoulders and bow arm make the third, easy peasey. The key visible aspect of this body position is the archer’s shoulder line and bow arm point to the bow. Coaches are taught to sight along that line (from away from the target and archer) to check the archer’s alignment/“line.” (Compounders are somewhat different, see below.)

To illustrate a major source of the inability to adopt this full draw position I offer the following book cover:

As such covers go, the participants in the photo are shown as having a great deal of fun. (What the young man is looking at is beyond me.) In any case, you can see one of the results of poor line is the “flying elbow” of the young lady, a draw elbow that is pointed off to the side rather than straight back. The reason we want the elbow to be pointing straight back (at the loose) is so that the force on the bowstring is directly away from the bow. This cause the bowstring, when released, to move back toward the bow in as straight a line as possible. If we are pulling off to the side, then the path the bowstring makes back to the bow is more circuitous and less consistent. For the physics buffs, to get the string against the face at anchor with the elbow out there, the string hand must be pulled in toward the face, giving a force vector toward the archer to be added of that toward the bow. (Compounding these forces is the tendency of the string hand to move away from the face during the loose (a pluck!) as the force into the archer’s face is no longer needed. The coach’s shortcut you may know is “a flying elbow leads to plucking the bowstring.”)

Now, the source of the poor line? The bow shoulder. Most coaches think poor line stems from the archer not having swung the draw shoulder around far enough, but simply put, if the bow shoulder is not open far enough (to approximately 180°) the rear shoulder cannot possible compensate. If the young lady were standing more to the side (facing down the line, less open), her front shoulder would be more open and the rear shoulder would have a chance of forming up on a line pointing to the bow.

A common source of that open bow shoulder is the ideological adoption of an open stance. (I say ideological as there is no physical reason for it.) Beginning archers are taught an open stance as a matter of course, which I believe is a mistake. An open stance is an advanced bit of archery form that shouldn’t be taught until later. When I see an archer with poor line, the first thing I do is I close up their stance until they are back to square (feet and chest pointing down the shooting line at full draw) or past that to a closed stance (feet and chest pointing slightly behind the shooting line at full draw). After all, the Archer’s Triangle has the archer’s shoulders pointing at the bow on a line which is 10-12° closed to the line to the target (the arrow has to point at the target if you want to hit it). The strongest biomechanical body position (to resist gravity, the only other force present) would be to have the hips, knees, and feet directly under the shoulders, which would place the feet 10-12° closed to the shooting line. This is a neutral body position, without special positioning, which the square stance is not and an open stance is certainly not.

So, if you have a student struggling to get “in line” or who has a “flying elbow” focus on getting the front shoulder, the bow shoulder, fully opened. (The archer will feel his/her bow side chest muscles stretch is a good guide.) A lever to help get there is to move the archer’s stance toward being square or even past that. I will close an archer’s stance as far as needed until they get in line, then ask them to shoot that way until being in line feels “normal.” Then other stances can be experimented with, with the prime consideration of always keeping that good line.

A Note on Compound Form While recurve and longbow archers have prescribed to them that their shoulder line point to their bow, compound archer’s standard form has their shoulder line parallel to the arrow, so they have an Archer’s Trapezoid rather than an Archer’s Triangle. This means their front shoulder will be slightly open when in this position. This is more comfortable for the archer and can be gotten away with because the holding weight of the compound bow is only a third or so of the peak weight, so less bracing is needed at full draw. If a release aid is used or not, the archer still wants to be pulling directly away from the bow at the moment of release to line of the force vectors behind the arrow and not to the side. And, an open stance works against this upper body position.

 

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The Relaxation Baseline

I was coaching yesterday. As was typical I had two youths building their shots and an adult needing technical help (tuning arrows). It occurred to me that I hadn’t mentioned, often enough I suppose, the role of tension in building a shot. So, in this post, I will.

If you read high level descriptions of how to make a shot, the descriptions are incredibly detailed, down to which muscles are involved and how tense they need be. Some beginning serious archers seek out these descriptions as a guide to building their shots. As a coach, I really pay little attention to those descriptions for a number of reasons. For one, these “instructions” are for adult athletes in high levels of fitness. For another, these are elite level mechanics being addressed and I don’t think they are appropriate until an archer is at or near an elite level.

To build solid archery form, I focus on the basics. The underlying principle is the same as with doctors: first, do no harm. What I mean by this is do not have your student-archers learn anything that will need to be unlearned later. This is a big problem with trying to learn elite archery form without the body or experience to make it work. Instead of doing what the form requires, we do what we can do which is different from what is needed. Those “bad moves” then need to be unlearned later and more correct techniques learned.

