Tag Archives: Getting Better

The Different Kinds of Practice

I have been reviewing some older posts on this site and ran across this question, which I now have a different take upon.

Here is the question: “I got a note from a student who had attended a recent tournament and noted that his score had improved substantially over his score from the previous year but in talking with other archers found that their scores had been about the same. The question was “Why?” Why hadn’t they improved from a year of practice?

* * *

When I first addressed this question I discussed plateaus, but actually I think that misses the point. The point is that practice does not make perfect or even better.

As just one example in the way of convincing you of this is that I have sent many thousands of hours driving, mostly back and forth to work. Do you think that makes me a better driver? Studies indicate it is more likely to make me a worse driver. The more comfortable I get with ordinary driving the less alert I am to possible accidents, changes in road conditions, etc. Driving back and forth to work a lot does not prepare one to drive in a NASCAR event.

There are many kinds of “practice.” Here are just a few:

No Practice at All This is practice in name only. So, you decide to “go to practice” and you go to the range and set up your gear and shoot a few arrows. Then you spend some time chatting with friends also shooting. Then one of them suggests a shooting game and so you do that for a while. They you take a break and get a soda from a machine and spend time talking with your friends as you drink it. Then you shoot a few more arrows. Later you are asked “What did you do today?” and you respond “I went to archery practice.” No you didn’t.

Equipment Evaluations/Tuning/Testing These sessions are necessary but are devoted to getting your equipment in order and are not “practice” in the sense of you learning to operate that equipment better. These are necessary, but maybe we should call them something else.

Archery Fitness Sessions This may be a gym workout of just a heavy shooting session (arrow after arrow after arrow . . .). These can be quite helpful in maintaining your fitness, but if you get tired and your form degrades they can actually make you a worse archer.

Deliberate Practice This is practicing to get better. This is the practice that should make you better . . . if you do it. These are short intense, highly focused sessions that are noticeable by the archers not letting anything that goes wrong to go uncorrected. These are all about getting your form “right” and repeatable. I mean “right” as conforming to the form you have chosen/designed/etc., not conforming to what good form is supposed to be as described in some book.

In these sessions, notes are taken, questions are asked, coaches are employed (if possible) and these sessions are planned. They are short, compared to the sessions of some others, but by the end you are tired from the physical and mental efforts extended.

In Conclusion

Practice does not make perfect, or even better, unless it is designed around drills, exercises, practices that can make you better. With those in pocket, intense concentration on what you are doing is required to practice these things deliberately. It is never the case that high shot numbers is involved. Mass shooting is a memorization technique. And you don’t want to memorize your shot until it is exactly as you want it to be.

So, you will not get better unless you practice deliberately.

Serious competitive archers practice deliberately. Recreational archers generally practice in “No Practice at All” mode, which is quite acceptable. They are, after all, shooting for fun. Why should they do anything that is not fun to do? (Deliberate practice is not fun.) Now if they are whining that they aren’t getting better, you can help them out by explaining this to them.

PS If you are interested in drills designed to make you better, Mike Gerard and I wrote The Archery Drill Book that contains many such drills, which if done intensely enough can make you better.

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Just Sayin’

From The Guardian:

“Tyler Herro, a 20-year-old rookie, poured in a career-high 37 points to lead the NBA’s Miami Heat to a three games to one series lead. Tyler Herro should still be in college. He’s not, but is still a student.

“He carries a red spiral-bound notebook with him at all times, jotting down notes when things pop into his head. What worked, what didn’t, where he thinks he can get better and how he’s feeling after a game.”

A notebook and a commitment to using it is an archer-athlete’s greatest training aid used to improve.

Just sayin’.


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Why Would Your Scores Go Up?

As a retired teacher, I am often amazed when people claim that it is a problem that student test scores have plateaued, that is show no improvement. What, did they expect that a new group of seventh-graders, taught much the same way as the last group, would somehow, magically, perform better?

What connection does the current group of seventh-grades have to those now in eighth grade? Answer: none whatsoever. Anyone learned in process mechanics knows that if you take a sheet of steel and place it in a mold and hit it with a press ram, that the part you get will be near identical to the last part. They have even figured out ways to ensure that the outcome is the same, within reasonable process parameters. They only compare one with the next if they expect them to be identical.

What is reasonable to expect is that the eighth-graders, given the seventh-grade tests, would perform slightly better. That comparison is comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges. (My cartoon mind shows someone holding up an orange and commented on what a poor color this apple has.)

So, let’s talk about this applies to archery scores.

Should they be going up?

There is really only one scenario in which they do. If all you do is practice and shoot in competitions, your scores should either stay the same . . . or go down. That’s right, I said down. Studies show that just doing a skill does not make you better, but often can make you worse. I use driving a car to exemplify this fact. Commuting to work every day and racking up hundreds of thousands of driving miles, does not qualify you to compete in NASCAR events. And, your driving skills may actually be eroding. This is because the vast majority of time you spend driving, you are driving on autopilot. You are not focused on your driving, trying to get better, etc.; you are just driving subconsciously.

So, if you practice rarely and compete rarely, I suspect your scores would be going down if, indeed, they ever went up in the first place.

If you practice frequently (making you someone in good “archery shape”) and compete frequently, I suspect that your scores should hold steady. (I have spoken with professional archers who are practicing little and competing a great deal and they have complained that their scores were going down. It does take both.)

In order for your scores to go up, you need to be focusing upon practice sessions designed to make you a better archer. This is the only way you can “improve” your archery.

The mistake we make is most of us are in the second category but thinking, “Gee we are spending so much time and effort (and money); we should be getting better!” This is the equivalent to “Gee, I paid so much money for my family car and I commute quite a distance to work and back each day, I should be getting better as a driver, right?”

Nope, you are just reinforcing your ability to perform at your average level or lower.

The message for your students is that two things are required to get better: (a) time on task and (b) focusing on things that demonstrably make them better. They need to come up with “a” and you, as their coach, need to help them find “b.”

In finding “b” the trial-and-test process is your friend. Your job is to make suggestions as to drills your student can do that will make them better and devise tests that will show whether or not that drill is working for them. Better coaches diagnose faults better. Better coaches make better suggestions. Better coaches devise good evaluation plans.

Are you getting better?

PS I am not tweaking you. At this stage in my life I am well past my peak with regard to, well, anything. I still devote energy in trying to learn more about what will make me a better coach, but find myself more and more focused in sharing what I already know. I may be past my peak, but you are probably not, and you can take us farther than I can. I do hope you will adopt the spirit of “passing on your coaching knowledge” as I think not doing that is what has hindered us and our sport in the past. Steve


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