Tag Archives: Problem Solving

Finger Release Basics

I was watching a video about the finger release put out by Merlin Archery (UK). I very much like Merlin Archery; they put out quality goods and quality information. In this video, however, while everything they said I agree with, there is much they left out that would clarify what they were trying to say.

I insist that coaches should know what they are talking about (even though I do not always), so here are a couple of statements/claims made about the release and what there is to back them up.

You should not try to open your fingers to effect the release of the bowstring.
This, of course, is spot on, but the videos “reason” for doing this is that it creates more string path variation, which is true, but it doesn’t say why it does so. The why of this is simple: you aren’t fast enough. Your fingers aren’t

Nope! Doesn’t correct for shooting a right-handed bow left-handed, either.

fast enough. So no matter what you do with your fingers, the string, powered by the bow, still has to push them out of its way back to brace. And, if you try to open your fingers, they become stiff (due to the tension of the tendons trying to make the fingers move) and being stiff they are harder to push out of the way. Newton’s third law is involved (action-reaction) the string is pushing harder on the string, therefore the fingers are pushing harder on the string, which makes for more side-to-side string motion (because of the finger’s orientation of being slightly to the side.

You want to have the release hand move back in the same plane as the arrow moves forward.
Again, this is spot on but the reason why was omitted. If the release is clean the string hand will move away from the bow in the same plane that the arrow is leaving it . . . if . . . if the archer is pulling straight back away from the bow. So, why do we want this? We design the bows so that the string moves back toward the bow in, or very near, the central vertical plane of the bow, that is the bow is designed for maximum energy transfer when the string returns to its brace position in a straight line. In order to get the string to do that you have to pull away from the bow in that same plane. If you are pulling in that direction and release cleanly, your hand should move in the direction the force applied through it was moving: force straight back, motion straight back.

They do mention plucking as a common release flaw, but characterize it as something the archer is doing; it is not. Plucking occurs because the force being applied is not straight back, but straight back and out away from the archer. When the release occurs, the string hand moves back and away from the archer’s face because that is the direction the force is pulling it. The key point here, is that if you are pulling straight back alone, the hand will fly straight back upon the release. If it flies in any other direction, the pull was in the wrong direction. The pulling force determines the direction the hand will move.

A common mistake beginners make is to have a “floating anchor.” The anchor position is an inch or more out in space to the side of the head. Coaches then tell these archers that the hand must be pressed against the face and so, the archer . . . sensibly . . . bends their wrist to make the touch, leaving their elbow out to the side where it was. This can be considered a sure-fire recipe for plucking. It is named “having a flying elbow.” To pull straight back, anatomically, the draw elbow must be straight back (in the same vertical plane; it always comes down to that central plane of the bow).

There are drills . . . and they can be misleading
There are drills for improving the release but they can create more problems that they cure. In the video, they mention the Two Anchor Drill.

The Two Anchor Drill?
In this drill the first anchor is the normal one, the second anchor is the earlobe or similar point and the drill is to get the draw hand to go from Anchor Point #1 to Anchor Point #2 from release to followthrough

This is all well and good, but this is not something that the archer is to do, it is just something that is to happen. Basically, if the archer does everything else correctly, they will hit the two anchor points automatically (the hand moves straight back and as long as the arms are kept up, there is a limit to the range of this motion and it is typically when the fingertips of the draw hand hit the ear). But students are often literal-minded. They start by trying to move their hand that way. (“There is no try!” Shut up, Yoda!) This is quite wrong. Using the “second anchor point” as a recognition factor is fine, but using it as a target for a movement is problematic.

Another common example of this mistake is the instruction for an archer to touch their shoulder with their fingertips at the end of their followthrough. I am convinced this was a made up drill given to an archer to show them the path their release hand needs to take and that archer achieved some success doing this and so other archers copied them. This is a stupid move. (I apologize if you have used this drill before, but please stop.) Here’s why. Reach out and touch your shoulder with that arm’s fingertips. In what direction is the elbow pointing? In my case it is almost straight down. Where do we want the elbow to point? At full draw it is roughly straight back, away from the bow. It is traveling on a somewhat flat arc, slanting slightly downward as the elbow goes to anchor and through the followthrough. To get it to point straight down is to change its path considerably and if this happens right after release, the normal distribution (aka Bell curve) of this in space and time will have part of it happening before the string leaves the fingers on some shots.

