Tag Archives: Shot Sequence

Paying Attention to Hands

If you have read this blog at all you probably know that I follow golf coaches a lot, mostly because there are few archery blogs of any value (which is changing … slowly). The similarities between golf and archery are many, the primary difference is in golf, the golfer supplies the energy to the ball whereas in archery the bow does that work on the arrows (after being loaded up by an archer). But a comment by one of my favorite golf coaches, Darrell Klassen, really struck a bell:

… your hands are the body part designed to start almost every motion. Doesn’t matter the sport. Baseball, hockey, golf, tennis, football. You start every action with your hands. You don’t even have to think about it. Next thing you know, all the other parts come into play. Feet, legs, hips, shoulders…they all do their bit.

“The kicker is this (and this is where most of the mags just don’t understand). You can’t manipulate the sequence. Thinking about a part (like you shoulder turn) screws up the whole darn thing. There is however, one part of the sequence you can (and should) manipulate. Guess what that is? Yep, your hands. Thinking about changing what they will do (like their speed, direction, angle, start position etc) will change the whole sequence.

“Manipulate your hands, and you can create any shot you want. And your body will just follow.

In archery, our shot sequences have a step called “set your hands” which we often gloss over, but this step is critical to consistent accuracy. If the angle your bow hand makes on the bow differs, or the angle stays the same, but the position shifts left or right, the effect on the shot is significant. If the fingers on the string or release aid, change position or shift in the amounts of force each finger delivers, the effect on the shot is significant.

I work with quite a few Barebow archers who walk the string. A crawl that varies by as little as 1/16th of an inch will change the distance allowed for by 2-4 yards, all other things being perfect.

The positions of the hands on the bow and string/release are critical aspects of archery shots.

The key thing to realize here is seen in Coach Klassen’s comment “Manipulate your hands…. And your body will just follow.” If your hands aren’t quite right, there is a cascade of adjustments your body makes to make the whole movement conform to the desired outcome (the one you are envisioning in your mind).

Our hands contain many, many sensory nerve endings. The diagram (right), common to biology textbooks, is an attempt to show the relative concentrations of these sensory nerve endings. Note that our faces and hands have out-sized concentrations of the ability to feel temperature, pain, and pressure (the only three kinds of sensory nerves). The nerves we use in archery, of course, are pressure nerves. Because so much neural processing is dedicated to the data coming from out hands, a great deal of life energy is allotted to dealing with that information. So, if our hands are not quite right, we will squirm, inch, nudge, jiggle, or flat out shove other body parts to make them right. All of which are disastrous when looking for consistent accuracy with a bow and arrows.

So, if you have a student struggling with consistency, look to their hands; spend some time on their routines of placement, refine these if necessary. More than a few Olympic recurve archers have made a tattoo mark on their bow hand to aid them in lining their bow with that hand. Yes, it is that important.






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Is it My Equipment, the Environment, or Me?

When experiencing problems in archery, the key question for archers is: is it my equipment, the environment (wind, rain, etc.) or me responsible for my misses. Since you cannot solve a problem you do not know you have, this is something coaches have to help with as often as not. Believing one has an equipment problem when it is really form/execution is to road to nowhere.

Consider the following story from my friend Tom Dorigatti, a compound bow guru:

Do you remember me telling you that a careless person in the range went running (and I do mean running) past my bow and knocked it flying some 15 feet onto the hard concrete floor? Do you also remember me telling you that the silly thing was just not shooting well, or holding well, and was tossing flyers at will high and/or low out of nowhere?

I put on a new Hamskea arrow rest (taken off my Merlin bow), I checked axles and cams for straightness/cracks, misalignment. I rechecked and checked my measurements again. I found nothing that should be causing this. I do not miss by 12˝ or more at 20 yards, period.

“Well, I went a step farther and took a large magnifying glass and went over that bow from stem to stern looking for anything that may be a crack, or break in the limbs and/or the riser. I found nothing.

I have no way of checking for a twisted riser, however. So, we were down to either a twisted riser or a failure somewhere on the bow that we/I couldn’t detect. I called up Darton and explained what exactly had happened to the bow. I explained how it wasn’t shooting for crap, and that I would like to send it in for them to check out for a twisted or cracked riser. I got an RA Number sent immediately.

From the time I sent the bow in until the time I got it back was 10 days. They had asked for an arrow that I was using out of the bow and how I set the bow for its paper tune. Of course, I tune a slight nock high right tear because bullet holes for me doesn’t cut it.

I called them back after about a week and asked if they’d found the problem. They had. That idiot who knocked the bow flying had splintered (not visibly) all four limbs on the bow! What was happening is the splinters were opening and closing at their will and state, and not consistent because they were failing worse as time went on.

“What is important for coaches to do is to listen to these stories.”

The riser was checked and it wasn’t bent or twisted. Darton replaced all four limbs on the bow, and set it back up to factory specifications, which so happens to be exactly where I had it set anyway! Of course, I checked all settings before even trying to shoot the bow, and I guess it was right by them, since they told me they checked the tune after they’d rebuilt the bow.

Now the thing shoots like it is supposed to and I’m not fighting the nose-dives and wild arrows. It is shooting as tightly (or a touch tighter) than I am able to hold, so I don’t have any complaints.

