Tag Archives: Mental Training

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.

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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What is All This Visualization Stuff About?

I was reading a golf instruction piece yesterday (Surprise, surprise!) and one “tip” regarding how to improve ones “game” was to embrace visualization. The author wrote:

“One of the greatest helps to a pupil making a swing change is having a clear mental image of what they are trying to achieve.
“As a junior, I spent hours with my eyes closed, visualizing the movements I wanted to achieve. Even as a coach now, I often close my eyes when analyzing a swing and try to put myself in the body of my pupil to feel what they are feeling.
“Lesson – close your eyes for a few minutes or seconds. Get a clear image of what you are trying to do. When (and only when) you can see it, stand up and rehearse the motion.”

So, what is all this visualization stuff about?

Let me keep this as simple as I can and provide you with a rationale … that I cannot prove as no one can at this point, but I have been studying this intensely for the past few years and feel this has some merit.

The purpose of the visualization process in sports is to provide a set of instructions to your unconscious mind.

It is the unconscious part of your mind that is in control of your voluntary physical actions. You do not need to think consciously about any physical action that you have learned (tying your shoes, riding a bike, driving a car, etc.). Doing this is a path to “choking.” Athletes who choke often allow their anticipations lead them to taking conscious control of their actions, taking control away from the mental processes that actually could make what we want to happen happen. (Gag, gasp, choke. It is painful to watch this happen.)

“The purpose of the visualization process in sports is
to provide a set of instructions to your unconscious mind

You may have learned that whenever we engage in repetitive tasks, the chances of success are increased substantially if we have just done that task and are repeating it rather than if we are doing it for the first time. We also may know that our subconscious mind lives in a world apart that we create for it in our mental space (a playground for the imagination, as it were).

If we have just done something, e.g. shoot a free throw, it is easier to repeat that effort than to do it for the first time, especially if it was successful, because that effort forms a perfect set of instructions for the second effort. I call these “do overs” as no change in plan is needed. If a correction needs to be made, the instructions are: just like before but with a little more … less … whatever.

In archery, the spot for any such visualization is just before the bow is raised. This is because of several limitations on our memories that I won’t go into now.

Try this! Just before you shoot, you imagine as accurately as you can a perfect shot into target center. Include all of the sights , sounds, everything. Then shoot immediately.

Anybody who tells you that “this will work” is someone from whom you should turn and walk away rapidly, possibly also clutching on to your wallet. No mental exercise has been “proven” beyond a shadow of a doubt to work as advertised. These are all things to try and evaluate yourself (or your student’s selves). This is one of those things I place a high probability of improving an accomplished archer’s game. It will not, however, turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.


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A Recurve Dead Release Spotted!

Video of the 2017 Shoot Up Finals for the Barebow division at the Lancaster Archery Classic in Lancaster, PA has been posted on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39ppQpTQcz4). Recurve Barebow is more popular around the world than it has been in the U.S. (driven, I suspect, by the popularity of compound archery in the U.S.) but Barebow is on a rebound now and more and more people are attracted to it. Featured in these final matches are: Dewayne Martin, Scott Bills, Bobby Worthington, and John Demmer III.

Interestingly, DeWayne Martin shoots with a dead release, something very few recurve archers can pull off. (More and more I am coming to the conclusion that there are no absolutes in archery (e.g. You must use a “live” release in Recurve.), just some things make shooting “more or less difficult.”

View the video! Flinches! Creeping! Tape on the nose! Tournament nerves! Stringwalking! (Although the announcers were somewhat clueless about the advantages of a crawl.) At 29:18 a close-up of John Demmer III’s quiver (current WA world field champion) shows arrows with two different fletching patterns. This would not be allowed in a WA shoot. The Lancaster Archery Classic uses a mixture of NFAA rules and their own. (It is a private shoot, they can do as they wish. If they apply for a sanction from one of the governing bodies they would have to conform to that association’s rules. Note Many people do not know that the Vegas Shoot, while owned by the NFAA, is a private shoot with its own rules.)

John Demmer III, the eventual winner, and an elite Barebow archer, shoots with a tilted head. You don’t have to do it right, you just have to do it over.

If you shoot Barebow or your students do, watch this video. This gives you a good idea of what is possible, at least indoors. It gives you an idea of what “the best” can shoot under pressure and then you can determine how you stack up or how close your students are.


