Tag Archives: Practice

Can You Dislike Practice and Succeed at Archery?

Way more often as not, you can read me answering this question as “no, if you do not enjoy the process, you likely will not succeed.”

But is this “attitude” fixed or can it change?

This is a good question and it does apply to archers. This is especially the case in that young archers often “succeed” at winning championships without practicing. These are archers who go to, say, a weekly JOAD session, which is as much social as it is instructive, and then attend competitions and win them. This can go on all the way up to state and national championships. This is a manifestation of a lack of competition. These kids do win without practicing because they can win without practicing. If more kids were practicing effectively, this would not be the case.

Since it is the case that some kids do win without practicing, they logically think that practicing, or practicing a particular way, is unnecessary. Of course, if they continue on, they will reach a point where they no longer win, and many of these kids drop out at this point, either because they have a fixed mindset and think their talent ran out, of they just didn’t want to have to work at the sport.

For the number who hit a wall and ask for help, there may be an answer: some people feel that you can trick yourself into enjoying boring subjects, like archery practice. This is a bit like neurolinguistic programming I guess, but all you have to do is get them to tell themselves that they like learning about archery. That they find it interesting. That they want to know more. Even remote curiosities about a subject, like searching online for “What are archery bowstrings made of?” should be encouraged.

Learning that they can “reframe” their own attitudes is a way to motivate them to go deeper into any subject. Even if the task or subject is boring, even if it is not something they would choose to do, this is a valuable tool which will also pay dividends later in life.

Of course, as a coach, making practice boring is not a plus; making it interesting and challenging is.

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An Excellent Summary of the Role of Practice

I don’t think this is behind a pay wall and I recommend it as an excellent summary of the role of practice in archery or any other performance sport or art

Does practice make perfect?

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Work on that Until . . . Until . . .

So, as a coach, once you have a serious archer, you explain to them about working on improvements “one at a time.” There seem to be some misconceptions about what this is so I will do my best to explain.

In the beginning I thought this meant that I could only work on one issue at a time to the exclusion of anything else. Uh, no. This means “of the things you are working on, just work on one at a time.” Basically, you don’t try to fix two problems simultaneously . . . but you can try to fix two problems consecutively. In fact, I recommend that archers limit themselves to three issues to work on, just because it is hard to practice on more.

So, in practice, one works on A for a time, then works on B, leaving A behind for the moment, then works upon C for a time, leaving A and B behind for the time.

Then, one works on a thing . . . until . . . until what? It is a mistake to seek perfection, but what level of improvement is “enough?” The answer to this question, that is the standard for such adjustments to form and execution is: you stop trying to improve some shot element when the quality of that element matches the quality of the other elements in your shot. The goal is to have all aspects of one’s shot at the same level of quality. To keep grinding away on something to make it better than the rest of your shot does not improve your shot. (Imagine having a world-class stance but mediocre other form elements; does that stance make for better scores?) Leaving something when it is still quite substandard always makes your shot weak (the “weakest link in a chain” argument goes here). Of course, some level of judgment has to be applied in these situations because there are few standards that I know of that can be used to make such decisions.

The few standards I know are of the ilk of, say, with regard to archery fitness, we want our first and last shots to be the same. If you are dead tired at the end of a shoot, you need to keep working on your fitness. If your level of stillness degrades as you progress through a competition—you get shakier, or feel a let down is an unnecessary burden, etc.—you need to build your archery strength (to hold you bow up and keep it steady, for example).

I have written recently about how I recommend such efforts be tracked/organized (“The List”) so I won’t repeat that here.

Just like trying to tune two aspects of your bow-arrow setup simultaneously leaves you not know which changes had an effect, working on two form changes at the same time, can do likewise. But working on one and then working on another is standard practice. Think of this being like working on strengthening muscle groups. Work is done on, say, one’s core, then the next day, work is done on one’s back, then. . . . Even in the same practice session, you can work on more than one thing, as long as they are different (using different muscles).

Note Just for Coaches Sometimes you can perceive that a student is getting bored with a set of drills designed to improve some form element. It is perfectly okay to declare that that work is “enough for now” and shift focus onto something else. Days or weeks later, you can come back to working on that element again, but I recommend you try different drills so the work seems fresh. One can cycle through one’s shot sequence many, many times improving each step as one goes. Having a store of such drills is why Mike Gerard and I wrote “The Archery Drill Book.”

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The Different Kinds of Practice

I have been reviewing some older posts on this site and ran across this question, which I now have a different take upon.

Here is the question: “I got a note from a student who had attended a recent tournament and noted that his score had improved substantially over his score from the previous year but in talking with other archers found that their scores had been about the same. The question was “Why?” Why hadn’t they improved from a year of practice?

* * *

When I first addressed this question I discussed plateaus, but actually I think that misses the point. The point is that practice does not make perfect or even better.

As just one example in the way of convincing you of this is that I have sent many thousands of hours driving, mostly back and forth to work. Do you think that makes me a better driver? Studies indicate it is more likely to make me a worse driver. The more comfortable I get with ordinary driving the less alert I am to possible accidents, changes in road conditions, etc. Driving back and forth to work a lot does not prepare one to drive in a NASCAR event.

There are many kinds of “practice.” Here are just a few:

No Practice at All This is practice in name only. So, you decide to “go to practice” and you go to the range and set up your gear and shoot a few arrows. Then you spend some time chatting with friends also shooting. Then one of them suggests a shooting game and so you do that for a while. They you take a break and get a soda from a machine and spend time talking with your friends as you drink it. Then you shoot a few more arrows. Later you are asked “What did you do today?” and you respond “I went to archery practice.” No you didn’t.