In spite of the fact that the bow had been “abused” (not my me, though), Darton replaced all four limbs, reset things, and sent it back at absolutely no charge to me.

I now have a bow that holds steady now, after months of fighting it and blaming myself. because of the “shake,” when all the while most all of it was broken/failing limbs. I was lucky … because those four limbs could have broken all at once at full draw and … that is not nice to think about!

My sight movement since I started shooting has always been an up and down movement. Rarely do I ever have a side to side swim of my sight. I don’t have very many left and right misses either. So, I should have known that there was something really out of kilter with the bow when it kept getting worse and worse as time went on. But, I blamed form, and that shake because I went through all the measurements of the bow and they were spot on.

My suspicions really arose when it got to the point I couldn’t find anything else. I knew I was fighting the bow constantly. I had a friend shoot the bow and he said he struggled to keep the bow up close to center; it was like he had to fight the bow to keep it from having the sight drop out the bottom, too.

Another thing that put me onto the bow being screwed up was paper testing. I always shoot six different arrows when paper testing, not just a single shaft. Who the heck knows, you could pick a good one or you could pick a bad one, but when all your arrows give the same tear, you know things are good. With the “broken” bow, I was getting several tears per my tune, then a wild nock right tear of 2-3˝, then back to a “normal tear” for a couple, then a another wild tear. And it wasn’t the same arrow each time. Sometimes I could get three or four in a row, and rarely five or all six. That finally convinced me that something on that bow was moving around or changing as the bow was being shot.

“So, coaches, keep your ears open. Ask questions of the story tellers. Keep mental notes.”

The reason I am sharing this long story with you is because it was a long story. Here was a very, very careful archer, an archer who documents his equipment very carefully, an archer who is very cognizant of his own shot details, and an archery who has loads of experience and it still took him a great while to finally come to grips with the real problem.

When recurve limbs have interior defects, they eventually show up as limbs that look deformed, but compound limbs are shorter and typically solid fiberglass and do not necessarily show signs of internal damage.

What is important for coaches to do is to listen to these stories. From them you can glean knowledge but also they can give you an appreciation of how hard it is to diagnose some equipment problems. Because Tom is such an experienced bow mechanic, it took him longer to eventually send it back to the manufacturer with a note “It’s broke, can you fix it?” It is a matter of pride for both Tom and I that we can fix almost anything that goes wrong with our gear and it can cost us time and money and effort to overcome this belief.

It is also important to listen to these stories for examples of good and bad behavior on the part of the manufacturers. Darton showed itself to be a quality company. I have had equally good service from other manufacturers. But when an archer has a bad experience with a seller or manufacturer, he then tells that story repeatedly for the rest of his life! This contributes a lot to a feeling of negativity floating around archery and it is nice to be able to note times in which a positive result happens.

So, coaches, keep your ears open. Ask questions of the story tellers. Keep mental notes. The deeper you get into coaching, the less obvious equipment problems become (the easy ones are detected and fixed easily). There aren’t any textbooks or training programs on how to help your student-archers with equipment problems … yet, so you have to find ways to educate yourself otherwise.

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Trying a Sight Questions

QandA logoI was emailed a couple of questions today:
I am a 67 year old male who started shooting in the 50’s when I was about 8 years old.
I have reached the point where I would like to learn how to shoot using a sight. The reasons are 1) personal challenge and 2) improving my scores. I have no intensions of shooting beyond 20 yds. and plan on using a paid instructor to help me get things set up and to get me pointed in the right direction. I have two items I would like your opinion/guidance on before embarking on this endeavor:
“1. Is it possible to learn to use a sight with cross-dominance by keeping both eyes open or would you recommend using only one eye? (I would have no problem using an eye patch or black taping the lens on a pair of glasses. When I shoot trap, I close my left eye and average 21 out of 25 targets.)
“2. Since I don’t plan on shooting over 20 yds., can I keep my anchor at the corner of my mouth or would you recommend learning the under-the-chin anchor?”

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Ah, I wish all questions were this easy! ;o)

Regarding Q1 Using a sight can make it easier to avoid cross-dominant issues! They can still crop up but think about it this way: when you shoot barebow, the view through each eye is very close together (especially if you shot with a cant). When you shoot with a sight, the views are substantially different. Your aiming eye sees the bowstring, while your off-eye does not. This is even more distinguishable when shooting with a compound bow as a peep sight is allowed to be used in conjunction with the bow sight. This results in your aiming eye seeing the target through a small hole in an opaque lozenge inserted into the string. It is hard to miss!

Having said all of that, I have had “cross-dominant” issues while shooting a compound bow! (I shoot right-handed and am left-eyed.) One occasion was I was shooting in a league after a long, somewhat arduous, work day and got distracted and Bam! I shot an arrow three feet to the left of the aiming dot I was hitting quite regularly.

So, one does have to pay attention … constantly … but the sight actually helps make sure you are using the correct eye to aim with by including “string alignment” as a task. String alignment is a step in aiming in which the fuzzy image of the bowstring in your aiming eye is aligned with some part of the bow or sight.

Many traditional barebow archers have not bothered with string alignment but you can see how adopting this practice could help make sure you were using your proper aiming eye in that your off eye cannot see the string!

