Tag Archives: Mental Training

The Post Tournament Review Process

What do you do at the end of a tournament? If you are like I was, you would pack your gear, thank the tournament officials for their hard work, get in your car and drive home, thinking about anything but archery, if possible.

As a post tournament review process, this sucks. I do not recommend it to you.

So, what should one do after a tournament? There are a number of things and I think all of them are rooted in the Bassham’s oft quoted aphorism “You either win or learn; there is no losing.” The focus here has to be “what did I learn” especially in so far as it will help you perform better later.

Any number of things can be addressed in a post tournament review. The technical side of archery is about physical movement, which you can see and measure more easily. The mental side however, is about thinking, attitude and confidence but it is harder to measure. I think both need to be addressed. The key thing, though, is to avoid dwelling upon mistakes. The more you think about your mistakes, the better the odds you will repeat them (another Bassham aphorism). For example, if in the middle of a round, as a recurve archer, you struggled getting through your clicker, but you applied your first corrective (to run a relaxation routine) and that worked, the success of that action is worth dwelling on. It makes doing that corrective easier in the future and it reinforces your success in dealing with difficulties. If, instead, you whine to yourself and others about how many times you have struggled with your clicker, there is no positive reinforcement of “the fix” and there is positive reinforcement of struggling with your clicker, exactly what you do not want! Commiserating with others is a time-honored activity but that doesn’t make it an advantage.

Obviously if you were implementing process goals during your performance, you need to assess your performance with regard to those and plan on what you will do next time. But what else is there to do?

Rather than give you a list, I will give you a start. This is what I ask of my students when they attend competitions. I ask them to write two lists, within 24 hours of the shoot’s end. Each of these lists must have at least three things on them. The first list is “What did I learn?” The second list is “What will I do differently next time?”

These two lists can be compared with previous lists to learn a great deal. If the same thing shows up on the “What did I learn?” list multiple times, maybe you didn’t really learn it and need to set a goal around actually learning that. If you find the same thing popping up on the “What will I do differently next time?” list, then maybe you need to take that seriously and develop a process goal to make sure you actually do it.

Obviously, the “What will I do differently next time?” lists play a role in preparation for future tournaments, not just the list from the last competition but a collection of the recent lists.

The goal is to develop a regular tournament review process, one you could develop a form for (which is an option but not necessary). Regular means you do this every time the same way. Forms are handy so we don’t forget anything and emphasize that you must , absolutely must, write these things down, a topic I will take up in my next post.

 

 

 

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Follow-up on “Committing to the Shot”

In a recent post (Committing to the Shot) I made the point that at some point or other, an archer (as well as golfers, baseball players, etc.) needs to commit to what they have planned to do in every shot. In the absence of such a commitment, our subconscious minds may come up with their own ideas on how to achieve the goal. What I did not do in that former post was indicate where this commitment needs to take place.

Golfers have more variables than we do: putts take different tracks at different speeds, the ball can be made to curve left or curve right, as well as go straight, shots can be hoisted up high where the wind will affect them more are shot down low where the wind will affect them less, the turf itself has different textures which affect the roll of the ball (the “fair way” vs. the “rough way”—those are the original terms), etc. In archery, we may have wind to contend with, and a shot clock, but little else, so the physical choices are fewer. Unfortunately, though, some of our choices include previously learned shot techniques, that have been shelved but can be called upon subconsciously.

Because of various factors, I suggest that the commitment needs to go after the shot visualization just before the raising of the bow. The visualization is a plan for the shot transmitted to the subconscious mind. The commitment is the command to the subconscious mind to “stick to the plan” and don’t consider other options (equal to a “Do Not Improvise” command). Either you commit to your shot at that point, with the sight, sound, and feel of such a shot just vividly imagined, or you need to change your plan and start over.

There is an aspect of timing involved here. From the visualization, there are just a few seconds before that “image” fades from short term memory, so it is “commit and go” time right after it.

Training This I do not recommend dumping all of this on an archer from the first moment they think they are serious about archery. I recommend that the shot sequence be taught as a series of physical steps first. When it has been learned then you can spring upon your students that the shot sequence is also the framework for all of the mental activities involved in shooting.

Shot Sequences The shot sequence or shot routine is basically a guide as to where we need to place our attention, not to micro-manage each step of the process but to be there to observe whether anything is going wrong. If you are looking at your arrow’s nock when it is being attached at the nocking point (in the context of a shot, of course), but your mind is on “going to MacDonald’s after practice because boy, are you hungry,” you are ever more likely to attach the arrow in the wrong place or with the index vane in the wrong orientation or…. You just need to be “there” and “paying attention.”

