Tag Archives: Shot Sequence

Things That We Do and Don’t Do in an Archery Shot

I have said/written quite often that our shot routine or shot sequence is a list of things we attend to (and nothing else) when we make an archery shot. So they are a guide for our attention, not a series of steps of “Things to Do,” aka a to do list. This is because there are things in our shot sequences that we do and things that, well, just happen.

I say that it is a mistake to try to do things that are supposed to just happen. For example, punching a release aid or deliberately trying to flip one’s fingers off of our bowstring. These are things that happen is we do some other things. They are coincidences, not causes.

So what are these things? Here is my list . . . for now, it may be longer. (I could argue now that it is actually longer, but I’d rather think about it some more.)

“I say that it is a mistake to try to do things that are supposed to just happen.”

Distributing Pressures of the Fingers of the String Hand
I think the finger pressures are controlled by the angles in the draw arm, and other variables. I do not think one should try to “set” them, however one might do that. If the draw elbow is too low, for example, the pressure on the top finger is too high. I think the fingers should be relaxed when placed on the bowstring/release aid and let the other forces distribute the pressures. If we relax our string fingers (the “finger curl” muscles are in the forearm), they will distribute the pressures automatically.

Weight Distribution (Front-to-Back) in the Stance
If we take a balanced stance and then are handed our bow, our front-to-back weight distribution becomes roughly 60-40. It is not something we do, it is something that happens. (I have tested this, but it needs to be tested more.)

The Release
I argue that the release of the bowstring, either through a release aid or via the fingers, is not something you do, but something that happens along the way while you are doing other things. The development of the clicker in the 1950’s was as a device to combat target panic. The key element it replaced was a conscious decision and action to loose the string. When you make a conscious decision to loose the string and then relax the involved muscles, you are “doing” the release. When you just stop holding the string, it is something that happens during a particular part of your sequence, not something you do. The clicker talks directly to your subconscious mind to avoid any conscious input to the process.

Release aids can be used with clickers, but that is relatively rare, because if set up and used correctly, the release aid performs the functions of a clicker. If you adopt the correct full draw position and have the release aid set up correctly it will trip the shot when you are in the correct full draw position, no conscious thinking is needed.

And, you probably know there are some compound archers using a “command style” in that they trip their release aids consciously. This can be done, because it has been done, but I don’t think this will work for a majority of archers. If you are in a position to test it out, you are welcome to try it. I would coach you though the process, but it might take many months to make a switch from a surprise release to a command release and then another number of months to switch back if you don’t like it.

The Bow Hand Release
An old action has been resurrected, the bow hand release. I think that rather than being a good thing, it is a zombie idea that is alive again after it died. Invented in the age of stout longbows, the bow hand release was a way to minimize bow hand shock experienced by the archer. In its modern form, it is an action taken after the arrow is away, so it has no effect on that arrow, but it is also an action that obliterates any feedback the bow might give you. If the bow is allowed to just jump out of the archer’s hand, caught by a sling, or loosely curled fingers, then it’s jump and roll, and anything else it does is related to the forces acting on it at the point of release. If its antics are consistent, then you have a report from the bow that you are being consistent, at least from the loose forward in time. (I call the “followthrough” a Consistency Meter.) If you effect some sort of “bow hand release” action, then the bow will give you feedback on how well you did the bow hand release. Which information is more valuable, do you think?

Again, I argue that it is a mistake to be training to do things that are better left to just happening.

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Sometimes a Blurb is Enough

This book (The Language of Coaching by Nick Winkelman) was outside of my price comfort zone, so I didn’t buy it, plus the blurb made me a bit dubious.

Here’s an excerpt from the blurb:

“Packed with stunning visuals, the book provides over 25 movement sequences that outline different types of coaching cues, including a visual depiction of unique analogies, such as a sprinter taking off like a jet or an athlete loading into a jump like a spring.”

