Tag Archives: Mental Training

Follow-up to “We Can Learn from Teenagers”

I was discussing my last post’s topic with the colleague/friend who brought it to my attention (Tom Dorigatti) and in that discussion Tom pointed out that:

You may recall that she (Liko Arreola) won the Women’s Championship at Vegas last year and a 15 year old young lad won the Men’s Championship at Vegas in 2022, too.

In bouncing these things back and forth in my mind, I followed on with “I think this is a combination of a couple of things: good coaching and a willingness to be coached on the part of the young athletes. Combine those with the benefits of youth (no mental scars, steady nerves, etc.) and great things can happen.

We didn’t get the coaching, at least until we were much older. So, we had pounds of bullstuff circulating in our heads and with no guidance in the mental game, equipment, etc. we created all kinds of blocks to good performance.”

I was thinking of professional golfers who fondly remember being able to putt brilliantly when they were in youth golf, but can’t “find the magic” again now that they were competing at the professional level. Those pros had accumulated a vast number of failed putt images in memory, so when they are to block out any expectation of the success of a putt, there is still this wall of memory holding back a flood of negative thoughts to contend with. (Think of the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike.)

As we age we accumulate many, many positives to build upon, but also things we consider as failures. It might be best if we didn’t label our shots as “successes” or “failures” but that seems an almost automatic process—maybe we can train ourselves to not do that. Not having those stores of memories tagged as successes or failures may make it easier to clear our minds and execute our damned shots.

As the young lady stated (“In practice at home, I don’t keep scores because, for me, it will lead to expectations and pressure in tournaments. My practices focus mainly on trying to perfect quality shot executions.”) self-knowledge is always the key. Some philosopher long, long ago gave the advice “Know thyself.” Still seems to be good advice, especially for archers.

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We Can Learn from Teenagers

Here is an interview of a young phenom from Hawaii.

Formula for Success: How Liko Arreola Is Rising to the Top of the Archery Rankings

Here is a taste of the interview–

In practice at home, I don’t keep scores because, for me, it will lead to expectations and pressure in tournaments. My practices focus mainly on trying to perfect quality shot executions.

Her father is training her and seems to be providing wise leadership.

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Putting the Whys Before the Whats

I had a friend comment that he saw a list of eleven “bullet points,” that is points of emphasis, that characterize the Holding phase of a shot. I have said this before but I guess it is worth repeating that a physical technique, such as involved in archery shots or golf shots, can be sliced into as many pieces as you want and coaches who slice large numbers of sections seem to be more knowledgeable, so there is an incentive for coaches to do this. It is also, in my humble opinion, a mistake. Albert Einstein said “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” What he was saying was “strive for simplicity, but avoid being excessive about it.” Slicing and dicing our shot sequence into many, many pieces is not movement in the direction of simplicity.

I have been working on a book, Coaching from Basic Principles, which has the goal of trying to simplify our work as coaches. Allow me to use this approach to address the Holding phase of a shot, as that example is before us, before making a list of all the things needed to be done after the anchor and before the loose.

What is Holding For?
Holding is a slice of time, just prior to the loosing of the shot for . . . for . . .  well, what is it for? Have you thought about this?

I think the “hold” is linked to the reason it exists and that is we must shoot from stillness. In the movies, archers like Legolas or Arrow shoot while jumping off buildings, riding a mastodon, or using a shield like a skateboard to slide down a flight of stairs. Of course their arrows are optical effects, so they can be fabulously successful, but target archers need to be still at the time of the loose for the simple reason that to hit their marks, they must be placed in space correctly (Archer’s Triangle form, sight aperture on POA, etc.). If they are not still, they are moving and therefore they have to also place themselves in time (Now, no . . . now? Yes!)

So, we need to be still just before the loose and, of course, we do not want to inject extraneous motion into the loose, but that is another topic. So, do we just assume we are still at that point or do we look for verification? The entire context of a shot routine is a guide to our attention, so that we are attending to what we are doing so that we can bail out if anything goes wrong, so yes, we do check as to whether we have met the condition of stillness as a precondition of a good shot. But, how do we do this?

