Tag Archives: Motivating Students

The Value of the Personal Best System

I was reading a book last night (What’s It All About?: Philosophy & the Meaning of Life, by Julian Baggini. Granta Books. Kindle Edition . . . don’t judge me, I am a philosophy buff) and a couple of excerpts literally jumped off the page for me as they apply to archery. (So there, judgers, something good came from my weird reading habits!)

Here is the first:

“As psychologists have observed, our own sense of self-esteem is largely generated by how we compare ourselves to our peers. Yet we tend to compare ourselves to those apparently doing better than we are, discounting those who are less fortunate. That fosters discontent, since no matter how well placed we are in relation to the population as a whole, we only attend to that portion of it in comparison to whom we are losers. (emphasis added)”

Wow! I have been emphasizing that we are only competing against ourselves and . . . yada, yada, yada, and, of course, my younger students, at the very least, ignore all of this as clueless adult sayings they usually hear from parents. Of course they are comparing themselves to their peers.

I think the natural tendency to discount those “you are ahead of” is a bit overstated, kids seem to know all about social pecking orders, so I would be shocked that they didn’t know where they stood regarding their archery cohort, the whole cohort. Still if one is ambitious one does tend to focus on those ahead of them.

The author went on in a follow-up to say:

“However, putting this straight is not simply a matter of saying we can all achieve relative success and be happy with that. This kind of thinking is what motivated the idea that in education ‘all must have prizes’. Children are to be thought of as having different abilities, and success should be simply developing those abilities as best they can, even if their successes compare poorly with other people’s. But this too has its problems. The philosopher Gilbert Ryle, writing on a rather different topic, pointed out that the concept of counterfeit coins only makes sense if there are real coins to contrast them with. Likewise, the concept of success only makes sense if there is something that would count as failure. This doesn’t mean that there has to be actual failure. There can be a test, for example, with a pass mark of 50 per cent which everyone happens to pass. The point is rather that there must be a genuine possibility of failure, or else success isn’t success at all.”

I have always hated the “everyone gets a trophy” movement, if for no other reason is that discarded trophies are filling our garages and landfills.

Hey, What About Personal Bests?
Yeah, I roped you in with this topic, didn’t I? I think the PB System is still a good one and valid. Having a goal to shoot a personal best is one of the very best outcome goals because it doesn’t depend upon who else shows up. If your student is all geared up to shoot a better score than Billy, Jamal, and Andrew, what happens if none of those kids show up? The competition becomes like shooting at a target with no target face posted on it.

By targeting yourself, you have a known target and a known score and you will know if you are confident or not that you can beat it. Then, if you do, you may also beat a lot of other competitors or you may not. But if you can’t beat yourself . . . well . . . ? Setting new PBs are the very best signs of progress. You are learning to score better, whatever it is that you are doing. And better is better, no? If your major competition doesn’t show up and you win with a mediocre score, a score you knew those guys could easily beat, how do you feel?

Conclusion
Well, I still am recommending PBs as kind of the only useful outcome goal. If the competition is fierce, you are going to need such a score to contend. If the competition is not so fierce, it will show that you are making progress. And, you will be learning about yourself.

Part of the preparation in going for a new personal best score is demonstrating that you can do that in practice. This leads to confidence that you can do it in competition. (Going to a competition with no such evidence is “hoping” to set a new PB and there are many adages that attest to the value of such hopes . . . and they aren’t flattering.)

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Your Students Need a Club or, Better, a Team

If you have an up and coming archer, one of the best things you can do is get him/her on a team; the better the team, the better the results.

Archery is an individual sport, no? One can learn it alone, one doesn’t need other people. All true, but those “other people” can be valuable assets in the development of any archer. A member of the team who is maybe older, but certainly better can be learned from. Archers of the same ability can push your student to excel or at least keep up. Others can provide peer pressure to come to practice and go to competitions. Other archers have gear your archer may want to try.

When we started our first youth program, it was primarily getting newbies interested in the sport and learning a bit of archery. But soon competitions became a topic of discussion and our choices were to either approach them laissez-faire or embrace them. We decided to embrace them and created a competitive team. This team was not something one could sign up for. It was by invitation only and there were conditions for participation. Those conditions involved attending practices, possessing one’s own equipment, and attending and participating in a minimum number of competitions. The existence of the team was a major item of interest for kids coming through the general program and a goal for some.

When “the team” decided to attend an event, it also tended to sweep everyone together and seep them along. While we provided a very capable coach, neither he nor we provided transportation or lodging, etc. For that we enrolled the parents and the parents were wonderful chaperoning and encouraging the kids.