I have heard any number of such “analogies” as mentioned in the excerpt above applied to archery. Examples are: thinking of your draw forearm as being a rope or chain, thinking of your feet penetrating into the ground and growing roots like a tree, having a string attached to the top of your head with a helium balloon pulling your head straight up, and my favorite “imagine a laser beam coming out of your navel, it should be tracking right down the shooting line.”

Here’s the problem. I have seen no evidence of the effectiveness of such things. They seem just to be passed on from one coach to another as some sort of coaching wisdom. I suspect their usefulness is quite limited, compared to other techniques.

There is a significant problem with using such “analogies” while shooting. We now know that our imaginations use the same brain regions that our senses do. If we, say, imagine how some sort of colored object would look, the same regions of the brain are activated as when we actually see such an object and saw how it looked.

Here is an example of where this could go wrong. We now know that our brains can consciously keep track of two things simultaneously. We used to think it was just one, but we now know different. There is a limitation for the two things, however, they must engage different parts of the brain, otherwise they conflict. (This is the source of consciously thinking back and forth between your release fingers and your aim: back and forth you check one and then the other and then back to one again. You are trying to use the decision-making power of your brain, based upon two criteria, and they conflict. BTW, this is why clickers work.)

Consider the moment of release of your bow string. We are mentally doing a number of things: we are aiming visually, we are feeling some sign of our shot process continuing (often the tactile feeling of back tension) and then we have to add the loosing of the string to those two and we are now one over our limit. In almost all cases: compound, recurve, and traditional, if you consciously think about releasing the bow string, you are in for a bad shot. If you think “Relax your fingers.” or “Squeeze the trigger.” you are probably going to shoot a poor shot. Most people focus upon aiming (visually) and completing the shot (tactilely) and allow the release to happen subconsciously. This procedure is practiced up the yin-yang until it feels ever so normal.

Part of this procedure is called the “shot rehearsal” which is typically a visualization of a perfect shot, just before raising the bow to shoot. That visualization is a set of instructions to your subconscious mind as to what you want to have happen, or if you will, it is a goal set for the subconscious mind. If you just prior to the release, imagine some sort of “analogy” you are asking for trouble. That imagining (e.g. “imagine your bow arm is the barrel of a gun”) utilizes the visual cortex, which is needed to aim with and also conflicts with the visual rehearsal you gave your subconscious mind. And the advantage to doing this is?

It is possible that imagining such analogies during practice might be helpful, but if this is done often enough, will not these imaginings intrude into competition shots? Might they not become part of our shot sequence?

I am not just making this up. I had a problem with arm tendonitis at one point and adjusted my shot sequence at one point to “double check” that there wasn’t a problem during this shot. After months of doing this I realized I was reinforcing the problem by spending too much attention and generating too much anxiety around the issue. When I went back to my old shot sequence and endeavored to not think about the issue, things improved quite a bit. It is possible to inject things into our shots that are not at all helpful and I think we should be wary of doing that..


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Why Do I Need Soft Hands?

Since I have been working on our drills book, I have been feeling a growing interest in being able to prove, or at least demonstrate, why certain things need to be the ways they are in making an archery shot. Too much of archery coaching seems to be “do it this way” and if you ask “why,” one gets either nothing or gibberish as a response.

If you have read this blog for any length of time you may recall that I call “having relaxed hands and good full draw position” the Three Pillars of Consistent Accuracy. They provide the basis for all of the other things that need to go right to make good shots, one after the other. Good full draw position, often described as the “Archer’s Triangle” for Recurve archers, can be “proved” necessary based upon the forces involved and the desire for a “clean” release of the string for consistencies sake. But . . .

Why Soft Hands?
To demonstrate this necessity (or so I claim) I offer an experiment. First make a fist and make it hard. Hold it for as long as you can. After you feel the strain associated with this experiment, check a few things. Check how flexible your wrist is. Check how relaxed your forearm is. Check to see how relaxed your elbow joint is. If you are like me, there is a great deal of tension all up your arm and the joints are quite inflexible. The aphorism is “muscle tension spreads.” Containing the muscle tension, to the fist in this case, is possible but not, I think, easily or completely so.

