Tag Archives: Form and Execution

Form and Function

If you saw a young archer shooting at your range and their form was, well, let’s say “unusual,” what would you say if asked for your opinion? I’d say, “Let me see your target face.” If the target tells me that he groups really, really well, then I would say that everything was fine, just fine. If his arrows were hitting all over the face, I’d ask if that were normal and if he/she said yes, I would say that if better performance were wanted, then some changes were going to be needed.

You see, as coaches, we need to distinguish form from function in archers. The comment has been made often enough that champion archers were winning with less than perfect form. In some cases it was almost bizarre. There have also been archers with impeccable form who never won. (If you have to choose between form and function, always choose function.)

I recommend that we teach beginning archers a form that is near optimum for those archers. (We start with generic form and then tailor it to the archer.) The reason why I avoid idiosyncratic form is that it takes longer to learn; that is it takes more effort and more time to learn. But if an archer has idiosyncratic form and they shoot lights out, then “don’t touch,” is my advice. They don’t get extra points for “style.” Form and function are not linked inextricably.

There are obvious examples of form and function being tied together: for example, if an archer stands with their bow side foot behind the shooting line and draw side foot ahead of that line, they have just made shooting a bow very, very much more difficult. Of course, that young performer who shoots a bow with her feet while doing a hand stand indicates that such limitations aren’t necessarily absolute, still it is far easier to shoot using something akin to “standard form.” There are reasons for this and I am currently working on a book (Coaching Archery from First Principles) in which I will endeavor to lay those out. And, it is clear, that the differences between things like slightly open stances and very slightly open stances are so small as to be only felt by an elite archer. But even beginners can feel the difference between a very open and a very closed stance. So, there is always a matter of degree involved and blanket statements like “an open stance is required” are just silly. The question is always “how open need the stance be?”

In every aspect of archery form and execution, what I call “form elements” (Once a chemistry teacher, always a chemistry teacher.), there are fundamental principles at their core. Often these principles are simple laws of physics or biology (anatomy, kinesiology, etc.) and because of the issue of “degrees” being involved, everything has tradeoffs, pluses and minuses, pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages. So, the existence of such things is never in doubt, so we much focus upon the magnitude of them. A tiny difference between slightly open stances and very slightly open stances is a much smaller issue than between which foot should be on the target side of the shooting line. One form element is highly flawed, the other is, meh, maybe a moot point.

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Do I Need My Own Equipment? Do I Need Better Equipment?

I am currently working on a book on coaching archery from first principles, my effort to supply “whys” for all of the “whats” we propound. Currently I am working on an equipment chapter and the following questions came up and while they don’t necessarily involve fundamental principles of coaching archery, I decided to include answers to these questions. I am interested in any constructive criticism you might have and suggestions as to things to include, etc.

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As I have mentioned (ad nauseam?): archery equipment purchases are a minefield for newbie archers and/or their parents. So allow me to address the two questions here, even though they do not necessarily involve first principles.

Do I Need My Own Equipment?
When beginners start in archery, they generally will use “program equipment,” that is equipment supplied by the instructional program. The criteria for what makes good program equipment are: it has to last, be affordable (aka less expensive), suitable for beginners (low draw weights and draw lengths common to the kinds of beginners being taught—adult, youth, etc., easy to maintain and repair, sturdy (it has to last), it has to perform fairly consistently, and it has to last! (Did I mention it has to last?)

Few of these criteria are invoked when buying personal equipment.

Here is the guiding principle for equipment acquisitions—in order to learn to shoot well, your equipment must give good feedback. To give an archer good feedback, his equipment must be fitted to them. For example, I can pick up a 48˝ recurve bow, but if I were to draw it to my 32˝ draw length, it would either break or the bowstring would slip off the limb tips. There is no way I can shoot that bow with good form. So, in order for equipment to give good feedback it must be fitted and to be fitted, the archer must shoot fairly well. This sounds like a scheme out of the book Catch-22, but it really does make sense.

When I fit an archer for equipment they wish to purchase, we need to list all of the parameters involved in the purchase. Things like the color of an arrow’s fletches is basically a personal preference, but the length and heftiness of the arrow is not. Those are based upon the bow’s power, the archer’s draw length, whether they have their fingers on the bowstring or shoot a mechanical release aid, and how well they shoot. So, arrows are tested to find the sizes that will work best for the archer, and then color choices and whatnot can be made. The same is true for bows. If a recurve bow is being purchased, the bow’s length, draw weight, and draw length all must be factored in. But if the archer has only shot a few dozen arrows, his draw length may be all over the place: longer one shot, shorter the next, with no two measurements the same, so what do we use to measure the arrows?

