Tag Archives: Mental Training

Are You in Control of Your Shot?

I just wrote a piece with the possibly too cute title of “To Get Control Over Your Shot, You Have to Give Up Control, While Remaining in Control.” The point of the piece was all archers go through a phase in which they attempt to force the bow to shoot well. They grip their bows fiercely, they concentrate fiercely, and they distort their bodies trying to look down the arrow shaft to aim better, for example.

All archers need to learn that the idea of physically controlling their bow to get the outcome they desire is a road to poor performances. What is needed is physical control of ourselves, not the bow per se. We are trying to create a situation by which our actions can create a successful shot. The bow cannot draw itself and the arrow cannot select a true path to the target. These are things we must do and must control. What we must forgo is trying to control the outcome of the shot. You have to give up some control of your shot. Striving for complete physical control always interferes with the bow doing what we ask of it.

The attempt to hold the bow in the exact position needed always fails because, as I said in the piece I am working on “The bow and arrow are physical objects, made of quality materials and proper dimensions and organization. They will act the same way under the same conditions . . . if . . . if they are not interfered with. Holding onto the bow through the power stroke and arrow launch is a source of interference, simply because we are incapable to doing something twice in the exact same way, let alone many dozens of times in fairly quick succession.

We need to learn to cradle the bow, not squeeze it, so that when the string is loosed, the bow acts as if it were merely hanging in space by itself. You have to give up some control over the bow (limiting yourself to drawing it, positioning it, and loosing the string) but you have to “remain in control” of your mind.

The main point of the article is that to be consistently accurate you need to shift those attempts at excessive control of the bow over into controlling your mind.

If you allow your subconscious actions with the bow to vary away from your normal shot sequence, aka your “plan to shoot shots,” you will be defeating yourself. Mentally, you have to require your subconscious self to stick to “the plan.” This is why we must be “present” and “aware” consciously while shooting, but not really thinking anything. We are watching, ready to blow the letdown whistle if any deviations to “the plan” are spotted. If you fail to monitor your shots and exert complete mental control over, well, yourself, as soon as you experience any disappointment, your subconscious mind will change the plan to make things “better.” Rather than make up something on the spot, it is more likely to pull something off of the shelf that had been practiced up “before.” If you have ever had an old “bad habit” pop up on you during a competition, now you know where it came from. (They never go away, they are merely sent to the bench.) Any deviation to your current “plan” is highly likely to be counterproductive as it hasn’t been practice or practice recently, not has it been vetted as something that works well for you.

Does this make any sense to you? If it does, does it affect how you teach your students?

 

 

 

 

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When to Loose the String, Aye, That’s the Rub

I got a very interesting question regarding shooting Recurve Barebow. I believe the rather large number of questions coming in on this style this reflects a basic paucity of information on Barebow in books and whatnot and while we are working on that, there are a few DVD sources worth exploring if you are interested, namely: “Modern Traditional” (highly recommended) and the “Masters of the Barebow” series (I have not seen all of these but the ones I have were informative).

In this more traditional style a decision must be made regarding when to loose the string as neither a mechanical release aid or clicker is employed. (If you didn’t know, the clicker was invented as a cure for target panic, not as I thought originally, as a draw stop.)

Here’s the question:

Hello Steve,
I hope this email finds you well! Here are some lines on what happened over the last weeks trying to apply various aiming techniques in order to improve my shooting.

I was of the opinion, that moving from instinctive shooting to applying some aiming technique will cure one annoying thing that I experienced in competitive shooting situations: loosing the arrow at the moment, erroneously feeling it must be the right time for release, but, at the same time, knowing it is not the right time, and thus not being able to simply finish the meanwhile frozen in movement and consequently … loose the arrow and … miss. It feels like a yes/no short circuit.

In order to improve my form and try the various ways of aiming off of the point, I just got a pair of 24# limbs and matching arrows. It is amazing how well such a light bow spits arrows! The danger of being overbowed is thus ruled out. However, I now have to admit and accept, I have this target panic thing. I feel insecure and pretty much like stopping to compete this winter and work on this yes/no short circuit to finally end up in an unfettered yes-mode.

