Tag Archives: Mental Training

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!

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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)

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The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Golfers
September 25, 2013
David MacKenzie
http://www.golfstateofmind

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

  1. THEY PRACTICE IN THE RIGHT WAY

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.

  1. THEY ARE ABLE TO STAY IN THE PRESENT

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).

  1. THEY CONTINUALLY WORK ON THE FUNDAMENTALS

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.

  1. THEY PLAY WITH VISUALIZATION AND FEEL, NOT SWING MECHANICS

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.

  1. THEY WORK ON A HIGHLY REPEATABLE PRE AND POST-SHOT ROUTINE

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.

  1. THEY KNOW HOW TO CALM THEMSELVES DOWN WHEN THE PRESSURE IS ON.

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.

  1. THEY KNOW THE POWER OF ACCEPTANCE AND MOVING ON

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.

Steve

 

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Must See/Hear TV … for Archery Coaches?

As many of you know I have been working on a project for quite a few years now to create a sourcebook for the mental side of archery, for coaches and archers to consult. Lately the task is starting to feel like the task Sisyphus was condemned to or at least like Hercules being tasked to clean up King Augeas’ stables. The problem is as soon as I start to feel as if I have a hand on a topic, additional information pops up that I need to wade into.

I have felt, just as an intuition mind you, that the mind-body problem is a dead end, that the mind does not exist separate from the body and the body can’t exist without the mind (plus they are intimately knitted together.. There is a fascinating new TV series that explores what we are learning about our brains and minds which is reinforcing this idea. The six-part series is The Brain with David Eagleman on PBS stations and it is available as videos on demand. David Eagleman is a British neuroscientist.

The episodes I have seen are very watchable and should be of interest to any coach desiring to know what is behind the functioning of our brains. The first episode I saw was “Who Is In Control?” which addresses the various minds (conscious, unconscious, etc.) and it probably isn’t a spoiler to share that our conscious minds spend more effort creating an illusion of control than in actual control.

As another teaser, did you know that purehy rational decision making doesn’t really exist. Our emotions are necessary to make decisions. (They show a patient who has a disconnect there and can only make decisions using her rational powers and trying to pick a can of soup brings her to her knees as she is overwhelmed and frozen by information (not by the information per se but putting a value on it—“Is ‘low calorie’ more important than ‘low salt’ when buying canned soup?” is a rational decision few of us are equipped to make).

As with most BBC productions, it has aired in England and Australia already, so y’all are ahead of us here in the USA.

Bottom Line The Brain with David Eagleman is highly recommended to coaches interested in the inner workings of athlete’s minds/brains.

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Keeping Score When You Don’t Want to Know Your Score

In response to watching the Lanny Bassham video I touted yesterday (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXnmDMKbdYCek84XHWbx04w), one of you wrote to ask: “If I have to be a guy marking the scorecard and keeping a running total how do I not focus on my score and ignore it? I don’t want to know my score until I am done shooting!

I am a bit stumped here (although, of course, I have some recommendations) so do you have any suggestions?

Steve

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Letting Down

I can remember little conversations I had with myself at full draw, conversations that were more like arguments: one part of me wanted to let down the shot, another wanted me to “finish the job.”

The let down has a long and varied history. For most of my archery life it has been a critical part of an archer’s process. It is so critical that I created a principle based upon it, which I called the Rule of Discipline.” This “rule” says: “If anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from the environment, you must let down and start over. I learned this the hard way, as I learned so much about archery. I saw professional archers doing this over and over but I still had debates in my mind at full draw as to whether it is desirable. If you, too, have such debates, I suggest that if the topic of a let down comes up in you mind, the only thing to do is to let down because you are no longer thinking in the “now,” that is thinking about what you are doing in the present moment. You are thinking about what you might do in the future.

This role that a let down plays is not new, it has been around for a very long time.

I have heard that when one thinks he has gone too far, he will not have erred.
This sort of rule should not be forgotten.

Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure

To break my debate habit, I decided that if the idea of a let down occurred to me I would let down 100% of the time. (I like making rules.) Of course, I violated that rule in my first practice session post adopting it. So, I did a drill that I later used to treat a case of target panic I had, I went around a 14-target field course, and from each shooting position, I executed my entire shooting sequence up to aiming, and then I let down and returned the arrow to my quiver. So, I drew my bow 56 times and let down 56 times. It was the only way I thought I could establish in my minds (conscious and subconscious) that a let down was a normal thing, an acceptable thing.

Later as a spectator at a Pacific Coast Championships tournament, I marveled at Rick McKinney and a couple of other archers who let down after their clickers clicked. So, the let down became an interest of mine.

