Tag Archives: Practice

Our Suggestion Culture

In archery, beginners attract a fair amount of attention from well-meaning experienced archers. This is part of the target archery culture and is, by-and-large, a good thing, but . . . it isn’t a way forward. Well-meaning experienced archers want to share things that worked for them in the hopes that it will improve the newbie’s game, which is even more fun, and the newbie will stick with the sport. Tada!

Except it doesn’t work.

Sure, ask any archer and they will have a story of when “so-and-so suggested that I do such-and-such and it really improved my game.” If it involved a famous archer, the better the story. Except what they can’t remember is all of the cases when such tips were a complete waste of time and energy, of which there were a great many more.

Well, I am “Mr. So Why Is That So?” . . . so, why is that?

In most cases, the tip giver hasn’t watched you shoot for very long and doesn’t know what you are working on or what you have worked on, so if one does watch you shoot, and does ask “what are you working on,” and then asks “Do you mind if I make a suggestion?,” I’d say “Yes!” Because that might be the only time in your entire life where that happens. And the suggestion may actually be helpful . . . but think it though first, don’t just try it. Talk it over with a shooting partner or, better, with your coach.

More often than not, while you are practicing somebody will just start blathering away without even saying hello. I saw one guy lecture a pre-teen newbie compound archer about back tension . . . really! . . . as if that were going to help the youngster.

Most advice givers are untrained regarding giving advice and their advice is completely out of context. They don’t know what you are working on and possibly don’t care. It is an axiom that, when you focus on one aspect of your shot, one shot element as it were, the rest of your shot goes south a bit. Often our advice givers are commenting on these shaky bits in your shot which are only shaky because you are devoting too much attention to the thing you are working on (a necessary condition to get better).

So, if you are approached by one of these advice givers, what should you do? Well, if it is not something you are working on at the moment, listen intently to see if you understand the advice. Ask for clarification if you need it. Thank them for their advice. A good thing to do is whip out your notebook and write the tip down. If you want to flatter the person giving the tip, ask their name and record that, too. Then go back to what you were working on.

Because adults believe that children should attend to what they say, there is this assumption that if an “elder” archer gives a young newbie some advice that they should try to implement that advice right away. So we teach our young archers to say, in these circumstances, “Gee, thanks, I will tell my coach the next time I see him/her.” This is a magical incantation that tells everyone that there is an older, wiser adult already teaching this youth and so it is okay for them to not immediately implement those suggestions.

This phrase works for adult newbies, too.

Talk to your serious students about this syndrome, otherwise you could be in a situation on making two steps forward in lessons and making one step backward when they practice between sessions, or worse, two steps forward and three steps backward.

If you have never asked a student where they got a new shot bit and have them tell you that it was “a tip I got at the range” . . . you will, you will. This is a major source of exasperation for coaches and confusion for archers as they are often told contradictory things.

Addendum Helpful things advice givers could do instead of giving shooting advice: encourage newbies to listen to their coach, encourage them to work hard, suggest that you might shoot a practice round with them, explain that there is a lot to learn, and that that it will take some time, but if they stick with it, they too can become an expert archer. And wait for questions to be asked before advice is given.

Second Addendum Since archery is a social sport, gossip plays a serious role. Gossip is not a negative thing you should never do. This is how parents discover, for example, who the boys are they don’t want their daughters hanging around with. Gossip is the transmitting of social information. What you and your students want to avoid is negative gossip. For example, youths who do not immediately take the advice of their elders can be described as being “stuck up” or “full of themselves.” This is why that magic phrase is so effective. It blocks off any negative gossip.

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches

To Really Improve Should I . . .

The question I address here is the one archers face: Should I focus on what needs improving, that is my weaknesses, or should I focus on my strengths? This a very good question and it must be answered if one is to shape good practice plans for the simple reason that working on the wrong solution rarely solves problems.

We humans, please note, have a bad case of awfulizing. When confronted with something negative we tend to dwell on it, make it out to be a bigger issue than it really is and be negatively affected by our thoughts. We quickly go from “Boy, this is awful” to “We’re doomed!” This propensity not withstanding, most archers are told to work on their weaknesses. I even made it into a practice framework.