So, the equipment purchasing pattern goes: (a) an archer shoots with program equipment (or borrowed equipment) until they develop somewhat consistent archery form. This is indicated by being able to shoot groups of arrows that land in roughly the same place on a target face, somewhat consistently. Then comes (b) the archer is fitted for his/her own equipment and that equipment is acquired. This equipment will then give the archer better feedback and so they will learn more and at a higher rate than if they had stuck with program equipment. If they are confined to using borrowed equipment/program equipment, their progress will plateau fairly quickly.

This first acquisition of fitted equipment is a major turning point in pursuing the sport of archery. After a few months or even weeks of lessons, archers or their parents are asked to shell out some hundreds of dollars to get equipment tailored to the archer. Please note one can use inherited or hand-me-down equipment or borrowed equipment, but that equipment must fit the archer, otherwise there is no point. I have seen young archers trying shoot bows their uncle gave them that were physically too heavy and too hard to draw. Their little bodies were twisted into pretzel shapes to hold up that heavy bow at arm’s length and then draw it. None of that helps. I use tests to see if the weight of the bow is too much; tests that show whether the draw weight is too much, tests to come up with a draw length that is close. But, with regard it growing youths, we are always providing some “room to grow” into those purchases, and I will be sharing those tips as we go.

Do I Need Better Equipment?
This question is similar but different from the one above. In this situation our archer has had equipment fitted to him/her that has either been outgrown, or the equipment is hindering their performance, rather than enhancing it.

If the archer in question is a casual, recreational archer who is satisfied with their performances but has clearly outgrown their equipment, then equipment of roughly the same quality, just of larger sizes needs to be sought out.

If the archer is dissatisfied with their performance and it seems as if the equipment is holding them back, they need better, not just different equipment. So, if your archery child is really enthusiastic about archery, why not just buy them top-of-the-line gear and have done with it? This sounds reasonable and I have even heard other coaches recommend this, but there are some, actually many, drawbacks to this. If the archer is young and still growing their working draw weight and draw length may go up in leaps and bounds. You may need replacement recurve limbs at the end of a summer, when you bought new limbs at the beginning of summer. Do you want to be replacing $100 limbs or $1000 limbs? In addition, equipment designed for advanced-to-elite archers can be quite finicky to operate. Small variations in execution can produce major errors. That level of equipment assumes a high level of execution and without it,  it may perform worse that cheaper equipment. (See “Patience” by John Vetterli in Archery Focus magazine, 8-3, about half way through John relates how he over bought equipment and how it delayed his progress.)

The rule of thumb I use is the level of equipment should match the level of the archer: beginners should get beginner-level equipment, intermediate archers should get intermediate-level equipment, and advanced-to-elite archers should get that level of equipment (close to top-of-the-line or there). Of course archery manufacturers don’t help you out with accurate labels of the levels of what they are selling, but there is a price correspondence: beginning level equipment is the least expensive; advanced-to-elite equipment is the most expensive, and intermediate level equipment is in between. (If you are just starting at the intermediate level, look at the low end of intermediate priced gear; if you have been an intermediate for a while, look at the higher priced end of the intermediate equipment range.

And we always recommend that you “try before you buy.” This is the really big advantage of a good archery shop. Most shops have a place to shoot and if they are selling what you are interested in, they will allow you to shoot it to see how it feels (within reason, though). If you then buy from them, the tend to set up the equipment for you and adjust it if necessary. These services justify a higher price for your bow or arrows than you can get online. Don’t just compare prices, compare prices and services.

How Do I Know If My Equipment is Holding Me Back? This is not an easy question to answer. One obvious example is if all of your aluminum arrows are slightly different lengths and are somewhat bent. Getting a set of weight-matched, straight arrows will result in an immediate score increase.

Another case is “making distance.” Young archers compete in age-range competitive categories. As you move up in age, the competitive distances increase and the target faces get smaller. Young archers using light drawing bows often encounter this problem when they move up to the next age-competitive category. In order to hit the target at their new longest distance, they have to hold their bow much higher, so high that their arrow point or bow sight aperture are lined up way above the target. Careful aiming is no longer possible and, well, tilting that far up distorts an archer’s form and undermines achieving good, consistent archery execution.

What is needed to “make distance” is lighter arrows, a stouter bow, or possibly both. Both of those things will produce flatter arrow trajectories, leaving the archer with his/her arrow point or sight aperture on a recognizable spot on the target face, allowing careful aiming and having archery form near what it is at the other, closer distances.