I wasn’t taught this and had to find it on my own, but that is true of much of my coaching knowledge, but I haven’t read this or heard this elsewhere, and I have read every book on archery technique in the English language, many of which were translated from other languages (French, Chinese, Arabic, etc.)

Here is what I see: as I hit my anchor position, and check to see if my sight aperture is on my point-of-aim (POA), my aperture is moving, oscillating back and forth, up and down. I have only had a dead still aperture twice in my life and I was so enthralled by the sight of it, I couldn’t finish either shot. So, the aperture goes back and forth, up and down around an alignment with the target center/POA, etc. Then anywhere from 0.5 s to 1.5 s later, the oscillations drop in magnitude. If I continue to hold, several seconds later, the oscillations increase in magnitude, often becoming larger than the beginning of the sequence, due to muscle fatigue, I believe. The “zone” starting at the beginning of the more quiet oscillations is my sign of stillness. If I hold too long, the increase in the size of those movements indicates a lack of stillness and an end of the stillness zone.

For Barebow archers, I use this stillness zone as the spot they are to shoot from. A sign, as useful as a clicker, to “shoot now.” (For Barebow archers, the oscillations are in their arrow points, assuming they are shooting “off of the point.”)

For Recurve archers and Compound archers there are things to do as they are watching the oscillations die: string alignment, bubble levels, scope-peep hole concentricity, etc. But the monitoring of the oscillations can be carried on subconsciously as the conscious mind is checking all of those things.

And, when the oscillations die or damp down, this is confirmation of stillness (or being as still as they can) so that is a “good to go” sign.

Can More Stillness Be Trained In?
I think more and better stillness can be trained in, because of feedback training. Just by providing feedback to your subconscious mind, things can and will get better. To start, archers need to be made aware of these motions. I ask all of my serious students to draw to anchor and hold while observing the motions of their sight aperture or arrow point. I then ask them to describe the motions. (I often have to prompt them about the magnitude of the motions, including asking them to repeat the process, focusing upon that.)

I suggest that the length in seconds of the “stillness zone” is an indicator of progress in becoming more fit, archery fit, of course. The magnitude of the oscillations being an indicator of degree of stillness. If, over time, the oscillations become smaller in magnitude, they are improving on their ability to be still at full draw.

Once the archer accepts the desirability of stillness at that point in their shot, the feedback they get from these checks are all the subconscious needs to make improvements as they go. Of course, if they aren’t working out, shooting significant numbers of shots, no subconscious efforts can overcome body neglect.

In the Book . . .
In the book I am working on, I try to list all of these basic principles, the knowledge of which should support coaches in directing their archers to better performances. And rather than there being eleven points of emphasis for something like a Hold, there is only one. Simpler is better, I suggest. And I do believe the “whys” will guide us better that lists of “whats.”

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Why Mind-ful-ness Is Important to Archers

Bruce Lee was quoted as saying “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot.” This is a classic deepity (and I am a Bruce Lee fan, having read his books). A deepity is something that sounds profound, yet is mundane. (The water is taking the shape of its container, it doesn’t become a teapot, otherwise every teapot would be ruined the first time you used it.)

Now Mr. Lee was talking about fighting, primarily, which is a far cry from archery, but we take our stimulations and inspirations where we can.

I play a lot in my head. One of the things I do is to empty my head of thoughts and see how long I can keep it empty. My record is just a few seconds, not very long at all. To me this make sense, our minds are usually full of thoughts as one of its roles is to predict the future, along the lines of “Is that a zephyr of wind rustling the grass or am I being stalked?” In Lee’s case, he is responding to an opponent’s moves and thinking about counters would only slow his response, so avoiding thinking about “what I will do if” kinds of things makes sense. But what about archery?

I have described an archer’s shot sequence/routine as a guide to their attention, basically a list of what to focus one’s attention upon when. Our attention starts on taking our stance and then skips from one thing to the next, to the next. This is governed by the limit on our ability to hold things “in mind” which is roughly about nine seconds or so. So, the idea is we “set it and forget it” and as long as it takes nine seconds or less (or thereabouts), what we set stays where we set it. So, from bow raise to release, in less than nine seconds? I can do that.

