Tag Archives: Strategies

Competing While Injured—Just Say No

QandA logoI recently got a letter from a student addressing an injury and a competition: “I sprained my shoulder somehow. Anyway, I haven’t been able to shoot for two weeks (except for a fun shoot), and I don’t think I’ll be able to practice this week either. The Iowa Pro-Am is quickly approaching, so I was wondering how I could get practice in without actually practicing. I’m thinking about using 18 lb limbs for practice, but I’m still afraid that it might be too much for my shoulder.” There are a great many things I write about … and this is one topic for which I am definitely an authority. (I am currently recuperating a shoulder injury incurred last June—this is November; I don’t heal as fast as I did when I was younger.)

* * *

I am going to go straight to the bottom line: It is inadvisable to attend a tournament with unstable form, it will only burn bad habits in that will take a lot of training to remove. Competition intensity makes “learning” faster.

Unless you can draw without pain, I would forgo the tournament.

The idea of using very light drawing limbs when you start up again is a very good one. Go for form first, strength second. I would start, though, with mimetics to see if I experience any pain while in ordinary archery postures. If I do, I would continue rehabbing and forgo shooting completely. If I can do the mimetics pain free, then I would start work with a stretch band. If I can do the stretch band exercises pain free (for more than one session, don’t rush it—the pain may not show up until the next day), then I would try a light drawing bow.

Injuries are common amongst archers but how to rehab them is not common knowledge. One of the bedrock principles of any rehabilitation program is to never compete when injured. Of course professional athletes do this all of the time . . . and then they re-injure the same body part or, worse, because they are compensating for one physical weakness, they overload another physical system and injure that. All kinds of subconscious processes will be invoked to minimize any pain you are in and, voilà, you will have a new shot in short order, one you did not design.

Also, do not take pain killers to allow yourself to practice or compete, even aspirin or other OTC analgesics. They will mask the pain and allow you to worsen your own injury. Pain is your body’s way of telling you to do something different. The best you can do is rest and follow a good rehab program (I am currently using the “Fix My Shoulder Pain” program which seems reasonable).


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Rather Fight than Switch?

QandA logoHi,
I was reading your blog site and wanted to ask a question. Like many people I’m naturally right-handed but from an early age I taught myself have a level of skill with my left hand. Though not completely ambidextrous I can write, shave, saw, etc. with either hand.

Recently I’ve been coaching a number of left-handed students so I taught myself to shoot left-handed. I wonder has anyone else done this? Don’t think I’ll win any medals but it has helped with coaching and course laying. I found it a very educational process as you reapply learnt and known skills but reversed or, rather, flipped.

It also means the students don’t have to try to learn from you whilst trying to flip round everything in their heads. So I was wondering, have you or your readers done this?
Thanks for all the articles and posts.


Rob, I will get around to answering your question (I promise!), but first a couple of comments (I am, if nothing ellse, long-winded).

I am strongly in favor of coaches trying everything, especially if you want to coach it. Much of archery applies across the board, but if you haven’t experienced it yourself, you can make some really bad mistakes (I can attest to this). In my “career” as a coach I have learned Barebow Compound, Barebow Recurve, and Olympic Recurve, and Longbow, first hand because (a) I was curious, and (b) I wanted to coach these.

Since I took these up rather late in life, I am not very good at any of them. In fact, I don’t think you have to be particularly good at all of the “styles” you attempt, but you do need to be good at one of them (my primary style when I was younger was Compound Unlimited, now it is Compound Barebow). If you never achieve expert status in any style, it will be hard to work with advanced or elite athletes, not just because you will have no “standing” as someone who never achieved in that style, but because you will lack understanding of the nuances and commitments involved.

My favorite story about deciding to “stand on the other side of the bow” was from George Chapman, a champion archer and champion coach (associated with PSE because he was there at their beginning). He won the Indiana State Championship shooting right-handed and then because of some reason (injury, target panic, ?) he switched to shooting left-handed and won the same title the very next year! For people considering the “right-left” change, please be aware that “results may vary!”

