Tag Archives: Q&A

At Least They Are Trying

I once sat down with the Executive Director of USA Archery and gave him several pages worth of ideas to support coaches (I know it was several pages because he took notes). These were ideas that would support coaches as well as create income for USAA, something they were always keen upon. Most were obvious ideas, like offering through their existing online store things like windbreakers and ball caps that say “coach” on them, whistles, wind gauges, discounted books and DVDs on coaching, wind flags, score cards, even basic bows and other things needed to run youth programs.

Each purchase would put money in USAA’s pocket but also send a signal to their coaches that “We support you!”

The response at that time and mostly since was enthusiasm at first and then <cricket, cricket, cricket>.

I just got in my Inbox an email from UK Coaching that said:

Dear Steve

Would you like to save money on your …
weekly food shop?
coaching equipment?
restaurant bill?
holiday travels?
gym membership?

Upgrade your account today and for only £24 a year – that’s less than 50p a week – you’ll have access to Coach Perks, our latest fantastic benefit for UK Coaching Club Subscribers.

Now most of these 250+ discount coupons are from corporate sponsors, so they aren’t coaching or even archery related, but they are an encouragement to expand participation in their site and could offset the cost of their dues. And membership is not just for discount coupons as they also are offering “as well over 1,000 practical coaching tips, guides, videos, webinars and podcasts. And so much more!”

At least they are trying to support coaches.

PS Archery GB in the UK is also running a coach information site, called The Learning Hub, which has chat groups, mini-courses, videos, certifications, a function by which coaches can get their questions answered(!), etc.

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What is Instinctive Shooting?

If you hang around with traditional archers at all you will hear mention of instinctive shooting or instinctive aiming. Do you know what instinctive shooting is?

Basically, you simply focus on what you want to hit and shoot. It is the same as how you learned to hit free throws if you played basketball. You shot and shot and shot until it was second nature. Or as a baseball pitcher you learned to throw pitches over the plate for strikes.

I think the use of the word “instinctive” is a misnomer. An instinct is “an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli.” If this style of shooting were instinctive it wouldn’t have to be learned,

I prefer to call this “subconscious shooting.” Your conscious mind is engaged in identifying the spot you want to hit and your subconscious mind is doing the rest.

In any case. This is a fun activity for students and experts. Use some target balls out on an open field. Throw them around and then see in your group can hit them. Great fun! Do realize that archery savants, like Howard Hill, could hit those balls every time, shooting one of his longbows, no matter how far you threw them. Now some claim that Mr. Hill actually used an aiming technique but, still, that is impressive.

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How “Tight” Should Your “Tight Groups” Be?

There is a de facto standard as to how tight you want your groups to be: and that is you want all of your arrows to fit into the highest scoring zone of your target.

Fo example, let’s use an X-ring as the highest scoring ring of a paper target. (This way we avoid having to cover 10-rings, 5-rings, 11-rings, 12-rings, etc.) The largest group we could shoot and have all of our arrows “in” the X-ring would be this:

Six arrows, all scoring an X just barely from the “outside in.”

Actually this is an extreme case and not a reasonable goal because each of those arrow holes is subject to variation and if any were just a fraction of a millimeter farther out, it would be “out” rather than “in.”

This would be a more reasonable description of a desired group size.

The oft-stated goal of “all of your arrows in the same hole,” is just playing with words. Some compound archers are capable of doing this. I have seen Vegas targets with a single hole centered in each of the three X-rings. Of course, if they hadn’t used a multi-spot target face, they would have destroyed quite a few arrows. So, the saying “all of your arrows in the same hole” may be fun to say, but it isn’t an actual goal. Now this group has some “give” in it, that if one or more of those shots was a bit farther out, they would still count as an X.

I can remember getting proficient enough at Compound-Release shooting, that I would aim at a 15-yard target face on our field range and place my four arrows in the X-ring (first the 5-spot, then later the X-ring after a lot more training): upper left, upper right, lower left, and lower right. Yes, I aimed them to land in those spots and they did. (It probably involved a good measure of luck as I was never all that good on an ongoing basis. I had good patches and not-so-good patches, a sure sign of someone still learning their craft.

