Tag Archives: target panic

An Epic Problem that May Require an Unusual Solution

I have a student who is struggling and has been struggling for a long time with target panic. Recently he wrote me at length and I got his permission to share part of what he wrote with you. I know it is long but that is part of my point, so please bear with him and me. Here is his letter:
“Let me mention where I’m at with things. I hate to admit it but I’ve failed being able to shake the apprehension on the shot using a thumb trigger release. It’s rare I fail at something. I’ve spent weeks and months at a time doing holding drills, blank bale shooting, combinations of both many different ways. I just can’t hold on a target, thumb on the trigger knowing I’m actually going to make a shot while I can hold on a target for 8-10 sec knowing I’m not going to take the shot. I’ve had some fantastic days where everything did work but never got more than a couple of days of that if that much.
“I see there’s about five different ways people use back tension to release the thumb trigger release. One of them is squeezing your hand and the trigger gets pushed while using back tension to pull back. I believe that’s how I’ve been doing it. I’m unable to just wrap my thumb around the trigger and pull back and have it go off. The index finger keeps that from happening and it bears most of the weight. About a week ago I tried to shift the weight from the index finger to the thumb and ring finger as I’ve read is another method. I practiced that for days on the FLT & Rope first. Now I’ve seen first hand how you can’t concentrate on two things at the same time in archery. Trying to shift the weight made things bad enough where I let the release go, this time realized exactly how that happened. Tried to just shift the weight to the thumb and out of my hand it went. Luckily I had the lanyard you recommended. I’ve spent the past year at least, trying to change things, no actually shooting for fun. We have fixed a lot of things though, just not the apprehension described.
“My plan if this didn’t work was to revisit the T.R.U. Sweet Spot BT Release w/lock you recommended since I have it. I don’t really want to use this type of release but I looked at a note I sent someone in 2013 while I was experimenting with it and having a really good day. When I dropped down and got above the gold @ 40m, I clicked off the safety and when it dropped in the center released the shot. Sounds like I was punching with a BT release now that I fully understand punching. I had adapted the BT release to my style of offhand rifle shooting I’d been using in archery for a long time. We’ve come a long way since then and I don’t need to drop into the bull any more. Also back then I was only going out one day a week and now I can shoot every day in the garage. Several weeks ago I tried the Sweet Spot release and didn’t experience any apprehension.
“My final game plan is to work with the BT release for a month. If I see improvement over the apprehension, I’ll continue otherwise I think it’s time to put the bow down and move on to other things.
“I’d like to get together and make sure I’m using the BT release correctly so I don’t spend a month or more doing it wrong. I don’t think we’d need to spend a lot of time since I already know how to use it. Seems there’s many ways people use them. Squeeze shoulder blades together, squeeze right back muscle towards center, tighten your fist, rotate your hand, just pull back and the list goes on. Most big name archers who have videos on YouTube mention just pulling back until it goes off, no real mention of back tension or squeezing back muscles or shoulder blades. Viewing videos of these guys in the matches, they all seem to have their right elbow end up down after the shot, not straight back.
“For the past week using the T.R.U. release, I’ve been anchoring using my back muscles, squeezing more with the right side. Seems to go off nicely that way. Did try the squeezing both shoulder blades together and I seem to get tired out faster using that method. When I get tired out I don’t get a smooth release. I’m using a blank target right now with my eyes open, 30 shots a day. Between sessions I use the FLT a couple or more times a day.
“I’ve given it a good try. I’ve never shot the bow this much, even bought another Morrell Super Duper target. Got both stacked in front of each other. Since I’ve wasted the entire season, I’m willing to give it one last try, after all everyone says to beat punching/TP use a BT release. Being only 15 or 30 feet away with a large piece of one inch plywood behind my target my problem doesn’t seem fear of missing the target.
“Sorry for the epic,”
<name withheld>

***

Your epic is … epic! It is rare for an archer to document what lengths they have gone through to deal with an issue. At some point it would be wonderful for you to write up your entire journey regarding your TP, but first I have to share with you something that happened to me.

I was shooting (compound release) in a July 4th fun shoot (900 Round) and at 40m (122 cm target) my groups blew up to the size of garbage can lids. (I was capable of 280-290+ scores at that distance at that time. I responded the way we all do … I panicked, but when I settled down and looked at my shooting analytically, I discovered that my bow hand was becoming more and more tense at full draw. Fiddling with it, trying to get it to relax at full draw didn’t help much but I got through that shoot. I then began a process that involved years of attempts to deal with this problem. (I never found out the root cause; it was just something I did. I also didn’t know a coach to consult.)

At one point I took off 1.5 years from shooting hoping my bow hand problem would “go away.” I ended inserting two steps into my shot sequence, both were “relax bow hand” one during the “set your hands” step and one just prior to “aim.” None of this worked.