Now, to answer your question, I have tried several times to shoot left-handed (from my “normal” right-handed shooting) but never to the point of any proficiency. Now, I think I am too old and clumsy to pull it off.

But … (you knew that was coming, no?) it is a good idea to at least try it. One of the better tools in a coach’s tool box is “mirroring,” which is standing face-to-face with your archer on the shooting line and demonstrating (mimetically) what you want them to do as they shoot. This has to be opposite-handed to what they shoot so that you look like a mirror image of what they are to do. If you have not actually shot that way, your body positions when “mirroring” may be faulty, so at least some practice that way is wise.

Check out Rob’s blog where he will repost this article and answer the question for him!


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Should I Practice Right Before a Tournament?

I got another email from one of my favorite students. (My favorites are the one’s who work hard and ask really good questions. S)

Dear Coach Ruis,
Today during practice, I was scoring extremely well. I had also fixed everything we went through last lesson, so I ended practice after 55 minutes. When I perform really well, is it still necessary to practice 1.5 hours – 2 hours?

Also, I’m attending a tournament on the 18th. Would it therefore be counterproductive to have a practice on the 12th (to hold to the “don’t change anything two weeks before a tournament” logic)?


I have had practice sessions as short as five minutes (after set up), so 55 minutes should not be considered short. The champion golfer Jack Nicklaus said about practice “Achieve, then leave.” You need to have goals for a practice and if you have accomplished those, why would you continue? This, I think, is good advice.

Practice sessions are best when short and intense, but often we have only a little time set aside to practice during any week (which can involve travel to and from a range, etc.). So, if you have set aside 1.5-2 hours of practice time, then you should use it. Practice on one thing, intently and intensely for 10-15 minutes. Take a short rest. Practice on something else … same way. If you get tired, rest. There need to be longer practices to develop strength and stamina but not close to a tournament as that could lead to muscles being sore during a competition.

Regarding that five minute practice, it was the day before the travel day to a state field championship. I drove to my club’s range, set up at the practice butts, and picked the 60 yard target to shoot at. I shot one arrow, an X. I shot another right next to it and a third making a tight group of three arrows in the target. I walked up to the target, observed my rather good group, pulled the arrows and went home. I was prepared physically and mentally. All of my equipment and sight marks had been checked and re-checked. All I needed was some re-assurance that I was ready. I got it and went home.

There is lots to learn here. For example: should you shoot a practice round a few days before the tournament? The recommendation is “no.” If you shoot a good score, what does that tell you? Probably nothing you didn’t already know. If you shoot a bad score? Now you begin to doubt and wonder if you are prepared. Neither of these will help your performance at the tournament. If you tend to shoot a lot of practice rounds, stop doing those the week before an important tournament.

The admonition to not change anything isn’t an admonition to not practice. People show up at major tournaments a day or days before its start to practice on site. You are being encouraged to not change anything without reason. So, if your bow string or its center serving breaks, should you change it? Of course you should. But you must take care to “shoot it in” and check your marks/crawls, etc. Should you entertain a major change in your shot? No! major changes should be carefully planned and undertaken and will take quite a bit of time for you to make the transition from the “old normal” to the “new normal” forms. These are the kinds of changes you do not want to make close to an important tournament.

“Not making any changes two weeks before a tournament” is good advice but ask yourself “If something is really wrong with my shot, should I just ignore that and go to the tournament anyway?” I suggest not. Which is more important “shooting correctly” or “shooting in some tournament?” I argue that shooting correctly is vastly more important. I argue that you might just want to make that change and forgo the tournament. Think about this: tournament pressure raises your intensity and “burns in” what you are doing. If you truly believe that what you are doing now needs to be changed, why would you want to make it harder to change?

I hope this makes sense,



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Hot Off the Press!