So, if your students or friends ask you “how tight do my groups need to be” you can answer them with “you want all of your arrows to be able to fit inside the highest scoring zone.”

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How Many Pounds Should I Pull?

I have an Olympic Recurve student (who switched from compound) who is currently building his shot. Besides being a delight to work with, he is bringing up questions us coaches should be able to answer. One of those is “how much draw weight do I need?”

I am in the camp of “as little as possible for most recreational archers” as “it ’posed to be fun, bro.” But here is the answer I sent back to him.

* * *

As to what draw weight to settle on, you are looking for something you can handle. Our goal is to shoot our last arrow of a competition as well as we shot our first arrow, so too much draw weight creates fatigue that foils this goal. You also want it to be as high as possible (while meeting the other criteria). This is because the higher the DW, the flatter the arrow trajectory and the closer to “indoor form” we get. Young archers experience the problem that because of their short DL and low DW it means that at longer distances, they have to hold their bows at fairly steep angles, which distorts their form and results in their sight aperture being above the target face. We would rather not to have to distort our form so much and we would rather have our aperture line up somewhere on the target face for consistency (e.g. 12 o’clock—7-ring, dead center is even better).

Unless you are ferociously competitive, something in the mid-40’s would serve you well for all applications. There are some people who only compete indoors and so only shoot 18 m and 20 yds. They do not need much DW at all. Just enough tension on the bowstring to get off of it cleanly. If you plan on competing outdoors, pick your longest distance and see if you can sight in on the target, that is get a sight setting with your aperture somewhere on the target face. If you can you are good (enough) to go. If you cannot, and you can handle a higher DW, that is your solution. Many people find such a spot at the mid-30’s to higher 30’s of pounds of DW. (Cast depends on a lot of variables, one of which is draw length, another being arrow mass.) This is the gift given us by the creators of lightweight, stiff all-carbon arrows. If you cannot handle much draw weight, then all-carbon arrows are part of the perfect solution. Having less mass they accelerate to fairly high arrow speeds at low-ish draw weights.

 

 

 

 

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Is It Safe to Draw a Bow Behind Your Ear?

This is an interesting question. Is it safe to draw a bow behind your ear? The answer is yes . . . and no.

For some styles of shooting, drawing behind your ear is standard form, such as Kyudo. However, these styles are usually shot with a thumb release. In a thumb release, the draw thumb is wrapped around the bowstring (from inside to out) and then wrapped with a finger or two to lock it in place. Because fairly heavy bows were shot this way, thumb rings were used to distribute the pressure around a wider area to prevent injury.

In a thumb release, the arrow is held on the other side of the bow (if a modern recurve bow were to be shot with a thumb release, a right-handed archer would shoot a left-handed bow) and the string slides off the thumb away from the archer. This causes a string deflection in the opposite direction of the “normal” Mediterranean release. So, instead of the string leaving the string hand moving forward and toward the archer as we are used to, the string moves forward and away form the archer in a thumb release of the string. This is why archers using this technique don’t accidentally rip off their ears when shooting.

Here is a photo of a modern archer drawing a 170# Tartar bow using a standard finger hook (just to show you it can be done). Look carefully and you will see that he is holding the string away from his face (note the shadow of the string). And, do you now know why, boys and girls? Yes, he would rip off his ear if he held a tight anchor. This is why these bows were shot, historically, with a thumb release.

What you sacrifice when holding the string off from your face is accuracy. Keeping a tight anchor, that is against your face is necessary to get your aiming eye into the plane the arrow will be shot in. When your aiming eye is outside of that plane, you are guessing as to your windage. Since the arrow is an ordinary projectile, if you can line up the arrow with your target (in plane, as it were), then your windage is taken care of and the only thing to concern you is elevation of the bow to get the correct distance.