Equipment Evaluations/Tuning/Testing These sessions are necessary but are devoted to getting your equipment in order and are not “practice” in the sense of you learning to operate that equipment better. These are necessary, but maybe we should call them something else.

Archery Fitness Sessions This may be a gym workout of just a heavy shooting session (arrow after arrow after arrow . . .). These can be quite helpful in maintaining your fitness, but if you get tired and your form degrades they can actually make you a worse archer.

Deliberate Practice This is practicing to get better. This is the practice that should make you better . . . if you do it. These are short intense, highly focused sessions that are noticeable by the archers not letting anything that goes wrong to go uncorrected. These are all about getting your form “right” and repeatable. I mean “right” as conforming to the form you have chosen/designed/etc., not conforming to what good form is supposed to be as described in some book.

In these sessions, notes are taken, questions are asked, coaches are employed (if possible) and these sessions are planned. They are short, compared to the sessions of some others, but by the end you are tired from the physical and mental efforts extended.

In Conclusion

Practice does not make perfect, or even better, unless it is designed around drills, exercises, practices that can make you better. With those in pocket, intense concentration on what you are doing is required to practice these things deliberately. It is never the case that high shot numbers is involved. Mass shooting is a memorization technique. And you don’t want to memorize your shot until it is exactly as you want it to be.

So, you will not get better unless you practice deliberately.

Serious competitive archers practice deliberately. Recreational archers generally practice in “No Practice at All” mode, which is quite acceptable. They are, after all, shooting for fun. Why should they do anything that is not fun to do? (Deliberate practice is not fun.) Now if they are whining that they aren’t getting better, you can help them out by explaining this to them.

PS If you are interested in drills designed to make you better, Mike Gerard and I wrote The Archery Drill Book that contains many such drills, which if done intensely enough can make you better.

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Just Sayin’

From The Guardian:

“Tyler Herro, a 20-year-old rookie, poured in a career-high 37 points to lead the NBA’s Miami Heat to a three games to one series lead. Tyler Herro should still be in college. He’s not, but is still a student.

“He carries a red spiral-bound notebook with him at all times, jotting down notes when things pop into his head. What worked, what didn’t, where he thinks he can get better and how he’s feeling after a game.”

A notebook and a commitment to using it is an archer-athlete’s greatest training aid used to improve.

Just sayin’.

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Why Would Your Scores Go Up?

As a retired teacher, I am often amazed when people claim that it is a problem that student test scores have plateaued, that is show no improvement. What, did they expect that a new group of seventh-graders, taught much the same way as the last group, would somehow, magically, perform better?

What connection does the current group of seventh-grades have to those now in eighth grade? Answer: none whatsoever. Anyone learned in process mechanics knows that if you take a sheet of steel and place it in a mold and hit it with a press ram, that the part you get will be near identical to the last part. They have even figured out ways to ensure that the outcome is the same, within reasonable process parameters. They only compare one with the next if they expect them to be identical.

What is reasonable to expect is that the eighth-graders, given the seventh-grade tests, would perform slightly better. That comparison is comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges. (My cartoon mind shows someone holding up an orange and commented on what a poor color this apple has.)

So, let’s talk about this applies to archery scores.

Should they be going up?

There is really only one scenario in which they do. If all you do is practice and shoot in competitions, your scores should either stay the same . . . or go down. That’s right, I said down. Studies show that just doing a skill does not make you better, but often can make you worse. I use driving a car to exemplify this fact. Commuting to work every day and racking up hundreds of thousands of driving miles, does not qualify you to compete in NASCAR events. And, your driving skills may actually be eroding. This is because the vast majority of time you spend driving, you are driving on autopilot. You are not focused on your driving, trying to get better, etc.; you are just driving subconsciously.

So, if you practice rarely and compete rarely, I suspect your scores would be going down if, indeed, they ever went up in the first place.

If you practice frequently (making you someone in good “archery shape”) and compete frequently, I suspect that your scores should hold steady. (I have spoken with professional archers who are practicing little and competing a great deal and they have complained that their scores were going down. It does take both.)

In order for your scores to go up, you need to be focusing upon practice sessions designed to make you a better archer. This is the only way you can “improve” your archery.

The mistake we make is most of us are in the second category but thinking, “Gee we are spending so much time and effort (and money); we should be getting better!” This is the equivalent to “Gee, I paid so much money for my family car and I commute quite a distance to work and back each day, I should be getting better as a driver, right?”

Nope, you are just reinforcing your ability to perform at your average level or lower.

The message for your students is that two things are required to get better: (a) time on task and (b) focusing on things that demonstrably make them better. They need to come up with “a” and you, as their coach, need to help them find “b.”

In finding “b” the trial-and-test process is your friend. Your job is to make suggestions as to drills your student can do that will make them better and devise tests that will show whether or not that drill is working for them. Better coaches diagnose faults better. Better coaches make better suggestions. Better coaches devise good evaluation plans.

Are you getting better?

PS I am not tweaking you. At this stage in my life I am well past my peak with regard to, well, anything. I still devote energy in trying to learn more about what will make me a better coach, but find myself more and more focused in sharing what I already know. I may be past my peak, but you are probably not, and you can take us farther than I can. I do hope you will adopt the spirit of “passing on your coaching knowledge” as I think not doing that is what has hindered us and our sport in the past. Steve

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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.

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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.

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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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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.)

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