So what? Who cares?

The basic consequences of unwanted muscle tension is that it restricts movement and, once a muscle is flexed, it cannot be flexed to perform an action. Examples of this are rife. Consider posing bodybuilders on a stage. They have muscles bulging everywhere. To get this effect, they are flexing muscles that are in opposition to each other (antagonistic and agonistic muscles). For example the biceps muscles close the arm at the elbow. The triceps muscles open the arm at the elbow. Flex both and the elbow becomes locked in its position. Those flexing bodybuilders are quite rigid when they are posing. Their joints cannot be moved. And archers want to move their joints. This is necessary to make shots.

Consider the bow hand. Why is the bow hand in a vertical orientation, what I call the “bye-bye” position? Why not wrap it around the bow as one would grip a pistol, say? Shooting a pistol requires very little muscle effort, certainly as when compared to shooting an arrow from a bow. If an archer uses a pistol grip, the primary contact with the bow (which becomes critical when the string is loosed) is focused on two groups of muscles: the pad of the thumb and the pad of the heel of the palm (Scientifically the thenar muscles are three short muscles located at the base of the thumb. The muscle bellies produce a bulge, known as the thenar eminence. They are responsible for the fine movements of the thumb. The hypothenar muscles produce the hypothenar eminence, a muscular protrusion on the palm at the base of the little finger. These muscles are similar to the thenar muscles in both name and organization.)

Ack! Not like this either.

These two muscle groups are independent enough that one can get tense while the other is more relaxed. During the loose, the recoil from the bow acts upon those muscles. The bow will “bounce” off of hard muscles more than from soft ones. So if the thumb muscles are more tense/hard than the other, the bow will actually rotate (the bow hand is at the pivot point, remember) ever so lightly, with the top limb moving forward and down. This slight movement gets amplified, the farther the arrow flies and a low shot results. If the thumb muscles are softer, the bow bounces off of the harder hypothenar eminence, and the bow rotates up (top limb moves down and back). This results in high shots.

So, what do archers do to reduce these effects? We isolate the bow contact onto the thenar eminence/pad of the thumb. Then, variations in muscle tension there result in the bow bouncing more forward and rotating less. (The slight rotation moves the arrow rest and nocking point. Moving both of these forward (toward the target) changes the aim very little.)

Then the job of the archer is to keep the pad of the thumb in a consistent state of muscle tension and a relaxed state is the easiest one to find/recognize. Imagine the difficulty in shooting well if the optimal situation involved those muscles being 11.2% tense or some other non zero value for the muscle tension? Ack!

We have even developed tension ridding activities for our hands (flapping them, flexing them backward, etc.).

Coaches can assess the degree of relaxation in an archer’s bow hand. The position of the bow hand is easy to check. If the bottom three fingers of the bow hand are, or can be, wrapped around the bow, the hand position is wrong (they have a pistol grip). When waving “bye-bye” to an infant, we hold our hand palm out and flap our fingers. This is the direction one’s fingers need to be able to move in an archer’s grip (and why I refer to that as the “bye-bye position”). The index finger, moving down toward the ground, and being slightly curved, may end up in contact with the back of the riser, but the others should not be able to wrap around the grip at all. Some archers curl these up alongside the grip to facilitate getting into this hand position.

As to checking whether the bow hand is relaxed, I look for “white knuckles.” Muscle tension in the fingers or pressure using the fingers forces blood out of them, turning the normal skin color lighter (black skin will look browner, brown skin will look creamier, and pink skin will look white). I will also ask the archer if I may touch their bow fingers at full draw (only after instructing them to not shoot and being in blank bale shooting position, aka up close, to catch accidental looses). At full draw I flick their fingers in the “open” direction. If they are tense, they will not move. If they are relaxed, the finger will move open and flick back to the normal relaxed position quite quickly.