Since this is not an easy question to answer, this is where the help of an experienced archery coach can really help. In lieu of a coach, a very experienced archer may be of help in answering this question.

Note
For some strange reason WordPress has decided all of the text of my posts is to be italicized. I have not yet figured out what to do. Any ideas? Steve

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Pet Peeve No. 

As a tyro magazine and book designer, I have a pet peeve regarding “eye candy” which is what I call photos that attract the eye but do not support the associated text. Consider the following photo:

The text this is supporting is an admonition to consult a coach who can check to make sure your form is good.

Do you see anything not quite right in the photo? I do. Check out the next photo.

Here I drew a line along the archer’s forearm. In perfect form, that line would be pointed at the center of pressure the bow hand makes upon the riser. As you can see, it isn’t even close.

Now, I am not pointing out a form flaw. There are many reasons why an archer may need to have a high draw elbow: a shoulder injury, a congenital defect, etc. I am not criticizing the archer, I am criticizing the choice of photos. If your point is that an archer should consult a coach to ensure their form is good, and you want a photo showing a coach and archer, you should use a photo in which the archer’s form is close to perfect, otherwise the photo is contradicting the text.

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Since I am currently working on a book advocating coaching from first principles, which are often scientific principles, allow me to address why a lower elbow (than shown in the photo) is recommended (if possible, always if possible). When a bow is drawn, you push upon the riser and pull upon the string. The force, therefore, in a finger-release situation, is directly between the centers of pressure of the bow hand on the riser and the fingers on the string. This “line of force” (being just the line of the direction of the force) is often called the primary force line and is described as being from the center of pressure on the bow’s grip (which needs to line up with the central plane of the bow to prevent pre-loaded bow hand torque), through the nock of the arrow and out the bottom of the archer’s draw elbow. This line of force is as close as we can get to the line the arrow sits upon. The farther away the arrow is from that line, the poorer the transfer of energy and direction to the arrow. (Ask any string walker of the consequences of the arrow being elsewhere.) We can’t get any closer, because the arrow can’t sit in the middle of our bow arm, etc.

If the archer’s draw elbow is in any other position, they are effectively pulling away from the line we want the arrow to travel upon. If our elbow is on the high side, as in the photo, there is an upward pull on the bow that isn’t balanced and will cause the bow to move when the string is loosed and we do not want the bow to move once we place it in a “perfectly-aimed” position. If the elbow is low, there is an unbalanced downward force. If the elbow is outboard, you have an outboard force (which causes a wrist cock, and eventually a pluck). If the elbow is wrapped too far around the torso there is an unbalanced force in that direction, which can lead to the string rubbing on the archer’s face or arm as it leaves.

Another thing that happens with draw elbow variations is they change the pressures of the fingers on the bowstring. If the draw elbow is too low, it creates extra pressure on the top string finger and high fliers are the result, etc. Non-optimal finger pressures on the string and even the arrow can create forces on the arrow rest, causing things like clicker bounce, arrows lifting off of the rest (even under a clicker), etc.

Moving away from the primary force line results in compensations that result in larger arrow dispersions. If, for example, you have a flying elbow. you are actually pulling the bowstring away from your face. To make a semblance of an anchor position, you will tend to push your string hand in toward your face. When you loose the string, that inward push will result in an outward compensation and a pluck will be seen. There are some extensive videos of this on the ArcheryWinchester website.

The archer-bow-arrow system is somewhat closed so one thing out of whack always leads to others.

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On Rhythm

Part of the AER Training for Coaches from the 19-3 Issue of Archery Focus magazine

Often the last thing competitive archers address in their form and execution is shooting rhythm. Possibly they would be better off if they would be aware of it earlier on.

Beginning Archer’s Rhythm If there is a phrase to characterize the shooting rhythm of beginners, especially youthful beginners, it is “too fast!” They seem to want to erase the previous arrow from memory and replace it with one that hits closer to the center and the sooner the better. (Archers reaching for the next arrow before the last has hit the target are not unknown.) In trying to get them to slow down, the most important point in their shot sequence is after they have achieved anchor position. Several seconds have to elapse for the archer’s mind to determine that they have become still and, once still, do the necessary trigonometry to aim (remember beginners aren’t using a sighting system). Otherwise the “calculations” (whatever goes on subconsciously to get the arrow directed) will be based upon . . . what? Shooting while moving is often described as “drive-by shooting.” It can be done, but if you are competing against an archer of the same skill level allowed enough time to be still, you will lose.