As far as I am concerned consistent accuracy is built upon what I call the Three Pillars of Accuracy and a “Tension Free Shot.” The Three Pillars are: relaxed hands and good full draw body position with proper muscle use. If one’s hands are tension free the bow will shape them accordingly. The string or release hand will be pulled into the flat-backed shape desired and the bow hand (and wrist) will be positioned and shaped by the bow. Obviously this entails learning how to place the hands correctly. Similarly getting into good full draw position without the engagement of the proper muscles will not serve as we end up with a static shot.

Then the goal is to remove all unneeded muscle tension from the archer’s body to provide a relaxation baseline, a tension free shot. For example, the deltoid muscles in the upper arms need to be tense in order to hold the bow (and our arms) up in position, The muscles in the upper forearm need to be tense to wrap the fingers around the string or release aid. But nothing else in the hands, wrists, and arms needs to be tense. We want these relaxed when shooting.

In order to acquire consistency, we need to shoot from the same body configuration. Tense muscles are necessarily shorter than relaxed ones, so if your upper body is tense, your draw length will be shorter than if the unneeded muscles are relaxed. The classic case that demonstrates this is the young Recurve archer just beginning to shoot with a clicker. If they get tense at all in their upper body, because of competition pressure or whatever, it shortens their draw length and makes it harder to get through their clicker. When they struggle getting through their clicker, they get even more tense, try “harder,” making it even harder to get through their clicker. Some young archers have melt downs around this positive feedback loop. They need to be taught that if they begin to struggle with their clicker, their first response needs to be to relax.

So, I teach them that we start building championship form from a state of maximum relaxation (of unneeded muscles) because: the relaxed state of their body is consistent plus they can “find relaxed.” What I mean by “find relaxed” is using relaxation techniques (shaking hands and arms; tensing muscles, then relaxing them, etc.) they can create a state of relaxation they can learn to recognize and find again. But how one creates a state in which a muscle group is 37% tense is beyond me.

Everything is then built off of this relaxed form foundation. Then as their interest and commitment grows, they can experiment with adding muscle tension to their shot. Does flexing one’s core muscles produce a steadier, more consistent shot? Well, the relaxed shot is the baseline from which group sizes and round scores are had and then attempts to shoot with a flexed core proceed from there. Same with using an open stance that requires a twisted torso to get the shoulders back to square (compound) or pointed at the bow (recurve). Try the new form element and see if things improve. If so, keep going. If not, go back.

In contrast to this is see way too much mimicking of adult form by youths. But youths don’t have the musculature to take advantage of all of the elements of an adult shot. Then they shoot for years and end up thinking that their shot is “correct,” which they have little reason to believe as they haven’t tested elements of their shot against any baseline. So, I see JOAD archers shooting from an open stance even though their alignment is weak. I see them shooting heavy bows (metal risers) when their upper arm muscles (deltoids) don’t fully develop until they have their adult musculature, so their form is distorted.

By building a basic, relaxed archery form, they will develop consistency faster and will have a foundation to build a more advanced form from later, should that form be desired.

A relaxed foundation cannot be built using a bow too stout (being overbowed), too heavy, or a form too complicated. All of these things lead to the engagement of muscles that are unnecessary and because archery is a feel sport, the feel of their shot is being built on a false basis. (Too heavy bows lead to raised bow shoulders, leaning away from the target, etc. To stout bow leads to gymnastics being exhibited to get the string back, and so on.)

I think the KISS principle applies here.

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The Role of Clarity in Learning and Coaching Archery

I am working on a book project with Mike Gerard currently and it is a book of archery drills, a resource long needed. One problem we face is all drills have to be performed in a context and the book is a collection of drills, without supplying the overall context. Each drill has a description of what it addresses, but what the archer is trying to accomplish in toto is upon him or her.

It is extremely important for a serious archer to have a clear understanding of what they are trying to do and how they intend to do it. Otherwise I am reminded of the old joke of a bus driver who turns to his passengers and says “I have good news and bad news. The good news is we are making good time. The bad news is that we are lost.” Who cares what your rate of progress is if you do not know where you are going.

An Aside Please note that any serious archer will have better scores as they train … initially. Even if the form and execution chosen are flawed, practice will make them better at it, so scores alone cannot be our guide. Scores will plateau at some point that they will either be good enough or not and you can’t tell that until they plateau.