But the whole time my “mind” is full (mindfulness, remember?) of things to help me make a high quality shot. Nothing else is allowed, just the things I am doing . . . now! I often refer to this as “shooting in the now.”

So, am I shooting with an empty mind? No way. Can one shoot with an empty mind? I can’t answer that question, except that I realize that I cannot. Every time I think I have been shooting with an empty mind, I believe my subconscious programming of my shot is running in the background, and on those occasions it was just a short time before I did something counterproductive, aka my mind “wandered,” I got distracted, and a poor shot resulted.

So, I am asking you—have you ever shot arrows (more than one, a whole end, . . . ) mindlessly? No thoughts, no attention only on your shot process? I want to hear from you.

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We Get Letters! (Part 4)

Coach Ron Kumetz sent in two questions/topics. The first was answered in the previous post. The second is:

Coach Lee is also fond of saying that NTS (aka the KSL shot cycle) is the cure for target panic. In my estimation, it is not NTS that lets the archer re-take control but the dedication of their brain energy to concentrating on a process, not necessarily the NTS process. In essence the are now once again thinking about the process rather than the outcome. Thoughts?

* * *

Coach Lee made this claim, along with “no archer he has trained has ever gotten injured” when he arrived in 2006. I will let you evaluate the veracity of those claims.

Ah, a “cure for target panic.” I find any and all such claims to be dubious at best. Currently, we do not have an accepted definition of target panic, just a set of symptoms, and we certainly do not have an agreed upon cause. Imagine doctors trying to cure a disease when they aren’t quite sure what the disease is and they don’t know what causes it. In Medicine the accepted approach in these cases is to treat the symptoms and hope for the best. Then they go looking for a cause and a cure. Until then no one uses the word cure (except over zealous reporters trying to sell their words).

Whether target panic involves thinking about outcomes rather than process is debatable. Obviously there are lots of other reasons to avoid thinking about outcomes while trying to execute a complicated process.

I tend to think Coach Lee is a bit over zealous about his shooting technique. To prove his claim, he would have to show why his technique did this but other techniques would not.

Olympic champions, e.g. Michele Frangilli and Vic Wunderle, to my knowledge, shot in the Olympic Games with bad cases of target panic (not winning a medal on those occasions). This is a serious enough malady that we should get professional help to address it, rather than just making claims right and left (and many of these are quite wild). USA Archery has connections to research universities. Could not they ask departments in those universities to research the causes and treatments of target panic and get some real answers, rather than just living with conjectures?

That is quite desirable in my opinion.

Postscript I have written extensively about this topic, even to the point in laying out a treatment protocol (see “A Recommended Treatment Framework for Target Panic” in AFm 15-1 or Chapter 28 in More on Coaching Archery).

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Mea Culpa

When we stopped producing bimonthly issues of Archery Focus magazine a year ago, I said offhandedly that I would have more time to post things on this blog. Clearly that has not happened. I believe I underestimated how much stimulation was involved interacting with authors and the topics they chose to write upon.

So, if there is a topic you would like me to address, please comment below and tell me what topics you would like to see more on and I will do my best to meet those requests.

Steve

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The Difference Between Seeking Excellence and Obsession

It seems that to rise to the top of any sporting endeavor requires one to become obsessed with that sport. Tee shirts like those inscribed with: “Eat. Sleep. Archery. Repeat.” are indicative of this mindset.

In U.S. culture it is hard to distinguish obsession from “working hard” as Americans have bought into the idea that wealth and professional stature reflect the intrinsic moral value of individuals. The very rich take this attitude over the top by declaring themselves to be morally superior, espousing the attitude that the poor are poor because they do not want to work hard (like they do).