I have also seen people shoot a static release (aka dead release) and then flip their hand around to touch their shoulder, the two motions being completely disconnected and hence of no value.

So What Should You Recommend?
The only people I recommend working on their release much are compound people who have been using their release aid incorrectly. For “fingers” archers, I generally focus on the key that their fingers are to be relaxed at the point of release and if they do it correctly, their draw hand will slide straight back alongside their face as a consequence. This establishes the correct cause-effect relationship. I also recommend good full-draw-position, one in which the draw elbow in coplanar with the central vertical plane of the bow, the arrow, the sight aperture, the long rod, etc. (I teach them how to check other archers and they can teach other archers, or their patents, or . . . , to do this check for them.) If their draw hand isn’t reacting correctly, they know it probably has to de with relaxing their string fingers or the positioning of their draw elbow, two places where a corrective action will actually work.

 

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Grinding: A Short Introduction

Grinding is a term used frequently in golf but not so often in archery. Maybe it should be.

I remember sitting in the magazine’s booth at one USA Archery National Outdoor Championships and a young archer I coached from time to time walked in and dropped into the seat next to me. It was the first day of the tournament and he had just shot himself out of medal contention, or so he thought.

After some small amount of whining and whimpering, he shared the above conclusion with me. I said “Good!” He was more than a little shocked. This was, I claimed, a perfect opportunity to learn something.

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, but that is for another day.

With my former young student I argued that he was about to learn what grinding was all about. His first task was to get back to the practice area and make sure that his equipment was operating correctly. No performance can counter equipment flaws.

“We either win or learn, there is no ‘lose.’”

The next thing to do was to set goals for the next days of competition. Maybe a goal for each day or a goal for each morning and afternoon session or for each distance shot. Then a renewed focus on his process, shooting one arrow at a time with no thoughts of the consequences. Thinking always happens between shots, but that is confined to how to shoot the next.

Setting personal bests at various distances or for a whole day or for . . . whatever are encouragements and demonstrations of his level of performance that inform future performances.

At the end of the shooting was the time to dissect why his first day was so subpar. Dwelling on that right away creates the wrong mindset for continuing in the competition.

Think about it, shooting a bad arrow as your last arrow can seal your fate in a close competition. Shooting a poorly scoring arrow as your first arrow is something you can possibly recover from. Grinding out a good score is an important skill. This is especially important for young archers getting disappointed in a competition and wanting to quit because all of their lofty goals have become unattainable. There is a lot to learn from “the grind.”

Now, having said all of that if there is something seriously wrong: multiple equipment failures, incipient target panic, etc. plowing on is not necessarily a good idea. One can end up just reinforcing improvised compensations. I ask, for example, my Olympic Recurve students to practice occasionally without their clicker, even to the point of shooting practice round scores. (Question: what is a clicker worth? It can and should be measured and this is one way.) Young people often engage in a battle with their clicker during competitions and end up losing to it because all of their normal reactions are positive rather than negative feedback, e.g. they tense up and “try harder” rather than relax (tense muscles are shorter than relaxed muscles making getting through the clicker harder).

So, I suggest they stop using their clicker until that can recover the feel of their shots. Later, if feeling relaxed and comfortable, they can go back on the clicker to see how it goes then. Continuing to fight the clicker results in powerful emotions becoming associated with it, causing the wrong things to be burned into memory.

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A Source of Poor Line

Note I have not been posting much lately because I have been very busy and also caught the danged flu, the one that hangs on for weeks and weeks. I hope to be posting more frequently again. If you have questions you need answered, please send them to me either through a comment or via email. Steve

A fundamental of good archery form is to have good alignment, often referred to as having “good line.” A simple glance at the shooting line at any local archery tournament will show you that good line is not easy to find. There are a number of reasons for this but I want to focus on one major cause of poor line.