Intermediate Archer’s Rhythm Intermediate archers are using a sighting system, from simple off-of-the-point aiming, to gap shooting or string walking up to using a pin or target sight. Often the rhythm of these archers is erratic at best. Sometimes they shoot slowly other times quickly. Again, the most important point in their shot sequences to ensure sufficient time is after achieving anchor position and while aiming. Seconds are needed to see one’s arrow point or sight aperture to stop moving (transitioning from larger scale movements to very small scale movements, they don’t “stop” per se) and once stillness has been achieved, alignment of the point/aperture with the point of aim is needed. Many people line up the point/aperture first and then wait for stillness. Others do it in reverse. Both approaches have their merits.

Advanced Archer’s Rhythm Here rhythm rises to higher importance. Not only does enough time need to be taken to achieve each phase in the shooting sequence, but this must occur regularly, that is in about the same amount of time, shot after shot.

If your archer does not feel shooting rhythm naturally, a number of things have to be done. One is the archer’s awareness has to be extended to include shooting rhythm and feedback must be given to the archer on this topic. A coach’s primary job is always to provide feedback to his student. This must be in a form that the archer can understand and accept, of course.

Timing Shots In order to create an awareness of one’s shooting rhythm it is suggested that you time some shots, to establish a baseline for further thought. A reasonable way to do this is to have someone (it doesn’t have to be you) use a stop watch to time how long it takes from bow raise to release of the arrow. This can be anywhere from as few as three seconds (machine-gun like) to close to 15 seconds (a watching-paint-dry pace). All that is necessary now is to see what the shot timings are and whether they are consistent.

So, what would be consistent? Assuming your archer has warmed up, an advanced archer could have all of their shots go off in a two-second range. That would be a very good day. On another day, the same archer might have a five second range (from fastest to slowest in a 5-6 arrow end). Some elite archers have almost metronome-like shooting consistency. But that only comes from practicing perfect shots for many tens of thousands of repetitions. Do not have high expectations here. It is important for your archer to feel “normal.”

The hard part for the coach is seeing when the differences are. When your archer shoots faster, are they “saving” time at full draw or in getting there? These are the two main divisions of this “slice of time:” at full draw and getting to full draw, of course we are only talking about from when the bow is raised to when the arrow is loosed. You can learn something by asking your archer to “speed up slightly” or to “slow down slightly.” If the time it takes them to get to full draw stays about the same, then they are inclined to make adjustments at full draw. If the time at full draw stays roughly constant, they are inclined to making adjustments on the way to full draw. Ideally, when an athlete must speed up a little or slow down a little it should happen evenly, but how is one to learn to do that without good feedback?

Why would an archer need to adjust their rhythm? This is a good question. Archery is all about normal variations (described mathematically by the iconic Bell Curve). An archer’s positions in both time and space vary. None of us are robots, so we will not have robot-like precision. Everything we do with bow and arrow will differ from the average. No matter how carefully we craft our arrows in any set one arrow will be the heaviest and one the lightest. Our criterion for a high quality set of competition arrows is that the weight difference between those two arrows is negligible (as are the spine differences, FOC differences, straightness, fletching differences, etc). Similarly, there will be a range of times taken to launch arrows. One’s “normal range” from fastest to slowest must be found to have negligible effects on our scores (otherwise we would change it). Nobody who has a very wide range of shot timings has been all that successful, so most archers want a quite small range of variation. But on occasion, we drift out of that range going slower and slower or faster and faster. If we have trained properly a subconscious alarm bell rings and it is brought to our attention that we have been shooting “too slowly” or “too quickly” and we have to speed up or slow down to get back to our normal rhythm. That’s why we need to be able to change rhythm.

One of the most difficult skills to master is shooting in the wind. Shooting in significant wind almost always requires shots to be slower and finding a new rhythm, a rhythm one can stick to, is the hardest part of adjusting to the conditions. Just getting used to the fact that one’s range of shot times will also go up because of the wind can be hard to do.

Coaches are not violating the coaching dictum “never tell them what they are doing wrong, tell them how to do it right” by doing this you are supplying information that the archer needs to be able to get a clear picture of what he or he needs to do.

Conclusion
You can see why the fine points of an archer’s rhythm tend to get left to the stage in which an archer is described as an “advanced-elite” archer. Addressing it can be quite complicated.

Archers often make very rapid progress near the beginning of their foray into archery, but then the rate at which they make progress slows considerably, largely because the effort needed to make increasingly difficult improvements goes way, way up.