So, in the class of archers seeking elite status, I would not be surprised to find attitudes that basically suggest that if you are not obsessed, you won’t succeed. I remember the story that Darrell Pace tells that when he decided to seriously train to go to the Olympics and medal, he broke up with his girlfriend. The girlfriend was understanding and thought a temporary hiatus to their relationship was fine, but Darrell said no, it is a permanent breakup. He did not want any loose ends intruding into his head space while he was training. Was that obsessive? Seems so. Yet Darrell is quite a “nice guy” and maybe the tendency toward obsessive behavior only applied to his archery.

So, coaches, what do you think our role is? I have never been the personal coach of an elite athlete, but I am a firm believer of having a balanced life. I also played basketball every day for over three and a half years (back in my heyday) and I would practice for hours unbroken without using my off hand at all. I understand being committed to a sport. I also know that such commitments can bleed over into obsession.

What do you think?

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Just Have Fun! Really?

I am hearing from a large number of professional athletes that their goal is just to go out, compete, and “have fun.” In the immortal words of Inigo Montoyo, they “. . . keep using that word. I do not think it means what <they> think it means.”

It is easy to “have fun” when you are winning the game, but what about those on the other side, those who are currently “not winning?” Actually, if you are a member of a losing team and you say something like “That was fun!” I think you would suffer some severe pushback.

When these athletes refer to “having fun” I think they are mistaking what they are actually doing. They are actually finding joy in the exercising of their hard-earned skills. An American football quarterback who throws a long TD pass in the final moments of a game, when that score makes no difference in the outcome can experience joy in exercising his skills, whether he is losing or winning.

This is what I think we should tell our younger student-archers: not “have fun,” but “find the joy.” The best example of that from my own experience was when I participated in a tournament in which there was a ranking round and then head-to-head matches. The score in each of those was added to your ranking round score, and if you won a head-to-head shoot-off (6 arrows), you got to add ten points, too. Well, I wasn’t close to the cutoff score for the actual championship shoot-offs, but the organizers were in this to provide experience, specifically the then new head-to-head shoot-off experience, so all of us in the “loser’s bracket” were also set up to shoot head-to-head with others in our category. I proceeded to win all but one of my Round Robin matches, and my final total was the highest in the bracket of “losers.” I felt quite a bit of joy at that performance (and still do), which couldn’t have been farther from a win.

This approach has the advantage of defining “fun” for our charges, some of whom seem to be from the Conan the Barbarian School of Combat “What is best in life? To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women” (from the first Arnold the Barbarian movie). And the joy of exercising one’s skill can be felt in practice, when “winning” is nowhere in sight.

May the joy be with you!

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Discipline

One of Master Coach Bernie Pellerite’s favorite sayings is that archery is not a sport, it is a discipline. While I won’t argue that statement either way, discipline does seem to be at the heart of competitive archery (and every young archer’s parent’s hearts).

The word has unfortunate connotations or alternate meanings. Many people think of discipline primarily as being associated with punishment (or bondage, oh my!). But here we are looking at a secondary definition of the word, namely “2 : to train or develop by instruction and exercise especially in self-control.” Maybe we would be better off using the term “self-discipline” instead.

The words discipline and disciple have the same roots which is the meaning I tend to focus on. Our very best competitors often have a near-religious commitment to their archery practice.

Ack, you may have noticed I love words and enjoy word play and have distracted myself, something archers are not supposed to do.

The point of this post is that everyone, to a person, advocates that competitive archery is best expressed by repetition of one’s shot process, while focusing on that process so as to adhere to it faithfully.

The objective of target archery, the goal, is to shoot close groups of arrows into the highest scoring zones of one’s target. So, why is being disciplined to follow the exact same procedure the “winning formula” in so many people’s minds?

The point of this post is that everyone, to a person, advocates that competitive archery is best expressed by repetition of one’s shot process, while focusing on that process so as to adhere to it faithfully.

