Tag Archives: Mental Training

The Problem with Monkey See-Monkey Do Archery

Currently archers and archery instructors are engaging in what I call “monkey see-monkey do” personal improvement planning. If we see a recent champion doing something different, we attribute their success to that new “move,” because, well, no one else is doing that and everything else the winner did was just like what everyone else was doing, so their success surely must be due to what they did that was different and new.

Brilliant logic … just wrong and I mean “Flat Earth wrong,” not just incorrect.

The classic example of this thinking being wrong was a winner of the Vegas Shoot one year did so wearing a glove on his bow hand. The reason was he had a hand aliment that contact with the bow aggravated. This didn’t stop quite a number of people who showed up at the next Vegas Shoot wearing gloves on their bow hands.

There are a number of things operating here that need to be taken into account.

Survivorship Bias
So, you notice that a winner had a different, maybe a new, move. So is the success rate 100%? Did all of the archers who tried the new move experience success? What if I told you that of the ten archers who had incorporated this new form element into their shots, nine of the ten had achieved success, meaning podium-level making success? Okay, now we are talking! Nine out of ten, surely that proves this is the magic move!

Uh, no.

Just as the winners write the history, only the survivors are even present to tell their story. What if 100 archers had incorporated this new form element into their shots, and of the 100, nine experienced great success, one experienced a bit of success and 90 got so frustrated with their inability to shoot well that they gave up the sport and are doing different things now? Different, no?

The problem with this MSMD approach is we only have the winners (aka survivors) to examine in any detail. The losers aren’t around to be evaluated.

Random Winners
Another problem we have is random winners. I remember seeing the scores shot in a North American IFAA Championship shoot, held in Florida one year. About 50% of the entrants and winners came from Florida. Like most archery championship shoots, this one was open to anyone willing to pay the entrance fee, but the farther away you live the less likely it is you will attend. That is just a matter of fact. And don’t you USAA/WA fans look smug at this, one of the first world championship shoots put on by the newly created FITA organization (now World Archery) was held in Sweden. The vast majority of the entrants were from Scandinavia.

So, there are some basic qualities winners need to have: they need to show up, they need to have archers better than them not show up, … do you see where this is going?

An oft quoted statistic is that 95% of competitions are won by 5% of the archers. I have no idea whether this is true, but I suspect the core of it is: people who win often or consistently are quite few. And they win a lot. The only times these things happen is when there is a truly transcendent player in the mix, like Tiger Woods was to golf, or when the competition is just not that great. I suspect, in archery’s case, it is the latter. In Olympic circles, the U.S. was dominant from archery’s reintroduction into the Olympic Games, but when they faltered, Korea became dominant (at least on the women’s side). Now Korea’s dominance is slipping and I suspect that winner’s circles will become more egalitarian as the quality of “the competition” goes up.

And The Solution Is …?
Gosh, danged if I know, but there must be more reality and science in archery if we are do get away from just mimicry as the mainstream of archery instruction. We need to acknowledge that there are as many “techniques” as there are archers and there is no “magic” in technique. We need to know why things work the way they do. We need to know more about the application of corrections. We need to know more about the mental game, particularly as to its application.

I am looking forward with much anticipation to finding these things out. It sounds like fun!

 

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Training Your Mind to Monitor Your Shots

Archery is described from time to time as a kinesthetic sport, one in which “feel” is a predominate mode of its expression. This is a simple consequence of our preferred sensory intake mode, vision, being entirely engaged in sighting or aiming. This leaves the rest of the shot to be monitor by the other senses. Hearing, smell, and taste aren’t much help, so that leaves the tactile sense (touch) and the sense of balance (often left off of the list of basic senses).

So, how good are you at monitoring the feel of your shot? How good are your students? Most, I suggest have no idea. I am not sure I do, either. But there are some things to do.

Mental Scans
A small set of activities can improve your understanding of the feel of what is going on while you are shooting. While shooting blind bale (short distance, large butt, no target face), start with a set of “scans,” that involve paying attention to how parts of your body feel during a shot with your eyes closed, start with your feet then your ankles on another shot, knees, hips, etc. One body part per shot. Are things moving? How are they moving? Are they moving correctly? Also do a balance check. During a blind shot concentrate only on how balanced you feel.

As usual, we are training our subconscious minds by directing the attention of our conscious minds. We are telling our subconscious minds what is important and what we are trying to do. We are teaching our subconscious self “the plan” and then we must hold it to the plan if we want a high level of consistency.