What worked is I got busy and forgot I had the problem. (Although I still can feel echoes of it happening when I “look” for them.)

Basically I think that I paid way too much attention to my “problem” and made it more real than it was. Possibly you are doing the same. Possibly you should just try turning your mind off and shooting “automatically” for a while, with and without a target face. Each time you have a thought … of any kind … mentally brush it away (I visualize a broom) and go back to shooting “mindlessly.” As a long term approach I do not recommend mindless shooting as being much less effective than correctly engaged shooting (aka mindful shooting), but when our own minds may be reinforcing a problem, they need to be pushed out of the way a bit.

Now, I do not “know” this is the case for you, but it is a possibility. If you think it is, you might have another option for a way forward.

Steve

PS regarding “Most big name archers who have videos on YouTube mention just pulling back until it goes off, no real mention of back tension or squeezing back muscles or shoulder blades.” This is the problem with video and book advice (it is one-way) and in this case, it was way oversimplified. This is indeed what it feels like to the archer, but it not what is happening. If you pull straight back with a standard triggerless release aide, it will not go off, because the tripping of the release is based upon the release rotating relative to the direction of the pull. When you are “just pulling back” correctly, your draw arm is rotating around toward your back (because your draw shoulder is doing the same) and that motion causes the release to trip at the right point if it is set up correctly (I can’t emphasize this enough; too many release aides are not set up correctly).

PPS Regarding “Sounds like I was punching with a BT release.” This is why I do not refer to such release aides as “back tension” releases, instead I call them “triggerless” (no release aid requires back tension to use it and all release aids can be used with back tension). Most archers trip their triggerless releases by hand movements, that is they rotate the release in their hand, rather than rotate their hand by rotating their arms around toward their backs. This is the equivalent of “punching a trigger,” if you were switching from the correct operation of the release to a faster hand manipulation. I do not know that you were doing this. It is entirely possible that your arm was rotating your hand and release while you were dropping down into the middle and just tripped when you got there. (I recommend getting your aperture on center before starting the final approach to the release tripping.) Note that triggerless release archers do not shoot any slower than triggered release archers. They have just trained to do the correct movements in the minimal amount of time at full draw. There is no advantage to spending more time at full draw than is needed.

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How Much is “Enough?”

QandA logoI have a student battling target panic (TP) and he sent in the following question:

Do you think 1000 shots are enough to get the muscle memory for that good back tension release feel or is it more important on a certain number of days doing it? I’ve read one month, three months. I remember my martial arts instructor (early 80’s) telling me if you do a move 3000 times, it’s with you for life. Don’t know how that relates to archery shots.

* * *

The usual estimates are only estimates but it is more than 1000 shots. There are two phases, I believe, Lanny Bassham refers to the first as “Building the Base.” This is the phase requiring many thousands of shots. After that “Maintenance” requires fewer shots but you never get to “no practice necessary” because of the design of our brain software, manifested in the phrase “use it or lose it.”

Dave Pelz, the Master Golf Instructor, estimated that it takes 10,000 repetitions to learn a move and 20,000 to “own it.” With regard to your TP, what you are striving to do is get to “normal shooting” so that your practice is “normal” and not focused on TP. I know of no test one can do to see if one is “healed” from the TP malady, in fact I don’t think a “cure” is available yet. It seems to be something you live with.

You have to make the transition (from blank bale to “normal” shooting) along the lines of what you are doing and then see if you can handle normal shooting. (I recommend warm up shooting to start blank bale regardless—focus on the feel of shots to reconnect your thoughts to your actions.) If you have a relapse, then it is back to the blank bale, then the transition program, then trying “normal” shooting again.

This is why so many people fail to effect this process: the want to “rush” the whole thing to get back to normal. This is like someone taking antibiotics saying “the doctor said I need to take these pills for ten days, but I think I can do fine with just five.” Rushing such a regimen dooms you to failure. The unfortunate thing is we do not have a test to see if what you have done is “good enough.”

Interestingly, I knew a young lady who closed her eyes just before she released (This was mentioned elsewhere in this letter. SR). She shot better than I did keeping my eyes open. And I am not sure this is not a valid way to deal with a TP recurrence on the fly. If you get a touch of TP during a competition, you might want to try closing your eyes just before you shoot (as he described) and see if it “goes away.” TP is an anxiety disorder and this may be an effective way to deal with it short term. Of course, you have to be able to do it, and it seems you have established that. The key to success doing it is to be setup so that you are not fighting your body. Tom Dorigatti wrote a nice article in Archery Focus magazine on shooting with your eyes closed and adjusting your stance until, in the case of some of his students, they were shooting perfect 25 point ends on the NFAA indoor five-spot target.

 

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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?
Thanks

***

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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Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A