I note in passing that archery was often used as artillery in the Middle Ages. The arrow cloud scene in the movie Braveheart demonstrated this technique. Historically comments on this technique include hyperbole such as “their arrows darkened the sun,” and whatnot. The archers lobbing arrows this way with English longbows (and a Mediterranean loose) often drew to their breasts with their heads turned slightly away so as to not catch their ears on the loose.

So, the answer to this question if you are a coach is “Only if you know what you are doing” which means “No” for all beginner to intermediate students.

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External v. Internal Cuing

A reader of this blog and Archery Focus sent me the following link (https://coachingyoungathletes.com/how-to-use-coaching-cues-most-effectively) regarding using two varieties of coaching cues: called internal and external cues. I recommend the article to you as being well worth reading, but I was asked for comment and examples of coaching cues of these types from the sport of archery. So, here goes!

The word “cues” in this context are things we say to characterize an action we wish an archery student to take. A classic one we have used forever, it seems, with beginners is to “stand up tall,” advice given to archers who are slouching. I have written about this bad advice before, so I won’t belabor the point again.

Here’s another scenario. Students who have struggled with being a bit overbowed can end up with a collapsing bow arm. At full draw their bow arm bends at the elbow more and more the longer they hold. Here are two instructions to help these students overcome this form flaw:
A—At full draw think of your draw elbow as being dead straight, not locked but dead straight, as if there were a rod in it.
B—At full draw reach gently with your bow arm toward the target. Don’t lean, just reach.

Which of these is an internal cue and which an external cue? I imagine you all got this one right: A is internal, B is external. The key distinction is that studies show that athletes respond much better to external cues than internal ones. I think there are not only good reasons for this there is quite good evidence backing it up.

Oh, the line between internal and external is “to the body of the archer.” The cue either references something inside or out of the archer’s body.

Cues? Cues? I don’ gotta show you no stinkin’ cues!

The primary difference, I think, is an external cue gives you something to do, while an internal cue gives you something to think about. This is why I avoid asking archer’s to visualize anything during a shot. Visualizing a perfect shot just before raising the bow, thus beginning to shoot, is a mechanism to provide your subconscious mind with a plan to execute (aka marching orders, instructions, etc.) Additional visualizations (think of your bow arm as if there is a rod in it, or think of your draw arm as a rope with a hook on the end, or . . .) are counterproductive because they confuse the instruction set just sent to the Subconscious Plan Receiving Room and they give you something to think about, not something to do.

So, as coaches we best serve our students by giving them external cues to guide their actions rather than cues that are internal to their bodies.

Postscript I have mentioned before the viewpoints of coach and archer are diametrically opposed. The archer’s viewpoint is from the inside out, while the coach’s is from the outside in. What athlete and coach need to know are thus quite opposite from one another. Coaches benefit, for example, from knowing the muscles involved in making shots, but the athlete does not. This is why there are some books I do not recommend to archers, Kisik Lee’s books being foremost. Archers think they will learn Coach Lee’s “secrets” but instead they find out that his books were written primarily to influence coaches and so only serve to confuse archers. (If I have to read another archer discussion on the importance of LAN2, I will scream.) If you coach recurve archers, you need to read Coach Lee’s books. If you are an archer, not so much.

Oh, and this is why serious competing archers should not be doing serious coaching at the same time. The tradition of archers coaching after they “retire” from serious competition is based upon a good idea. Mixing the two viewpoints only serves to confuse both minds.

 

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Shooting While Breathing

I got a great email with the following question that will be the subject of today’s post:

Hi Steve,

I was wondering if you had any thoughts about breath control and how breathing (best) figures into the shot cycle? In the book you recommended, Professional Archery Technique, by Kirk Ethridge, Mr. Ethridge recommends to “[i]nhale deeply as you raise the bow, and exhale as you draw. When you are at full draw, your lungs should be empty.” (p. 36) The rationale seems to be one of relaxation and stillness. 