You can give your students a leg up by helping them to become aware of shooting rhythm when they have gotten reasonable control of their shot process. Their focus has been more about space (Where did that arrow land? Where is my point-of-aim? Is my bow shoulder ‘up’?) rather than where they are in time. That is normal as is discovering that time is important, too.

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Complexity vs. Simplicity

In an exchange on my coaching blog the topic of “simpler is better” came up. This is a precept I have felt has merit for a long time. It seems intuitive . . . but is it? Is simpler really better than more complex?

Lets take as an example a Compound-Release archer and compare one to archers of the past. A longbowman had technique and equipment that needed maintenance, as well as skilled craftsmen to create. When compound-release archers came along, a great deal more complexity was injected into the sport (bowstrings and cables, and release aids, oh my!). Bow sights and bow sights with moveable apertures were invented, and then computer programs were written to ensure the most consistent sight markings possible.

Those bow sights involved bubble levels for an archer to determine whether or not his bow attitude was correct and consistent. Release aids were invented, along with D-loops, to make the release of the string smoother and more consistent. Stabilizer rods were invented to help hold the bow still for aiming and at the moment of release. Jigs were invented to make sure that these bow sights and stabilizers were optimally set up.

Compound-release archers produced higher levels of success at “hitting the target” than had previously been seen. So, was the increased complexity worth it? Apparently so, yes, if the goal is consistent accuracy. (Yes, I know traditional archers have more fun, I are one!)

I think the concept “simpler is better” is too simple. Archers are pragmatic, if nothing else. If additional complexity is warranted will be determined by whether results are affected positively and, really, nothing else. Compound-release archers may want to trim their shot routines to be as simple as possible (which is what I recommend . . . as a starting point) but if adding a little something here or there results in better scores, then “more complex is better.”

I think “simple” is easier to master and it is how we start archers off. We teach a standard, simple form . . . and, if the archer blossoms, we start the process of making their shot routine their own and certainly making it more complicated. (Have I mention mental programs?) Simple is a good place to start from, but not necessarily a good goal.

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Speeding Up and Slowing Down

I read this recently: “During piano lessons, my teacher pushed me to my ceiling on speed, then slowed the piece down and we practiced the isolated parts I stumbled over. Then, we incrementally sped up.”

This seems to be a teaching technique we could apply to our student-archers. Asking them to shoot faster than they are accustomed to (Faster! Faster!) will cause them to stumble where their technique is weak, no?

What do you think?

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Under the Chin or Side of the Face?

There is a healthy debate going on in UK coaching circles as to the “best way” to start beginners, often focused upon which anchor to use, a high anchor (side of the face, corner of the mouth) or a low anchor (under the chin).

Most of these debates are characterized by program coaches claiming they have the “best success” using one or the other. What seems to be left out are the mechanics of the situation.

Here is my take on this question.

The low or under chin anchor presupposes the archer will be using a bow sight. Bow sights are problematic for beginnings because they are using “borrowed” program bows. Until they get their own equipment that they can sight in, there is no use in introducing bow sights. (And don’t think we didn’t try.)

Our approach is to teach Barebow, then introduce other accessories, such as stabilizers and bow sights, in stages and by so doing introduce archers to many of the different styles of shooting that are available to them.

On top of that, beginners are started on large target faces at short distances. The strategy here was summed up by a catch phrase used in USA Archery: “Early participation, early success.” This is no longer used but I think it shows some wisdom. In our programs we even deleted the “safety lecture” to create a system in which participation, aka shooting, occurred as early in the first lesson as possible.

Note Before you freak out about the safety lecture being dumped, please realize we did our research. For one, after having observed quite a number of these safety lectures, we realized that a sizable fraction of the students were not paying attention. In addition, the lecturers were also not paying attention; it takes work to keep your audience engaged and seeing large numbers of your audience tuned out should ring alarm bells. And, finally, we learned that safety rules are best learned in context. We often stop our lessons to point out a safety rule. We ask the assembled students to repeat rules back to us. And we repeat as often as necessary. (We also post range rules and point to them as we explain why things are done the way they are.) In addition, we point out when students do things correctly, by name, to make sure that we don’t come off as always being negative, only pointing out things that are wrong.

Back to the Anchor Point Discussion: When targets are at short distances, a high anchor is (a) a better technique as the points of aim are closer to where the archers are looking, (b) a safer approach as arrows tend to land short of the target butt or on the target butt, and rarely over the target butt, which makes finding all of the shot arrows easier, lending to more shooting per lesson. When teaching aiming, we teach aiming first and then sighting later. Since sights on program bows are way more trouble than they are worth, aiming “off of the point” is an easy aiming technique to teach. (We developed protocols for teaching both.) With a high anchor, points of aim are often on the target face and so easier to teach (we use the target clock face).