And … you can try eye patches, tape on glasses lenses, closing the off eye, etc. If you find something that is comfortable and works for you, use it. I tried all of these things and shoot slightly closing my off eye. The other methods created too much fuss when trying to see a scorecard. But everyone is different, so do try anything you think might work … for you.

Regarding Q2 I do.

Many people disregard the “high anchor” as a “baby step” we all go through until we learn the “grown up techniques.” (For recurve archers, the “grown up technique” is the “low” or “under chin” anchor.) This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The square stance and “corner of the mouth” high anchor have many advantages and not just for beginners. The high anchor is advantageous for shooting short distances, the kinds beginning … and indoor … archers face. You will see Olympic Recurve archers using a low anchor indoors because why should they learn another anchor just for indoors? But if you only intend to shoot shorter distances, and you have already learned a high anchor, why would you learn another anchor, one that is more suitable for longer distances?

So, it is fine to keep using your high anchor, as long as it is “tight.” Some have anchors so loose as to be “floating.” A floating anchor position is one hovering around your face somewhere but not located firmly by being pressed onto your face. The goal is to be able to sight along the inner edge of the bowstring and see something between your aperture and the inner edge of the riser. If you cannot, one reason may be that your anchor is “loose” or “soft.” A “tight anchor” is one firmly positioned on your face so that that position can be repeated and allows for the string picture I just described.

Let me know if this helps.

PS If you want a procedure to follow to get from aiming off of the point to aiming using a sight, let me know. Having a coach to help you set up your sight should be helpful as there is some fiddling to do to make sure it is correctly set up.


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Is Visualization a Flawed Tool?

Visualization is touted to archers as part of a formula to create success. The most common pattern is for archers to visualize a perfect shot just before they raise their bow to shoot. The argument goes like this: it is easier to reproduce an activity immediately after having successfully performed that activity. Since the effect wears off fairly quickly, the previous shot doesn’t always qualify as such an event and, since the subconscious mind, responsible for abilities like shooting arrows, cannot distinguish well between reality and that which is vividly imagined, the pre-shot visualization supplies such an “event” to duplicate.

Most archers who embrace this technique usually stop thinking about it there, which is a good thing as being an archer-athlete is about performing, not thinking, but maybe coaches need to think about this a bit more.

The Limits of Visualizations
This visualization technique is widespread: golfers visualize their shots before they step up to the ball, basketballers visualize a successful free throw, sometimes accompanied by a physical rehearsal, before shooting them, and archers visualize perfect shots before shooting them. But is this the only use of this technique?

dead center arrowWhat these examples have in common is that they are visualizations of something the athlete is perfectly capable of and has done repeatedly. They are not visualizing something never done before. Often, athletes can use memories of recent activities as patterns for those visualizations. Since the more accurate and vivid a visualization is, the more effective they seem to be, a visualization set in context with all of the sights and sounds appropriate to the current venue is of more value. So, a memory of a recent perfectly shot arrow supplies a perfect source of information for those visualizations. Similarly, a previously shot free throw, or a golf shot on the same hole on the previous day of a golf tournament may supply the detail needed for a more “vivid” visualization of the task coming up.

But what happens when the task has never been done before? In that case visualization becomes very much less effective. Visualizing oneself on the medal stand at the Olympics may actually help one get there, but it would have to be repeated many, many times for it to have any effect as it is not something one has done or will be doing shortly. The visualization examples above are in the context of a “short feedback loop,” meaning the effectiveness of the visualization in helping make a good shot is tested in short order and the practitioner can get a sense of whether it helped or not. For a far off goal, visualizations may help one stay on a path to that goal, but they serve as little more than an affirmation at that point.

For example, if one is practiced at long distance shooting and then the target is moved out to a farther distance, one unpracticed, what value has visualization? I think it has little value, except that it might help execute a good shot, even though the success of that shot may be due to many other factors. If that distance is one you do not have a sight setting for, not only is your body position different, but your sight picture is different, and your trust in your sight setting nonexistent.

A practice of philosophers and scientists is to push their thinking to an extreme, to see what can be learned from such a situation, so in this case, what if we were to push the target back until it exceeds the cast of the archer’s bow? In other words, even shooting at a perfect ballistic angle, the arrows shot from that bow at that draw length will fall short of the target. What use is a visualization then? Obviously, it will have no effect whatsoever upon hitting such a target.

So, as a process, visualization seems to work best as a tool to help repeat something the athlete is perfectly capable of doing. But when applied to completely new situations, its effectiveness is far less and there are situations in which it has zero effectiveness.

Do Visualizations Really Work for Archers?
One must take into account that not everyone is capable of making such visualizations. Psychologists have estimated that maybe one in every five individuals may be incapable of making such visualizations (the golfer Tiger Woods appears to be one of them). Having a mental rehearsal, though, seems to be effective enough that when visualizations aren’t effective, athletes find other ways to rehearse. Tiger Woods uses a rehearsal of how a golf shot will feel, as opposed to how it looks, apparently.

So, for the four in five who can perform a visualization process without their minds wandering, is this process effective? The answer has to be a definite “maybe.” In so many things “mental,” much depends upon the athlete trusting his/her process. So, for visualizations to be effective for an archer, they must be taught how to do them, they must practice doing them, and then they need to have a test of whether or not it works for them (otherwise they will just “judge” the process, which is a fairly unreliable skill). This investigative process is not unlike the testing of a new piece of equipment or a new movement in a shot sequence.