My recommended practice structure is: you identify the weak points in your shot and list them for improvement (on The List), then when all aspects of your shot are at the same level of quality (the factor that tells you when you can stop working on each of those issues), you assess whether you are content with your performance at that level and if not then you go another round. If you can’t find any weaknesses, then all of the form elements making up your shot are to be improved to get to a new, higher level of performance.

So, that is what you should do, right?

Uh . . . maybe.

There is a downside to doing this. One of the big ones is we do not track progress at all well and we can get to a point of “I have been working to fix my problems for years now and I don’t seem to be getting anywhere! And I seem to have the same number of problems now that I had then.” The failing here is in not recognizing that there will always be weaker and stronger points in your shot. And as you progress, that is get better and better and better, it becomes more and more difficult to make progress. Economists call this the law of diminishing returns. It shows up in things like the Pareto Law, which is often stated as the 80:20 Rule: 80% of the progress comes from the first 20% of the effort. The flip side of which is the last 20% of the progress comes from 80% of the effort! For archers to understand this, have them compare how difficult it was to achieve a score of ten points (0 to a total score of 10 points), the first time in an Indoor 300 Round with how difficult it is scoring the last ten points for the first time in an Indoor 300 Round (290 to a total score of 300 points).

And, if you don’t keep careful records, you may not be seeing the progress made. I recently blogged about my use of “The List” and why it is important to not throw away old lists or to obliterate items on the list, with just single line outs allowed so you can go back and read about all of the items you have improved.

Plus there are good arguments to be made for working on your strengths. A big one is you are working on positives rather than negatives. And studies do show that if you concentrate on strengths, often weakness just sort of drift away. For example, reading well written texts enhances your ability to spell. If you read words with, well let’s just call them “different” spellings, then your ability to spell those words is eroded. As a teacher tasked with grading students’ written work, I can attest to this. I would see certain words miss-spelled so often that my ability to spell those words correctly suffered to the point of having to look up the correct spellings of those words quite often.

So, really, what are you supposed to do?

It is obvious: both. Do both.

I suggest working on your weakness and, from time to time working on your strengths. As yet another example, if you increase the strength of a certain muscle group, say your biceps muscles, gaining that increased strength leads to your handling of, say, heavier objects, which taxes other neighboring muscle groups that tends to make them stronger, so by all means, do work on your strengths, they are contagious!. Also, characterizing your weaknesses can be really helpful in feeling as if you have “left no stone unturned,” and that when things go wrong, if it is a recognized problem, you will also have a recognized solution that you have been working on. So, if you tend to drop your bow arm too early in a shot and have been applying a drill to fix that, if you drop your bow arm in competition, you are in a position of not only recognizing what had happened, but confident in a fix you can apply.

So, Grasshopper, do both.

4 Comments

Filed under For All Coaches

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.

9 Comments

Filed under For All Coaches

Less is More . . . More or Less

A question asked of coaches often enough is “How much should I practice?” and “How many arrows should I shoot?” If you work with youths (I recommend this as it keeps you fresh and immersed in the fundamentals if nothing else) you often find yourself just encouraging them to practice more. So many kids will attend a group lesson, say, once a week and that’s it. But this is not what I am addressing here. Here I am addressing this question as if it were coming from a serious archer, one who is going to try whatever you recommend. In my parlance, a serious archer is one training to win.

An Aside—If you aren’t sure what kind of archer you are working with, give them an extensive, preferably boring, drill to do. If they don’t do it, they are a recreational archer (who only shoot for fun and drills aren’t fun). If they do do it, they are a competitive archer. If they email/text you between coaching sessions asking for what else they can do, they are probably a serious competitive archer.

There are some discussions available in the literature regarding arrow counts and training loads. Archers are encouraged, for example, to vary their shooting loads (aka number of arrows shot per day) in “high, medium, and low” sessions. I use as a rule of thumb that a high load day is at least twice as many arrows as you would shoot in one day of the competitive rounds that are current. But there is a large scheme at work here. Consider the three phases of learning archery:

Phase One—Creating Your Shot
One could get the impression form all of the how to shoot books that an archery shot is like a suit of clothes. You find one that fits your needs and then you try it on and wear it. In reality, you have to make your own suit. An archery shot is personal. And, while there are many, many similarities in archer’s shots (created by the use of common equipment and the laws of physics) everyone’s shot is unique to them (some being uniquer than others).