When shooting a recurve bow, the optimal posture at full draw is described by the Archer’s Triangle. Looking down on the archer’s head, we would see the archer’s drawing forearm in “line” with the arrow, the two forming one side of the triangle. The archer’s draw side upper arm forms another side and then the archer’s shoulders and bow arm make the third, easy peasey. The key visible aspect of this body position is the archer’s shoulder line and bow arm point to the bow. Coaches are taught to sight along that line (from away from the target and archer) to check the archer’s alignment/“line.” (Compounders are somewhat different, see below.)

To illustrate a major source of the inability to adopt this full draw position I offer the following book cover:

As such covers go, the participants in the photo are shown as having a great deal of fun. (What the young man is looking at is beyond me.) In any case, you can see one of the results of poor line is the “flying elbow” of the young lady, a draw elbow that is pointed off to the side rather than straight back. The reason we want the elbow to be pointing straight back (at the loose) is so that the force on the bowstring is directly away from the bow. This cause the bowstring, when released, to move back toward the bow in as straight a line as possible. If we are pulling off to the side, then the path the bowstring makes back to the bow is more circuitous and less consistent. For the physics buffs, to get the string against the face at anchor with the elbow out there, the string hand must be pulled in toward the face, giving a force vector toward the archer to be added of that toward the bow. (Compounding these forces is the tendency of the string hand to move away from the face during the loose (a pluck!) as the force into the archer’s face is no longer needed. The coach’s shortcut you may know is “a flying elbow leads to plucking the bowstring.”)

Now, the source of the poor line? The bow shoulder. Most coaches think poor line stems from the archer not having swung the draw shoulder around far enough, but simply put, if the bow shoulder is not open far enough (to approximately 180°) the rear shoulder cannot possible compensate. If the young lady were standing more to the side (facing down the line, less open), her front shoulder would be more open and the rear shoulder would have a chance of forming up on a line pointing to the bow.

A common source of that open bow shoulder is the ideological adoption of an open stance. (I say ideological as there is no physical reason for it.) Beginning archers are taught an open stance as a matter of course, which I believe is a mistake. An open stance is an advanced bit of archery form that shouldn’t be taught until later. When I see an archer with poor line, the first thing I do is I close up their stance until they are back to square (feet and chest pointing down the shooting line at full draw) or past that to a closed stance (feet and chest pointing slightly behind the shooting line at full draw). After all, the Archer’s Triangle has the archer’s shoulders pointing at the bow on a line which is 10-12° closed to the line to the target (the arrow has to point at the target if you want to hit it). The strongest biomechanical body position (to resist gravity, the only other force present) would be to have the hips, knees, and feet directly under the shoulders, which would place the feet 10-12° closed to the shooting line. This is a neutral body position, without special positioning, which the square stance is not and an open stance is certainly not.

So, if you have a student struggling to get “in line” or who has a “flying elbow” focus on getting the front shoulder, the bow shoulder, fully opened. (The archer will feel his/her bow side chest muscles stretch is a good guide.) A lever to help get there is to move the archer’s stance toward being square or even past that. I will close an archer’s stance as far as needed until they get in line, then ask them to shoot that way until being in line feels “normal.” Then other stances can be experimented with, with the prime consideration of always keeping that good line.

A Note on Compound Form While recurve and longbow archers have prescribed to them that their shoulder line point to their bow, compound archer’s standard form has their shoulder line parallel to the arrow, so they have an Archer’s Trapezoid rather than an Archer’s Triangle. This means their front shoulder will be slightly open when in this position. This is more comfortable for the archer and can be gotten away with because the holding weight of the compound bow is only a third or so of the peak weight, so less bracing is needed at full draw. If a release aid is used or not, the archer still wants to be pulling directly away from the bow at the moment of release to line of the force vectors behind the arrow and not to the side. And, an open stance works against this upper body position.