On the other hand, both Byron Ferguson (Become the Arrowp. 18) and Anthony Camera (Shooting the Stickbow, 2nd ed., p. 275) advocate inhaling on the draw, allowing the chest to expand at anchor — though for different reasons. (Ferguson’s seems to be about using the inhalation to expand the chest and further bring the drawing elbow/arm into alignment; Camera’s seems to be that the act of drawing itself creates a natural expansion and therefore inhalation, though “while there is little if any chest expansion [at full draw], the logical progression is to continue inhaling, albeit at a slower rate.”)

What are archery coaches recommending? Is there one best (or better) answer, or is this simply a matter of “what works for you”? (For myself, the logic of breathing in makes sense, but I find the inhalation difficult on the draw, and it feels like I am having to hold my breath while at aim. I tried Ethridge’s suggestion and found, if nothing else, that I felt more relaxed/still while at aim. That seemed to be a plus. But is this physiologically “wrong”?

* * *

As far as I am concerned, you can do nothing wrong in this regard as long as you are open to what is happening to your body. The goal, is to be still and strong at the moment of release.

The only scientific study I have been made aware of reports that we are steadier/more still if we have slightly less than a whole lungful of air at that moment. If you want to try that, end with that (full breath, partial exhale) and work your way back to the beginning of the shot. I am unaware of any other serious studies, but they may exist. That, of course, is in archery. There is a great deal of study on breathing in weightlifting. In lifting very great weights, the common wisdom is to exhale upon exertion. This technique lowers internal pressures in the body and prevents injuries such as hernias. But in archery, the weights involved are not so great, so I think we are free to do almost anything.

So, I recommend you experiment as you have been doing. Try a number of breathing patterns. (Rick McKinney’s book, The Simple Art of Winning, lists several more.) The goal is stillness and control at the moment of release.

I have a couple of caveats.

  1. Note whether the source is referring to Recurve/Traditional form or Compound form. I think the requirements for these forms are different enough to require different approaches (Rec/Trad has max draw weight and min time at full draw, while Compound has reduced DW and greater time at FD).
  2. Take into account your personal situation. I tried all kinds of breathing patterns and couldn’t settle on one, so I just breathed as close to tidally as I could (look it up). Then I was diagnosed as having asthma which cleared a few things up. If I held a little long I ended up out of breath, so I included an extra breath into my pattern and it really helped.

So, don’t feel confined by what other people recommend and use your sense of how still and comfortable you are up to the moment of release, coupled with how you feel thereafter (you do not want to be panting and out of breath) as your guide to a consistent breathing pattern. There is no physiologically right or wrong that I can perceive in this topic.

Note For serious archers, this gets worked out one way or another, either through investigation (as you are doing) or through feedback training (doing something over and over until you find what works). Archery is a repetition sport and one based upon feel. Breathing irregularities lead to different feelings that have nothing to do with archery, so breathing needs to be consistent, whichever pattern you choose or learn.

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The Problem of The Creeping Archers

This blog post’s title is an homage to Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. (Why? Because I can!)

I got an email from a student (Recurve Barebow, Right-handed) who brought up the phenomenon of creeping. Creeping is a flaw in one’s execution most easily noticed by the arrow point moving from its deepest extent slowly forward toward the target between the finish of the draw and the loose of the string. It has a more dramatic cousin: collapsing, which is most easily noticed by the arrow point moving from its deepest extent rapidly forward toward the target between the finish of the draw and the loose of the string. Creeping is subtle, collapsing is not. Creeping is small scale, collapsing is not.

Here is the message:

Dear Coach,
Someone noticed some problems with my form that may or may not be related to my target panic issue: when I reach full draw my right arm is in perfect alignment with my left arm, but less than two seconds later my right arm shifts inward
(actually outward, around and back toward the bow, SR) out of line. Is this a strength problem?
     Immediately after my right arm moves out of line I begin to creep, the arrow moving about a whole inch. I can see it happening but I don’t feel it happening, is this also a strength problem?     I notice after release, my bow swings to the right and I see that the arrow has landed to the left of where it should, I’m moving my draw arm back when I release and I’m almost positive that it’s moving straight back so I don’t quite know why the bow is not swinging straight back.
     Thanks as always coach.