So, Phase One is always the creation of a shot. This is best done using dedicated practice techniques involving low volumes of shots but high intensity of focus. Errors are corrected immediately. Drills are often done for extensive periods. (If a coach is to be employed at all, this is the best time.)

Phase Two—Memorizing Your Shot
Once you have created a consistently accurate shot (a sign of which is shooting consistently good groups) it is time to memorize your shot, that is learning it to the bone. In this phase you will shoot “your shot” so often that it becomes second nature. I should be able to wake you up at 3 AM and shove your bow into your hands and you should be executing good shots immediately because it is “normal” for you to shoot that way.

This memorization process involves shooting high volumes of shots. This is the first time high volumes of shots are to be attempted. Important Point—If volume shooting is a memorization technique, why would you do this before your shot is built? You would just be memorizing something you will be changing shortly.

This is not the mindless flinging of arrows so often mention as something to avoid (rather, one should never do this) but shots with full focus. How many shots per session is a variable to be winkled out. There are no tables to consult here! Archers are too variable in size, strength, ability to focus, etc. Arrow counts might stay low while the archer does physical training to increase strength or stamina. One has to feel one’s way along here. Archer’s need to learn to monitor muscle soreness; it’s location and intensity. (The wrong muscles being sore indicates the wrong muscles are being used!)

Phase Three—Maintaining Your Shot
Shooting high arrow counts is not done forever. Once an archer’s foundation is built (this often takes years, estimates I have seen being in multiples of 10,000 shots) the arrow volumes are cut back. First, there is no need for memorization and second, you risk repetitive stress injuries from over work. Occasionally, in preparing for major events, high arrow counts may be brought back as stamina tests and to reassure the archer that they still have it, that is the ability to function consistently during a long competition.

And . . .
Throughout all of this there are minor technique tweaks, often significant equipment changes, and injuries to work around, but these are all performed in the context of “your shot.”

You have probably heard the admonition to “Shoot your shot.” This is a warning to young archers to avoid improvising, to shoot the shot they have practiced. For a serious competitive archer, we try to help them make “not shooting their shot” difficult, abnormal, awkward, etc. And this does not necessarily involve high volume arrow shooting, which is only done when it is appropriate and is not a virtue in itself. (Yes, I am talking to you, Macho Man Archer.)

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches

Archery, Archery, Archery All of the Time . . . Right?

As a coach who works with young people (and I hope that you do, too) I see and hear opinions regarding “commitment to the sport” and “developing a practice regimen” often. Just the trope “it takes 10,000 of practice to develop elite-level skill” urges us to practice, practice, practice. After all, the icons of sport seem to all have started very early. Tiger Woods, possibly the greatest golfer of all time, had a golf club in his hands before he was one year old. I have seen archers shooting before the age of two. Start early, block out everything else, and you have a shot at greatness.

So, is this a message to deliver to our student-archers?

Tiger ca. two years old.

I think this is not a wise approach. For one it is laden with survivor bias. We crave information about the Tiger Woods of the world. What made him so great? How did he achieve what he has? But we never seek to survey the entire field. How many athletes took Tiger’s route and how well did they do? How many dropped out along the way? Answer: we don’t know.

There are, however, counter examples. Consider Roger Federer of tennis fame. Arguably one of the best male tennis players of all time, certainly one of the nicest. Here is an excerpt from an article in The Guardian in which Roger Federer’s early “career” was described:

“This boy’s mother was a coach, but she never coached him. He would kick a ball around with her when he learned to walk. As a child, he played squash with his father on Sundays. He dabbled in skiing, wrestling, swimming and skateboarding. He played basketball, handball, tennis, table tennis and badminton over his neighbour’s fence, and soccer at school.