 

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Skill and Tempo

I have been thinking a lot about the difference between acquiring archery technique and acquiring archery skill lately. Taking the chance that I may be oversimplifying this in this post, when you have learned archery technique fairly well, you have learned how to group your shots on a target; moving that group into the highest scoring zone of the target requires skill(s).

I was reminded while walking our dog this morning that if you are out walking with another, if the other wants to walk faster or slower than you do, it is quite problematic. Matching your pace to that of an elderly parent is an exercise in patience (and love, and …). Trying to walk a dog who wants to go at a difference pace is also a struggle.

What we tend not to recognize is that the pace at which we shoot arrows, our shooting tempo, is also a key factor in reaching higher levels of performance … but we are often unaware of our own tempo while shooting. And then when we find our good tempo, that idiot with a timer and a whistle keeps interrupting us to go score and fetch our arrows.

To explore this, you can ask your archers to explore shooting very, very slowly and very, very quickly to see if either “works.” They almost never do work (because, I think, every archer wants to show off a little and overdoes it). I then go into “Goldilocks’ Mode” and give them the “too fast, too slow, just right” speech about shooting tempo.

To get tempo on your side, you need to find the tempo that works for you (or for your student) … and then find ways to hang onto it.

You can count off shots in practice to find your tempo, but this is not advised to do in competition (as counting is conscious thinking) unless you have lost your tempo and are desperate to get it back. Like any other part of shooting, shooting in tempo can be memorized.

There are other things to use (metronomes!), counting off your shots on video, etc. A longish exercise is for you, as coach, to time shots with a stopwatch (I time from stabilizer tip moving upward to release) and then logging those times with arrow scores. If you find a “magic zone,” where high quality shots exist, then you can train around that zone. One way is to simply start the stopwatch at tip raise and if they shoot too early you say “Too early, do it again.” If they get to the end of the time zone, you say “Let down!” Eventually more and more shots will occur in the right time, then the archer can relax and concentrate on shooting quality shots alone.

I suggest to you, that if you have advanced archers in your care, some tempo training may just elevate their skill and performances. (Happy archer, happy coach!)

PS For those of you who object to skill being separated from technique, and who claim that technique is involved in developing skill, I say “Yes, and your point is … ?” My point is that it is not just technique that drives better scores. Shooting perfect shot after perfect shot and getting lousy groups because you possess no tuning ability cannot be solved by working harder on your technique. By calling these things “archery skill” we might just get developing archers to focus on such things and even get them excited to learn more and the higher scores than may result from that learning.

If you want to learn more about all of the things you need to know about target archery that doesn’t involve “how to shoot arrows” may I suggest (Warning! Shameless plug incoming! Warning):

 

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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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Should Your Students Have a Score Goal for a Competition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Archery and Shoulder Ills

Archers tend to collect shoulder problems as we engage the shoulder joints on both sides under somewhat heavy loads and the shoulder joint is one of the weakest in our bodies. I just read the following, take it for what it is worth:

“One out of three patients over 60, who got rotator cuff surgery, did not heal. (Orthopaedics & Traumatology: Surgery & Research, 2012)

“Even after surgery and six weeks spent walking around in an immobilizer, these people still didn’t heal.

“Furthermore, 8% experienced complications …”

The implications for older archers is that surgery on a rotator cuff is not a high probability fix. One of the greatest compound archers in the history of the U.S., Dean Pridgen, has had rotator cuff surgery on both shoulders. I talked to him after the first and he was having a rough time getting back to anything after that procedure. I haven’t talked to him after the second.

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You Get What You Pay For

I get a “newsletter” from ArcheryTalk.com and occasionally drop in there to see if anything of value is being discussed and occasionally there is. Unfortunately there is an ocean of other “stuff” one needs to sift through to find it.

The topic that drew my eye was entitled “Critique me” which consisted of a still photo of the archer at full draw shot from up the line, accompanied by this text: Just got a new <name of bow> and I was wondering what you guys thought of my form with the new setup. I’m always looking to improve and I appreciate any suggestions! I’m 6´3˝ and shooting a 29.5 inch draw length currently.

