Tag Archives: Problem Solving

Things Go Better with Coach!

One Archer, Five Different Coaches
If you took one archer’s shot, videoed it and showed those videos to five qualified archery coaches, you would likely get five different explanations of how to fix their flaws. However, I will argue that any one of them could potentially help the archer improve, but only if a couple of conditions were met.

First, the explanation from the coach for the changes recommended should resonate with the archer, aka the coach speaks their language. They need to respond to the communication in a way that makes sense and motivates them. Second, the archer would need to stick with that one coach’s voice as they continued to work. If they listened to all of the coaches at once, they would be worse off than when they started. You can’t make successful changes with too many voices floating around in your head. This is why “tips” and online videos are not good guides to better scores. (They can be helpful, but only for a specific topic and short term.)

Continuity Is Needed
Continuity is a problem that exists at every level of archery when it comes to coaching. Because changes occur only slowly, our instincts can be to switch coaches more often than is helpful, let alone being the guy who will take advice from anyone on the practice line at his club. Even the best archers in the world can cycle through a number of coaches rapidly when they don’t see immediate results.

If you want to give yourself the best chance of making meaningful changes to your form or execution, you need to stick with the same source of advice for “a while” and allow it to work. I don’t know how long that period is or should be but I also don’t know of anybody who does – that’s the challenge.

Archers develop shots that are unique to them. Yes, they look like everybody else, but they are different. Before I work with a serious archer I want to know what they think their issues are. I want to see them shoot and I want to know what their common misses are. Some archers can effectively shoot in ways that would undermine other archers. We recently had an Olympic men’s individual champion who shot with his string thumb behind his neck and with no sling (and yes, the videos showed him “grabbing the bow”). But if these things, these “form flaws,” are not problems for an archer, would you recommend they change them? Why? (I would not.)

This happens often enough when I work with young archers. These young people often haven’t developed enough muscle to keep their bow arm up through their shot. So their bow arm drops a little when the string is loosed. There is no immediate cure for this (although if their bow is too heavy, I suggest lightening it; young recurve archers do not need side rods or back weights, for example) so I tend to “leave it for later” (although I reinforce that work will have to be done at some point—just not now). If that archer sees another coach, they may see the “dropping of their bow arm” as a major flaw they need to work on . . . right now.

This is why I counsel archers who are seeing me or other coaches short term (something I recommend) that they should always take notes and discuss what was addressed with their “regular” coach to see how it fits into their improvement plan. Even “tips” from others on the practice butts, need to be brought to the regular coach for discussion. One of them may actually help.

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What Is a Good Shot?

In a target archer’s post shot analysis the outcome of each shot (the “hit point”) is compared with a short-term memory replay of the shot just made to see if they match up. If, for example, the replay shows you that you had a minor pluck, which would result in an arrow to the left of center, and you check your hit point and it is to the left of center, then voila, you have matched up cause and effect. You can then include whatever move you focus on to avoid plucking in your next shot.

But, if your mental review of a shot comes up with “ordinary” or “normal” and you look at the target and the arrow is not in the center, can you tell if that is a “good shot” or a “poor shot” with an unknown cause?

Just what is a good shot . . . for you (or your students)?

Is that 9 a “poor shot”? The other arrow is in the X.

Consider a hypothetical experiment. You or a student pins up a pristine target face and proceeds to shoot 100 shots at it all of which were considered good. What do you think the pattern of holes in the target face would be? Generally, we would expect there to be more holes closer to the center than farther away, with the pattern centered on target middle. (If the pattern of holes isn’t centered on target middle, your equipment needs adjusting. Maximum score can only be realized through this centering of your groups on the highest scoring zone of the target face. Tight groups in the 3-ring are not good!)

The question devolves, then, into “how spread out are the holes?” What is normal for expert archers is different from what is normal for intermediate archers. The better the archer, the smaller the group. The ultimate goal for group size is “smaller than the highest scoring ring on the target face.” Indoors, compound archers perform this way in major competitions quite often. This even occurs outdoors from time to time in field archery. In target archery, perfect “distances,” e.g. 30 m, have been shot.

So, archers have to be cognizant of what their normal group sizes are and use those as an indicator of whether their hit points are “normal” or indicating a “mistake.”