The testing probably has to be something like the effect upon practice round scores. A fair test would probably require several practice rounds shot with a process goal of having a high percentage (85-90-95%) of the shots made with a visualization incorporated. After each end, the archer determines how many shots were made with a visualization and reinforces the goal by re-reading it (it is written on the tally sheet used to keep track of the shots in each end that are performed correctly). Then the average score of, say, three practice ends shot with visualizations could be compared with the average of the three previous practice rounds shot prior (presumed to be without visualizations).

There are many things that can trip up such a test. For one, if significant time and energy were spent in learning and “training in” the visualization habit, then the archer shooting the practice rounds with the visualizations is a more highly-trained athlete than her former self. And there is the Hawthorne Effect, which indicates that when anything new is introduced a bump in performance is achieved that disappears shortly thereafter. Possibly, one could ask their archer to try to shoot practice rounds without the visualizations (using the same process goal process) to get comparative scores but I have not tried this and I am not sure one wants an athlete to participate in “negative practice,” practice that deliberately does something “wrong” or different from what is desired.

What is needed is for enough archers and coaches to undertake such “tests” and report back on the results. Then we might be able to come to a definitive position on the question.

This is not hoary old knowledge passed down from the ancients but something “discovered” in the past few decades. We don’t know everything and finding out such things, especially in the realm of “mental skills” is especially difficult. For the time being, if one of my seriously competitive students was confident in his/her visualization process, I would leave it at that as confidence is something I put great stock in)“why” anyone does so is a question that cannot yet be answered).

Possibly the ideal experimental subject are my people, aka “over the hill” archers, especially those who are somewhat accomplished. Asking some of these folks to try to shoot practice rounds with and without visualizations (using process goal protocols) might supply very valuable information and would be unlikely to derail ambitions of accomplishment. Any takers out there?




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How Many Arrows Should I be Shooting?

QandA logoI got an email from one of my Olympic Recurve students who ask the above question. It was in the context of getting a bit fatigues at the end of an indoor 600 round (60 arrows, 10-0 scoring).

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As a rule of thumb, I think for “heavy shooting days” (to be alternated with light days and medium days and rest days) you should be shooting double the number of arrows in your most rigorous current round. So, that would make it 120 arrows for heavy, maybe 60 arrows for light and 90 arrows for medium. (For NFAA indoor archers you’d have to double these as an indoor 600 round is 120 arrows, 5-3 scoring.) As one’s championship desires become greater, those get upped. Many Olympians preparing for the Olympics do 400 arrows per day for their heavy days. The idea here is if you know you can shoot 120 strong shots in a day (as you have done it repeatedly) then shooting 60 strong shots is a piece of cake. On rare occasions you might want to do a super load day and shoot a much larger number of shots: in the scheme above, maybe 200-240. This is the psychology behind the 1000 Arrow Challenge, once you have shot 1000 arrows in a single day, it is very hard for you to respond with “I can’t do that” for almost anything else in archery.

You have to prove to yourself that you can shoot large numbers of quality shots. Each shot you shoot has to be with your full physical and mental shot routines. If you cheat and just “fling arrows” to run your count up, you will know this and the “experience” won’t really count.

* * *Indoor BB Shooting

Now, this is a very experience archer I am talking to. If he were less expert, the rules are quite different. I express this as “you have to find your shot before you can own it.” There is no real value in shooting high arrow loads if he hadn’t yet found his shot, the shot that uses his body best, aka optimally. If he weren’t there yet, shooting high volumes of arrows would create a feeling of “normal” around a shot he needed to change. Any time an archer tries to make changes, the “old normal” exerts a pull away from the “new normal” they are trying to create and back toward the old shot, making progress that much more difficult. With this student, we rebuilt his shot a couple of years ago and now he is refining and maintaining that shot, the one he will use for quite a while. (An archery shot is never “done,” rather like a knife it needs to be honed and occasionally sharpened as it is used; otherwise it gets dull and ineffective.) The score this student made in the local tournament was almost identical to the one he made to take a medal at the state indoor championship last year, even though he struggled somewhat due to a layoff from practicing.

Outdoor Blank BalesSo, if a student hasn’t yet found her/his shot, I discourage large volumes of shots and encourage working on their shot more. A balance can be found so they can have fun competing as all archers want to do, but really, really serious archers wouldn’t think of competing without having a settled shot, so if they were rebuilding their shot, for example, they will avoid competition until they can prove to themselves in practice that their shot is up to snuff. Otherwise, under competition stress, it will probably break down and they will have a good chance of developing bad habits as they struggle to score, that will just have to be weeded out later.


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Lining Up

QandA logoHere’s another question that came into this blog recently: “Coach, any tip on aligning your stance with the target face. My kid always thinks he is standing right on line with the target but actually the target is behind his back.”

One thing you might try is to have him lay an arrow down at his position on the shooting line that points to a spot directly under the target center (any old arrow will do and do not do it for him, have him do it). Then his stance is aligned to the arrow. Doing this for a while leads to the ability to imagine such an arrow laying on the line and aligning his feet to it.