That was it.

I wonder what the gentleman in question hoped for in the way of feedback. The audience in question is united by at least one thing: they all have opinions. The problem is how would one evaluate the opinions. As you might expect I don’t think “crowd sourcing” of archer feedback is a good idea. Plus, one photo … really?

I read a few of the comments and a number of commenters said that his “draw length” looked right. Hello? If you wanted to evaluate his draw length you need a shot from above (ceiling downward) or from what I call “away,” that is on the far side of the archer. I also am 6´3˝ and shooting a similar bow in a similar fashion, my draw length is just under 32˝ so I have to be at least a bit suspicious that his draw length is a tad short. (One also doesn’t know if it was measured correctly.)

I hope that any coach asked for input in this situation would respond with “Sorry, no can do.”

For one, it takes a lot of training to be able to develop the skill of analyzing someone’s shot and that means you should probably get paid for the task. (Alright, I tend to try to help people who write in with their problems, simply because there is so little help available and I don’t charge for that service. But I don’t respond to cattle calls, like the one above.) A second problem is the archer hasn’t supplied anywhere near enough information.

I had an archer who wrote me and ask why his arrows hit to the left of the target. Well, there is a long list of reasons for this, the primary one being that is where he was aiming, but a common source of lefts or rights for “fingers” archers is having the wrong arrow spine. The problem is if the archers is right-handed, his/her arrows will fly to the left if too stiff for the bow and the right if too weak. But if the archer is left-handed, then the reverse is seen (arrows hit right if they are too stiff, etc.).

So, the information that is needed to ask any question is somewhat large.

I saw another AT question that asked: if you were just considering axle-to-axle length of a compound bow, what would you buy? Again, the question lacks enough information to provide an answer. You need to know what the bow is being used for to answer this question. Bowhunters favor shorter bows as they tend to shoot from cramped positions or have to walk through brush and can’t afford to snag their gear along the way. Target archers prefer longer bows as they are easier to hold still (the largest stabilizing force in a compound bow is the mass of the riser and how far it is distributed out from where the grip is (same principle as what makes a long rod work, just a lot more mass involved). And they have plenty of space to wield such bows.

So, please do send in your questions … and if you want a good answer, consider all of the information that might be needed to answer them, then include some of that. And, I strongly recommend you not ask “the universe” to answer your question. You will get too many answers that you cannot evaluate the quality of.

 

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Do Your Students Have Balance Problems?

A key element of consistent accuracy is being still while executing shots and a key part of being still is maintaining good balance. Let’s explore this.

Do Your Students Have Balance Issues?
Rank beginners often adopt some interesting body moves at full draw: shuffling their feet, swaying back and forth, etc. Sometimes this is due to simplistic thinking, e.g. “Hmm, I am aimed off to the left so I will move over to the right … shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.” More often it is due to balance issues. The bow is a heavy object for a young child and holding it out at arm’s length is challenging. Most archers who stick with it some develop relatively stable form and we stop thinking about the role of balance in their shooting. This may be a mistake.

So, how do we check to see if they are struggling with balance? I’m glad you asked.

The simplest way is to watch them shoot. Pick out a spot near their head and line it up with a point in their visual background. If they are swaying of moving substantially at full draw, then you will see that pint on their cap (or whatever) moving. Also look for an inability to hold good, erect, full draw posture. If they are constantly shift their weight on their legs or front to back, then they are having problems. For a more sensitive “tell” you can watch the tip of their long stabilizer (if they use one) if it doesn’t settle into a single spot, with slight movements around a center of motion), there may be a balance problem. If they shoot Barebow recurve, the top limb tip can serve for this check.