And here is my answer:

* * *

Using a light weight bow is a good idea most times, especially when exploring new form elements, but in this case it may be misleading. When you aim off of the point, you must decide when to loose. When you are shooting a stout bow, there is considerable pressure to loose the string because the holding weight is so high. When you drop down, you feel like you can hold a long time … which makes the decision to loose more obvious to your mind and can exasperate your problem.

The “now … not now” problem has been experienced by many, many archers (including me). Here is something that can help. When you are making a shot, if everything is done right … and your arrow point is on your point of aim (POA), there is a sign you can use to signal, like a clicker clicking, that it is “time to loose the string.”

Take your 24# bow and with your target at home and do this experiment: get to full draw position in good form and observe the steadiness of the arrow point. Go a good long time and then let down. What most people see is that when they first get to their anchor point and “on point,” that is on their POA, the arrow point oscillates, then after 0.5 second to 1.5 seconds the arrow point oscillates less, then as time drags on, the oscillations get larger and larger (due to muscle strain). If you see this pattern (I think it is “normal”) then there is a natural way to build in a signal to loose the string. In any case, it is good to familiarize yourself with “holding your aim”! Too many archers feel like they can only hold on point for 0.000012 seconds and so must loose immediately when they “have it.”

If you see that pattern (it is there for sight shooters, too), the reduction in oscillation of the arrow point is a signal that you have become still and stillness is a requirement for accuracy. Stillness is never perfect but there is a decrease from the initial level of movement of the arrow point (or aperture) and a tiny bit later. That change in oscillation of the arrow point can be used as the signal that it is time to loose. You must see it and believe it (that it is a sign of stillness) to break the “now … not now” problem. The “now … not now” problem exists because there is no criterion for when to shoot, for what constitutes “now”. Your mind is debating over whether the current situation constitutes an acceptable time to loose, when you have given it no way to determine if that is true, hence the uncertainty fueling the “… not now”. If this makes any sense to you, it is worth trying, no?

* * *

Round 2

There was a follow-up to this exchange. Here that is:

“The “now … not now” thing occurs usually at some point between anchoring and finalising expansion into full back tension. The motion freezes in, I cannot continue the expansion phase to the end and prematurely release. The motion simply stops in between, when I get the feel: stop, release now, it is fine! I can hold the bow in this frozen position. There is no twitching the shot.  However, the arrow will leave the bow with different power compared to when everything is finalised properly. The funny thing is, that sometimes I really shoot tight groups that way and that burns as a success pattern into the neurons.

“I think, I tend to freeze the motion just when I subconsciously get the impression the right shooting symmetry is achieved to loose the arrow regardless of the level of back-tension. That is the case in tournaments. Maybe, it is not enough confidence in my back tension that augments in stressy situations and explains my 10% score difference. Well, that is why I seek remedy in applying some aiming off of something technique.”

And here is my response:

* * *

Re “The “now … not now” thing occurs usually at some point between anchoring and finalizing expansion into full back tension.” There is a tendency when archers are exploring new ways of shooting to talk oneself through the new steps. I hope you are not doing this as it detracts from what your conscious mind is supposed to be doing (watching, not giving orders).

“Finalizing full back tension” is a vague sort of feeling in one’s back and doesn’t form a good indicator of where one is in the cycle. Our subconscious minds are better than our conscious minds in making this assessment, but it is not a clean indicator of when to shoot. I suggest that you not worry about the state of your back tension as you work through this. Instead, once you get comfortable using the damping of the arrow point and loosing upon that signal, get someone to stand behind you to check your alignment at the point of loose (and that your elbow continues in it’s arc for a couple of inches (max) after loose). If both of those are good, you are good to go.

The circle on the target and the round top of the arrow point for a “figure 8” that makes an exact aiming position.