Form Checks
We can also check how our “feel” corresponds with the “real.” (In golf they have a saying “the feel isn’t real,” meaning that you need to check everything and then associate whatever you feel with whatever is really happening.”

Eyes Closed, Eyes Open Drills Again, blind bale, pick a spot to shoot at and either place your sight aperture on it or your arrow point, whichever way you are aiming. let down, close your eyes, draw on that spot, and then open your eyes. When doing this I do not pay much attention to the Up-down position of the aperture/arrow point, just the left-right position. If you can’t seem to end up close to that spot (again, L-R position), it might be you are fighting your stance. If you end up consistently left, try turning your stance to the right and try again. (Some people insist the stance that allows you the greatest success in this drill is your “natural stance,” the one in which your lower body is not fighting your upper body’s positioning.)

Mirror Drills “Closet mirrors” or mirrors designed to be mounted on doors are quite inexpensive and can be mounted so that archers can “shoot” directly at them or shoot with the mirror up the line. (Make sure it is square and plumb. If not your image is distorted.) If shooting in the direction of a mirror, it is important to not shoot the mirror! I suggest a let down after each rep. The drill procedure is the same: draw with eyes shut on a target, then open your eyes at anchor. You can see many things in this reflected view. Are you standing straight up and down? Is your bow being held straight up and down or is there a cant? Are you hunching your bow shoulder? Arching your back?

With the mirror up the line, when you get to anchor, open your eyes and turn your head to see the mirror image. Are your hips tilted? Are your shoulders square and “down?” Again, let down when you are done looking. (A line can be placed on the mirror with a length of thin tape to help gauge “straight up & down.” make sure it is plumb.)

Any flaws in “your plan” must be scheduled to be fixed in practice … immediately! these have #1 priority. If you are doing anything incorrectly, the worst thing you can do is pretend that everything is okay and go ahead and shoot a lot of arrows. The absolute worst thing to do is compete in this state.

Shooting Recall Drill
There is a drill called “Recall.” In this drill, as soon as you have release an arrow on target, you turn up the line and tell your coach/shooting partner/video camera where you think the arrow landed. Then either you or your helper spots the arrow and calls its actual location. When I do this, I replay in short-term memory where my aperture was a the moment of release and use that as my best guess as to where the arrow would land, moments later.

The purpose of this drill is to acquaint you with your built-in “instant replay” system. When in competition there are two things you need to do on every shot. One is to evaluate whether or not you made a good shot (and if not why) and you need to determine where the arrow landed. These may not match. Good shots can be blown off course by gust of wind and bad shot can land in the middle. This information is needed to create a plan modification for the next shot (allowing for the wind, whatever) or if a bad shot was made (which is where the replay is needed to figure out why), correct it as soon as possible as repeating bad shots is not a recipe for a good score.

I recommend you try these yourself (if you haven’t already) and then teach them to your serious students. As always, be on the lookout for other drills in this same vein. I will appreciate it if you send along any such drills you find as I am trying to compile a master list of drills (and what they are for) and make them available to one and all.

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How To Start Archers in the Mental Game

This is such a great question! I asked the questioner if I could blog on it to give the best possible answer I could. Here’s the question:

Good afternoon Steve,
My friend suggested I reach out to you for help regarding being able to coach my NASP kids about the psychological aspects of archery, and how I can help them overcome certain struggles. I started with the NASP program in September, but it was only volunteering in a P.E. class at a couple of the high schools where I live. The kids loved it so much, so they took it to the school board, and we are now in the second week of having a competitive archery team. I’ve been shooting for just over two years, and have found recently that their questions are difficult to answer because I struggle with the mental side of archery myself. (Really, who doesn’t? It’s such a mental game, yet we love it so much!) So, my question to you is, how do I coach them effectively when their struggles are also my own? Any advice would be much appreciated.
Thank you!

* * *

I asked this very same question when I first started working with Lanny Bassham of Mental Management Systems: “where do you start on the Mental Game?” And at the time both he and his son Troy answered simultaneously “You start with the parents!” Lanny has a new book out on this very topic I am reading and will review in Archery Focus soon.

Since I do not think you have this option as a NASP (National Archery in the (U.S.) Schools Program) Coach, I will respond differently. :o)

The first thing you need to do is educate yourself. I am working on a book covering all of the mental skills available to archers and coaches, but I don’t recommend you wait for that as right now I am beginning to suspect I might be dead before it gets finished. A very good place to start is with Lanny’s first book “With Winning in Mind.” Another good starting point is Troy Bassham’s “Attainment.” Both are available on Amazon.com and some bookstores. Both of these worthy gentlemen were very highly decorated rifle shooters, so these books are not tailored for archers, which I think is a good thing. They do have some archery specific materials they created based upon the work they did with us and quite a few good archers, including Brady Ellison. (They have some good YouTube videos posted, too.)