ACHT Cover v2I promised (threatened?) I was writing a “how to” book for archery coaches. Well, Archery Coaching How To’s is out and available on Amazon.com! In this book I tried to describe what I consider to be teaching techniques tf contents:


Table of Contents

General Caveats

How To’s

  • How to . . . Introduce Clickers
    ·   How to . . . Manage Draw Weight
    ·   How to . . . Teach Release Aids
    ·   How to . . . Introduce Slings
    ·   How to . . . Introduce Stabilizers
    ·   How to . . . Introduce Bow Sights
    ·   How to . . . Introduce Finger Tabs
    ·   How to . . . Introduce Peep Sights
    ·   How to . . . Introduce New Arrows

How To’s
Form and Execution

  • How to . . . Teach the Use of Back Tension
    ·   How to . . . Teach Shooting Off of the Point
    ·   How to . . . Teach Stringwalking
    ·   How to . . . Introduce Anchors
    ·   How to . . . Teach Different String Grips
    ·   How to . . . Teach a Finger Release
    ·   How to . . . Develop A Strong Bow Arm
    ·   How to . . . Create A Good Followthrough
    ·   How to . . . Create A Surprise Release (Compound)
    ·   How to . . . Adapt to New Bows

How To’s
New Experiences

  • How to . . . Introduce Field Archery
    ·   How to . . . Introduce Target Archery
    ·   How to . . . Introduce Competition
    Sidebar: Who Competes? Against Whom or What?

Having a Written Coaching Philosophy
Coaching Rationales

If you read it, please post a review on Amazon.com to help others with their buying decisions. Thanks.





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Should I Emulate/Recommend Elite Technique?

Often what we read about how to shoot arrows from bows are descriptions of elite technique. Unfortunately these authors rarely include “this is what you need to do to build this technique.”

Some coaches, on one hand, recommend that you emulate what elite athletes do until you become one. This “fake it until you make it” approach might work but I doubt it. As an absurd example, consider a young high jumper who puts up a bar at seven feet and then tries repeatedly to jump over it. Such an approach is quite unlikely to help anyone. Consider young athletes in any other sport, say baseball or football. Would you recommend that they try to do things like the pros do? Probably not. The reasons are manifold. First, they probably do not understand the game well enough to even comprehend what you were asking them to do. Second, it is unlikely that they have developed the requisite muscle strength to do those things. And, third, it is unlikely that they will have developed enough skill and coordination to do those things. (There’s more.) So, what do youth coaches in those sports recommend? They emphasize “the fundamentals.” In other words, you teach the basics to build a foundation upon which those more refined skills might take root, later. At the same time they teach and encourage conditioning and strength development.

This, I believe, is true for youths and also for adult beginners, who might have more fully developed musculatures in general, but probably not their “archery muscles” so much.

It is my position that there are some things elite archers do that you and your athletes should not do. I urge my students to adopt good basic form to learn how to execute good shots with good alignment. I teach relaxation. I teach the shot cycle. I teach the mental game. I teach equipment maintenance and tuning. There is much to learn before the elements of elite technique come into play.

If you need another analogy consider a beginning archer: if you were to offer him or her a full professional-level bow and arrow setup, would it improve or hurt their development? Would their scores skyrocket or would they struggle to use “touchy” or heavy draw weight elite equipment?

If, and when, my students decide they want to become very, very good, then I will recommend some of the things the elites do, realizing that many of those are built upon a well-built basic form and upon excellent physical conditioning.

I call upon authors of works describing shooting techniques to (a) clearly identify to whom they address their comments and (b) build foundations to learn those techniques including all necessary preliminary stages and bridges between them. This has not been the case so far, but I think it would advance our sport a great deal, especially if a consensus can be achieved among coaches regarding these things.



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Training Aids

I must have mentioned along the way in this blog that I have set a goal for myself, one commensurate with my ego: I want to create a professional literature for archery coaches. There are a zillion “how to shoot” books, more being produced every day. I have close to 250 archery books in my library and the vast majority of them are “how to shoot” books.