Once point of aim is learned, transitioning to a bow sight (if they own one) is an easy process (and yes, we wrote a protocol for it—coaches are too often left on their own without even an example of a technique for teaching something).

And, the under chin anchor gets taught when it is necessary to “make distance,” that is to reach farther targets with reasonable POAs/sight aperture pictures. By then student-archers understand that lowering the nock end of the arrow gives greater cast from the same bow position.

We try to have reasons why we do the things we do and if we find a better way, we adopt that way as soon as possible. And arguments of “we have success in our classes” are weak arguments. If you did half of your classes one way and half the other way and then saw that one of the ways worked better, I would buy it, but just to say “we have success in our classes” is not being compared to the other method. (This is like people recommending their bow or whatnot as being the “best” of its kind because it works for them. But they haven’t tried all of the others, so on what is their opinion based? Answer: not much.)

Addendum
You will find an earlier post describing how we introduce bow sights using foam tape and ball-headed pins. This is to show students what a sight does and is designed to help them decide whether they want to invest in a bow sight,

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Got Another One!

A really good question came in as part of a comment: “Any thoughts for practices that have been virtual for a while?”

So, if we do get allowed out on our ranges and have been practicing solo or just working out, is there a good way to get up to speed again? What is we have been idle for quite some time?

My suggestions apply to anytime you have had a forced or voluntary layoff.

The danger is in trying to get too far, too fast. Your mind remembers how you shot before and won’t accept anything less . . . if you allow it full rein. Here’s just one scenario.

The danger is in trying to get too far, too fast.

Compound Archer—Compound archers often crank down their draw weights or switch to a lighter drawing bow for indoor competition and practice. So, two things are going on: a lower draw weight and fewer repetitions, both of which need to be cranked back up slowly.

It should take more than a few days to crank your bow back up. Maybe a half turn or a full turn on the limbs every other practice day is the max.

Similarly, too many shots in a session is also a no-no. When you get fatigued, your form and execution tend to decay, which is what you do not want to happen. Actually, this is a primary principle:

While recovering from a layoff, you must focus on retaining or regaining your good form.

This is the ultimate guiding factor in this process.

Recurve Archers—It is not unusual for recurve archers to swap out their limbs to a lighter pair during indoor season or a layoff. Cranking back up is not easy. If the draw weight difference is very small, say 2-3 pounds, one can safely switch back to the heavier limbs, or outdoor bow, and just ramp up the number of shots slowly. But if there is a large difference, 5# or more, then more care is needed. This may be able to be done by adjusting the weaker pair to the highest draw weight and when comfortable with that, switch to the heavier limbs, backed off as much as they can be adjusted (assumes an adjustable limb pocket bow) and then crank up those limbs slowly with practice.

You also have to look at your frequency of practicing. If you were practicing in your basement two days a week and then, excited by being able to shoot outdoors, you practice four or five days a week, you are asking for trouble.

Focus on short practices, fairly often, with the goal of maintaining or recovering your former form and execution.

I recommend that recurve archers retain at least one set of limbs when they move up in draw weight. Having a weaker pair to switch to when injured or after a layoff can be very helpful.

Listen to your body! I use a Rule of Thumb: if you are sore the day after a workout, that isn’t unusual. If you are still sore a day later, you probably over did it. If you are still sore one more day later, you definitely over did it. If you exceed this standard, wait until you feel better before working out again and take it a bit easier. And, if you feel pain while shooting—stop! See if you can identify the source of the pain (blister on string fingers, string slap on bow arm, etc.). If you cannot and try again, but feel the pain again, you are done for the day. If you resolve the issue (properly place your arm guard so as to not get hit by the string, adjust your tab or tape your fingers, etc.) and you can shoot without pain, you may continue.

I hope this helps somewhat.

Oh, it really helps if your coach is there to video you shooting, to compare with pre-pandemic form, etc. Or they may be able to do this from memory if they know you well.

Oh, oh, oh, oh—you can get started on these process before the ranges become available.

Postscript
When I originally wrote this is was thinking of a short layoff, but the pandemic may be responsible for year long layoffs. If this is the case, I suggest that you start very slowly . . . very. At first, no bow, no arrows, just a stretch band/tube. Use a mirror to check your form. If you have a number of stretch bands of different resistances, start with the lightest and work your way through, up to the stiffest over several sessions. Get to full draw position with the band/tube, and pause there. Flex the muscles you use to hold while there, then let down. This is a form of the Reversal Drill.