Archery is a social sport and kids all tend to be conformists. If the best archer on the team is practicing three times a week instead of just two, others will copy them. (Negatives can also be reinforced but our experience is that those are more rare than the positives reinforced.)

We had a case in which an archery mom begged us to let her child participate on the team. The child in question had medical issues that led to social behaviors that made his participation problematic. We put the question of his participation to the members of the current team and they accepted him, but with the proviso that if he didn’t behave he was out. And then they supported him in his team participation. I was, and still am, in awe of the generosity and maturity shown by this group of kids. They not only backed up their generosity but they called their new teammate on the carpet when he started back sliding. The mom of that student credited her son’s participation with a major improvement in his behavior.

So, the benefits to participating on a team are not always obvious or even visible, but with regard to the archery alone I think they are way more positive than negative. And just as parents want to get their children into good schools, if they are serious archers, getting them onto good teams/into good programs is also key.

Those parents and you may need to do some research to identify the really good programs in your vicinity. I hope you have some choice. As archery grows there should be more and more options available to serious competitive archers.

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Why Are You Taking Lessons?

I had some new students when coaching in the suburbs yesterday. Part of my initial interview is the question: “Why do you want to be coached?” Yesterday I got thoughtful and well-reasoned answers from the two adults but most youths just shrug and answer “to get better.” But yesterday I got two teenagers to admit they were taking lessons because it made their parents happy.

Parents often find archery a very attractive activity for their children. It gets their kids away from their computers/smartphones, it gets them outdoors (in the summer), it is a physical activity, and a social sport. Archery promotes safety, being responsible, etc. I am sure you know all of these things. Parents support their children participating in archery by buying them archery equipment, paying club dues, signing them up for a JOAD or other youth program, and even getting them lessons.

When I got the honest answer from those two teenagers, I lauded them for being honest and for wanting to please their parents. (I often say that archery is one of the few activities than teenagers will willingly do with their parents.)

I do go on, though, to explain that if they decide they want to become very good at archery there are a couple of consequences. One, of course, is they have to ramp up the amount of effort they are making to learn and grow in the sport, the other is that they cannot let their parents goals guide them anymore. If they want to become very, very good, the motivation behind that has to come from inside them.

I ask whether they understand that and if they signal yes, I leave it there. The rest can come when they are making the transition from recreational competitive archer to serious competitive archer, if they indeed do that.

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Lesson Learned?

I regularly search eBay for new and used archery books. In the past year or so, those searches have come to be dominated by blank books. Yes, blank, but actually notebooks. These and “Archery Planners” calendar books and “Archery Score Sheet” books dominate the other books on offer. Usually, my daily search comes up with a double handful of new listings. Today there were 59.

One such “series” of “books” has the titles: “12 Years Old And Awesome At Archery,” “14 Years Old And Awesome At Archery,” “10 Years Old And Awesome At Archery.” These are selling at prices around $10 and being mostly blank or the same planner with different covers are quite easy to “write.” I do not know how they are selling.

Being published as books through Amazon’s self-publishing program means each of these gets an ISBN which has to be clogging the system of keeping track of books being published. I suspect that young entrepreneurs are involved.

I have been hammering away for a couple of decades now that archers need to keep a notebook, including what to put in them, as have many of you. Has that lesson been learned? What do you think?

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Managing Expectations/Showing Them How to Win

If you have ever had to help a young archer deal with a disappointing performance, you probably realize that their expectations are not always grounded in reality. I am going to address this topic under the rubric of “showing them how to win.”

What Is the Basis for an Expectation?
Many young archers attend a competition, even for the first time, with an expectation that they will do well or even win. These are not true expectations, they are more accurately characterized as hopes. I argue that if you help them learn to assess their chances realistically, this will help your serious archers to shape their practices and efforts to become better as they will learn what it is they need to improve.

So, what are the variables involved in a winning performance? There are many:
• shooting a winning score (a DNF doesn’t win you anything)
• who else shows up (the majority of my first place medals came when I was the only competitor)
• the environmental conditions (if you are a poor wind shooter and a strong wind comes up, your chances of winning go down)
• . . . and many, many more things.

What Should be the Basis for an Expectation?
Ah, good question, Grasshopper! Let’s start with the basics. I ask my archers to go on the internet and look up the winning score for their competitive category for the past three years. Let’s say the winning scores were 256, 248, and 262. The next question I ask is what is their best practice round score? If they have never shot a 248 or higher, then their chances of winning are slim and none. A better comparator would be the average of their past five (5) practice round or even-mixed practice/competitive round scores.

These questions bring out the usefulness of keeping records. Plus they raise all kinds of other questions. Let’s say that the average winning score was 255 and your student’s five round average was 255, what are the odds of him/her winning? If it turned out that 255 was the winning score this year, your student’s odds were roughly 50% in that half the time he/she scores over 255 and half the time he/she doesn’t (roughly anyway). To have a higher chance of winning requires a higher round average or maybe a lowest score shot being above the winning score identified.