Re: “bringing it right up near the gold” When aiming off of the point, the best position for the point is to have the top of the arrow touch the bottom of the central scoring ring (or the central ring color) … precisely (not using a sight is not a license for sloppiness). This makes a “figure 8” to picture in your mind’s eye. There should be no conscious thoughts going on during this process. If there is, that is part of the problem. So, the arrow “touches” the gold and you are in good full-draw position and when the point (you have to be looking at the point anyway) settles to minimum movement, then that is the time to loose. We don’t have a clicker clicking to signal it is time to loose, so we use this more subtle technique. Again, none of this is occurring while there are conscious thoughts. If you hear things in your head … you are not in your right mind! (If I am allowed bad puns while discussing serious topics.)

Having these exact positions and exact movements provides exact “go-no go” signals to our subconscious minds. Vagueness encourages mental debates (… it’s good, no, it’s not … now it’s good! … argh!) that result in confusion and poor shots and can lead to target panic down that road.

Of course, none of this is 100% scientific knowledge. You are getting just my best estimate as to what is going on.

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An Archery Lesson from Last Night’s World Series Game 7

The 2017 championship for American professional baseball was on the line last night as the seventh game of a seven game series was played. Both teams were exhibiting signs of fatigue, both mental and physical.

The Major League Baseball season is very long, about seven months. The players play about 20 games to get into shape in “spring training,” then they play 162 games in the “regular season.” If they make the playoffs, a couple of teams in each league have a one game playoff (win or go home) to determine whether they can continue. Then teams play a best of five series (minimum three games, maximum five) in a first level playoff. If they win, they play a seven game series (minimum four games, maximum seven) in a second level playoff. And then, if they win that series, they play in the World Series in another best of seven series (minimum four games, maximum seven) to determine the champion for the entire year. That is a lot of games and a lot of focus required.

These are professional athletes, paid millions of dollars per year to perform for their fans. Surely the mental and physical pressures are something they are almost born to handle, no?

Last night, both teams wanted their starting pitchers to last at least five of the nine innings, six or seven innings would be wonderful. The other team could score runs, but only a few. This would take the burden of pitching off of the relief pitchers, specialist pitchers who pitch quite frequently, but don’t see many innings or batters, all of whom have been showing signs of ineffectiveness.

That was the plan.

The Dodger’s pitcher was substituted for in the second inning and the Astro’s pitcher was substituted for in the third inning.

Oops.

The reasons? Both pitchers were so focussed on the outcome of each pitch that they lost control of the process of making it.

This is exactly what happens to archers who “lose their shot” during competitions. It can happen to anyone, but the elites manage to get it back after one or two “bad shots,” but because they are competing against other elites, that can still lose them the competition. Ordinary archers can lose their shot and not get it back for days, if ever.

In archery, we need to be able to focus on our process, a process that we have proved to ourselves will result in high scoring, small groups of arrows in the target, each end. Once an arrow is shot, it is away and we can’t care about it. If we care about it so much we start worrying about how we are going to score well, we lose touch with our process. If we worry about past arrows or future arrows or our score or … anything other than executing our shooting process, we will “lose our shot.”

Our shot process is like a plan. We must train to execute the plan, then we need to commit to the plan, and execute the plan over and over and over. Once we lose focus on our plan, we will always tend to improvise and the improvised plans cannot be as good as the practiced plan and our score suffers.

Realize that these improvisations are not true improvisations, they are rather pieces of older shots we keep “on the shelf” to pull off in cases of emergency. Since we learned those older versions of our current shot, they are the most likely substitute when an improvisation occurs, no?

This is why we never, ever want to practice doing a shot incorrectly: it essentially tells our subconscious minds that variations from “the process” are acceptable and it creates another “off the shelf” option our subconscious may switch to when we become dismayed that our current process isn’t working, an option that is nowhere near as good.