Now, you can well imagine that I can disclaim on proper archery form and execution for weeks, non stop. Setting that aside, it is key to have some clarity of purpose in this regard, even if it is wrong. There are a number of reasons: for one, we are not absolutely sure what is the “right way” to shoot arrows from a bow. For another, if we do not know what we are trying to accomplish, we are massively stuck, because we can never tell if we have achieved the level of technique and skill we desire. If we can do that, figure out where our bus is going and whether we are there yet, we have a chance because we can evaluate whether that particular form and execution actually works for us. If your archer has perfected her technique and it isn’t giving her the results she wants, then she needs to be doing something else. (Which brings to mind the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.)

As a coach, our role is to help athletes clarify what they want to do and how they want to do it. Initially they may not know exactly what to do, so this is a journey we take with our athletes. The clarity arrives over time. It is vitally important that such clarity is highly prized, even down into what you ask from your archers. If they do not understand what you want them to do, the odds are not good they will achieve it. Clarity regarding the overall task should drive what you do from day to day, including selecting drills to bolster a small part of your archer’s technique or skill.

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Shooting While Breathing

I got a great email with the following question that will be the subject of today’s post:

Hi Steve,

I was wondering if you had any thoughts about breath control and how breathing (best) figures into the shot cycle? In the book you recommended, Professional Archery Technique, by Kirk Ethridge, Mr. Ethridge recommends to “[i]nhale deeply as you raise the bow, and exhale as you draw. When you are at full draw, your lungs should be empty.” (p. 36) The rationale seems to be one of relaxation and stillness. 

On the other hand, both Byron Ferguson (Become the Arrowp. 18) and Anthony Camera (Shooting the Stickbow, 2nd ed., p. 275) advocate inhaling on the draw, allowing the chest to expand at anchor — though for different reasons. (Ferguson’s seems to be about using the inhalation to expand the chest and further bring the drawing elbow/arm into alignment; Camera’s seems to be that the act of drawing itself creates a natural expansion and therefore inhalation, though “while there is little if any chest expansion [at full draw], the logical progression is to continue inhaling, albeit at a slower rate.”)

What are archery coaches recommending? Is there one best (or better) answer, or is this simply a matter of “what works for you”? (For myself, the logic of breathing in makes sense, but I find the inhalation difficult on the draw, and it feels like I am having to hold my breath while at aim. I tried Ethridge’s suggestion and found, if nothing else, that I felt more relaxed/still while at aim. That seemed to be a plus. But is this physiologically “wrong”?

* * *

As far as I am concerned, you can do nothing wrong in this regard as long as you are open to what is happening to your body. The goal, is to be still and strong at the moment of release.

The only scientific study I have been made aware of reports that we are steadier/more still if we have slightly less than a whole lungful of air at that moment. If you want to try that, end with that (full breath, partial exhale) and work your way back to the beginning of the shot. I am unaware of any other serious studies, but they may exist. That, of course, is in archery. There is a great deal of study on breathing in weightlifting. In lifting very great weights, the common wisdom is to exhale upon exertion. This technique lowers internal pressures in the body and prevents injuries such as hernias. But in archery, the weights involved are not so great, so I think we are free to do almost anything.

So, I recommend you experiment as you have been doing. Try a number of breathing patterns. (Rick McKinney’s book, The Simple Art of Winning, lists several more.) The goal is stillness and control at the moment of release.

I have a couple of caveats.

  1. Note whether the source is referring to Recurve/Traditional form or Compound form. I think the requirements for these forms are different enough to require different approaches (Rec/Trad has max draw weight and min time at full draw, while Compound has reduced DW and greater time at FD).
  2. Take into account your personal situation. I tried all kinds of breathing patterns and couldn’t settle on one, so I just breathed as close to tidally as I could (look it up). Then I was diagnosed as having asthma which cleared a few things up. If I held a little long I ended up out of breath, so I included an extra breath into my pattern and it really helped.

So, don’t feel confined by what other people recommend and use your sense of how still and comfortable you are up to the moment of release, coupled with how you feel thereafter (you do not want to be panting and out of breath) as your guide to a consistent breathing pattern. There is no physiologically right or wrong that I can perceive in this topic.

Note For serious archers, this gets worked out one way or another, either through investigation (as you are doing) or through feedback training (doing something over and over until you find what works). Archery is a repetition sport and one based upon feel. Breathing irregularities lead to different feelings that have nothing to do with archery, so breathing needs to be consistent, whichever pattern you choose or learn.

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