Give your body time to report back. So, light session after light session—paying attention as to whether you get sore and where. Always allow time between sessions to allow your muscle fibers to repair themselves.

Work your way out of the bands/tubes into a light drawing bow as above.

If you have a coach, now is a good time to consult them.

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Should I Rebuild My Shot?

This is a coaching blog so the question probably should be “Should I recommend that my student rebuild his/her shot?” That would be a bit long for a title and, actually, I wanted to put you in the position of the archer in this scenario to better understand it.

Rebuilding your shot is a massive undertaking and, because of that, it should be the very last thing you recommend. I teach that archery is an “experimental sport.” Everyone builds a shot that is simultaneously the same as everyone else’s in that style and unique to themselves. The surface appearance of a shot is controlled to a large extent by the laws of physics and it would be very unusual for anyone to have success making shots a radically different way. And, while the appearance is the same, if you look closely you can find differences, often idiosyncratic differences, in the ways people perform their shot.

So, the experiment is this: you build your shot and then you test it to see how well it performs. If it performs as well as you want, ta da, you’re done. If it doesn’t perform as well as you want, then modifications are to be considered. Basically this happens along the lines of an archer’s benchmark scores increase as they acquire skill but a plateau is reached and progress seems to stop. At that point, the archer’s equipment needs to be examined to see if it is holding them back—examples of equipment that limits scores are arrows that are bent (aluminum) or mismatched in weight (all kinds). If the equipment is adequate (it only needs to not limit the archer’s performance, it doesn’t have to meet any particular standard), then the archer’s form and execution have to be examined. Nuances of form not yet tackled, e.g. shooting rhythm, need to be examined. Only when all of the above have been eliminated as reasons for the performance plateau should you even consider a shot rebuild.

So, the key elements supporting a shot rebuild are: a legitimate performance plateau and all discernable causes of said plateau being eliminated. This list may seem short but it is not. It involves various tweaks in the archer’s current shot to see if just a small modification will do. If it does then the archer’s current shot has been refined and progress ensues, so no shot rebuild is to be considered. And there are a lot of elements in an archer’s shot that might be causing the performance limitation, including his/her mental game.

Only if all of those things have been tried, without success, should a rebuild be recommended.

What If the Archer Just Wants to Start Over?
Archers talk and sometimes they become convinced that another shooting technique is superior to the one they are using. Such decisions are subject to fads, some coach’s recommendations being viewed as being better than others, whims, and any number of other effects. I think that when such happens, the amount of work involved, the process, etc. need to be discussed with your archer so that they know what is involved and that this is not a “quick fix” by any means. I also teach that the archer is in charge. They make the decisions in the end. If the archer wants to go down a path I completely disapprove of, well, that’s my problem, not theirs.

What Are The Elements of a Shot Rebuild?
There are some aspects of a rebuild that differ from just learning how to shoot from scratch. Otherwise it is quite the same as starting from scratch.

The necessary indicators for a rebuild were mentioned above, and a rebuild has been recommended and decided upon, so what do you do? To start, some archers just want to be told what to do, others want to be involved in the planning. In either case you need a plan as to what form and execution is being looked for. In this, you will need to know what involvement level your archer is at to judge how involved they want to be in the planning.

In any case, a couple of significant issues pop up right away. Any “different” shooting technique will not be all that different as all shots “look alike.” So, whatever plan you engage in must emphasize the differences substantially. Each difference has to be a focus of attention for quite some time, otherwise regression to the mean becomes the problem. I refer to this regression as the “almost magnetic attraction of doing it the old way.” If the archer isn’t provided with a different feel, or different image of getting some shot element done, they will quickly slide back to doing it “the old way,” after all, they practiced doing just that thousands of times. For this reason, it is important to change some things overtly, some even whether they need to be changed or not. The element I think is most effective in making things feel different is an archer’s stance. For example, if they were shooting with an open stance, ask them to shoot from a closed stance. This change alone makes everything feel “different,” and since it happens first in the shot sequence, emphasizes the “different” nature of the new shot. The stance is ideal for this purpose because it can be “modified” later. If it only serves to break the log jam of the “old shot,” it will have served its purpose. If the “new shot” is not made tangibly different from the “old shot” there will be little difference between the new and old and it is unlikely the new will be any better than the old. (Note Sometimes the huge amount of effort invested in this process rejuvenates an archer’s interest and things get better because the archer is more engaged than he was when he was in the rut that resulted in the decision to do a shot rebuild. This is one reason why it is so hard to evaluate whether the new shot is “better” than the old one.)