How About the String Hand?
Fingers on either the string or release aid, have the same the prescription: a relaxed string hand. The muscles necessary to get the string fingers to curl around the string or a release aid are in the upper forearm and not the hand. Tension in the hand makes it harder to get a clean release (the string has to exert more force on the fingers to push them out of the way (and action-reaction makes the string move farther out of line) and harder to operate the release aid consistently.

I give the athlete something to feel for in the way of feedback and that is, I think, an illusion. If you draw a bow with a relaxed hand, it actually feels as if the hand stretches. It might actually stretch, but I think that it is mostly an illusion. The illusion comes from normal behavior. If a force comes from the outside of our body, we normal marshal muscle force (and so tension) to oppose that force. This is automatic. When drawing the bow we are supplying the force, but the bow turns it around and applies it to the string fingers. By deliberately not tensing those fingers, it seems to our minds that the fingers must be affected and from that comes the feeling of the stretch. (If you haven’t noticed this before, feel for it in some test draws. Try varying the amount of tension in your hand and see how that affects the feeling of the hand stretching during the draw.)

A nice relaxed release hand looks like this. The bow hand is not bad either.

The other thing I look for is a flat back of the hand, straight wrist and arm in a “normal position.” If the muscles in the string arm are relaxed, pulling on the arm from the farthest extremity (which the bow does) will cause the arm to be straight. If I see a kinked wrist or a curved forearm, or a cupped back of the string hand, I know there is muscle tension. There is a drill I use to provide the correct feel to the archer: you, or another archer, stand facing the student. Each reaches slightly toward the other as if to shake hands, but instead, they hook string hooks, treating the other’s string grip as if it were the string. Then both are to wriggle and shake their whole arms without losing the connection to the other archer. Wrists should be floppy, hands should flex back and forth, forearm muscles should flop around. (I got the idea for this drill from the marshal arts drill of “push hands.”)

Other Implications
The Three Pillars have other implications. For example, beginners often pick up the bad habit of setting their bow wrist before getting the bow seated (in anticipation of the forces to be applied?). Because of this “form flaw” the center of pressure point on the bow grip varies from shot to shot quite a bit causing larger than necessary groups. Sometimes they have a lot of contact high on the grip and they get low shots, other times it is low contact (aka “heeling the bow”) and they get high shots. In almost every case I recommend that there be no preset. In the case of the bow wrist, if it is kept relaxed while getting the bow up, the bow (and deliberate hand position as described above) will cause the center of pressure on the bow grip to be very consistent. The bow shapes and positions the hand and wrist very consistently. Presetting the bow wrist cannot have the response of the bow’s grip molding itself to each new hand position.

For this reason, I do not recommend doing anything “early.” It was recommended at one point that the draw of a recurve bow be done with the wrist bowed outward because that was the position the wrist would be in at full draw. This is an early set of the string wrist. If the draw is done with the wrist as relaxed as can be, when the archer gets to anchor, the wrist will conform to the archer’s head anatomy, which is determined in turn by bones, and a regular position will be the result. Trying to set body positions early is like starting a sawing/cutting motion with a steak knife before the knife is anywhere near the steak. There being no resistance to what position we want to effect, the range of positions/movements becomes greater. (And no one wants to be known as the guy who cut himself eating dinner.)

Similarly it has been recommended to recurve archers that their shoulder line be pointed at the bow (a necessary condition for good full draw position) before the draw has been completed, that is early. This causes unnecessary muscle strain, as the final stage of the draw is caused by rotation of the rear shoulder around into that alignment. This is when the muscles of the back become engaged (back tension) as they are the ones that control the shoulder position and that movement. This cannot be done from the beginning of the draw due to a lack of leverage. (Try this with a light drawing bow. Raise the bow with 1-2ʺ of draw (to keep the hands in position) and then rotate your string side shoulder around to see if you can draw the bow that way. I have yet to meet anyone who could do this. Once the draw is about half way, however, there is sufficient leverage for the rear shoulder to take over leading the back muscles to accept the load of the draw almost completely.)