Younger archers often go wrong because of expectations. They shoot their first arrow (at a 10-point face) and shoot a 6. They had an expectation of shooting really, really well (often based on nothing more than a desire) and the score of 6 is disappointing, so they feel that something must be wrong and so adjust their sight, for example. This is a mistake. If you do not know what the problem is, or whether there is even a problem at all, the probability of choosing the right “fix” for the problem is near zero. Worse, if the next arrow is also classified as “poor,” which is now more likely because of a mis-set sight, another “fix” might be implemented . . . and another, and another. Said archer ends up “chasing his/her tail,” making corrections for things not wrong, getting farther and farther from a good setup. (Starting from a correct setup, even random changes will move away from the good setup to a poorer one because all paths lead away and few lead back, at least initially.)

A seasoned archer shooting a first arrow 6, might shrug and think “Not a good start,” but quickly get back into his/her shot process, making no changes/corrections/adjustments. If a 6 is normal, it is normal. It can also be disappointing, but that disappointment should not be a motivation.

We have all seen rank beginners (heck, we have all been rank beginners) shoot arrows, be disappointed, then shoot another, then another, etc. making no changes in form or equipment. “Shootin’ and hopin’” is typical of beginners. If they become serious about archery, they need to become more analytical, as described above. They can be taught this and they can learn it. The key to learning how to do this correctly is twofold: they need to know their “normal” group sizes on the various targets they shoot and they need to keep a mental list of their typical mistakes.

The list of typical mistakes, helps identify minor slips while shooting. For example, going back to the archer who had a minor pluck. If the archer’s arrows after an end are grouped nicely in the middle, but one arrow, his/her last arrow shot, is out away from the others to the left, that is an indication of that minor pluck. The shot replay might not have identified that cause, but the result may serve instead. Going back to the target, the archer can apply a correction for the minor pluck (plucks are usually caused by poor alignment at full draw, so a bit of additional attention on getting into good full draw position might be a fix) and if the left arrows don’t show up again, then problem solved.

Archery books and archery instruction often focus 99+% on technique. But intermediate archers on up need also to focus on developing archery skills. Arrows that repeatedly hit to the left of center might be defective internally where the defect cannot be seen. This is why we mark our arrows, so as to be able to identify them, and we make mental notes, such as “Arrow #5 was outside-left of the group.” In subsequent ends, if #5 shows up there again, wise archers rotate it out of the shooting set and save it for inspection later. I put them in my quiver upside down so I do not accidentally pull it out and shoot it again. I also have a tube in my quiver set aside for “extras” and “problem arrows,” and I am very careful when drawing arrows from that tube. When I do so, I carefully inspect it and then transfer it to one of the other tubes to shoot it in order. This is just one of myriad skills that serve target archers on their path to better and better scores.

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You Are Shooting Terribly; Should You Quit?

We have all experienced this if you have competed much at all. Maybe you started well and then your game came apart, or you started poorly and then went south afterward. The thoughts come easily: “Why am I doing this? I am wasting my time. I should just quit and go home.”

Well, should you quit?

I have seen a great many archers do this. It is not unusual at all. I have never heard of an archer being accosted for doing this, accused somehow of poor behavior. They paid their fee. Is there a rule that they must finish? (No, there is not.)

So, there are some real benefits to quitting. There is no sense in trying to deny it. One is simply you don’t shoot any more agonizing bad shots that day. Another might be you don’t have any more embarrassment associated with your poor round. And, hey, there’s a cold beer in the fridge at home.

I can’t imagine that you are shocked that I recommend to my students that they do not quit, unless unable to continue. The reason for this is simple: every round you shoot is an opportunity to learn and build towards something better down the road. When you give up and pack it in mentally for the day, it’s a missed opportunity to improve.

I suggest that my students may want to set a new goal for what remains of the tournament. Obviously they can practice their recovery program. They could also switch to a back-up bow and give it a good test.

What are some other good ideas to support “keeping going?”

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Learning to Control Negative Thoughts

Again inspired by the blog post of a golf coach, this seems to be a new way to deal with negative thoughts. We have all had negative thoughts and, in general they don’t help. So, the question is, how to deal with them? Here are some examples:

“I hate this target (field archers).”

“I am so stupid!”

“Why didn’t I let down?”

“When will we be done?”

Not only do these thoughts not help, they hijack our attentional systems. Questions trigger a reflex known as “instinctive elaboration,” that is when someone asks you a question, the question takes over your brain’s thought process and you feel compelled to answer and make that answer a good one. So, these unhelpful thoughts beget other unhelpful thoughts and pull your attention farther away from your shot process.