What I want are “how to coach books” and “how to teach books.” We have enough “how to shoot books.” It is as if we had all of the anatomy, physiology,  surgery, diseases of the human body books to train doctors with, but left out “how to treat patients.”

I want to address the situations archery coaches find themselves in and provide them with options and supports to deal with them successfully. So, . . .

Do You Want to Help?
One of the ways to train coaches (doctors, lawyers, etc.) is “case studies.” Doctors are provided with a “case,” a patient with a certain set of symptoms. They are then asked to figure out what to do. Later, the lesson goes on with an explanation of what was done and what the disease really was, etc. (This is portrayed in TV dramas set in teaching hospitals when groups of interns/doctors make “rounds.”) Law schools similarly have hundreds of legal cases they use to train lawyers.

I would like to have a set of cases for archery coaches. We could post them on the web, use them in training programs, etc. Sound like fun?

I have written up a few cases that have come up in my lessons but I want to get cases from all over the spectrum of archery, so I would like you to participate. Either you could write the case up (Part 1 “I had an archer who had come to me with (symptom, symptom, etc.) what would you recommend she do? Part 2 “What I did was and we found out was that . . . etc.) or you can work with me in real time (send me a question, I will suggest a course of action, you can try it . . . or not) and write up a “what happened” segment afterward. It can even be a question about your own shooting that we can make into a useful “case study” for archery coaches.

So, do you want to help?

PS I am working on the final touches on a new book: “Coaching Archery How To’s” which should be out in a month or two. This book is for beginning-to-intermediate coaches and those coaching outside the area of their specialty (what they shoot).


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When to Put on a Clicker

QandA logo

This wasn’t so much a question that was submitted as a search someone made, namely, when should a clicker be introduced to an Olympic Recurve archer?

I have some fairly strong opinions on this, but others do as well. I will explain mine.

I think beginners should shoot barebow until they have fairly consistent form. Then, if they want to shoot a clicker, or I think they are ready, we do a test. It goes like this: the student draws on target and settles in. When their arrow stops moving (back, only back; if it saws back and forth, they aren’t ready) I put a dot opposite their rest hole/plunger with a suitable marking pen (silver Sharpie, whatever). Then they let down. I ask them to relax, take a breath and we repeat. This is done 5-6 times resulting in 5-6 dots on the arrow shaft. I then show the student the shaft. What I want to see is the farthest dots no more than a half inch apart. If they are more than an inch apart, the student is not ready for a clicker. Between the half inch spread and one inch spread, it is your call. If the student is in a rush to be a champion, I’d make him wait. If the student is diligent, patient, and hard working I’d tend to go ahead with the clicker.

“I have some fairly strong opinions on this, but others do as well.
I will explain mine.”

This is obviously a test for draw length consistency. I do not want to introduce a clicker until an archer has a fair degree of form consistency because if that is lacking, trying to learn a clicker will be very frustrating. If you know any clicker stories, I will bet dollars to donuts they center on the frustration of using the danged thing.

Next a good starting point for the position of the clicker needs to be selected. And an excellent place to put the clicker is where the arrow point is when the spread of dots on that shaft is centered on the plunger. Voila! Adjustments, of course, will need to be made but you already have a good starting point

The situation I am trying to avoid is a student with a one inch or longer spread in arrow point location, because about one sixth of the time, the clicker works as we want it to, but one half of the time the student pulls right through the clicker on the way to anchor and another one third of the time, the student is so short at anchor that they can’t get through the clicker at all and have to let down.

I want them to practice succeeding using the clicker and five failures out of six tries is not good practice. And the frustration can deter an otherwise eager archer.

This works for kids, adults, everybody and I recommend it to you.

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Q&A Let Me Ask You

One of the persistent questions I have regarding coaching archery is how to adapt so-called “standard” archery form to people who can’t quite execute it for physical reasons. I am not addressing adaptations as is done for disabled archers, I am talking about archers with minor physical limitations.