Any benefit claimed for doing anything early, should be examined very, very carefully. I have yet to find any such benefits.

Postscript Sorry this was so long. It kind of grew like Topsy.


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Helping with Target Panic

I often see archers beseeching others on the Internet to help them with their target panic. A common response is “go here, do what he says.” If you actually do go there” often the TP treatment is “Do X. do Y, then do Z and all will be well.”

This almost never works (sometimes, yes, but more often “no”). The reason, in my opinion of course, is that some really important steps are left out. Below I list these steps and why they cannot be left out.

Step 1: Fix the Archer’s Equipment
This must be the first thing done, otherwise the bow will be fighting any program using it. If the archer’s draw length is too long; if the archer’s draw weight is too high (aka the archer is overbowed), if the bow is just too danged heavy, no program will work. You must fix these things first. This may require an interview with the archer, if so, just ask them what kinds of things intrude upon his/her shots. That list should tell you what needs fixing. If you do not, everything that is wrong will create an interruption of the shot process (shaking, twinging muscles, pains of various sorts, etc.), making every shot different.

Step 2: Fix the Archer’s Form
This is normally done Blank Bale. The archer needs a simple, fairly quick shot process. The sequence needs to be written down and the archer needs to be able to shoot shots quickly (fairly quickly, not blazing fast) with their new shot process.

Step 3: Always (Always) Include a Pre-shot Rehearsal
This usually takes the form of a passionate imagining/visualization of a perfect shot, just before raising the bow to take an actual shot. Some coaches object to the term visualization because the “rehearsal” needs to involve as many senses as your imagination can conjure up. This needs to be a vivid rehearsal, one involving sounds, smells, whatever, as well as sights.

This rehearsal is important because it is basically an instruction set for your subconscious mind. You are saying to it: do this shot just like this. Holding that “video” in memory lasts only about nine seconds max, so this should only be done immediately before making the actual shot.

Here is the “why” for all three of the above steps. If you do not do this rehearsal, you are basically going into each shot with no plan. I call this path finding mode: you are searching for the path to follow to make this shot based upon clues (broken twigs, footprints, etc.) you find along the way. Do you have a specific list of such clues? No, you do not (with a few exceptions like a steady aperture/arrow point in the right spot), so you are looking for . . . whatever . . . clues and, trust me, you will find them, too many of them.

If your bow is too heavy, your bow arm will shake, or your sight aperture/arrow point will fall below your POA. If your bow has too much draw weight, your muscles will fatigue quickly and will shake, giving you an unsteady sight picture which will lead you to wait in the hopes of it becoming less shaky (it won’t). If your draw length is too long, your full-draw-position will be unstable, leading to shaking at full draw, and so on. (I recommend jettisoning the “steady sight aperture” clue altogether: (a) it is never steady so you are looking for “steady enough” which means (I don’t know!), (b) if you try to control it you will make it worse. A steady sight picture is a consequence of doing quite a few things correctly, not something you do.)

Fix the equipment.

Fix the archer’s form.

Introduce the pre-shot rehearsal and get them to commit to it while fixing the archer’s form.

Then: do X, do Y, do Z and they may just work.


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The Most Basic Value of a Normal Shot Routine

Often overlooked is the basic value of a normal shot routine for making archery shots. As coaches we do use a shot routine as a framework for teaching the fine points of the physical shot. I argue that the shot routine is a framework for an archer’s mental program. But there is a fundamental benefit to an archer in having his/her own shot routine, not a routine that their coach uses or some other archer uses. This, of course, involves the archer being committed to using an ordinary routine which involves convincing them it is worth the effort to practice and learn it.

We can use arguments like “Archer X uses hers” and “Archer Y uses his,” and golfers have normal shot routines, as do pool players, and tennis servers, and rifle shooters, etc.