In the case of the starting pitchers in last night’s game, the Dodger starter lost control over his curveball by allowing his fingers to be on the side of the ball, rather than the top. This results in a curveball that breaks from side-to-side more than up-to-down. The up-down breaking pitch is in the plane of the batter’s swing a very, very short time. The side-to-side breaking pitch is in that plane for a much longer time, increasing the probability of the bat striking the ball … and struck they were. The Astro’s pitcher lost control of the angle his arm was making with the ground, which changes the point in space the ball is released from which resulted in a loss of control of where his fastball was going. He walked several batters and hit batters (one twice) that increased greatly the likelihood that some of those batters will come around to home plate and score.

The bottom line? All competition pressure is created on a five inch playing field: the one between your ears. It is not created by external sources, you create it yourself. It is created by considering the future: what if we lose the game? What if I miss with this pitch? What if I get a nine on this shot and win the tournament? It is created when we dwell on past shots and lose contact with our current process.

There are players/archers who seem to thrive in such situations and we say they are “immune to the pressure.” Actually for those players, the pressure doesn’t exist because they do not create it. This is done by baseball pitchers throwing one quality pitch at a time with the attitude that if it gets hit, it gets hit. They can only control their own process and not the batter’s.

The same is true for archers. If you are immersed in your process, focussed on what is happening now, unaccepting of any deviation of your “plan,” you will feel little pressure to perform. If you do feel pressure, then know that your are not in the “now” and in order to get away from that feeling of pressure, you need to refocus on what you are doing when you shoot. (Focussed on, not trying to control.)

Coaches cannot teach anything more valuable to their competitive charges than this.

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Mental Program Foundations: Attention

I am currently writing an article about how to create a mental program for shooting arrows. Everyone tells you that you need one but nobody tells you how to do it. One of the aspects needed is:
2. The archer’s mind must attend to things that result in consistent, accurate shots and not attend to things that have no or negative affects. Including unnecessary items on the list of things to attend to or leaving off important things increases error.

You will note that this is #2 on my list of the things needed, but don’t expect the full list here.

I was reading a blog post in which the following appeared “What we pay attention to is largely determined by our expectations of what should be present,” said Christopher Chabris, a cognitive psychologist and co-author of The Invisible Gorilla.

Relative size is just one of many pieces of information that contribute to our expectations. Without expecting something, we’re unlikely to pay attention to it, he says, and ‘when we are not paying attention to something, we are surprisingly likely to not see it.

Sometimes called ‘inattentional blindness,’ this phenomenon helps explain how dozens of people could walk by a tree festooned with cash—even looking directly at it—without seeing the money. This was the unexpected result when a woman set out to make a video of people’s responses to finding free money, a scenario that a psychologist later successfully recreated.

Inattentional blindness is something archers want to cultivate. Noticing the perfume or bad breath of an archer next to you can in no way help you shoot good shots. Wondering what that delightful aroma from a food cart portends for lunch possibilities is the same.

There is a story I heard, which is probably apocryphal as my attempts to confirm it went unanswered, but the story goes that at the Olympic Games (Barcelona), the archery field had a freeway nearby. During one session there was a horrific crash on the freeway, with emergency vehicles, etc. After the session one of the Spanish team members asked a fellow teammate what he thought of the crash. The teammate asked “What crash?” Guess who won the gold medal? (Yep.)

True or not, the story emphasizes the need to block out superfluous calls on our attention system, a system designed for interruptions!

 

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Barebow, Barebow, Barebow

I just got an email from a viewer who had a boatload of questions about Barebow. (Hooray!) I love it when you send in your questions as it gives me ideas about what I should write about, so if you have them, please feel free to email them to me (ruis.steve@gmail.com).