Basically, if he shoots from the same foot position for long enough his body will only feel “normal” if his feet are in the right place. If his feet are misplaced, he will have to swivel around to get aimed at the target and that will feel “odd.” This body awareness leads to adopting the same stance over and over, but only once the archer’s body is informed of the desire to have it so. I take particular pains to establish my shooting position the first couple of trips to the shooting line every time I shoot.

And do not assume that this should be “easy.” When shooting indoors I love to see a shooting floor that has been tiled (tiles here are typically 12˝ x 12˝ and made of something like vinyl). This creates a grid of lines many of which lead straight to the targets at the other end of the range. I use these straight lines as a starting point to build my stances (stances because they are different for recurve and compound).

Now, which stance of the myriad possibilities he will end up with is another question, but the primary need for stances is that they can be found consistently and to do that some such ability to orient to the target is needed. You can see the same effort in professional golfers standing behind their golf balls and eying a line to their target, some even swing their arms along that line or hold up the shaft of the club in hand it help them “see” it.

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When to Aim?

Whenever one of you signs up for this blog, I hie myself over for a look at yours (if you have one) to see what you are interested. I get a number of topics upon which to write for this blog in this manner. One such topic is “when to aim?” which, as it turns out is a topic of one of the chapters of my latest book (Still More on Coaching Archery, Watching Arrows Fly, 2014). Here is an excerpt from that book on this topic.SMOCA Front Cover 10%

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The Overaiming Meme

Olympic Recurve coaches have a meme that is considered a cardinal sin if you break it: “do not overaim.” This admonition permeates the writing of recurve coaches at all levels. The USA Archery Level 2 coach training manual, for example, includes a shot sequence with one of the early steps labeled “not yet aiming.” I think this warrants a closer examination.

So what constitutes aiming? Is it just the act of aligning a sight aperture with a point of aim? Clearly this is not the case. Aiming starts from the very beginning of the shot cycle when the archer takes a stance. A condition for accuracy is that the arrow must be in a vertical plane going through the target center for it to hit the center (absent wind effects, etc.). When an archer steps onto a shooting line and effects a square stance, you can see that a vertical plane going through the arrow also goes right across the archer’s shoe tips. This is why we recommend a square stance to beginners, it is a natural aiming stance in that by aligning one’s shoe tips up with the target center, one is also aligning the arrow up with target center. If you take a square stance and get into reasonable T-Form at full draw, you will be aiming right down the middle. So, aiming begins with the stance.

Later in the cycle the bow gets raised, but how far does it get raised? What I teach my students is that it needs to be raised to a height such that when the draw is made and the anchor position is found, the sight aperture is naturally centered on the gold (or wherever the archer is aiming). Higher than that or lower than that results in the archer having to move the bow a substantial amount at full draw, a clear waste of time and possibly a use of the wrong muscles. So, raising the bow is an aspect of aiming. (It has been referred to as “pre-aiming” in the past.)

So, is this too much or too soon? Is this overaiming?

No. Here’s why.

What’s Special About Aiming
As an archer moves through her shot sequence, her attention focuses on just one thing, one thing after another, but just one thing at a time. When taking a stance she focuses on just that. When nocking an arrow she focuses on just that. Beginners have to focus more in that they do more consciously, they have to check the index vane, they have to check that the arrow is nocked snuggly under the top nock locator, they have to be sure the arrow is on the rest and under their clicker (if used). This is all done in a trice and without conscious thought by the expert archer, but it is done and all are attended to.

So, all through the shot sequence the archer’s attention is focused on one and only one thing . . . except during the “aiming” phase. During the aiming phase, the archer must divide her attention between two things: the visual matching of the aperture with target center (or point of aim) and some aspect of her form involved in completing the shot (the draw elbow, tension in the back muscles, etc.).

This is the only time during the shot sequence that the archer’s attention gets divided: during the “aiming” step. The admonition to not overaim is not helpful as it violates the coaching dictum of “tell them how to do it right, don’t describe how they are doing it wrong.” It also is vague and hard to understand. Just what are the characteristics of “overaiming?”

Instead . . .
Instead of this admonition, archers need to learn how to divide their attention during that step.

One simple drill is to have them hold their bow up in an American-style “Raise” position. I ask them to focus on the aperture on the target and then switch to focusing on their bow hand, then their bow arm, then their shoulders, etc. all the time keeping their aperture on the target. (You must include rests because the arms get tired holding the bow up.) Just ask them to move their attention and focus around. After just a few minutes of practice, they get pretty good at it. Then ask them to focus on their aperture and without losing that focus, include their bow hand, or their bow arm, or their shoulders, etc. Then ask them to practice doing this (which they can do at home) with the key being able to focus their divided attention on aperture and their back muscles (some coaches substitute a focus on the draw elbow for the back). Note My piano teacher taught me this. You can’t play different notes with both hands until each hand has learned to play it’s notes by itself.

Another activity/drill that will enhance an archer’s ability to divide their attention is “slow shooting.” This is just working through a shot but at a substantially slower pace than normal. Instead of a shot requiring 6-7 seconds, it takes 30-40 seconds done this way. The archer must also focus on what they are supposed to be focusing on. Mindless drills may tone the body but do not sharpen the mind. You must caution them to avoid flitting back and forth between the two task (maintain sight picture, finish shot, maintain sight picture, finish shot, . . .).

