Tag Archives: performance plateaus

Helping with Plateaus

In Archery Focus magazine we run regular columns for coaches and students, elucidating our programs and the way we teach. Recently we have prefaced the titles of these columns with the header “Getting Serious,” because we have covered the basics over and over and, well, that drum has been beat. (Note Subscribers have access to all of the back issues, back to the beginning, so they can search for any topic they need help on.) So, we are now addressing how coaches work with serious archers and how archers can get serious about their archery.

One of the things that beginning serious archers have to deal with is plateaus in their performances, aka getting stuck on a score. When they first became serious, they improved in leaps and bounds, now they are stuck. This also occurred when they first took up the sport. Some of this perception is illusory. For example, we used a scoring system in our first classes to define levels of accomplishment. We used a modified indoor round outdoors with a perfect score being 300 points. The first plateau was 50 points. Then there were others. Many archers jumped past 50 points in their first testing. Some would make 50 point improvements in sequential scores. Progress in scoring was often made fast. But progress of this kind always slows. This is because the first 50 points is easy, the last 50 points, getting from a score of 250/300 to 300/300 is very difficult. You start with just a few good arrow scores taking you to score you wanted to a few poor arrow scores making that score impossible. So the perception of progress is biased toward the “fast” end of the spectrum at first and the “slow” end later.

Our serious archers, though, get used to a certain level of performance and establish a comfort zone, then find themselves stuck on a performance plateau. Often you can hear archers in this state say things like “No matter what I do I score thus and so.” So, coach, what do you do to help?

Helping with Plateaus
Almost always newly serious archers have no perspective as to how much effort is needed to make progress (nor do they understand that progress is harder and harder to make at their end of the scoring range). So, the first thing you need to do is sit down with them and list out all they are doing. For some, the answer is clear why progress is lacking; it is due to lack of effort. Kids are somewhat notorious for attending classes or JOAD sessions once a week and expecting that to be sufficient “practice.” Adding a practice session or two between classes will help a great deal. They, of course, will need help planning what they need to do at those sessions and you should help with that.

For student-archers who are “putting in the time,” the enemy is usually the definition of insanity often ascribed to Albert Einstein, which is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

The weapon needed to conquer this problem is the lowly notebook. More than a few archers spend their practice sessions socializing and not working on their shot or whatnot. Like the dieters asked to keep a log of what they eat, asking archers to keep a log of what they do during “practice” can help identify if a) they are doing enough and b) are they doing the right things.

If you yourself spend any idle time at a range, observe what people do for “practice.” You will see a great many people “just shooting” and others “shooting for score” (a practice round). Neither of these are effective practice. Their benefits are few. One such is they are developing some shooting stamina and another is they are benchmarking their scoring ability (practice rounds are tests, not homework). But there are better ways to develop stamina than just shooting, for example. For recurve archers, instead of just shooting, could do Double Draws or Reversals to build shooting stamina. Double Draws are just that, you draw to anchor, let down to your predraw position, draw again and loose. Reversals are drawing and holding for much longer than ordinary times (done in sets like weight lifting because they are weight lifting). Note Reversals should not involve shooting at the end unless you are very close to the butt. The fatigue they create is substantial and can create wild looses.

Real practice involves working on your shot to get better, so the big question is: what needs to be improved? This is where introspection and notebooks are absolutely necessary. Archers need to become cognizant of where they fail to perform and, if they can, why they fail. Do the poorly scoring arrows come at first or toward the end when a good score is on the horizon? Or do they come in the middle of rounds due to a loss of focus? Serious archers, to be really serious, need to study themselves and their sport to improve their own performances and their own equipment. Keeping notes on what is and isn’t working, another use for the lowly notebook, is very, very helpful. Seriously.

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Plateaus in Progress

One of my students has taken on the task of coaching up a college archery team (Yea!). Here’s his latest question.

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
I have started seeing a pattern in how people progress through Recurve Barebow archery. From my observations, people score all over the place as beginners, but when they become an intermediate archer, they consistently score around 350. Not only did I observe this with myself one and a half years ago, but my students seem to level off at 350, University of Chicago archers seem to all level off at 350, and other barebow shooters I know level off at 350. Once a barebow archer breaks 400 consistently, their scores once again become scattered all over the place—410, 440, 470, etc (I scored a 437 at the Turkey Trot). With major tournaments, the people that win in Barebow have 400+ scores all over the board, unlike intermediates that always seem to group around 350. 

Is this phenomenon just based on faulty observations, or is there a reason behind this?

My hypothesis is that because Barebow is so difficult, people level off at 350; once an archer becomes an advanced shooter, their skills, methodology, and etiquette allows them to well exceed other archers, resulting in a large skew.

Thanks

* * *

I do not know about the 350 (out of 600?) scoring plateau you mention as I have seen far fewer than 100 barebow archers as a coach (beware the law of small numbers!). But plateaus are normal. I assume you are familiar with the “learning curve.” Near the peak of any such curve you will get a leveling off that, if one stops working at that point one will generate a “forgetting curve,” that looks like the opposite of the learning curve. If one does keep working, though, the tendency is to “plateau,” that is work is done, but little progress gets made.learning-curve

For serious archers, the first major plateau is, I think, a manifestation of the Pareto Principle, also called the “80:20 law or rule” (80% of the progress on any task is made with the first 20% of the effort; the remaining 20% of the progress requires 80% of the effort). Basically, as a beginner the rate of progress is quite great, a little work creates a substantial amount of progress, but as one continues the rate of progress declines. More and more effort is needed to make less and less change. If you are using a 300 round score as a gauge of progress, for example, the first 100 points come fairly easily, then 150 comes soon, getting to 200 is a lot more effort, getting to 250 is even more effort than it took to get to 200, etc. Getting to 290 requires a great deal of effort indeed.

Realize that this is true on all three fronts: physical, equipment, and mental. So, a score of 100/300 can be had with quite basic equipment, which is set up okay and with the focus on the physical aspects of shooting alone (basic T-form, etc.). Getting to 200/300 will probably require fitted equipment, tuned somewhat well. The physical aspects of shooting are more demanding (physical fitness level, timing, etc.), and the mental game is involved at some level. To get to 290/300, you need very good equipment (not necessarily elite level), that is carefully tuned, and you need strong physical and mental games to go along with it.Forgetting Curve

Do realize though, that as you gain expertise, you will become more consistent. (It is a sign, Grasshopper!) The exception, I suspect, is when you break through a plateau, you are still inconsistent in the new things that got you out of that “slump,” so things will be variable for a while and then settle down. It is rare for a Barebow archer to be as consistent as top compound archers, though, as this is the nature of the style.

Plateaus are normal. Coaches should expect them. Staying on a plateau for very long, though, indicates a lack of effort or the wrong kind of effort on the part of the archer. The archer is responsible for the amount of effort, the coach is responsible for guiding the right kind of effort. So if a plateau exists for long, something significant has to change. If you want inspiration, look up the story of Australian archer Simon Fairweather.

I do hope this helps!

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