Are There Other Benefits?
Oh, I am so glad you asked. There are myriad other benefits of getting them to look realistically at their own expectations. Consider the following scenario:

A student of yours has expressed a sincere desire to win a state title, so you put him through the process of seeing whether that is a reasonable expectation and . . . argh, his/her scores are at least 20 below the needed score to contend. Your student’s face drops as if you had just crushed a child’s favorite toy. You, however, address this shortfall optimistically. You say: “We have six weeks until the state tourney, let’s see if we can improve your scores enough to contend!”

There are a slew of things you can do. Starting from then you could say “Let’s see where you are. I want you to shoot a practice round right now and I want you to try to shoot your best score!” Of course, “trying harder” gets you nowhere in archery and your student now has an opportunity to prove this to himself. When his really low score gets logged (you can even stop him part way with “This isn’t working, let’s try something else.”) you can then share with your archer that the only thing that has been successful at creating better scores is to focus intently upon the process of shooting arrows, one arrow at a time. So, to work you go.

You can take the opportunity to check his/her bow tune, introducing the topic if it hadn’t been already. Obviously checking his/her equipment to make sure it is functioning properly is important. You can encourage additional practice sessions. I am sure you can add a great many things to this list.

Even if his/her practice score average only improves 10 of the needed 20 points, they can go into that competition with an honest expectation, plus there are other goals than winning. You can emphasize being prepared for all that will happen. You can look forward to experiencing a “big shoot.” You can set the goal of getting a good start. You can set the goal of finishing strongly. Meeting a bunch of goals is a way to characterize a successful tournament.

All of these goals need some preparation. You can’t just send off an archer with a “Make sure you get a strong start!” if they have no idea of how to do that. Obviously process goals are more valuable at this stage and they should be kept to a small number.

And, of course, there is the mental game. You need to recognize that a strong mental game supports a strong physical game; it is not a replacement for one. Ideally the two “games” grow side-by-side.

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Making the Transition

If you have read much of what I have written, you have probably read me stating that our definition of recreational and competitive archers is that recreational archers are motivated by fun alone. Competitive archers are not just motivated by fun. Combine this with the fact that Mike Gerard and I are writing a book of archery drills for Human Kinetics, and you can see that doing drills is a good marker to tell you whether you are dealing with a competitive archer or a recreational archer.

Doing drills is, well, boring. They are repetitive by nature and there just isn’t much fun in them. But for a competitive archer, getting better is fun and they are willing to do drills. Serious competitive archers are motivated by learning to win and they will do drills until the cows come home. Recreational archers will get bored or never bother starting a drill because, well, they ain’t fun.

There is a deeper aspect here and it concerns the same topic: motivation. Ideally our students would be intrinsically motivated, that is their motivation comes from within. As children, we often were extrinsically motivated in that there were rewards attached to good behavior (or possibly no punishment as a substitute for a reward). In most cases, having an intrinsic motivation, especially to produce an athletic performance is vastly superior. So, I was reading a book (Why We Do What We Do) and this jumped off of the page at me:

“As socializing agents—parents, teachers, and managers—it is our job to encourage others to do many things they might find boring but that will allow them to become effective members of society. Actually, our job goes beyond just encouraging them to do activities; it’s more challenging than that. The real job involves facilitating their doing activities of their own volition, at their own initiative, so they will go on doing activities freely in the future when we are no longer there to prompt them. (emphasis his)”

The author goes on to use the rather mundane example of a boy who, over time, transforms requests to take the garbage out into a process where he keeps an eye on it and takes it out when needed, no longer needing prompting. (Yeah, in your dreams.)

The point, however is well taken. How do we as coaches help archers with the transition from doing things because the coach said so and doing things of his own volition? This presupposes we are dealing with a competitive archer, maybe one somewhere between being a competitive archer (training to compete) and a serious competitive archer (training to win). If we, as coach, tell them what to do all of the time and set their goals for them, etc. we are extrinsically addressing them as a student. If, on the other hand, we offer things to them, for them to choose to do, we are going “beyond just encouraging them to do activities” and leading them to doing things of their own volition. This, of course, as mentioned above has ramifications regarding the effectiveness of their training.

So, how do you do this? You can start by offering choices, rather than giving directions. I am not suggesting that you are a “do this, do that” coach, I do not really know who you are (well, I do know some of you), but if you look at your students as if they were your best friend you were coaching, how would you coach them? (I learned this “trick” from my days as a classroom teacher.) You wouldn’t boss your friend around or give them orders, but often our “suggestions” can be heard by our students as being just that. If you ask them to make choices, they become more of a partner and less of a client in their own training.