Here’s Dieter’s questions:
So, the questions are:
• Does one have to close one eye when aiming off the point?
• My kind of split vision string- and face walking does work. However, did you come across someone who managed to combine the more “instinctive” split vision technique with aiming off the point brought right below the target without having to drastically alter button spring tension?
• Of course, I could decide for either technique. The benefit of split vision from 5 – 25 meters is, I do not need to crawl down the string and thus do not imbalance the bow. The other thing is losing accuracy on longer distances. I might also improve the closer distances aiming off the point.
• Maybe, my little problem is confusing. However, I’d be glad if you could share your experienced thoughts with me.
Best wishes, Dieter

* * *

And here are my attempts at answers! (Note I assume Dieter is referring to Barebow Recurve.)

  • Does one have to close one eye when aiming off the point?
    My opinion is that this is only necessary if there is a problem with keeping the off eye open. I, for example, shoot right-handed but am left-eye dominant. If I don’t half shut my off eye, I can end up with some bad misses. There are problems with shutting the eye completely (as with an “eye patch”) as this lowers the total amount of light coming into the eyes and therefore affects iris responses, etc. Eyelids allow some light it and people with glasses often resort to putting a strip of transparent tape over the off eye lens. This allows light in to an open eye but no clear image, so if the off eye “takes over” it will be easily noticed.
    This is the same whether you are aiming off the point and or using a sight.
  • … did you come across someone who managed to combine the more “instinctive” split vision technique with aiming off the point brought right below the target without having to drastically alter button spring tension? This is a very complex question. The “split vision” technique, as recommended by the likes of Howard Hill, is not really split vision as much as it is split attention. I am not a fan because while you are aiming that is the only time you are splitting your attention on what you are doing during an archery shot: you are attending to aiming and attending to completing the shot via swinging the draw elbow around, squeezing back muscles, or whatever. Splitting your aiming attention in two results in a three-way split in attention, something I am not a fan of. But then, I am a fan of whatever works, as long as we know what actually works, so if the “split vision technique really works for you, then go for it. (That you asked the question indicates it is not working well enough or under the circumstances you encounter.)
    Two topics are being addressed here in addition. One can aim off of the point several ways. The two primary ways are gap shooting (basically aiming off, with “gaps” being the amount of high or low aiming) and stringwalking. Since the grip of bow and sting do not vary when gap shooting, no adjustment of plunger tension is needed. However, when string walking, whenever the “crawl” (the distance down from the arrow the string is “gripped”) is changed, you are essentially de-tuning the bow. The draw length changes, the draw weight changes, the tiller changes, everything. These changes are small and successful Barebow Recurve stringwalkers focus heavily in finding a bow tune that represents a “happy medium compromise.” Usually, since the shorter distances are shorter and therefore easier (in field archery) they allow for a poorer tune there and set up for a better tune for the longer, and therefore harder, shots.

    Taking a crawl on a longbow.

    So, elite Barebow Recurve Archers who stringwalk have this unavoidable dilemma. Some use plunger adjustments at the extremes of their distances to help with this problem, so you are not wrong in doing that. The ultimate tune, though, for such an archer is one that doesn’t involve such adjustments, so these archers work on their arrows obsessively and their plungers to find a “no fiddling tune” if they can. If such plunger adjustments are required, you need to adjust your shot sequence to make sure that you add or subtract known numbers of turns on your plunger button and then take them off when no longer needed. Forgetting to do these things are mental mistakes that always lower scores, so eliminating the need to make such adjustments reduces the number of possible mental mistakes, which is a good thing … if you can pull it off.
    Sorry, for being so long winded on this one, but that’s the best I can do. Possibly more expert Barebow archers will chime in in the Comments.

  • Of course, I could decide for either technique. Yes, you can. There are some who insist that this technique is better than that technique. I have never seen a case in which this has been proven, unless you put up some form of standard technique against, say, standing with your back to the target. The entire reason we all shoot much the same way, with only minor differences, is that in the 60,000–70,000 year history of archery, the bow has taught us what works and what doesn’t. So, most of what you can find being currently recommended by archers and coaches works! That’s the good news. The bad news is “so does all of the other stuff.”And the only way you can tell “what works for you” is to try things out. Unfortunately, the things being tested against one another are so similar (they may feel really different, but they are not … to the point that onlookers may not notice that you have changed anything) that it takes many weeks of trying out the new thing to see if there is a real effect or not. There are very many things to try, and not enough time and effort to try them all, so you just have to pick.