The whole purpose of letting down a drawn bow is that the odds of a good outcome when a shot has “gone astray” are very low. We teach archers to “never shot a shot you know is bad.” Why would you do such a thing? Not only is the score of that arrow likely to be low, archery is a repetition sport and repeating an action you have just done is easier than doing it from scratch. So, you just shot a poor shot and, even if you got lucky and it scored well, it is easier to do that bad shot over than to do “your shot” next. (This is why we incorporate a visualization of a perfect shot into our shot sequences, so we have something to follow.) So, archers are trained to let down, to break off any shot that seems to be heading in the wrong direction (sorry, bad pun).

There are modern trends away from this signpost of a well-trained shot, though. The decision to cut the time for each shot in the head-to-head competitions under World Archery (in the Olympics, World Championships, etc.) has had consequences. The head-to-head format was adopted to make our sport more telegenic and therefore audience attracting and the amount of time given to shoot each arrow has been cut from 40 seconds, to 30 seconds, and most recently to 20 seconds for the same reason. But there is an inherent conflict in this rule change. One of the reasons to call of a shot is timing. If a shot is taking too long, it is conceivable that it could take up more than half of the time given to complete the shot. This does not leave enough time to execute the let down and shot the shot in good order. So, we saw archers in the 2012 Olympics (London) shoot a 10 followed by a 6. A replay of the video showed that the archer was taking too long on the second shot and muscled their way to finish the shot. After a bad score is better than no score.

I don’t know if this is good for archery. I suspect not as archery is a precision and repetition sport. Time constraints, especially unreasonable ones, affect both of those.

So, do we teach letting down or do we try to learn some new way to fight through an ill-timed shot?

What do you think?

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If I Just Had Better . . .

As regular readers of my diatribes know, the literature for archery coaches is quite sparse and so I often find myself slogging through materials designed for golf instructors and coaches for inspiration, knowledge, wisdom, etc.

Recently I was reading an article entitled The Biggest Myths in Golf  by Adam Young, the author of The Practice Manual, and as I am wont to do, I translated as much as I could into archery to see if it held up. One segment of this article is this:
The main messages I want everyone to get is that
• There are much wider acceptable boundaries of swing style which will produce function
• Lots of things held dear as technical ‘musts’ are nothing more than old wives tales
• Pros have more skill – let’s work on developing skill
• Skill is different to technique
• Form can (and does) arise from function.
• Using motor learning research, we can figure out better ways of learning
• Direct technical changes should be a supplement to a good training program – not dominate it
• There is more to a golfer than their swing style. Trying to get good at golf by only improving your swing style is myopic, at best.
I understand that many of you will have strongly held beliefs challenged after this article.
Good. Maybe it will open your eyes to why you are not as good as you should be.

As you can see golfers obsess over their swings and their equipment, like archers who obsess over their form and their equipment. And by so doing, both golfers and archers miss out on a great deal.

Now, Translating the Above into “Archery”
The main messages I want everyone to get is that:
• There are much wider acceptable boundaries of form and execution which will produce function (aka results)
• Lots of things held dear as technical “musts” are nothing more than old wives tales
• Pros have more skill – let’s work on developing skill
• Skill is different from technique
• Form can (and does) arise from function.
• Using motor learning research, we can figure out better ways of learning
• Direct technical changes should be a supplement to a good training program – not dominate it
• There is more to a archer than their technique. Trying to get good at archery by only improving your technique is myopic, at best.

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is Visualization a Flawed Tool?

Visualization is touted to archers as part of a formula to create success. The most common pattern is for archers to visualize a perfect shot just before they raise their bow to shoot. The argument goes like this: it is easier to reproduce an activity immediately after having successfully performed that activity. Since the effect wears off fairly quickly, the previous shot doesn’t always qualify as such an event and, since the subconscious mind, responsible for abilities like shooting arrows, cannot distinguish well between reality and that which is vividly imagined, the pre-shot visualization supplies such an “event” to duplicate.

Most archers who embrace this technique usually stop thinking about it there, which is a good thing as being an archer-athlete is about performing, not thinking, but maybe coaches need to think about this a bit more.

The Limits of Visualizations
This visualization technique is widespread: golfers visualize their shots before they step up to the ball, basketballers visualize a successful free throw, sometimes accompanied by a physical rehearsal, before shooting them, and archers visualize perfect shots before shooting them. But is this the only use of this technique?

dead center arrowWhat these examples have in common is that they are visualizations of something the athlete is perfectly capable of and has done repeatedly. They are not visualizing something never done before. Often, athletes can use memories of recent activities as patterns for those visualizations. Since the more accurate and vivid a visualization is, the more effective they seem to be, a visualization set in context with all of the sights and sounds appropriate to the current venue is of more value. So, a memory of a recent perfectly shot arrow supplies a perfect source of information for those visualizations. Similarly, a previously shot free throw, or a golf shot on the same hole on the previous day of a golf tournament may supply the detail needed for a more “vivid” visualization of the task coming up.