This will get you started and then, with practice and further study you will have more to share with your students. (A maxim we favor is: you can’t give what you do not have.)

To get your students started right I suggest three things: monitoring self-talk and the Rule of Discipline for them and for you: distinguishing between things to be done in an archery shot and things that just happen.

Monitoring Self-Talk
I am not going to be going on at length on this topic. I will just hit the highlights. (Try clicking “Mental Training” on the word cloud (over in the right margin) and that will bring up all previous posts with that tag; you may find some of immediate use.)

Self-talk is “what you say to yourself about yourself,” usually in the privacy of your own mind. We often say rather nasty things in this mode: “I am so stupid!” or “I always score poorly on the last end.” Unfortunately these can be interpreted by our subconscious minds as suggestions or commands! Gulp! Such comments are usually made out of frustration and are rarely true.

Here is an example I use often:

At a competition it starts to rain: Archer A thinks “Oh no, there goes my chance for a personal best score! I hate shooting in the rain!” while Archer B thinks “Oh-oh, here comes the rain. I am glad I brought my rain suit. My score will suffer but so will theirs and if they get bent out of shape, they’ll do even worse. I could win this thing!” Which do you think will do better from then on in this tournament, A or B? It should be obvious.

This is not a form of self-delusion or hypnosis. It is just a “looking on the bright side of life” approach to archery. Out on a field range, you approach a target that has challenged you in the past, should you dread it or think “I’ve been working really hard recently and today I might just set a new personal best on this target. Let’s see!” It works. Do not allow yourself the all too ordinary negativity we are accustomed to think about but look forward to new opportunities to test and prove your skill.

The Rule of Discipline
Archery is all about training your subconscious mind to perform under the gaze of your conscious mind. If your students follow this rule, they will learn faster than anything else they can do, because basically this rule says “don’t shoot shots you know are wrong.” If you go ahead and shoot shots you know are not right, you are telling your subconscious mind it is “okay to not follow the plan,” it is “okay to improvise” and this we do not want. Here the rule is in all of its glory:

If anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from the environment, you must let down and start over.

If their conscious mind doesn’t focus on what they are doing “now” the shot will be bad. But it is the subconscious mind that is in control of all of your muscles, so it needs to be trained as do exactly what needs to be done and to not deviate from the plan. A deviation from the plan results in a letdown and a loss in energy; this your subconscious mind interprets as a bad thing and so is corrected. The conscious mind often does little else but insist on a letdown when something seems wrong.

The Difference Between Things To Be Done In an Archery Shot and Things That Just Happen
Beginning archers often confuse things that happen naturally in the course of an archery shot with things that are to be done. They end up trying to do something they should not and it produces poor results and frustration.

A good example of this is the finger release of the string. This is not something that is done, this is something that happens because of previous things that were done. The bowstring is pulling the archer’s fingers back toward the bow itself. This is because the archer pulled the string away from the bow and the bow is designed to resist that. When the archer wants the arrow to fly, what he does is he stops holding the string and the string leaves of its own accord, flicking those pesky fingers out of the way.

The muscles used to make a hook of fingers that wrap around the string are in the forearm near the elbow. When they relax, off the string goes. The rest of the forearm and hand need to be as relaxed as possible. This is so the string can easily flick those fingers out of the way. If the muscles in the hand are flexed, the fingers are stiffened and will resist that clean movement which will make the release of the string sloppy and the shots done that way poor scoring (they will tend to be low and left of where they are wanted on the target).

Yes, that is me and yes, I am posing.

If the archer tries to do something like move his/her fingers really fast away from the string, bad shots occur because the fingers are stiffened and the archer is not fast enough to move the fingers that far so you get the same result as above, a bad one. (A Coach’s Tell for this is the fingers will spread as the string hand moves out and away from the archer’s body rather than straight back away from the target (see photo).)

The loose of the string starts a cascade of things that mostly just happen. The archer only needs to keep his/her arms raised. The rest happens by itself.

I saw a proposed NASP curriculum that had archers touching their string shoulder with their string hand at the end of the shot. This is a bad idea because this is something that is done. And most people can only touch their shoulder with the fingers on the same side by dropping their elbow toward the floor. Since we do not want this to happen during the shot, it can’t happen until after the shot, so it has no affect on the shot. But, if that elbow drop creeps backward in time into the shot, it will result in high to very high shots. It is something I abhor; it is a useless motion that masks what we really need to pay attention to. We can do a shoulder touch really well and think we made a good shot because of that, but since it doesn’t affect the shot, that is an illusion which is not at all helpful.