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Should We Coach Male and Female Archers the Same Way?

I have had this question in mind for quite some time. I have even asked a couple of authors to tackle the topic. Most seem to think of the topic as a land mine they do not want to step on. But, as is said, fools rush in where angles fear to tread.

Let’s tackle this topic!

* * *

There are some general observations that I can pull out of my head that apply to this topic. For example, we don’t seem to coach youths and adults the same way. Both groups have special needs. There are some indications that boys and girls on team sports need to be addressed differently. If you look to the world of professional sports, female athlete earn less than male athletes, universally. Is this a form of prejudice or is there something there?

One of the reasons offered for why these disparities continue to exist is a gender difference in the “willingness to compete.” This has actually been studied and proves out across cultures and around the world: men tend to be more willing to compete than women are. On the other hand, every prediction I have read about women participating in sports has been woefully wrong (women were not strong enough to run long distances like marathons, too genteel to participate in boxing, wrestling, MMA, etc.)

That said there are real physiological and psychological differences between men and women. One of these I used to characterize as “there are very few women who want to be recognized as the baddest dude in town.”

There are group dynamics studies that I find fascinating. A number of these studies addressed how people behaved in single sex group conversations (imagine a circle of friends standing around chatting). These studies seemed to conclude that men saw their participation as a way to show that they were superior to that group and didn’t really belong there, they were just “slumming.” An example of this is a group of guys telling jokes. There is definitely a competition going on and everyone is trying to be the most compelling story teller (a symbol of their superiority?). Opposed to this the dynamics of women in a group is a model of inclusiveness. Rather than trying to prove themselves superior to the group with their conversation, they seem to be trying to prove that they indeed belong in that group. I guess it is easy to see why at parties, the guys often end up sitting around a TV swapping sports stores while the gals end up in another room telling stories that bond them to that group.

Interestingly, when women were asked to compete just against themselves and not against others, they showed as much competitive will as do men. Why is it that women do not choose to compete against others, but are eager to compete when the opponent is themselves? Anybody who tells you they know the answer to this question is probably fooling themselves and possibly you, too.

Archery is a sport in which archers compete against themselves (there is no defense, they cannot affect how the other competitors perform, they can only compete against themselves), consequently my guess is that women are as competitive as men in archery.

So, should men and women be trained the same way … in archery?

The floor is now open!

I really want to hear from any of you who have something to say on this topic. If your comments are illuminating, I may write this discussion up for Archery Focus and you will get your name up in lights! (Yes, you can contribute anonymously, but I am suspicious of any comments that even the author doesn’t want to own.)


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Being Driven Crazy by Psychology

There is a burgeoning field of scientific endeavor which is the study of the acquisition of expertise. I am trying to write a book on the mental game of archery and since there is too much material for one person to study, one needs to do a lot of reading to find out what others say, hence my interest in this subject. Anything that helps us understand how to make expertise more attainable, makes us better coaches.

A promising viewpoint on the attainment of expertise is Ericsson’s work on what is called “deliberate practice.” Ericsson’s claim is that undirected practice has minimal benefits, the main one being making us more physically fit to perform the task at hand … maybe. But if you want to improve the quality of a performance, highly focused practice  is necessary, with the focus on a specific aspect you wish to improve, using directed drills/exercises to that end.

The mainstream press, though, has asked the omnibus question: Is practice all you need to develop expertise? And lately they have brought up a number of topics researchers claim have a role. One of these is “working memory.” Working memory is a hot topic in psychology right now which is why people are trying it out for a leading role in … you name it. (Such is science: when topics are “hot” a whole bunch of scientists jump on that bandwagon. This is probably a manifestation of scientists looking for a place to work in which results are easier to get, not unlike gold prospectors.) working memory is how much information you can cram into your mind and hold it there while you are working; this is definitely “short-term memory.”