And here is my response:

* * *

Creeping can be a strength problem, but is more likely a technique problem. The ideas in play are that a recurve bow creates its maximum force at full draw, which means the bow is pulling its hardest away from the position you have bent it into at full draw. So, when we reach full draw our technique has to change from drawing to holding. This involves a transfer of the holding force needed, the full draw weight of the bow “in hand,” to the back muscles which hold the rear shoulder back. (The back muscles are not really holding the force of the bow; they are holding the rear shoulder in place and the archer’s arm and shoulder bones are holding the force of the bow.)

Currently you are allowing the bow to pull you back toward where you started. This happens when your focus is in the wrong place. Often we get to full draw and our focus shifts completely to “aiming,” something you are putting extra focus upon now, but what is needed is actually a split in your attention (the only time your attention is split): we must focus upon both aiming and whatever marker of continuing to move the string away from the bow has been adopted. When you reach full draw, there needs to be a focus on aiming and one of two things: either your draw elbow continuing to swing around toward your back or upon the increasing muscle tension between your shoulder blades. Both of these are signs that you are holding well.

Note if you focus on the tensing of the muscles in your back, there is an illusion you need to be aware of. As an example, consider the picking up of a five-pound (2+ kg) hand weight and holding it out at shoulder height. As you stand holding it seems to get heavier over time, in the form of being harder and harder to hold up. Obviously it is a constant five pounds, that doesn’t change, but why does it seem to be getting heavier? This feeling comes from the muscles being used running out of the chemical energy they use to contract and exert forces. Similarly, at full draw, your back muscles seem, in the short time between anchoring and loosing, to be pulling harder and harder to the point the feeling is uncomfortable. Obviously you are not pulling harder and harder at full draw, it just feels that way. We use this illusion as a signal that all is well and good in this part of the shot, so our strategy is to recognize that feeling and not shoot arrows without it.

When you creep, the bow is pulling you back toward where you started. This causes subconscious adjustments in your form, usually some form of muscle involvement that causes the string to be pushed toward your face (the bowstring pulls the string away from your face and back toward the bow on the same arc it came in on … or very close to it). This lateral push is responsible for the followthrough movements and left arrows. Ideally, we are pulling straight back (away from the bow) and pushing straight out (toward the target) and all drawing forces are within the plane of the bow. When the string is loosed, the arrow flies forward and the bow recoils forward, neither to one side or the other. (Note: we use the “left arrows, right bow reaction” as signs that we are losing our back tension. Noting the symptoms, we apply the fix which is increased attention to the marker that we are holding well.)

A way to “fix” this technical deficit is to shoot “blind bale.” This means so close to a target butt that you cannot miss and shooting with your eyes closed. Unfortunately our target butts sit on the floor, so you may want to stack up some floor mats to create a base so the target butt is near shoulder level. Then, making sure your arrow will hit the butt, you close your eyes and draw and shoot. The main focus being on either your draw elbow or your back tension. Find the feeling that gives you an “explosive shot.” The term explosive shot is hyperbolic, but it describes the feeling of a well-performed shot. It feels really powerful because the bow is at maximum draw force and the release is crisp. Of course, you must use the best complete form you can muster while doing this drill, but the primary focus is on the feeling of the draw elbow or the uncomfortable muscle bunching between the shoulder blades. Once you recognize these feelings then you need to develop an awareness of them while shooting arrows for score, that is with a target in practice (Eyes open!) and eventually in competition

Addendum
This might be a strength problem in other archers, but whether or not it is can be determined easily enough. If strength is an issue there should be other signs: shaking at full draw or during the draw (when this is not normal), struggling to draw the bow, adopting improvised techniques to draw the bow, etc. Typically it is not strength, as strength is what gets the string back but not what holds it there. If you get to a good full-draw-position, one in which your draw elbow is directly behind the bow or, better, slightly past being “in line” with the bow, the draw force will be pulling your rear shoulder straight back into your body, providing a natural support for it staying where it is. Some archers report that when they get into this position it feels as if the draw force “in hand” actually diminishes, like the letoff of a compound bow, because the force is thrown off of the archer’s muscles in this configuration and onto the archer’s bones. Bones do their job of resisting forces with no effort needed.