“His parents had no particular athletic aspirations for him. They encouraged him to try a wide array of sports. He didn’t much mind what sport he was playing, so long as it included a ball. Though his mother taught tennis, she decided against working with him. “He would have just upset me anyway,” she said. “He tried out every strange stroke and certainly never returned a ball normally. That is simply no fun for a mother.” Rather than pushy, his parents were, if anything, “pully”, a Sports Illustrated writer would later observe. Nearing his teens, the boy began to gravitate more toward tennis, and “if they nudged him at all, it was to stop taking tennis so seriously”.

“As a teenager, he was good enough to warrant an interview with the local newspaper. His mother was appalled to read that, when asked what he would buy with a hypothetical first prize money from playing tennis, her son answered “a Mercedes”. She was relieved when the reporter let her listen to a recording of the interview and they realised there had been a mistake: the boy had said “mehr CDs” in Swiss-German. He simply wanted “more CDs”.

“The boy was competitive, no doubt. But when his tennis instructors decided to move him up to a group with older players, he asked to move back so he could stay with his friends. After all, part of the fun was hanging around after his lessons to gab about music, or pro wrestling, or soccer.

“By the time he finally gave up other sports to focus on tennis, other kids had long since been working with strength coaches, sports psychologists and nutritionists. But it didn’t seem to hamper his development in the long run. In his mid-30s, an age by which even legendary tennis players are typically retired, he would still be ranked world No 1.I” From “Generalise, Don’t Specialise: Why Focusing Too Narrowly Is Bad for Us” by David Epstein in The Guardian magazine, July 12, 2019.

Some authoritarian countries have decided to fuel their Olympic teams by rounding up promising youths and taking them to “training centers” and having them train around the clock, starting as early as three years of age. (The parents are allowed to visit from time to time, as long as they don’t get in the way.) In these cases, athletes can be considered as disposable. If there are enough of them, those who burn out can just be sent back to their villages.

I argue that this is no way to treat a fellow citizen. None of the archers I have worked with has become a professional archer, so why would I train them as if that were their goal? All of my students were destined to be something larger than archery and if archery stays with them and contributes to their happiness, I’d consider that a success.

Urging youngsters to concentrate on archery, excluding other sports and hobbies, is a bad idea. First, it is unnecessary (or at least no one has made the argument that it is necessary) and second it cannot lead to well-rounded individuals. Were you surprised at Tiger Wood’s comeback from self-inflicted relationship wounds and then injuries? I wasn’t. What else was he going to do? What else did he train to do? What else provides his core happiness?

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches

Five Reasons Archers Fail to Improve

Once again I am inspired by a blog post of a golf coach. In this case it was 5 Reasons Why Golfer’s Don’t Improve by Adam Young. I find there is a correspondence between these two individual sports that is very much worth paying attention to.

Here is how I translated the five reasons golfers don’t improve into five reasons archers don’t improve.

  1. Flawed Thinking
    This is generally passed from one generation of archers to another in the form of helpful advice. As an example, it is not uncommon for an archer to grab his/her bow at the loosing of the string so as to not drop it. Of course, you know that “shoot, grab; shoot, grab” occasionally become “grab, shoot” and off an arrow goes into the woods. But often archers are told to “not grab the bow like that” but are not coached as to how to shoot with a relaxed bow hand. This is why we see so many compound archers shooting with outstretched fingers, which is another, different flaw that should be avoided. Often the people given the “don’t grab the bow advice” are shooting with outstretched fingers and are providing an example of what not to do in the form of advice of “what to do.” They will even praise a newbie for doing it as they do it.

This is not so much flawed thinking but a lack of thinking. It is applying correctives without understanding what they do in the belief that the people giving advice know what they are doing.

  1. Practicing Faults
    Beginning archers are often obsessed with “doing it right.” Where they get their information about the “right way to do things” is often flawed and they then end up practicing diligently doing it wrong, thinking they are doing it right.

A better way to approach this is acknowledging that is no one way to shoot a bow and everyone has to work out what works for them. (This will be opposed by people selling the “right way to shoot,” of course.) There are some basic constraints on building an archery shot, of course. Standing with your feet on the wrong side of the shooting line makes shooting way more difficult, for example. But within the basic constraints most people shoot slightly differently from their peers. Each archer has to build and refine their own shot, then they need to progress to what is better, not just what they think is “right.”