Working memory is now claimed to play a role in sight reading of music and any number of other performance-related fields. Apparently the people making these claims haven’t looked at a performance critically. For example, studies show that in order for a musician to play from music they are reading, they have to “read ahead” several notes ahead of where they are playing. It was discovered (by the simple expedient of covering up the music and exposing it at rates the scientists could control), that professional musicians read ahead farther than amateurs. But to the researcher’s surprise, the difference was very small. When reading music and playing, there is an optimum read ahead distance: if you are to close to the playing time, musicians stumble. They apparently do not have enough time to translate the symbols into actions. If they get too far ahead of playing, they also stumble because they tend to forget what they had read before they are supposed to be playing it. So, working memory does play a role in sight reading music (reading as you are playing) but the part working memory plays is as part of a chain of events. Obviously if you do not have enough of working memory, you will struggle at this task. Other studies show that “experts” have more working memory than amateurs in this arena. So, the question I have is: does working memory get improved through practice? If so, then the question (Is practice all you need …) is too broad.

Yet, huge claims are being made regarding the role of this bit or that bit when it comes to practice. How any one of us is to make any sense of the current state of research is beyond me (literally). There seem to be some reasonable conclusions one can come to with regard to practice that have low chances of contradiction later.

  • So, should archers practice? Yes. Practice is a route to better performance. But, how effective the practice is is dependant on how smart you practice. So, practice as focused as you can.
  • Is there a way to project the amount of practice needed to meet a goal? No. Longer practice sessions do not seem to be as effective as more frequent shorter ones. (What “longer” and “shorter” are is ill-defined.) If you want to perform consistently, you must develop to the point you can shoot larger numbers of arrows in a session than required for performance.
  • It also seems that the best physical practice for a performance is the performance itself. So, if you are a pianist, play the piano. If you are an archer, shoot arrows.
  • In order to tell what works and what does not, you must … keep … records of your performance. Memory alone just doesn’t work.

My feeling is the question “Is practice all you need to develop expertise?” as discussed in the mainstream press, supports the meme that there are natural “talents” for particular activities: a talent for math, a talent for the violin, a talent for baseball. This is not only unsupportable by any science (the existent of sport- or activity-specific “talents” has no evidence supporting it) but is a toxic concept; even if it were true, there is no benefit from believing it.

Performers who believe in “talent” tend to quit easier when they encounter difficulties, believing they “just don’t have a talent for math or whatever.” They also shy away from greater challenges because they have no idea how far their “talent” can take them and they don’t want to test something they don’t understand. Plus, since this talent-thing is responsible for their ability, why practice? These reactions to the belief in the concept of talent have been documented and seem to make sense.

If you don’t believe in “talent” then the outcome is determined by how much you learn and how hard you practice. If your performance isn’t good enough, you either need to work harder or smarter (better: both). This nonbelief in talent has this benefit in that we can now see the effect of deliberate practice upon skills developed and it is quite positive.




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More on the Mental Game of Archery

Regular readers of my scribblings will know that I raid golf instruction for ideas regarding archery. And my last post was on the Mental Game of Archery involved some golf stuff. Well, here is some more: a post by mental game (golf) guru David Mackenzie of Canada. As you read, see if you find anything that applies to archery. (If you don’t end up with “all of it” you need to look closer. Steve)

* * *

The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Golfers
September 25, 2013
David MacKenzie

In my opinion, the top players in the world share 7 things in common beyond having a good golf swing. Here, they are.


Life is short. So why anyone would want to spend hundreds of hours trying to improve in the wrong way is crazy. Beating ball after ball at the same target at the driving range and coming away thinking you’ve mastered the game only takes you backwards. How many golfers wish they could take their range game to the course? 99% of them. The other 1% (the elite), practice in a way that is challenging and simulates course conditions. Hitting a bucket of balls to the same target over and over is easy and it’s nothing like playing on the course. The top players make every second count when practicing, so they’re working all areas of the game to the max. The first thing to do in trying to get better at golf is to think about the way you practice, and change your routine. I’ve worked with many players of all abilities and one of the major factors in success is the way you practice. Make practice hard and as much like the golf course as possible.


Staying in the present means that you give whatever you are doing your complete, undivided attention with no distractions of the past or future. In golf, this means you’re not thinking about your score, how your playing partners might be judging your performance, why you think you just sliced that tee shot or 3 putted the last hole. All your energy is on the process of hitting shot at hand and then enjoying the walk in between.