Note If you or your student are left-handed, please reverse all of the left-right references.

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When Is It Safe for Young Serious Archers to Start Weight Training?

When Is It Safe for Young Serious Archers to Start Weight Training?

This question has been brought up before and this column (linked below) addresses the issue clearly and simply.

When Can Kids Start Lifting Weights?

 

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The Never Ending Story: Getting Through the Clicker

I have an Olympic Recurve student who is working through some issues and he wrote recently to ask (in part):

I struggle to get through the clicker. Are there drills to work on to better expand through the clicker? I am interested in something physical to do.

* * *

The first step in getting through the clicker is to have the clicker in the right place. So, having a helper allows you to do a clicker check. You simply draw through the clicker but instead of shooting, you continue to expand (until you can’t expand no more—Popeye) and the helper notes how far behind the trailing edge of the clicker your arrow point gets. (You must maintain good form and not allow your string hand, for example, to slide back on your face, or anything else that will get the arrow back farther: dropping your draw elbow, etc.) Your helper should see only a 1/4 inch (6 mm) gap between the clicker rear edge and the tip of the arrow point. If that gap is too narrow, the clicker needs to be adjusted outward. If too wide, adjusted inward. We are looking for a 1/4 in (6 mm) distance between the two. This is basically a measure of how close you are to the end of the range of motion of the back muscles you are using at full draw. (It is also, like all other measures of this type, an approximation.)

The key to getting through the clicker is relaxation. Tension shortens muscles, shortens the draw and makes it harder to get through the clicker. (This is why so many intermediate archers struggle when a competition gets hot.) So try this: set up to shoot, but let down after ever rep. Then with your eyes closed draw through your clicker and evaluate how relaxed you are when getting through the clicker. You are simply surveying your state of relaxation. Try relaxing your string hand. Try relaxing your torso. See if any of these attempts to relax non-critical parts of your shot have an effect on how easily you get through the clicker. If relaxation helps, then unwanted muscle tension is your issue. As you are doing this you are training your subconscious mind on the goal (getting through the clicker) and the map to the goal (relaxation).

You have to be on the lookout for any of the many subconscious “clicker cheats.” These will get you though the clicker but not with good form. If you struggle getting through your clicker the disappointment triggers subconscious “experiments” to get you through. One common example of such a cheat is the curling up of the string fingers, so if you notice extra tension in your string hand, that is an area to relax. Another common cheating response is to over extend on the bow side (which will spread your groups out L-R).

If in your most relaxed state, you do not get through your clicker easily, then the clicker probably needs to be moved out a very, very little. If you have the help of someone, have them watch several reps of the drill above (without reporting what they see each time). Then have them tell you where your clicker is after the draw, typically. If your draw is short, you will be asking the expansion to move the point too far and a struggle ensues. Ideally when the draw is finished and you hit anchor, the rear edge of the clicker blade should be on the point. The old guys referred to this as the clicker “hanging on the point.” If your draw doesn’t get you there, then the problem is not with your expansion, but with your draw.

The reason I comment on your faster shots looking smooth and strong is that when we become deliberate we almost always become short. Beginners often do this because their draw is still not as consistent as they want and since they don’t want to draw through the clicker when they are not ready, they draw cautiously and therefore draw short. The short draw then sets them up for a struggle to get through the clicker and a new set of issue ensues.

Let me know what happens if you try this.

 

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