Another drill might be to ask them to focus only on their aperture position while shooting an end. On the next end they are to only focus only on completing their shot and not at all on their aperture. A third end they need to divide their attention between their aperture position and finishing their shot. This drill is based on the Goldilocks’ Principle: the first end is too much aperture focus, the second end is too much body focus, and the third end is “just right” or at least close to it. Often the third end shows a much better group than either of the other two (as it should).

A Fine Point
When writers do address this topic (almost never directly) they tend to mention visual focus on the aperture, which is correct, and a visualization involving the draw elbow or scapulas a means of making sure execution of the shot is continuing, which is incorrect. The power of visualizations is that they involve the brain triggering the same muscles that will be used during the activity visualized, so they are great for rehearsals. But the visual cortex is being asked to do two visual tasks in this approach, which has to lead to some confusion. Instead the visual focus on the aperture’s position needs to be combined with the tactile sensations in the back or draw arm that can be associated with correct execution.

But . . . Isn’t this a Form of “Multi-Tasking?
Recently psychologists have studied “multi-tasking,” that is doing two tasks at once, and have argued that this is often not what people think. Instead of two tasks being done simultaneously, the minds of the people doing these tasks were switching back and forth between the two and each task thus suffered in quality. The simultaneity was an illusion. Examples are given such as trying to do math problems while listening to a Presidential speech and extracting salient information. I believe they had brain scans to back up their claim. But it is not the case that if this is true some of the time, it is true all of the time.

Arguments by example, how scientists explain complex things to ordinary people like you and me, can be opposed by counter examples, so let me offer a few. About in third grade most American kids are presented with the task of “rubbing their stomach and patting their head” (or is it the reverse?) from a “friend.” At first none can do this as it seems impossible. But after a short period of practice, many can do these two different tasks simultaneously (maybe not so well, but practice usual stops when the feat is achieved). Some of these kids may grow up to play the piano during which each of their hands is doing something different and simultaneous, or maybe a virtuoso rock ’n’ roll drummer who can play complex rhythms, sometimes with different meters, simultaneously with both hands and a foot.

To end this argument with a sports metaphor, consider a baseball batter. He might have to track the curved path of a ball thrown from a variety of “release points” at near 100 mph close enough to the batter cause significant bodily harm were he hit by the pitch while swinging a baseball bat to intercept that ball to hit it the opposite direction. If they can do those tasks simultaneously, I think we can do our task simultaneously, our target is not even moving! All it takes is practice.

Please note, I am not refuting or rejecting the psychologist’s research. I believe they are absolutely correct when it comes to two simultaneous and complex conscious tasks, but the subconscious mind seems capable of attending to a great many tasks simultaneously.

Perhaps it is time to bury the “overaiming” meme. It was never particularly helpful. It is not an instruction of “what to do” but rather “what not to do.” And I don’t think it accurately described the issue at hand.

There was a time in the late 60’s, early 70’s when the clicker was being adopted that a number of archers were using it as a draw check only and would hold for several seconds after the clicker “clicked.” Many of these archers were taking too much time at full draw and could be described as over aiming, but no one is doing that now.

Coaches inherit too much stuff that has outlived its usefulness and I think this is one of those.


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Practicing Alone and Mental Programs

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
About a few months ago, I decided to start practicing by myself. About 90% of my practice is in complete solitude, and my practice has become extremely productive and efficient. However, is it bad to practice alone? My thought is that since I practice alone, I won’t get accustomed to other people; overtime, I’m concerned that this might spike my anxiety during tournaments, where there are lots of people.

Also, I’ve recently implemented a “mental program” as recommended by Lanny Bassham. Am I supposed to think about my mental program before I make each shot, or while I make each shot? I’ve noticed it’s almost impossible to do the latter.


Again, these are very good questions.

Most archers practice alone, at least some of the time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But, if you never acclimate yourself to a noisy venue, you may have problems blocking out distractions when they occur. One of the ways you can “practice” blocking out distractions, is to play music you do not like during practice, preferably loudly. Obviously you may not want to annoy your neighbors or others nearby, so you will be tempted to use headphones. If you do, be sure that the cables involved will not get caught during a shot. (The new wireless ear buds look promising for practicing athletes.) I would like somebody to put together a nice compilation for this: maybe some babies crying (loudly), fingernails on a blackboard, a bunch of pots and pans clanging together (loudly), etc. One year the French Olympic team practiced while drill sergeants screamed in their faces (with suitably bulging veins, if the photos were any evidence).

Another aspect of becoming a consistent winner is learning to monitor your personal space. Some venues have very narrow lanes, while others have wider/regulation ones. If you expect a crowded venue, practicing with others will help, especially if you can stand close to one another as you shoot. If you have no one available to practice with, try shooting close to a wall, or stack up some cardboard boxes as a stand-in for an archer “in your face.”

Something almost impossible to prepare for is rude or out-of-control competitors doing things in an attempt to put you off of your game. This is exceedingly rare, but it does happen. Experience is considered to be the best teacher, but it is also often harsh and brutal.