It’s easy to see how counter-productive it is not to be in the present – just think back to your last round where you started playing well and then thought about shooting your best score (into the future), only for your game to unravel. The same thing happens when you start to think about bad shots you hit (in the past). Being solely in the present is easier said than done I know (like everything else it takes practice), but there are good techniques to prevent these tension causing shifts in thinking. I’ve got plenty of techniques for getting better at staying in the present and relaxing in between shots in my Ultimate Mental Game Training System (2016 Edition).


Good players understand the importance of the fundamentals as it’s the foundation for a good golf swing. How you grip the club, how far you stand from the ball, how good your posture is, how good your ball position is and how well you align to the target are all way more important than just trying to swing the club correctly. The fundamentals need to be worked on continuously as it’s easy to get into bad habits, even for Tour players. It’s always worth a check up from your local pro to make sure you have these right. Alignment is the one that requires the most maintenance. You could argue that a consistent tempo is also “fundamental” to a good swing.


The eyes are probably the golfer’s most important asset. Once they commit to a target, the top players imagine exactly how the shot will look, even what the ball’s going to do when it lands. How clearly you define your target and your shot shape before playing each shot will have a huge impact on how well you execute it. It quietens your mind and allows your subconscious play the shot, as opposed to conscious control with technical thoughts, which just doesn’t work as well.


The top players in the world all go through the exact same routine before (and after) every shot, even down to the number of practice swings and looks at the target. The routine acts to prepare you as best as possible for the shot, and going through the same sequence right up until you swing, means there’s no time for negative thoughts to creep in. Focusing on your routine also distracts you from the importance of the shot you are about to play – it makes every shot feel the same regardless of the situation. Your mind stays quiet.


I’ve worked with enough players to know that the good ones know powerful techniques to calm themselves down to prevent nerves turning into panic and negatively affecting performance. They are very self-aware and know how guide their minds away from negative thoughts and towards positive ones. They use nerves to their advantage. There are many ways to do this such as breathing techniques or having special thoughts/places to go in your head in between shots. This could be looking up at the sky or the trees, anything to switch off your golf brain so you’re not thinking about your score or swing. I recently heard of a player that would try to solve math problems in his head when it all got too much out there! So there are countless ways to do it.


Being able to accept every shot whatever the outcome should become a key part of your game. The optimal state for golf would be to become emotionally indifferent to good and bad shots. Most Tour pros have acceptance built into the routine and they tell themselves that although they have a positive intention for the shot, if it doesn’t go where they want it to, it’s better to accept it and move on, than get disappointed or frustrated. Try verbalizing this in your head before your next shot. Also, try making a deep breath or the action of putting the club back in the bag your signal that the shot is over and it’s time to get back into the present. There’s plenty of time to analyze your round when it’s over!

Ingrain these things and make them a habit!



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Thinking While Shooting

Occasionally I run into a student who has been thinking his way through every shot. It is always shocking when I discover this as I don’t look for it. I have been doing some writing about this topic lately and while doing so ran across this tidbit:
In a 2013 survey, 28 PGA Tour golf professionals we’re asked about what their favorite swing thought was.danger-sign-b

“Here’re the results:
•  18 pro’s said they didn’t think about anything at all during their swing.
•  10 who did have a swing thought said it was to focus on a spot a few inches in front of the ball, to encourage swinging through, 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.”

From Darrell Klassen’s Cut the Crap Golf Blog

I also recall baseball great Yogi Berra being asked what he thought about while hitting and his answer was (approximately) “If I had to think while hittin’ I couldn’t hit nothin’!”

If you have students who are talking themselves through their shots (mentally), you need to find ways to discourage that practice. It is a real barrier to better performances.


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Oooh, Ouch!

QandA logoI got this call for help email from a colleague in Italy:

My average score at indoor competitions is around 510-515/600. I am quite regular in this. My objective is to reach 540/600 within the indoor season and I am working on it. But yesterday I shot a first half with a typical score (257), but I was feeling good, and in the beginning of the second half I started shooting very well. After seven ends I had 193 points which was 13 points higher than in my first round! I went back to the shooting line and asked ‘How many ends to go?’ ‘Three.’ I said ‘Not possible! I have 193 points already!’ Well, you can guess the result of my next end. I followed a 28 with a 20, then a 26, then a 21 and ended up with a ‘normal’ score of 260.