  1. Thinking You Are Not Capable of Doing It “That Way”
    The famous quote of Henry Ford is that “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” When you accept that you are incapable of doing something, you essentially stop any positive learning. If you think you can’t learn something, then your learning process is fouled up. (I keep beating this dead horse, but it won’t get up and run!) It is one thing to not want to put out the effort necessary to learn something, but another to think you “can’t.” This is not a growth mindset, it is a static mindset, and if you want to be an accomplished archer, you need to accept that you can learn to do anything you set your mind to learn.
  2. You Can’t Bring Your Practice Game to Competitions
    If there is a big gap between your practice performances and your competition performances, you are practicing wrong. The whole purpose of shooting practice rounds is to test your current state of skill at scoring. If the conditions that exist in the two arenas are vastly different, you aren’t measuring what you think. Would you expect to do well outdoors in a long distance competition only practicing indoors at short distances? Do you expect to shoot well in the wind when your practice facility is deal calm most of the time? Do you expect to be able to learn how to shoot uphill or downhill shots on a flat range?

As archers become more proficient, they also become more consistent. Their practice scores are more consistent. Their competition scores become more consistent and their practice scores and competition scores get closer together. This is deliberate to some extent because they work at including competition factors into their practice sessions.

  1. What You Are Doing Won’t Make You Any Better
    The common Internet meme called the “definition of insanity” being “doing something over and over and expecting different results” comes to mind. To the contrary, if you want to get better, you must do activities designed to make one thing better, specifically, at a time. This is why drills are effective. You can home in on something and practice it to make it better. This is partially why we have shot sequences, so we can look at the various stages of our shot making and evaluate them and find ways to make the weaker parts stronger.

Contrast this with what commonly passes for archery practice. (I know; I practiced this way for years!) We go to the range and shoot arrows on the practice butts for a time. Or we sit on the range and shoot practice rounds. If this worked, driving to work every day would make you a better driver (it actually makes you worse!). If this worked, students trying to learn algebra would just take tests over and over until they learned how to pass one. We do not do this because it does not work. Instead we read texts, we work though practice problems that have been demonstrated and then try our hand at solving practice questions that have answers we can check. Before we take the algebra test, we might take a “practice test” (the equivalent of an archer’s practice round) but we wouldn’t take practice test after practice test as a study method because it is too danged inefficient. We all know this. This is why teachers teach the way they do: break it down, learn the parts, put it back together, practice, practice, practice.

Archers need help figuring out what to do to improve. This is why Mike Gerard and I are writing The Archery Drill Book which we hope will be out in late summer or the fall. Drills in the book are accompanied by descriptions of what they were designed to accomplish and how you can tell you’ve accomplished that. We hope this will help. (We know this will help!)

5 Comments

Filed under For All Coaches

Win or Learn … or Win and Learn?

“I never learned anything from any game I won” – Bobby Jones

The Basshams, the Mental Management folks, use a phrase over and over which is: “We either win or learn, there is no ‘lose.’” Actually I think we can win and learn, too. The saying is part of their efforts to help people to create a learning mindset. If we focus too much on losing and winning, we can fail to develop a mindset of doing what we need to do to put ourselves into a winning position.

But, with all due respect for Mr. Jones, a golf legend, we can easily win and learn. My partner is somewhat famous for dropping her one and only tab into a porta-potty while leading the tournament she was contesting. Shooting a makeshift tab she managed to end up winning, just barely, and learned a valuable lesson regarding carrying a spare tab. I use this example because it is funny as all get out, not because it is the most instructive.

A more profound principle/example is that you learn how to win by winning. Think about that. Learning how to deal with competition pressure can only be learned when they are feeling it. Feeling that one has learned something about dealing with the pressure to win only happens when they win having dealt with it.

You can help your charges develop a learning mindset in many ways. One is by defining what winning means (I favor “meeting or exceeding your goals”) and another is to have a mechanism to focus on what was learned from an experience.