Mental Programs
Mental programs are quite various. There are programs you run when things go wrong in competition (usually called “recovery programs”) and planning (for practice, competition, equipment changes, etc.) is part of the mental aspects of the sport, etc. It seems, though, that you are asking about the mental processes that are run while shooting. If this assumption is wrong, let me know.

There is a dictum for archers: practice consciously, perform subconsciously, which you have discovered (“Am I supposed to think about my mental program before I make each shot, or while I make each shot? I’ve noticed it’s almost impossible to do the latter.”). So, during practice, you consciously think about what you want your subconscious mind to take over for you. This is done by only working on and focusing on, just one aspect of your shot at a time and linking the feedback you give yourself (a good shot … or not?) to that one thing. While working on your bow hand, if your bow hand was correct, whatever happens to the arrow just shot is irrelevant, that was a “good shot” (which is why we take down the target face while working on form—it can only provide mixed messages).

The foundation of  archery mental programs are:
(a) your shot sequence, which provides a framework for the physical shot and the mental steps that go along with them;
(b) what I call the Rule of Discipline “if anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from the environment, you must let down and start over.” If you override this rule you are telling your subconscious mind that it is okay to shoot bad shots, that it is okay to improvise, neither of which is good; and
(c) various bits and pieces that work for you.

Here is an example of a mental program, linked to a shot:
(a) You take deep breath or two and physically and mentally relax
(b) Some people use a “trigger” which is a word to get you started but it is just as easy to take an arrow out of your quiver as your trigger. (Do not use taking your stance as a trigger point here because you often only take your stance once in an end.)
(c) When you get to the point just before you raise your bow, make a first-person visualization of a perfect shot, including the arrow landing dead center. Include all sights , sounds, odors, everything you can; make it vivid! If you just shot such a shot, you have a perfect model; if you do not, you must use strong memory skills.
(d) During subsequent form steps, some people use key words to help with weaknesses they are working on; for example, I used “strong bow arm” while drawing for quite a while.
(e) At full draw, some archers use a memorized bit of a song to keep them on rhythm; they aren’t singing it per se, but that music is running through their head,
(f) Last is a mental evaluation of the quality of that shot, which is compared with the outcome (I shot a good shot, why isn’t that a 10? Oh, the wind picked up!) and a plan for adjustments to the next shot are made.

In order to link your mental program to your shot, you have to use it on every practice shot and every competition shot, starting … oh, I don’t know … how about NOW!

This is just one example of an “ordinary shooting” mental program. Everyone is different and may need different “pieces.” But all of them have your conscious mind focusing on things that will not interfere with your subconscious program, just supporting that programming from “afar” as it were.

I hope this helps.

PS I wrote an entire book on creating a strong mental program (Why You Suck at Archery). There are many reasons WYSAA described (with recommendations to correct them) but the primary reason (covered in the entire second half of the book) is having no mental program at all.

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Got Flinch?

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
Sometimes, at the very end of my practices, I have issues with deciding when to let go of the string. During these times, I might decide to release the string but then quickly re-catch the string. This problem has also occurred in the past during tournaments, usually during the last third of a tournament. What’s going on and how do I fix it?


This is called a “flinch” and it stems from having to decide when to release the string. It is an inherent problem with Barebow Recurve. It is one of the reasons the clicker was invented. The clicker was not just a draw check (designed to fix the draw length at a particular value); it was invented in 1955 by a man named Fred Leder because of “flinching, freezing, and creeping.” The idea was that, when used properly, the clicker obviates the need to make the decision to loose.

Ch 09 Clicker (Andy M)For Barebow Recurve and a number of other disciplines involving finger looses, the clicker-less solution became shooting process and shooting rhythm. A consistent rhythm is created based upon a consistent shot process. My process (Barebow Compound) is when I get to full draw position, I align my point to my POA, check my breathing (I have asthma), and then check my string alignment, then I come back to my point and POA; if both are aligned, I loose the string. All the time I am partially focused on the feel of my rear elbow moving backward (so as to not lose back tension). A comfortable rhythm has been developed around this process.

In the absence of such a process, one’s conscious mind tends to invent new processes when one tires. As you tire, things feel “different” (harder, more difficult, etc.) which allows the conscious mind to go through a “things have changed, I had better adapt” sequence and the consequence is “Ooops, I didn’t mean to let that one go.” One’s conscious mind has to be kept out of the decision making process. That has to become a matter of habit, which is in the realm of the subconscious. One’s subconscious can multi-task, one’s conscious mind cannot, consequently when you start functioning consciously, your attention flits from this to that to that and … “Ooops, I didn’t mean to let that one go” happens. Do this often enough and you can create a syndrome known as target panic which is responsible for a great many archers quitting the sport because they “can’t shoot any more.”

So, decide on what your “shot completion” process is. The easiest way to do this is simply pay attention to what is happening when you are shooting well and normally. You must write this process down (Step 1, Step 2, …). You must read this list every time you shoot, then use that process at first deliberately, but then transitioning into using it “habitually” as you warm up. When you have a rhythm shooting in your process, you will find that you won’t be deciding when the string is to leave, it will “just happen” along the way.

Let me know how this is working for you.