    What I do know is this: the key factors are whether an archer has committed to a new/different technique and practiced it in and … in my not so humble opinion … simpler is better. If you try an aiming technique and it only works for shorter distances and you need another for longer distances, I would keep looking. What you want is a technique that is the same for all shots you take on a certain course, e.g. WA Field Unmarked shots are never longer than 50 m, WA target shots used to be longer (30-90 m for men) but now seem to have been shrunk down to just 50 m for target events. I would have separate bows set up for the two kinds of events. If I couldn’t afford two bows, I would have two bowstrings and two sets of bow settings for the two events. I might also, depending on budget, have two sets of arrows tuned for two different events. (Consider archer’s arrow choices for indoor and outdoor events as a model.) The gold standard for FITA Field Barebow archers shooting unmarked targets is a single anchor with a single set of crawls from 50 m on down to the shortest shot (don’t remember this … 5 m?).

    I prefer having a single technique for a single event. When I teach stringwalking, we start at close up, determining the archers point on target distance (POT) and then determining their set of crawls for distances inside that distance. Then we change from a high anchor to a low anchor and determine the new POT for that anchor (much farther out) and a set of crawls there, too. (Often the crawls are amazingly consistent, e.g. the same crawl for five meters closer than POT distance for both anchors, which makes memory mistakes less likely). What we hope is these two ranges overlap, covering all of the distances being shot. If they do not, instead of adding a third technique, we look to changing things like draw weight or slight changes in anchor hand position to get what is desired.

My rule of simplicity would rule out string walking as a tool for tackling a FITA Round, for example. There were/are only four distances. It is far easier to determine four points of aim for the four distances (if they are on target) than employ stringwalking with its detuning characteristics. But for a Field Round in which targets are placed at many different distances, having a different point of aim for each target is too cumbersome, there stringwalking shines. So, there are legitimate reasons for having a “bag of tricks” to employ for aiming at various kinds of events as “one size never fits all!”

I hope this helps more than it hinders!

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What Should an Archer be Thinking While Shooting?

What should an archer think while shooting? This is a question often asked even though it isn’t asked often enough. There is, no surprise, not a whole lot of data to examine, but I did run across a 2013 survey of 28 PGA Tour professional golfers who were asked about what their favorite “swing thought” was (“swing thoughts” being the golf equivalent of archery “shot thoughts”). Here’re the results: 18 pro’s said they didn’t think about anything at all during their swing, 10 who did claim to have a swing thought said it was to focus on a spot a few inches in front of the ball, to encourage swinging through the ball, instead of hitting at the ball, or they focused on the desired shape of their shot. None of them said they had any technical thoughts about their swing. (Read that last sentence again. SR)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If Self-Image Determines Performance, Then …

I just read a wonderful piece on self-image by Lanny Bassham over at the Mental Management website (“Nutrients of Self-Image”) which I recommend you go read. What I want to comment on in this post is the role of the coach in all of this. Lanny’s main points (said and unsaid) are 1) that self-image determines performance, and 2) that to grow or boost one’s self-image, one needs praise from others as well as from one’s self.

Now you can’t magically become a winner by hypnotizing yourself to believe that you are a great archer, magically creating a non-existent self-image and equally non-existent expert archer. The way to the winner’s circle is not through dedicated bullshit. One’s self-image needs to be rooted in reality. If you regularly shoot in the 270’s on indoor 300 rounds, there is no way to develop a self-image of being a 300-shooter without actually becoming one. But the path to that state is hindered greatly if all you or your student gets is criticism. Praise is positive reinforcement and studies show that works better. It motivates people to work harder and that gets them closer to their goal.