We have mentioned any number of ways to deal with poor shots including having a process to do so (called a recovery program), having a post-shot routine that carries you beyond a poor shot outcome, taking the negative thought and re-framing it as a positive thought, etc. but this idea was different and seems worth trying.

Here’s what was recommended if you have a negative thought. Take out your score card and make a mark, a tally mark, and then move on. If there is a spare column on your score card, you can use that or you can put a dot in the inside corners of that shot’s score location. You are not trying to parse the negative thought, merely acknowledge that you had one. Make a tick mark and then move to your next shot. It gives you something to do, while bringing no more attention to the content of the thought.

Over time you will also have a record of these things diminishing . . . or not. This is akin to bringing attention to your diet by writing down everything you eat, but instead of wanting more information in that case, in this case we want less. Make a tick mark and then move to your next shot. Try it, you might like it.

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Monkey See, Monkey Do, Part ?

There is an American idiom that goes “monkey see, monkey do.” This is a common comment coming from parents trying to protect their children from copying their children’s peers who do stupid/dangerous things. The idiom basically claims that simple copying is what animals do (comical animals in the minds of children) even though humans do it more.

I have used this phrase myself when describing the main approach archers and coaches have when transmitted fundamental knowledge about archery. We basically copy what successful archers have done. I have used this story in the past as an example of this and it bears repeating: an archer attended the Vegas shoot, but having a rash or something on his bow hand, he shot using a glove to protect his skin. He did very well and when he showed up the next year to the same shoot, he saw several people wearing gloves on their bow hands. He, of course, did not have such a glove as his malady had been cured.

Since we do not know what the source of archery success is, we tend to copy what the “winners” do. My question is: can’t we do better?

This topic came up with a question regarding why various string releases were not being used in Olympic Recurve competition. Why does no one use a thumb release, for example? Part of this, I am sure, is because most of us do not like being singled out as being different. The exception, however, is if one does very well being different. The best example I can think of was Dick Fosbury, a world-class high jumper. Fosbury was almost a circus show because while everyone (and I mean everyone) performed the high jump belly down (in what was called the Western Roll), Fosbury went over the bar on his back! What a maroon! What an idiot! And then he started winning and winning and winning, eventually becoming a stirring Olympic champion (1968 Mexico) causing people to chant for him as he performed. Now, everyone (and I mean everyone) uses the Fosbury Flop or some slight variant of that.

In the case of the Fosbury flop, university researchers studied it and showed it to be a superior form (as it caused the elevation of the jumper’s center of gravity to be lower, actually going under the bar as the jumper went over).

This kind of confirmation is what is missing in our sport. And it doesn’t need to continue this way. We have an Olympic governing body (USA Archery) and a number of other very strong archery associations. How hard would it be to have those bodies create a research program? There are colleges and universities galore around this country. Those institutions have psychology departments (to study clicker panic/target panic/gold fever), engineering departments (to study bows, arrows, tunings, etc.), physics departments, physiology departments, even some sport science departments. Each of these departments has graduate students and undergraduates looking for research projects. Could we not approach these departments with these questions we want answered? Could we not offer some form of funding to support that research (the Easton Sports Development Foundation has been very forthcoming there)? I mean how hard could it be?

As just one example of such a question I give you string finger pressures. I have read in quite a number of books what fractions of the pressure the three fingers should have on the bow string. These are usually given as a set of percentages, e.g. 30%, 50%, 20% on top, middle, and bottom fingers. So, I ask you. Have these been measured or are they just guesses? <Jeopardy music plays in the background> They are just guesses. As far as I can tell, they have never been measured. (I have tried three times to come up with a scheme for doing so and have not pulled that off, probably because I do not know what I am doing.)

Wouldn’t this be a lovely project for a college science or engineering student? Come up with a tab that reports finger pressures on the string. Have a number of archers use the device to see what we can see. A second level experiment might be to give an elite archer feedback from the device to see if that will help them be more consistent. Another would . . . well, I think you get the idea.

Being somewhat cynical, I suspect that we will see “monkey see, monkey do” for some time yet . . . until some enterprising country who is heavily invested in, say, Olympic archery (Korea? France?) decides to pursue a research program to discern what works from what doesn’t and why. Then we will see a stampede of other countries following suit . . . but only if the experimenters are successful, because we will still be committed to “monkey see, monkey do.”

 

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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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