But what happens when the task has never been done before? In that case visualization becomes very much less effective. Visualizing oneself on the medal stand at the Olympics may actually help one get there, but it would have to be repeated many, many times for it to have any effect as it is not something one has done or will be doing shortly. The visualization examples above are in the context of a “short feedback loop,” meaning the effectiveness of the visualization in helping make a good shot is tested in short order and the practitioner can get a sense of whether it helped or not. For a far off goal, visualizations may help one stay on a path to that goal, but they serve as little more than an affirmation at that point.

For example, if one is practiced at long distance shooting and then the target is moved out to a farther distance, one unpracticed, what value has visualization? I think it has little value, except that it might help execute a good shot, even though the success of that shot may be due to many other factors. If that distance is one you do not have a sight setting for, not only is your body position different, but your sight picture is different, and your trust in your sight setting nonexistent.

A practice of philosophers and scientists is to push their thinking to an extreme, to see what can be learned from such a situation, so in this case, what if we were to push the target back until it exceeds the cast of the archer’s bow? In other words, even shooting at a perfect ballistic angle, the arrows shot from that bow at that draw length will fall short of the target. What use is a visualization then? Obviously, it will have no effect whatsoever upon hitting such a target.

So, as a process, visualization seems to work best as a tool to help repeat something the athlete is perfectly capable of doing. But when applied to completely new situations, its effectiveness is far less and there are situations in which it has zero effectiveness.

Do Visualizations Really Work for Archers?
One must take into account that not everyone is capable of making such visualizations. Psychologists have estimated that maybe one in every five individuals may be incapable of making such visualizations (the golfer Tiger Woods appears to be one of them). Having a mental rehearsal, though, seems to be effective enough that when visualizations aren’t effective, athletes find other ways to rehearse. Tiger Woods uses a rehearsal of how a golf shot will feel, as opposed to how it looks, apparently.

So, for the four in five who can perform a visualization process without their minds wandering, is this process effective? The answer has to be a definite “maybe.” In so many things “mental,” much depends upon the athlete trusting his/her process. So, for visualizations to be effective for an archer, they must be taught how to do them, they must practice doing them, and then they need to have a test of whether or not it works for them (otherwise they will just “judge” the process, which is a fairly unreliable skill). This investigative process is not unlike the testing of a new piece of equipment or a new movement in a shot sequence.

The testing probably has to be something like the effect upon practice round scores. A fair test would probably require several practice rounds shot with a process goal of having a high percentage (85-90-95%) of the shots made with a visualization incorporated. After each end, the archer determines how many shots were made with a visualization and reinforces the goal by re-reading it (it is written on the tally sheet used to keep track of the shots in each end that are performed correctly). Then the average score of, say, three practice ends shot with visualizations could be compared with the average of the three previous practice rounds shot prior (presumed to be without visualizations).

There are many things that can trip up such a test. For one, if significant time and energy were spent in learning and “training in” the visualization habit, then the archer shooting the practice rounds with the visualizations is a more highly-trained athlete than her former self. And there is the Hawthorne Effect, which indicates that when anything new is introduced a bump in performance is achieved that disappears shortly thereafter. Possibly, one could ask their archer to try to shoot practice rounds without the visualizations (using the same process goal process) to get comparative scores but I have not tried this and I am not sure one wants an athlete to participate in “negative practice,” practice that deliberately does something “wrong” or different from what is desired.

What is needed is for enough archers and coaches to undertake such “tests” and report back on the results. Then we might be able to come to a definitive position on the question.

Conclusion
This is not hoary old knowledge passed down from the ancients but something “discovered” in the past few decades. We don’t know everything and finding out such things, especially in the realm of “mental skills” is especially difficult. For the time being, if one of my seriously competitive students was confident in his/her visualization process, I would leave it at that as confidence is something I put great stock in)“why” anyone does so is a question that cannot yet be answered).

Possibly the ideal experimental subject are my people, aka “over the hill” archers, especially those who are somewhat accomplished. Asking some of these folks to try to shoot practice rounds with and without visualizations (using process goal protocols) might supply very valuable information and would be unlikely to derail ambitions of accomplishment. Any takers out there?

 

 

 

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