If you avoid the above in your rebuild, a significant problem you will have is just with your archer staying the course. The number of archers who will just put their shot in their coach’s hands and do what they are told to do is vanishingly small. Most archers, having achieved some experience and success will expect to master this “new shot” quickly and be back to competing in tournaments right away. The same syndrome occurs when teaching adult beginners. Adults are used to mastering new things quickly and displaying “adult competence,” aka not appearing foolishly naïve and childishly unskilled.

Things that are subtly different are harder to master than things overly different. Archers going through rebuilds have been known to stop competing for a year to a year and a half. The reason is obvious: the competition and the desire to do well will encourage regression to their old shot. Subconsciously, our performance will be driven to “what has worked in the past.” All shooting techniques are stored in long term memory. Subconsciously, when performance is suffering, switches are made to other things “on file” that have shown success in the past. Every archer has experienced the shock of performing a form flaw that they eradicated years ago, usually when they were dissatisfied with their shooting when under pressure. That flaw was stored in long tem memory and is always available. This is why focus and mental control are so important to high quality shooting. The ease with which things are pulled off of the mental shelf like this is determined by repetitions. The more something is repeated, the easier it is to recall. The archer’s “old shot” was repeated a lot and the “new shot” should not be taken out for a test drive until it is in the #1 position, strongly, on that memory shelf. One thousand shots the new way are not enough to override 40,000 shots the old way. Rebuilds, therefore take time.

The classic example of shot rebuilds is provided by Simon Fairweather of Australia. A world champion in the early 1990’s, he experienced declining performances for the better part of a decade afterward. Since the 2000 Olympic Games were to be in his home country, he embarked on a shot rebuild a year and a half ahead of time, with his then national coach, Kisik Lee. His declining performances must have fueled a great desire because it is quite, quite rare for an Olympic Recurve archer to rebuild his shot after ten years of elite competition. And he did medal in those Games. We don’t have records of those who rebuilt and failed to exceed their prior performances (another of the many glaring holes in coaching knowledge in our sport).

Finally
These are just my thoughts on the matter, of course. I have had only a couple of students rebuild their shots, so I do not have a lot of experience at this. I am unaware of a coach who does have a lot of experience in shot rebuilds (maybe Kisik Lee). This is a good indicator of how often these things happen.

Also, if nothing else, the difficulty of making a complete change in shooting technique shows the importance of guiding serious target archers when they are building and modifying their first shot. Build it right (really, reasonably close to being right) and they won’t ever need a rebuild. They will be close enough to their optimum shot, the best shot they can master, and will be able to achieve it through minor modifications over time.

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Plateaus

I have written about plateaus before but other ideas come along and I have additional thoughts, so I want to address plateaus again . . . some more.

For one, you need to verify you are on an actual plateau. Do you keep records of your scores? Some people don’t and are just going on the “feeling” that they haven’t gotten better recently. This may or may not be true. Keeping records of your scores on the various rounds you compete on and, better, charting those scores will be instructive. I remember one guy who felt he hadn’t made any improvement in months. It was just the beginning of indoor season and his first two scores of the season were the same as he was shooting at the end of the previous season. Of course, he hadn’t made any improvement in months . . . he hadn’t shot that round in months. And shooting the same scores as you were shooting previously after such a log break indicates that there has been no loss of scoring ability in that situation, and that is not a negative thing.

Some Things to Try
To avoid a plateau that is due to being in a rut, you should try mixing it up some. Try:
• shifting venues. Shoot at a different range or indoor range. Shoot with different people. Shoot at different times.
• doing something differently. Consult coaches, books, magazines, videos, YouTube, etc. for a form improvement and see if you can incorporate that into your shot. This is not to be done thoughtlessly, as a panacea, but with due consideration. And remember that anytime you try something new, your scores are inclined to dip some. The question (always) is do they come back up higher than they were.
• different equipment. Maybe this indoor season, try shooting Barebow, or if you shoot Barebow Compound, try shooting Barebow Recurve. If you shoot Compound Unlimited/Freestyle, try shooting with a pin sight rather than a moveable sight. Sometimes a holiday from your old routines will reset your systems to get back on a pattern that is “trending upward.”

The basic idea is to disrupt your old routines a bit (not massively!) to give you enough of a different feel as to get your attention, then you bring that attention back to your normal shooting.

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