Apart from the fact that I was writing the scores (which I will try to avoid from now on), if I think back to that end, I cannot retrieve a different way of shooting, but obviously it happened. I tried to concentrate more after the 20, and it was slightly better, but in the final end, I shot another 5!

In the second part of the competition I had been shooting with an average of 28/30, until I realized I was going ‘too well’! My question for you is: what can I do to avoid this problem? Is there any ‘trick’ apart from trying not to realize how many points I got?”

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What you are dealing with is called a “comfort zone,” you are “comfortable” shooting 510-515. As mental guru Lanny Bassham says “shooting 510-515 is just like you” making it part of your self-image and, according to Lanny, self-image controls performance. What is needed is to reframe that mental set point inside of you and there are a number of things one needs to do. A simple one is to avoid a practice many archers do without thinking. When warming up or just shooting at a target, they will only be concerned with how their arrows group on the target face. If the groups are tight, no matter where they are placed, they are happy. This is a mistake, your groups should always be centered on the target’s center (e.g. the gold) because your subconscious mind keeps track of where your arrows land. You want to be someone who “always hits the gold” (“I live in the gold!”) … now that’s a powerful self image! Also, your subconscious mind keeps track of your group sizes. If your first arrow at, say, 70m is left of the center in the blue, did you do anything wrong? If that arrow is within your normal group size at that distance,. then you did nothing wrong and should take no action. If it is outside of your normal group, you need to check whether something is wrong (loose sight, bad form on that shot, etc.). If the shot is “normal” and you think something is wrong and make an adjustment, then you are on a path to failure.

Primarily, though, the little things don’t make big changes. To make a bigger change in your “comfort zone” you need to shoot “normal” scores in practice that are higher than 510-515. Here is how you do that: you start with a bigger target face at a shorter distance, say a 80cm target at 9 meters. Shoot a practice round (30 arrows, 300 points and multiple by 2 to get a 600 point score equivalent). Your score should be very high; if it is not, you are losing focus (probably because it is too easy … you think). You need to focus on shooting your normal shot, in normal rhythm, just at this larger target much closer up. Your arrows should all land in the gold (9s and 10s) giving you a score at least in the 560-580 range. Focus on getting your score to as high a level as you can without doing anything different like aiming too hard, trying to “help” shots into the 10-ring. Keep a score card and keep records of each and every score (just looking at those much better scores reinforces what you are doing). You must do this several times. (Obviously this takes quite a bit of practice time.) Then you can move the target from 9m 2-3 meters farther away and repeat the process. In 3-4 steps of doing this you will be back to 18m. After you shoot 2-3 very good scores at 18m, you go back to 9m with a 60 cm target face and repeat the process. All the time, you need to retain a high level of focus without “trying to score.” (“Try? There is no try; do or do not.” Yoda from Star Wars) After you have gotten through the series with the 60cm face, go back to 9m with a 40cm face. When you finish the series with the 40cm face, you will be at regulation distance (18m) with a regulation target face and along the way, you will have shot 100’s of arrows into the gold and shot dozens of scores higher than 510-515. Then it will be “like you” to shoot scores higher than your “old normal.”dead center arrow

Your subconscious mind sees an arrow in the gold and it is an arrow in the gold. It doesn’t care that you “cheated” by using a larger face at a shorter distance. Only “experience” can lead to an improved self-image but we can accelerate that experience (rather than wait for several years as your scores creep up slowly) through these kinds of exercises.

A word of caution: if your form or execution or equipment are weak, this will help, but much less than if your form is solid and your equipment is tuned well. Check your tune and make sure your setup is good before doing the above exercise. You need to have confidence in your equipment to perform well.

If you figure out a way to not know your score, I will appreciate your sharing that! You must, however, must (must, must, must,…) avoid projecting your score into the future. So, if your end score is 26 or 25 or 27 you just approve of that and move on. You do not want to think things like “If I keep this up I can shoot a new personal best!” … these kinds of thoughts take you out of the “now” and place you squarely in the future and you must shoot in the “now” in order to shoot well. Also, you will end up on an emotional roller coaster and you now know what they feels like—”Oh, I have 193 points, how can that be?”) which will undermine the steadiness and calmness needed mentally to score well.

Does this help? These are methods archers have used successfully to move their comfort zones up and thus improve their scores.

I do hope this helps and you let me know if you try it and whether it worked for you.




Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A