I have a standard “post-competition” process I ask my athletes to follow. After any event and within 24 hours of the end of that event I ask my students to make two lists of at least three items each. These they write in their archery notebook. The first thing is a list of what they learned. Over time this can be quite illuminating. For example, any time something shows up on these lists more than once may mean that thing wasn’t learned. Or maybe you didn’t help them find a way to implement what they learned. This is the role of the second list.

The second list is “what they will do differently next time.” These can be specific to this event or may apply to any event. This list informs practice because just by stating it doesn’t mean you can do it.

Young people especially don’t like homework, so you will have to pressure some of your students to produce the lists. You will also encounter students who put little to no thought into their lists. In some cases you will find you have mis-characterized some students as serious competitive archers and find out they are not because they do not want to do such tasks. Other times people are just intellectually lazy.

The students with “the spark” end up with lists of more than three items regularly, which is one way to identify them. (I always look favorably on students who come to lessons with written lists of questions. My very best student emailed me with such things and with things he hoped to accomplish at our next lesson ahead of time so I could be well-prepared to serve him!)

Another  helpful process is to look over the past 4-5 sets of lists when you are developing a practice plan for a major competition. When doing this I emphasize that they are in charge. I just ask questions like “This list item suggests you want to do XYZ, do you want to do that?” Remember the lists are theirs, not yours, so you should get some buy-in regarding those items.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches

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.

4 Comments

Filed under For All Coaches

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches

The Ideal Practice Facility

I am writing a book, tentatively titled “Accelerated Archery,” which has the tag “how to get good, really good, fast” and one of the critical aspects of achieving archery excellence in a short amount of time is having a training facility available, one in which one can shoot safety and is available at least six days a week.

So, the question arises … naturally … how “nice” does this facility need to be. I have practiced in some nice facilities and in some real dumps. Is one better? If you asked supporters of archery competitions, such as fans of Olympic archery, they are likely to say that you need a really nice training facility, thinking that the appearance of the facility would show the people working in it how much their hard work is appreciated. On the other hand, Daniel Coyle, author of “The Talent Code,” who actually traveled around the world looking at so-called “talent hotbeds,” places known for training elite athletes, and found most of them to be dumps and that their appearance had an effect he suggested was an encouragement to get the heck out of there and out performing. On the third hand, you have the lavish training centers associated with professional sports teams. So, which is better, primitive or lavish?

… OR …

A recent study of people undertaking an exercise program prescribed to facility recovery from an injury has something to say about this. They had a control group and two experimental groups, one in a nice airy, well-lit facility with windows on the outside world and another, well, not. The found that: “Both groups improved, but one group reported feeling better, overall, with more pain relief and greater improvement in function. There was, however, no difference in aerobic capacity, muscle strength and walking speed between the groups.

When the groups were revealed, it became clear that the group exercising in the old room in the basement reported greater improvement when asked: Compared to when entering the study, how are your knee/hip pain problems now? This was contrary to what we expected.”

We interviewed some of the participants and showed them photos of the two rooms to spark a discussion about their impressions. The people exercising in the old room didn’t perceive the aged appearance negatively. They felt at home in the environment and expressed nostalgia because it reminded them of their old school gym. They also felt a stronger sense of fellowship – they were in it together and worked as a team to achieve their goals.

In the new room, the large windows were distractions and participants said that they did not feel part of a team. The large wall mirrors in the new room weren’t appreciated, either. The participants said that they didn’t like the look of their untrained legs and their often overweight bodies.

“So, if you’re thinking about starting to exercise, take your time and find an exercise environment that feels right for you, or join a group where you have similar goals. If you can join a group and exercise in an environment you really like, you will improve your chances of getting fit and of feeling better. ‘And, as our study shows, when it comes to exercising, it really doesn’t have to be fancy.’”

Looks like the training facility needs to have fairly good environmentals (light, heat, air conditioning) but other than that the key thing is availability. Don’t expect your charges to perform better in a nice facility, especially if you think it is nice because you have been to some of the dumps, but they have only been to the nice one. They may think all practice ranges look like theirs.

2 Comments

Filed under For All Coaches