Confusing “something that happens” with “something to do” results in bad shots. Bad shots result in discouragement. Understanding what is needed to make a good shot, what to do and what happens because of that, is partly a mental skill for coaches: you need to instruct them so.

There is lots to learn here, so if you have questions … any of you … fire away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Can You Control Your Thoughts?

Quite some time ago I was participating in an archery camp at the Olympic Training Center in California. One of the activities was a simulated USAA/WA tournament which I was very happy to participate in as I came up through field archery and, at that point in time, had not participated in a formal USAA event.

The coaches handicapped the whole affair as we had quite a wide variety of archers. The targets were sized and placed at distances appropriate to our style and demonstrated skill. I was the only Compound Unlimited archer so my target was farthest away.

After the mock tournament, we had shoot-offs. I was tied with another participant who was some ways down the line from me, but we were told we were going to have a one arrow shoot-off, closest to the center wins. I was to shoot second, so I prepared to take my shot thinking “I don’t want to know what he shot, I just want to shoot a good shot,” just execute my process, as it were.

The coach running the exercise spotted the shot my competitor made, walked up to me and, I swear, with something of a smile on his face he said “He shot a 6!” quite loudly. Instantly the thought entered my head “I only need a 7 or better to win,” along with an image of a target face with the gold and red rings painted “acceptable” (don’t ask me how that is done). Argh!

Shouldn’t a somewhat expert archer be able to control his thoughts better than that?

Uh, no … but I am glad you asked.

We do not “create” our thoughts through a conscious effort. There is some subconscious process involved but I do not think even that is voluntary. Our thoughts are generated outside of our control. In computer lingo, they are “pre-fetched data.” I can’t prove what I can say, but this is what I have learned so far:

One of our greatest mental powers is of imagination. By using it we can consider the past or the future. Animals which have no imagination live in the present moment, reacting to stimuli but not anticipating them. Our imaginations allow us to consider scenarios; for example “Was that movement in the tall grass due to a zephyr of wind or is there a predator creeping up on me?” We can imagine both. Since wind zephyrs are not particularly harmful, the safest choice is to assume it is a predator and move away from it. This is a survival function that other animals, or at least most other animals, don’t have.

In order for this to work, though, all of those scenarios need to be “in mind.” This is where our thoughts come from and why. They are necessary and you must, and your student-archers must, learn to deal with them.

Dealing with Unbidden Thoughts
So, there I was on the shooting line, thinking thoughts I did not want. They were thoughts of the future and an archer needs to operate in the now, like the good animals we can be … from time to time. Then, I took a deep breath and tried to “shoo” those thoughts away, but now I know there is a better way.

An archery shot can be broken down into parts. One such set of parts is “pre-shot, shot, and post-shot.” Each of these has a routine. We are in a skill-based, repetition sport, so routine/habit is our friend. To execute a good shot we need to launch our routines, the latter two follow on the heels of the first, but how does the first get going? These routines exist in long-term memory, so we have almost no control over them other than to run them. It helps to have a “trigger” for such routines. Golfers are notorious for these: before they take a shot or a putt, they will twirl their club, or pull on their ear, or tuck their shirt into their armpit. All of these inconsequential actions are routine initiators. They are like a switch that says “go.” For my shots, now, I drop my hand onto my quiver and gently rattle the arrows on the top tube … and he’s off! Since all of my practice shots are made in the “now,” that’s where I am when my routine is running. This is why if I note I am not in the now, I will break off that shot and start over. I never give myself the license to shoot any other way. It is not an option.

This is why you must be consciously present while you are shooting, even though there is little to do consciously. You are “there” consciously to watch for mistakes being made, without thinking about making mistakes; you are just watching. As mentioned, if you observe a mistake being made, by you, a thought will come into your had, unbidden, to feed your survival tool, your imagination, and when this happens, you really need to let down. This you an learn to do. So can your students.

 

 

 

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More on Training Differences Between Males and Females

This article is by a weight lifting coach (aka strength and conditioning coach), an activity which is comparable to archery because we do reps of applying forces to moving objects, too. It is also important because our performances vary from day to day and there are differences between males and females regarding this level of consistency. Give it a read, if you are so inclined, and tell me what you think.

https://usoc.newstartmobile.com/content/USOC/Are_There_Differences_in_Training_Women_compared_to_Men.pdf

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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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