Take me, for example. As I have gotten older I find myself increasingly unable to look over my bow shoulder without discomfort. Consequently, either I have to tilt my head to get in line (which causes me to lose depth perception and physical strength) or keep my head erect but have my draw elbow short of being in line (which is what I do). I have tried stretching, massage, etc. with no real effect so far.

Do you have any ideas on how archers can compensate for physical limitations (mine or anyone else’s)?

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Q&A How Do I Keep Them Motivated?

Kim Hannah
of Chicago emailed: “When kids really enjoy shooting (and shooting for their harder JOAD pins), how do you keep them motivated when they are frustrated about not getting better and not getting their next pin?”

Since I am somewhat long of tooth, it took me a while to adjust to the environment today’s youths find themselves in. It started when we put on a clinic for the Air Force and kids asked whether after the clinic they would get to keep the bows. Now, that would never have happened when I was growing up. Today kids get trophies, big ones, for coming in last in their hockey or baseball league, so I realize times have changed.

But I don’t think kids have changed all that much.

My suggestion is to involve them in the process of getting better. The expression of wanting to get better, or get better faster, even in the form of frustration is a teaching moment. But, if they are unwilling to do anything that is not fun, then they are still a recreational archer and you can’t ask them to do boring drills. If they have a real fire in their belly about getting better, and they are willing to do some things that aren’t fun, a whole additional bunch of activities/drills come into play. You need to assess this to know which situation you are in. In either case, you can introduce them to a shot sequence, for example.

Here is one idea: if you have enough coaches to take this archer to the side for a few minutes try having them shoot with their eyes closed. Put a target up close (a big target). Have them draw and settle and then close their eyes. You then count to three and they can shoot anytime after they hear “three.” After several arrows to get the hang of it, if they are shooting off to the right, have them reposition their stance a bit to the left. If they are shooting off to the left, have them reposition their stance a bit to the right. (Fighting your stance is a major source of inconsistency.) Whatever they are doing, what you have just done is remove “aiming” (whatever that means to your student) from their shot. Many students shoot amazingly well with their eyes closed! In any case, you have things to talk about with your young (or not so young) archer, especially the role aiming plays in shooting well (a smallish part, to be sure).

How about it all of you coaches out there—do you have anything to contribute on this topic? Comment on this blog post and I will post your comments.

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Helping Them to Try Other Styles

The AER Archery Curriculum is set up to expose student archers to a great many styles, if . . . if they are interested. But since they don’t know anything about the styles of archery, other than what they have seen, they don’t know what to ask, so you have to help. (Kids who have archer parents have seen a great deal and often have their minds already made up, but we tend to see a lot of people who do not have archer relatives or even friends.) Typically, archers just out of the beginning stage haven’t seen a wide variety of equipment being used, but in the Coaching Resources section of the Archery Education Resources website (www.ArcheryEducationResources.com) you will find a handout entitled “NFAA Shooting Styles.” This can be downloaded and printed out for your files or printed and even handed out to your students.

For your information, the compound styles recognized by World Archery/FITA/USAA are “Compound Unlimited” which is the equivalent of the NFAA style of “Freestyle” and “Compound Limited” which is the equivalent of the NFAA style of “Freestyle Limited.”

How a Coach Can Help Archers Explore
In Stage 2 of the AER Recreational Archery Curriculum, accessories are added to student’s bows in the order of: tab, stabilizer, bow sling, bow sight, clicker, peep sight, release aid (quivers, etc. that don’t require training, per se, can be acquired at any time). Obviously, not all of these apply to any one archer, so let me use the example of a compound archer.