An Aside The phrase “paying attention” is indicative of the feeling we all have that our supply of attention is finite. Our supplies of other mental properties seems not so bounded, e.g. love, hate, finding things humorous, etc. I tend to agree with this as our attention has been woven into our mental processes very deeply. For example, much of the information that comes into our eyes that results in neural pathways being activated is just jettisoned in our brains. The small cone of focus of our eyes that we can control, acquires information that is much less likely to be jettisoned. If one is focused on what one is observing and one is “paying attention” that is attending to that task, the information is even more likely to get into short term memory which is the only pathway to long term memory and from which we can “re-play” events that go wrong for us. If we are not “paying attention,” the information involved is much less likely to be kept. (If you are interested in these phenomena, I recommend the book The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Norretranders to you.)

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Committing to the Shot

I was watching the last few holes on the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf championship and I saw Tiger Woods do something uncharacteristic … well, several things actually. One of those has to do with archery. In his post round interview Tiger was asked about the poor shot he made on the 16th hole that ended his chances of winning the tournament. The old Tiger would have said something like “I made a mistake and there was no recovering from that.” He never went into detail, as if he were protecting proprietary secrets. This time he expanded on what happened. He said “I failed to commit to the shot.” He said he had at least three ways to play the hole and he described them. He chose one of these but failed to “commit to the shot” which resulted in the ball, instead of curving right as desired, curving left and going out of bounds, in effect a two shot penalty.

So, what does this have to do with archery? Good question!

As archers we face the same dilemma any time there is more than one way to take on a shot, for example we could aim off because of the wind or cant our top limb into the wind. Which should we do? Which ever we choose, we must commit to doing that and only that. If we do not, then we end up like Tiger. He wanted one shot, but he left his subconscious mind juggling three possibilities, with no one of them the clear set of instructions as to what needed to be done. As a consequence, he got a blend of multiple approaches instead of the one he wanted.

Even when we are shooting normally, we need to make a commitment to the shot we want to shoot. This normally takes the form of a pre-shot rehearsal/visualization of the shot we are to shoot (just before we raise the bow). This activity constitutes our subconscious mind’s marching orders.

This “commitment to the shot” is so important that Master Coach Bernie Pellerite recommends that compound archers put that step into their shot sequences, a practice he got from Hall of Fame Coach Len Cardinale.

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Should Your Students Have a Score Goal for a Competition?

If you have never had a student going into a competition with a score he/she wanted to shoot, you haven’t been coaching long. The question addressed here is: Is this a good idea? I hope to convince you that it is not.

The first problem with shooting a specific score is that it doesn’t help you achieve that end. Note I am not saying one shouldn’t hope for a good outcome, just not have a goal for that outcome. A score outcome is what is known as an Outcome Goal, sensibly so. Outcome goals are incredibly useful … except in producing outcomes. Basically this is because the harder you focus on such a goal, the harder it is to achieve it.

Another drawback to outcome goals is they are future directed. When you are talking about hitting a particular score, you are talking about when the competition is over and that doesn’t happen until you have no further options at improving your score. And anything that distracts you from present-moment thinking while you are shooting is a distraction, not an aid.

To create a high score, a personal best, say, what one needs are Process Goals. These are things, which if they are done, increase the score you will shoot. They are based on improving the process of shooting the arrows. I learned a lot as a schoolchild in my short stint in boxing programs (through high school). The minute the competition starts, all thoughts of goals rush out of your thoughts (very, very quickly when you are being punched in the face). Your corner men are there to remind you, which they do by shouting at you (Jab, jab, jab, stick him, etc.). So, some reminder is needed for even a process goal to have any effect during a competition. And having a coach yell at an archer while they are shooting is not advised and may be against the rules.

To use this ability of ours a goal needs to be selected, preferably something you/they are working on to improve your/their scoring and a process of tracking progress and reminding is needed. I recommend a simple score card for the latter. Here’s an example. You have decided that having a strong mental program really improves your shooting, but you often forget to do it. So, your process goal is “I …” (Always I and always in the archer’s handwriting!) “I will use my full mental program on 85% of my shots.” This level of execution, the 85%, has to be high enough to be a challenge but not so high as to depress your archer at the end if they fail to hit it.

This goal is written at the top of a page of a small notebook (that fits in the archer’s quiver). Down the left edge, the ends are numbered (1-10, 1-12, whatever). To keep track of whether or not the archer’s full mental program was used, while walking to the target or waiting for a second line to shoot, he mentally recalls the end just shot and then writes hash mark for each correct execution ( | | | ). Then the goal at the top of the page is read again to reinforce that it is in play. If the archer can’t remember whether he used his full mental program (or whatever the goal is about) on a shot then it is a miss, not a hit. (Based upon the need to reinforce the ability to remember and focus on that thing.)