What to Do About It
For young archers, serious drills are probably not the answer. Often their balance problems are rooted in holding a relatively heavy bow up at arm’s length. If they seem relatively still at full draw, but when the string is loosed either their bow drops like a rock or they tend to tip a great deal to control it, they have a common problem. An adult holding up a six-pound weight at arm’s length is no hard task, but for a 10-year old, holding up a four pound weight at arm’s length is quite difficult. The deltoid arm muscles responsible for holding their arm up haven’t developed much by that time. A partial solution is to have them spread their feet out a bit more. We can’t be specific because we don’t know if their stance was already somewhat wide or quite narrow. If their stance is quite narrow, have them open the width of their stance until their heels (not toes) are as far apart as their shoulders.

A commercial balance board, many of which are available.

In the companion article for archers in this issue, we describe self-exploratory activities based upon balance and stance. One option to address these issues is to lead them through these exercises.

Drilling for Balance There are all kinds of balance training gear available at reasonable costs. These can be as simple as a round disk of plywood with a board or half sphere attached to the bottom to more complicate devices involving inflatable disks. If you are a DIY person, you can make such things yourself. A piece of 3/4˝ plywood large enough to take their stance on, with a small piece of 1˝x 1˝ or 2˝x 2˝ wood running down the center of the short distance (across the stance line) makes a good “wobble board.” Kids have a great deal of fun shooting while standing on such a rig.

An even less expensive piece of drilling equipment can be made from swim noodles (see photo below left). Cut a couple of eight inch pieces of a swim noodle and place one piece cross ways under each of your archer’s feet. Then they shoot while trying to keep their balance standing that way.

All of these pieces of rehab/training equipment work by requiring extra effort to create and retain balance.

Regular drills and scoring games can be used to keep this kind of practice from becoming boring.

Practicing and Assessing by Themselves
There are things archers can do to improve their balance by themselves, even when they are not at the range.

They can take a couple of minutes when they are at the range and while shooting at a close butt. Simply shoot a number of arrows while sighting across a bow hand knuckle. If they are used to shooting off of their arrow’s point or using a sight, they need to shoot a number of arrows to get used to the correct height to hold the bow or they could line up their aperture/arrow point with their point of aim and then switch to looking at their knuckle. The object is to shoot and have the knuckle stay relatively lined up with the mark chosen before, during, and after the shot. Doing five or more shots this way at each practice session will lead to an appreciation for how steady they are and whether progress is being made to becoming more steady. If they are more steady, they are probably more balanced.

Similarly they can play balance games, while waiting for a bus or even watching TV. Simply pick up one foot and count how many seconds they can manage to keep it off of the ground (one thousand one, one thousand, two, . . .). Obviously they need to switch feet so both legs get worked out.

Back at the range or even at home they can draw on a target POA, close their eyes, count to a number (start at three, then move up when that become easy), then open their eyes to see if they are still lined up. If this is done at home, unless there is a home shooting station, this is best done with no arrow on the bow. This can be a game of “how long can you hold still at full draw.” It is a balance workout as well as an archery stamina workout.

 

Conclusion
Balance and stillness can be trained for. For your youngest charges, simple stance adjustments are suggested but not much more. With serious archers, more complicated training can be done with inexpensive or DIY training aids.

Do realize that balance is something that is invisible until you look for it and just because it is out of sight, it should not be out of a coach’s mind.

 

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For the Coach? For the Archer?

I was discussing a topic with a student and NTS came up. I generally do not teach the NTS, but elements of it are offered as options for archers exploring how to bolster particular form elements. In case you are unaware, NTS stands for National Training System. The nation is the U.S. and it is somewhat of a misnomer. I tend to think of it as the National Teaching System, because little in the way of “training” has been formalized. In any case, the NTS is all the rage in the U.S.

In this particular case, the student responded that he had read the reference I suggested but he said that often he was more confused rather than enlightened by the reading. This is not an uncommon result, as I find the NTS publications are mostly for coaches and not so much for archers. This is not confined to just the NTS but to many such writings.

I write mostly for coaches, but I do write for archers, too (Winning Archery, Shooting Arrows, etc.) and when I do I feel compelled to explain why certain things are recommended, that is I include the “why,” with the “what and how.” Otherwise one sounds just a little dictatorial: do this, do that, just shut up and do what you are told and I have never liked an authoritarian approach.