There is a concrete benefit from such a routine that can be demonstrated with a shoelace. If one begins to tie one’s shoe, the process continues automatically. In fact, it takes an effort to stop midway. Why is this? Well, it is a simple matter of “one thing leads to another,” but it doesn’t unless a chain of things is created such that B follows A and C follows B, etc. This used to be easier to explain when we listened to phonograph records and CDs. We would just let them play and then shortly after several such plays, we would know the order in which the “cuts” occurred on the album. Interestingly, if the second track had just begun, you would find it more difficult to come up with the name of the next song on the record than if it was nearing its end. This is because we associated the start of Track 3 with the end of Track 2 and so the automatic connection isn’t made until we neared the end of Track 2.

So, an archer’s shot routine essentially drags the archer from the beginning of the shot to its end. They don’t have to go “Okay, I have finished the draw, what should I do next?” Nor do they have to worry about skipping steps or doing them out of order. (These things do happen when we get under pressure and such things indicate flaws in our routines.) This is why golfers who are playing for purses of millions of dollars always talk about focusing on their routines as the pressure mounts. (Would that archers had such problems.)


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Follow-up on “Committing to the Shot”

In a recent post (Committing to the Shot) I made the point that at some point or other, an archer (as well as golfers, baseball players, etc.) needs to commit to what they have planned to do in every shot. In the absence of such a commitment, our subconscious minds may come up with their own ideas on how to achieve the goal. What I did not do in that former post was indicate where this commitment needs to take place.

Golfers have more variables than we do: putts take different tracks at different speeds, the ball can be made to curve left or curve right, as well as go straight, shots can be hoisted up high where the wind will affect them more are shot down low where the wind will affect them less, the turf itself has different textures which affect the roll of the ball (the “fair way” vs. the “rough way”—those are the original terms), etc. In archery, we may have wind to contend with, and a shot clock, but little else, so the physical choices are fewer. Unfortunately, though, some of our choices include previously learned shot techniques, that have been shelved but can be called upon subconsciously.

Because of various factors, I suggest that the commitment needs to go after the shot visualization just before the raising of the bow. The visualization is a plan for the shot transmitted to the subconscious mind. The commitment is the command to the subconscious mind to “stick to the plan” and don’t consider other options (equal to a “Do Not Improvise” command). Either you commit to your shot at that point, with the sight, sound, and feel of such a shot just vividly imagined, or you need to change your plan and start over.

There is an aspect of timing involved here. From the visualization, there are just a few seconds before that “image” fades from short term memory, so it is “commit and go” time right after it.

Training This I do not recommend dumping all of this on an archer from the first moment they think they are serious about archery. I recommend that the shot sequence be taught as a series of physical steps first. When it has been learned then you can spring upon your students that the shot sequence is also the framework for all of the mental activities involved in shooting.

Shot Sequences The shot sequence or shot routine is basically a guide as to where we need to place our attention, not to micro-manage each step of the process but to be there to observe whether anything is going wrong. If you are looking at your arrow’s nock when it is being attached at the nocking point (in the context of a shot, of course), but your mind is on “going to MacDonald’s after practice because boy, are you hungry,” you are ever more likely to attach the arrow in the wrong place or with the index vane in the wrong orientation or…. You just need to be “there” and “paying attention.”

An Aside The phrase “paying attention” is indicative of the feeling we all have that our supply of attention is finite. Our supplies of other mental properties seems not so bounded, e.g. love, hate, finding things humorous, etc. I tend to agree with this as our attention has been woven into our mental processes very deeply. For example, much of the information that comes into our eyes that results in neural pathways being activated is just jettisoned in our brains. The small cone of focus of our eyes that we can control, acquires information that is much less likely to be jettisoned. If one is focused on what one is observing and one is “paying attention” that is attending to that task, the information is even more likely to get into short term memory which is the only pathway to long term memory and from which we can “re-play” events that go wrong for us. If we are not “paying attention,” the information involved is much less likely to be kept. (If you are interested in these phenomena, I recommend the book The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Norretranders to you.)


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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?”

* * *

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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