There are, in my mind, a couple of contributing factors. For one, if you just performed a series of steps that resulted in an arrow landing in the X-ring of your target, if you shoot the next shot differently, will that increase or decrease the likelihood that the next arrow will land in the same place? I remember a rather embarrassing episode at a California State Outdoor (NFAA) Championships. I decided for some reason to shoot this event with a release aid that I had just bought a week or so prior. (I know, I know, but it makes a nice “Boy, was I stupid!” story to tell as a coach.) On one target (35 yard Field, I think), as I was drawing to anchor, I hit my chin with my thumb, which tripped the release aid. When I checked the result, it was a 5 (on a 5-3 target face). Yeah, sometimes it is better to be lucky than to be good. Now, do you think that I should have tried to replicate that shot with my next arrow? No? (You passed the test!) But, do you know why? The reason why is that that accidental trick shot I pulled off had been done exactly one time and I had “memories” of thousands of replications of my standard shot to draw upon. This is why we have “Recovery Techniques,” to wipe away the influence of a bad shot (no matter how well it scored) and to be able to get back to replication our “good” shot, the one practiced ad nauseum, as we were doing.

Underlying this is the fact that we are better at physical tasks that we are repeating than doing them without such a repetition. And, we now know, that even an imagined task attempt makes one better at replicating such a task.

Biologically, we have determined that an imagined physical task activates the same muscles as when doing the task, so at the very least, you are running wiring tests for the task. Since muscles are activated by nerves, if you activate the same muscles in the same sequence, you are likely to get the same muscle activity. Of course, if you shut your eyes on the second attempt, all bets are off for an aiming sport. Using the exact same muscles without the feedback as to whether the bow was properly positioned is not a guarantee of success. (And I once was soundly beaten by a woman at a novelty shoot, who closed her eyes just before her release aid tripped. Go figure.)

Biologically, this behavior is reinforced in the form that nerve impulses are easier flowing if they are preceded by the exact same nerve impulses. It is as if the previous nerve action primes the channel for the next one.

I do not expect that focusing on repetition of one’s shot process will be moved off of center of an archer’s attention any time soon, if ever, because of the reasons behind that practice.

Postscript I am currently working on a book on principle-driven coaching. I was trained as a negotiator back in my working days. Our favorite process was often described as “putting the whys before the whats.” By focusing on the whys before getting into “solutions” allows one to understand the issues better and, more importantly, allows everyone to see how all of the others see those issues. This results in solutions, the “whats,” which are more effective in addressing the problems.

And I think this is an approach we, as archery coaches, might benefit from, if . . . if we only knew what the “whys” were! I am taking a shot at doing this, if only to see if I can get the “ball rolling” as it were, and interest others in doing the same.

The above post is along those lines . . . knowing the whys of everything we do and then allowing them to dictate what we do.

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A Technique for Banishing Negative Thoughts

Here’s a technique I learned recently regarding something to do when negativity raises its ugly head, typically after a bad shot. Yes, this is a mental recovery technique. Give it a try and if it works for you, recommend to your students.

This technique takes some time, so you have to be conscious of the shot clock if there is one. The technique, itself, is simple: you take five slow steady breaths, counting each one and, after a couple, look around at your environment at something beautiful or interesting. So, outdoors, it might be a cloud or a tree; indoors maybe an arrow curtain or a poster. This process can be repeated but . . . time . . . you have to watch the clock if there is one (no, not obsessively).

Why I Think This Works When we are shooting in competition we obsessively focus upon our shot process, weaving conscious and subconscious mentalities to do so. This minimizes our inner world a great deal (we are excluding “distractions,” which includes the bulk of what normally occupied our minds). So, when we are overwhelmed by negative thoughts it is because we have created a cage, so to speak, to contain them and not let them “get away.”

This technique focuses on another internal process, a neutral one, which breaks the pattern we usually follow when shooting and, hopefully, our breathing is slow and steady (no panting allowed!). Then we deliberately get out of that mental cage to look at something irrelevant to shooting that tells us we are not trapped in a cage with our negative thoughts.

If you try it, let me know how it worked for you and whether you intend on teaching it to your students. (Note I teach such things because even if my serious competitive students have never had such an experience, they will then know that others have, so if they do it is not something that is “just happening to them,” and it gives them something to do in the event.)

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