Coaches, serious coaches anyway, need to know the “why” behind all of the form, posture, and execution steps they teach. In acquiring this knowledge, a system of the shot is built in our heads which allows us to just look at an archer and “see” what seems to need work the most, for example. If we do not know the “whys” behind the “whats and hows,” we are left in the position of teaching archers the right way to do things based upon other peoples’ descriptions of “the right way to do things.” I am more and more convinced that there is no “right technique” or “correct technique,” that each archer must claim or build their own.

So, I am writing this to see if I can help you differentiate between “what the coach needs to know” from “what the archer needs to know.” Archers who are fed a bunch of “what the coach needs to know” may only be confused (the good outcome) but also may become discombobulated (the bad outcome), trying to do things that they should not and getting more mixed up than they were. The following may be oversimplified, but this is just my best first effort at making this distinction.

The What and the How
Archers are athletes. In general they need to know what they need to do and how they need to do it. The “why” is not going to be helpful as it confuses things and, in general, athletes need to keep things simple.

Usually a coach can get an athlete to try something different based upon their reputation as a “Quarterback Whisperer, or Pitching Guru, or Hitting Instructor, or Famous Coach, etc.” or based upon having a good relationship with the archer (they have worked together for some time, to the benefit of the archer). Once an archer agrees to try something different (it is their sport, I only ask, never demand), the only things they need to be focussed upon are “what am I to do” and “how am I to do it.” Then, they need to evaluate whether that change was correctly made and whether or not is was effective, as in “Oh, my groups are tighter.” or “My practice scores went up.” If the new form element works, they shouldn’t give a flying fart as to why it worked. (Why should they?)

The Why
Coaches, though, are better equipped to do our job if we know why something is preferable. For someone who, for instance, draws quite slowly, they might benefit from drawing more quickly. Drawing too slowly wastes energy, causes strain, and lessens the time an archer might have at full draw to do necessary things. Note If you don’t understand this, this is where people like me need to get better. To understand this, imagine being at full draw (compound or recurve, whatever). If you just wait, you will notice that it seems to get harder and harder to keep your bow drawn; it is not, the same number of pounds of draw force that are needed to stay at full draw doesn’t change (the bow is a mechanical object). But the energy supply of the muscles working to keep contracted to stay at full draw are running out rapidly, and the “it feels harder” is the signal that you are running out of time before those muscles stop working.

How much faster to draw the bow, if the archer agrees to try this, is not something that is dictated, it is something to be discovered. I generally ask the archer to try drawing too quickly and work back from there as it is normal to drift back to the status quo and if you only move up a little in draw speed, you’ll soon find yourself back where you were. So, the archer needs to experiment and try and test and feel his/her way to something new.

Telling the Difference
So, if you are reading an archery resource (article, book, web site, etc.), how can you tell if what it is that you are reading was meant for you or not? Here’s my best advice:

  • If muscles are mentioned, or physics, or the word “why” is used, then that information is for coaches. If terms like: scapulae, LAN2, vector, rotator cuff, or other scientific or context-specific terms are being used, terms that you may not understand, then that information is for coaches.
  • If what to do or how to do it is being described, then this is for archers. If a drill or a practice technique is being described, then this is for archers. So, if an article is describing the benefits of having a higher draw elbow is encountered, and suggestions are given as to “how to give it a try,” it is for archers. If they start going on about shoulder joints and rotator cuffs, then they are speaking to coaches.
  • Now, in my opinion, coaches need to read all of this, the stuff for the coaches and the stuff for the archers. Since our job is to get both an inside and outside view of what is going on in an archer, we need it all. But archers are probably better off without all of the coaching stuff, cluttering their minds. Just skip over it. And, coaches shouldn’t spend much time explaining the “whys” to their students. The first rule of communication is: know your audience.

A Wish
I hope in the future that archery authors make the distinction better between what is directed at coaches and what is directed at archers. This will help everyone.

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