Praise is Positive Reinforcement
So, what should you, as coach, do to supply praise? The keys to me are to praise effort first and foremost. And all praise needs to be rooted in reality. If you have a student who seems to be allergic to practice, praising them on how hard they work is not going to change their behavior, plus onlookers will think you are a bullshit artist or incompetent or both. All praise must be delivered based upon reality. And the important reality is on good work performed. (If they are doing all of the wrong things, they need advice, not praise.) It is up to the athlete to determine if the amount of effort they are putting out justifies itself. Most people “get off of the bus” when they realize that the amount of effort needed to reach their goals is not within them. The ones who stay on the bus are those that see that their efforts will get them to or near their goals.

Business people will tell you that you praise in public, but criticize in private. Hearing another athlete get praised for working hard delivers a message to others nearby. Hearing someone getting hammered by their coach may encourage some others, but it is more likely to discourage more. I think this is wise advice.

In a recent coaching website I saw an article entitled, “How to Deal with Athletes Who Do Not Take Advice.” (That may be inaccurate as I am working from memory but the gist is correct.) I have no problem with these athletes. Bo Jackson was criticized as being an athlete who didn’t take coaching advice. He did okay, don’t you think? (In American football and baseball.) Some athletes are self-directed almost completely and need very little from outside of themselves. The question itself brings up in my mind coaches whose reputation or remuneration is based on whether his team wins or loses and so this seems to be a question for the coach and not the athlete. If an athlete doesn’t want advice, I don’t give them any. Simple. Archery is an individual sport, so pressure from teammates to perform will not be much and the athlete is left to him-/her-self to determine if the effort they are putting out is worth what they are getting back.

I learned this in my teaching days. I made a rule I shared with my students that “I would work as hard for you as you do for yourself.” I did this to save my sanity because I had spent a lot of hours working for students who didn’t give a damn. Do I praise such students on their effort? Of course I did, and still do; it’s my job.

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The “Talent” Question

I posted my opinions on talent recently (Do You Believe in … on July 8) and have been engaged in a lively debate with a number of you regarding that claim. There seems to be some misunderstanding. I was specifically addressing the existence, or rather the nonexistence, of specific talents, such as a talent for archery, or a talent for chess, or the violin. There is no doubt that people have advantages of the body and mind over others when it comes to any particular sport. In fact, I will be so bold to say that participation levels are high enough that at the elite level we see specific body types and mentalities being selected out. If you have, say, genetic physical advantages and you participate, you will experience more success, which can create greater encouragement, which can lead to higher levels of accomplishment. Fifty years ago, no college football offense linemen were over 300 pounds in weight. Now it seems they all are. This did not happen by chance.

As another example, when I was interested in swimming, most swimmers were of middle height. Today, you will find successful swimmers who are much taller and thus benefit from a longer power stroke. If one seriously considers the physiological advantages of a swimmer like Michael Phelps, you can see huge advantages built into his body. Now, if he had been born on a desert planet (Arrakis?), he would have never developed that “talent,” which is my point: what we call generally call talents are actually just high levels of accomplishment.

There is something called the relative age effect. I have written about this with regard to the age groupings of youth sports, including archery. If you break youth competitive groups down into two-year groups, for example, you will soon discover that kids who were born slightly after the start date have an advantage. Let’s say the starting date for the age groups is July 1. If a youth were born on June 30th, he/she would be one day into his/her twelfth year during their first year of any cycle. If they were born on July second, they would be considered to be almost one whole year younger than they really are for that whole year. (They would be an eleven-year old on July 1 and for the rest of the year.) This is a tremendous advantage. Twelve year olds that are twelve plus one day would be competing against kids who were twelve plus 364 days, essentially a thirteen-year old.

This played out in a study of European professional soccer clubs. All or virtually all of the players on the teams at the time of the study benefited from the relative age effect. Since they were older and stronger than their competitors in their age groups, they got more playing time, more encouragement, and experienced more success, or so the story goes.