A Compound Archers’ Choices The first thing a compound archer has to choose is a finger tab. Most beginners don’t use a tab for the reasons that their bow’s are so light drawing they aren’t needed and the cheap program tabs that are available are often counterproductive as they don’t fit the archers. We only give out tabs to students who complain their fingers are starting to hurt or who request them. But as draw weight goes up a tab becomes more important, to protect the archer’s fingers and to provide a slippery surface for the string to slide off of. Since tabs have to be fit to the archers, we expect them to buy one.

Then, if they don’t have their own bow and arrows yet, they come next.

Note Somebody always asks why their kid can’t start with a full compound kit. The answer is: if they already have a full compound kit (sight, scope, peep, release, etc.) we will work with them. We do not recommend that anyone try to learn the use of all of these accessories in a class setting because there are too many things to learn at one time and you only have a small amount of time to devote to any one student in any class session. We break down shooting into pieces and feed it to our students a piece at a time. This keeps frustration low and interest high. And it shows our students many of the styles of archery along the way.

Back to our compound student—after the tab is taught and learned and they have their own bow and arrows, the next choice is a stabilizer. If the student opts for a “long rod” or long stabilizer, he/she has adopted the NFAA style of “Barebow.” If he/she subsequently adds a bow sight and a peep sight, he/she has adopted the NFAA style of “Freestyle Limited.” If, down the road, they then incorporate a release aid, they are in the NFAA style of “Freestyle.”

If, on the other hand, our blossoming archer prefers a short stabilizer (≤11˝), with just the bow, tab, and stabilizer, he/she has adopted the NFAA style of “Bowhunter.” If they follow that choice with a pin sight and peep sight, he/she has adopted the NFAA style of “Bowhunter Freestyle Limited.” And, if they trade their tab for a release aid, he/she has adopted the NFAA style of “Bowhunter Freestyle.”

So, they can end up trying almost all of the recognized styles of compound archery. Of course, they can turn down any of those choices. It is their sport. But, trying different things is fun, and most want to see what that “doohickey thingamajig” does for their accuracy.

Trying Different Bows
We see students swapping bows all the time in our beginner classes. Of course, they are our program bows and they are much alike (in draw weight, etc.). Once you get into classes with Stage 2 students, though, many if not most of them will have their own bow and arrows. They still want to swap bows. This is true for kids as well as for adult students. Trying something new is a normal part of our makeup as a “curious animal.” This is the reason why we recommend a mix of recurve and Genesis compound bows for beginning programs. Students get to try both to see which they favor.

Most beginning students don’t get to see a traditional bow let alone shoot one, so if you have one on hand, you will get students wanting to try it. (You can use such “novelties” to spice up a dull session, for example.) We tend to favor Bear Paw bows as they make two light drawing longbows that are quite affordable.

I also keep on hand a “real” compound bow (one with letoff), with an easily adjusted draw length and very low draw weight for introduction when it seems productive. At least they can pull the bow to see what “letoff” really is.

The most important thing for you is to supervise these “bow swaps” or “first time tries” because the unfamiliarity of these new bows leads to “dry fires,” hit bow arms, and dropped bows. We watch each such archer’s first one or two shots attempts to make sure they are safe. You should, too.

More Help You Can Provide
It will be a big help to your students if you have some equipment you can make into “loaners.”

We have a pile of loaner stabilizers (most purchased “used” for under $5) and some loaner tabs and bow sights. Our motto is “Always Try Before You Buy.” Buying unfamiliar archery gear only to find out it doesn’t do what one thought, is not a route to happy student-archers. So, have a list of recommendations of quality entry-level stuff available. If working with kids, always include the parents in the discussion of any purchase recommendation, because no parent wants to see their kids come home jacked up because they want them to buy something for their archery. It doesn’t hurt to make up a sheet of recommended places to shop for archery gear in your community, or lacking such a resource, trusted online retailers.

You need to keep track of anything you lend out, because if you don’t it won’t be long until your supply of “loaner” equipment is exhausted and nobody knows who has what.

One of the joys of archery are all the different manifestations of flinging an arrow from a bow. With a little forethought and preparation, you can help them realize their choices. Good luck!

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