At the end of the shoot, the number of hash marks is added up and the percent calculated. If the goal was blown through, a much higher % is chosen next time. If your archer falls way short of the mark, chose a smaller number. You want numbers which are challenging, but doable. Success breeds motivation (believe it or not). Feedback needs to be on the thing being worked on and not superfluous things, so the first thing you want to do is discuss this outcome with your archer. Ask questions like “Did this work?” or “Do you think this helped you stay on your plan?”

Do not get ambitious and lay out four process goals for a competition or practice session. This is like giving a dog too many tennis balls to hold in his mouth. He will drop one, and then another, and then become obsessed in fitting them all in and lose tract of what he was doing before. I recommend one goal at a time. If you think your student can handle more, try two … but only in a practice round or practice session. Let me know if that worked for you and them.

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Avoiding The Judgment Trap

Archery is full of judgment traps. We are asked to judge shots as good or bad. We are told we are doing some form element right or wrong. We ask “What is the right way to do xyz?” And judgments have things associated with them: emotions and self-knowledge. Once you start down the judgment road, it is hard to turn back and the negative consequences can get locked in.

For example, one of the tenants of Lanny Bassham’s Mental Management System is that “self-image determines performance.” (He’s not the only one who says this, but he’s the only one recommending this to archers.) If you judge yourself negatively and often, how does that affect how you see yourself? If you repeatedly call yourself an idiot, lazy, unworthy, etc. that is going to lower your self-image and actually affect your archery … negatively. Some people try to offset this by using “happy talk” about themselves, but like the negative comments, whether you believe these things at the moment determines their affect. If you try to BS yourself to better scores (You are a great archer. You can beat them all. Yada, yada, yada.) you will quickly find out that doing that doesn’t work. The reason is you have no evidence for those claims, so you know they are BS.

What and Why
Believe it or not, some progress can be made from the use of two words: what and why. When you shoot a bad shot, if you start an analysis with the word “Why …” as in ‘Why did I just dump that arrow into the six-ring?” or even “Why was that shot low?” you end up pointing at the only source of why answers, which is “you.” There are no teammates to blame, so a bad shot is due to something you did wrong, or an equipment problem you didn’t notice in time, or … you you. By asking question that start with “what” instead, there is less emotional loading and judgment tempting involved. “What happened on that shot?” or “What is wrong with my bow?” are both questions that are lower on the judgment inducing scale. “What” zeros in on the thing needed to be corrected, not the person responsible for the error.

Why turns the inquiry onto you and we all suffer from a number of biases, one of which is called the recency bias. Whatever our most recent form flaw is consider the primary source of all of our ills. So, we tend to head off in the same direction no matter the issue. A “what?” question can help us avoid such traps.

One researcher, Tasha Eurich, author of “Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life,” pointed this out: “In the course of my research on insight, my team and I compiled a group of 50 … who were rated high in self-awareness (both by themselves and by others) but who had started out with only low to moderate self-awareness. When we looked at their speech patterns, our participants reported asking what often and why rarely. In fact, when we analyzed the transcripts of our interviews, the word why appeared less than 150 times, but the word what appeared more than 1,000 times.”

Becoming More Self-Aware Through Self-Reflection
Some have suggested that archers would benefit from psychological self-reflection exercises, to know more about ourselves. Knowledge is power after all, no? I still think of psychology to be in its infancy and so I tend to view such recommendations with a healthy dose of skepticism. For example, a number of researchers have found that the act of thinking about ourselves isn’t necessarily correlated with knowing ourselves. And it is self-knowledge, often referred to as insight, which seems to be the thing that helps archers mentally. In a few cases, they’ve even found that the more time their study participants spent in introspection, the less self-knowledge they had. In other words, we can spend endless amounts of time in self-reflection but emerge with no more self-insight than when we started.

Meditation, on the other hand, results in a greater state of calmness, which does support quality shooting. I recommend it to any and all so disposed as an aid to their archery.

Judging
If one is inclined to judge oneself negatively, we immediately are drawn to our limitations (I always …), to negative emotions (I am such a screw-up!), and we get directed to our past instead of staying in the present while shooting (Uh, oh, here I go again!). Asking What? instead of Why? can be used to help us better understand and manage our emotions (an emotional even keel is necessary for consistent accuracy). Evidence shows the simple act of translating our emotions into language — versus simply experiencing them — can stop our brains from activating our fight-or-flight command center. This, in turn, seems to help us stay in control.

 

 

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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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