These are not kids who have more talent, these are kids who are stronger and faster and better because they are older. A 13-year old is 9% older than a twelve-year old in the extreme. These athletes are parlaying their natural “gifts” into success on the playing field, and these successes can play out long term.

So, an athlete’s physical and mental attributes play a role, a role so large that we are seeing elite performances being made by people with advantageous body types, but who also are almost (or actually) obsessed with their sports. I can remember a time when a farm kid or high school kid could take some special training and end up on an Olympic team, even winning a medal. I can remember when female gymnastics were grown women. These situations do not occur any more because of the artificial selection process. Female gymnasts got shorter and shorter and lighter and lighter which were all advantages in their sport. To get the lightest, fittest athletes, they had to be younger and younger, to the point that officials finally put an age minimum on competitors.

You can’t put a limit on effort, however, so the obsessed athletes are putting up numbers that in order to be competitive with them must be matched by equal levels of obsession by the others in their sport. Athletes train year-round for their sport, their countries support them while doing this, so if you want to compete, you, too, have to train year around.

This is artificial selection, not natural selection. What is being selected are genetic benefits and mental abilities, and not inborn or god-given abilities to perform a certain sport or other activity. If you want to learn more about this I recommend the book The Sports Gene (highly readable).

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The Art of the Possible (Score)

Okay, so I am addicted to watching videos of golf coaches coaching. This is because videos of archery coaches coaching are not available. In a recent viewing Golf Coach Hank Haney said that one can establish a “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” golf round score by subtracting all of the big mistakes (penalty strokes, two-chips/two-pitches, etc., and three putts). This provides you with a score that is closer to your potential that what the scorecard actually said.

This practice applies to archery score cards, also. Take a look at a typical score card. On a, say, ten point scoring face, there might be mostly 10s, 9s, 8s, and 7s, but an occasional “flier.” Take all of the sub-seven arrows scores and turn them into 7s (this being your “normal low scoring arrow”). So, if there was a three, add four points to make it a seven. If a five, add two; if a two add five. When you are done, you will end up with a score that is closer to your potential score than what the scorecard actually said.

The point being, if you can eliminate your mistakes (or reduce them to a very small number, 1-2 per round) you will be shooting that score or very close to it. I went through a similar process in my NFAA field archery days. Through one long summer, I shot many practice field rounds with the goal of elimination all target scores under 18. (This is a 5, 5, 4, 4 minimum on those targets.) I did not chug along on this rounds and mumble “no low scores” or no “17s” like the Little Engine That Could, I just focused on shooting good shots and when I failed to hit that score goal of 18/20 on a target, I disassembled that end in mental replay to try to figure out what went wrong. (In almost every case it was a breakdown in mental focus, if you wanted to know … my mind wanders ferociously … as if you couldn’t tell!) The idea is to eliminate low scoring shots, or “working from the bottom end.” This can be a very helpful approach when coupled with “working from the top end” which is working to shoot excellent shots over and over.

One of the things I noticed when doing those rounds was if I shot a couple of fours early, then I became very conscious of “trying” to shoot the remaining shots as fives. This is, of course, not conducive to shooting fives, but it educated me as to the feeling of “trying” when I just wanted to execute good shots. I started to learn to shake off that feeling and get into a clean shot process. I also saw that my “misses” became smaller and smaller as I practiced this way. A great many things can be learned from a stint of working from the bottom end upward.

So, help your students see what is possible from where they are now. Too many are pessimistic about their scoring ability while too many others are overly optimistic. The optimistic ones need to see that even their “coulda, woulda, shoulda score” would not have won and the pessimists need to see where they would have placed had they shot their “coulda, woulda, shoulda score.”

Note This is my 279th post on this blog. That’s a whole lot of free advice! If you are grateful, think about buying one of my books (Steve Ruis on Amazon) or subscribing to Archery Focus magazine (www.archeryfocus.com). As you may know I am a retired schoolteacher, so I can use the money! :o)

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Do You Believe In … ?

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

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

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

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

Ask yourself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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