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Helping Your Students with … The Mental Game

(from the May-June 2014 issue of Archery Focus magazine)

Note There is a great deal of talk about the Mental Game of Archery but almost none on how to get students started. Here’s two cents worth.


For beginning archers, the physical aspects of the sport dominate. There is probably very little room for anything else in their  minds. The phrase “archery is 90% mental,” is often heard in archery instruction circles, which is not at all true, although it is close to the truth when it comes to archery competitions. To become a good archer, many hours of practice, building muscles and  technique training and additional hours setting up and testing and tuning equipment all have to happen so that on competition day, the equipment and form and execution are unconsciously dependable. The remainder of the day is largely determined by our archer’s minds: how focused they are, how confident, how consistent they can maintain our performance, etc. So, how do you start helping your students with their mental games? When do you start?

The Mental Game of Archery
It wasn’t that long ago that there wasn’t any mental game recognized. Some archers did it, but most just practiced shooting arrows and making their equipment perfect and hope for the best. Today, all elite archers incorporate mental training in their practice and competition. Many young archers compete and win without a mental program but as they get older, they shouldn’t expect to be doing any “winning” when they are giving away such an advantage. Practice . . . mentally? Yep, do you ever expect them to do something well without practicing?

Getting Started A key to shooting well is your archers must focus their conscious thinking upon what they are doing “now” during any shot. If their mind wanders onto their stance while they are at full draw, for example, the outcome will be a bad shot. They must “pay attention” to what is happening . . . right now.

You probably know why. Archery is a repetition sport. If their minds wander it will (at least) change their timing and such shots will occur at a different pace than the previous ones. We want each shot to be their best shot and the next shot to be just like the last one. We know this from the fact that it is easier to do something you have just done than to do it new for the first time. It is more effective to “copy” the last shot than it is to make up a new technique while shooting the next one.

So what are they supposed to “focus on?” This is the role played by their shot sequence. Basically this is a list of everything they do to take a single shot. Their shot sequence puts names to things they will need to refine physically (improving their technique) but also it is a list of where their attention needs to be while shooting. When they are nocking an arrow, they need to pay attention to where the nock goes on the string, the sound and feel it makes when it slides into place, they need to pay attention to the way the “index vane” points, and they need to check how the arrow sits on the arrow rest (and under the clicker if they use one). They need to do this consciously (in practice) to train their subconscious mind to do it subconsciously (whenever they need it done) just like learning to tie their shoes or ride a bike (and later to drive a car). Conscious attention is needed to develop unconscious competence. Doing any of those things wrong can cost them points (e.g. if the arrow is sitting on the bow’s arrow shelf instead of the arrow rest, their shot will be low, very low).

The next thing they need to learn is the “Rule of Discipline.”

The Rule of Discipline If they follow this rule, they will learn faster than anything else you can do. Basically this rule says “don’t shoot shots you know are wrong.” Here it is in all of its glory:

If anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from the environment, you must let down and start over.

By following this rule they will train your subconscious mind to monitor their shooting and “urge” you to letdown when something is not right, even if you do not notice it yourself! While they are shooting, they are shooting by “feel.” Their eyes are focused on their sight or the target and not upon themselves. If their conscious mind doesn’t focus on what they are doing “now” the shot will be bad, so all they have is how the shot feels at the time. With repetition, they can learn how a good shot feels and use that as a guide to make this call, but the word “feel” is almost the total opposite of conscious thinking, so we use our subconscious minds to monitor those.

We train our subconscious minds what to pay attention to by paying attention to it consciously while practicing . . . and that is exhausting. If you think about how you learned to tie your shoes or ride a bike, it was really hard at first but now it is almost effortless in comparison. That is because you now do these tasks subconsciously.

There has been some misunderstanding regarding the Rule of Discipline. It is not if the coach sees anything wrong, they must let down, but whether the archer thinks there is anything wrong. Beginning archers wouldn’t be able to get off a shot if they had to do it perfectly in the eyes of a coach. What constitutes “right” and “wrong” for an archer evolves as they gain understanding and develop the feel of their shot and the Rule of Discipline helps them develop that “feel” and understanding.

… And the Training?
You are dreading asking them to practice one more thing, aren’t you? To practice their shot sequence, start by using the appropriate terms for the parts. Ask them to make a list of the parts of their shot. Go over it with them. This has physical as well as mental benefits, so they won’t get antsy. From time to time, focus consciously on one of the tasks (not every single one, you’ll wear them out).

For the Rule of Discipline . . . have them use it. Every single shot. If they don’t know how to do a “let down,” demonstrate it for them (note the differences for indoors and out) and have them practice it a couple of times and they will be an expert in no time.

And, don’t worry, there’s more, . . . but only if they want to get better.

Coming Attractions
We follow on from here with the introduction of policing one’s self-talk, it being easy to teach: what it is, how to change negative self-talk into positive, etc. Then comes shot rehearsals/imagery, being the practice of imagining a perfect shot just before raising their bows.

There is much, much more. You can teach these things to your recreational archers as well as your competitive archers. There will be no harm done as the recreational archers just won’t do things they don’t find fun, and you don’t know what will trigger the conversion from a recreational archer to a competitive archer. It may just be that there is some serious, performance enhancing stuff being done here; archery is not just flinging arrows and hoping to win a medal.

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