So, you might say “I know of a couple of drills you could do that would help with that.” If they do not respond (assuming they heard you), then that isn’t something they want to do. So, ask “How do you want to address this?” If they answer “I don’t know,” then you can give them your opinion, for example, “Most archers address this by doing XYZ or ABC drills.” “What are those?” they ask. You describe the drills and you ask if they want to try the drills. You keep asking for them to make decisions as if their opinion actually mattered to you (I hope it does). If they want to do something you do not approve of, you can say “I don’t think that will work, but if you do, it is worth a try.”

In this fashion an athlete builds up trust in their coach as a partner in their training and becomes more intrinsically motivated or, at least, more understanding of their own motivations. What we see on TV (ESPN, etc.) is big time college coaches who are quite authoritarian and professional coaches who are less authoritarian (maybe). If coaches have a reputation for training winners, maybe this approach can get their athletes to where they want to go. many athletes sign up for these programs willing to do as they are told because of those reputations. And, there is some truth to showing people what they can do by demanding it (I experienced this in college athletics). But, I also suspect that if you are dedicated to the goal of not just making better archers, but also to making better people, the approach recommended above is more desirable.

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How to Learn Archery

The standard approach to learning archery, or really any sport, is to establish a pattern of incremental improvement. Basically this is a “do good, then do better” approach. We teach archers good basic form, not elite archer form, and then we encourage them to make minor changes in their shot, checking to see if these are “improvements” or “just changes.”

These is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach and I do not see that there is anything inherently wrong with it, but it does seem to be wrong to assume this is the only way to learn. There are basic weaknesses in this usual approach. A good example in archery is tuning. Tuning involves making small changes in how your bow and arrows are setup and then testing to see if the new setup is “better.” The problem with this approach is that you may end up with what is called a “false tune.” The approach of “a little bit, a little bit more, a tiny little bit more, oops, too much … back up a little” will find a local “best tune.” But is that the best tune available? This approach is a little like hiking while always moving uphill. You will eventually find yourself at a hill top, but there may be many taller hills nearby. You just had the misfortune of starting on the slopes of a shorter hill. Since it is very hard to get a wide angle view of the tuning landscape we have to resort to starting from a good starting point. In tuning, this is a well set up bow (as the manufacturer recommends, not as your bow has come to be). Trust me, if you start with a bad setup, you will only find bad tunes.

You can also fall into the trap of thinking that you have to be shooting well to learn (“do good, then do better”). Sometimes when you are shooting quite poorly, it is a good time to break down barriers to better shooting.

A way to get off of the “just a little bit of progress at a time train” is to do something really, really difficult, something you thought you (or your student) could not do. One example comes to mind: the thousand arrow challenge. A colleague, Tyler Benner, actually took this challenge and described it in detail in the book he wrote with Kisik Lee, Total Archery: Inside the Archer. Basically the idea is to start shooting arrows (blank bale) at sunrise and before you get to sunset, have shot 1000 arrows. If you have read his account, it is quite brutal. Even if you were to do it with a very light drawing bow, that is a lot of arrows. Even with volunteer arrow pullers/fetchers and a gallery rooting for you, this is very, very difficult. But … if you pull it off, things change for you. Never again will you feel like there is something in archery you cannot do. This is the big payoff.

How many times have you asked a student to do something and their response was “Oh, I can’t (or couldn’t) do that.” It is our out thoughts that get in our way much too often. Whenever some really difficult task is accomplished, it is often the case that rapid progress occurs thereafter. The “really difficult” task can’t be impossible or something that doesn’t get attained, although there are some people who are energized by simply trying something so hard no one expects them to accomplish it.

Such tasks are “doable” yet very, very difficult. We are most definitely not talking about hitting a target at some really far distance one time in 100 shots. Shoot enough arrows and you will hit something just by chance. For many archers this task is shooting a perfect score on a “gettable” round (one that people have already shot perfect scores on) but could be a round that people have almost shot a perfect score in competition and setting the goal of shooting one in practice. Or it might be a scoring level breakthrough (a score of 1400 on the 1440 FITA Round). This may seem like a small achievement, but for the archer who has never reached that point, it is significant. The key, though, is in the preparation and execution. You don’t just keep shooting that round until you get a perfect score, the goal is to always (almost always) get a perfect score or shoot at that level. When you have accomplished something like that, then you feel as if you can accomplish more and, just like a springboard, the accomplishment can launch your archer to new heights.

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The “Talent” Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Art of the Possible (Score)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do You Believe In … ?

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

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

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

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

Ask yourself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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