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The Importance of Distinguishing Between What is Done and What Just Happens in an Archery Shot

I have written about this before, but it is worth emphasizing.

As just one example, consider the finger release. When a shot is loosed, the string fingers open from their curled positions (around the string) and the string, freed, pushes the arrow toward the target. So, does the archer need to do something, like “open” the finger curl to allow the string to leave or is this something that just happens? I hope you know by now that the fingers play almost no active role in the release of the bowstring. They are flicked out of the way by the string itself. That happens because the muscles controlling the finger curl around the string, in the upper forearm, are relaxed and the fingers no longer restrain the string. The string rushes back to brace, flicking the fingers out of the way in its path.

This is not the only thing that “just happens” in an archery shot (most of the followthrough, the left-right and front-back weight distributions in the stance, the pressure distribution of the string/release aid on the separate fingers, the bowhand being shaped by the riser’s grip section, etc.). But to catalog all of those is not the goal of this post, rather I want to emphasize why it is important that you distinguish between these things.

The problem is if you mistake something that just happens for something to do, you are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Working on opening one’s fingers in a finger release is a fool’s errand. It is not what we want to happen and frustration is about the only thing that results (well and still fingers, sloppy looses, etc.).

The 60:40 front-to-rear weight distribution in an archer’s stance happens automatically. Trying to refine that would involve a lot of work and hardly will be worth the effort.

There is a concept in economics that applies here and that is “opportunity cost.” Basically, if you are doing A, you can’t be doing B simultaneously. So, if A is an unproductive effort and B is productive, then doing A instead of B costs you. You expend effort, money, time and you do not get better.

So, I urge you to take the time to identify what things in an archery shot, in your styles of expertise, are things that just happen. You need to avoid having your archers “work” on those. What they need to do is work upon the things that control those things “just happening.”

For example, if the pressures of the string are out of whack in a finger release, do you work with the archer to try to get them to change those? No, you do not. You look at the things that control those pressures: relaxed vs. tense fingers, angle of draw arm with string, etc.

Many people think that the fingers in a string grip need to be tense. To the contrary, they need to be relaxed. The muscles holding them in a curl attitude are in the forearm, attached to ligaments attached to those fingers. The finger muscles themselves need to be relaxed. Relaxed fingers are easy to flip out of the way and thus distort the path of the bowstring the least.

Among the things affecting the pressures of the string on the string is draw arm angle. A “high” draw elbow means the angle of the string hand to the string lightens to strength of the index finger and increases the strength of the middle and ring fingers. A low elbow does the reverse, so a low elbow leads to high fliers, etc. Ideally, the draw forearm is in a line, called the “Primary Force Line” with the center of pressure of the bowhand on the bow’s grip. Large deviations from that alignment create problems.

The Primary Force Line (in red) should reach the draw elbow which it does here. Higher or lower elbow positions lead to problems (lower being worse than higher. The line crossing the PFL at a slight angle is the arrow line which is often erroneously referred to in such discussions. It is relatively unhelpful.

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Getting a Start on Target Panic

My colleague and good friend, Markus Wagner of Germany, made a comment that wasn’t exactly a question for me to answer, but does provide a topic to explore.

He said. among other things, regarding target panic: “I contend that knowledge of a neurological context is necessary. How does conditioning work in the brain? What is empathy in detail? How to read body language, facial expressions? So, non-verbal communication. Of course, these issues are best dealt with by a educated mental trainer. But a certain basic knowledge should also part of the technical trainers. Unfortunately, I don’t see any such approaches in any of the training systems there.”

Now Markus is a better educated coach/trainer than am I. He has acquired extensive certifications to become a mental sports coach, among other things, and his students have had more than a little success.

I acknowledge, however, that archery coaches are not looking for a university education in sports psychology, so some targeted trainings seem to be desirable.

I suggest the way to begin formulating those trainings would be to create a list questions that need to be answered. Here are a some to get the ball rolling, as they say, and I hope you can contribute more. Possibly we can then take our list of questions and submit them to our archery organizations who would then solicit answers from universities, etc.

So . . .

  1. What is target panic?
  2. Why are the symptoms so varied, even contradictory, e.g. freezing and not being able to loose vs. uncontrolled loosing?
  3. Is the cause mental, physical, or a combination of the two?
  4. How does one treat it?

What would you add to this list?


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We Get Letters (Part 3)

Coach Ron Kumetz sent in the following topic. “One thing that has puzzled me is that Coach Lee continues to say that aiming does not happen but it clearly does. I understand the basic premise that if you start aiming from early in the shot cycle it can become somewhat paralyzing in that the focus becomes on keeping the aperture on the target rather than the process. Having said that. He still offers no explanation further than that so without hiring my own shaman to shake a rattle and give me some further mumbo jumbo I am particularly interested in how you tell a 10 year old how they will hit the target if they do not aim at it.”

Ron is currently immersed in the Level 4 USAA Coach Training so his question probably comes from that experience.

* * *

I came up as a compound archer and as an adult, so I missed all of the classes that kids can take. When I discovered that there were way more Recurve students interested in lessons than compound students I had to educate myself, which involved a lot of reading, trainings, and getting coached myself.

One of the things that became obvious is that there were bits of dogma floating around the coaching ranks, one of which is “don’t aim early” or “don’t aim too soon.” When Kisik Lee presented his technique when he came to the U.S. in 2006 (?) this was prominent in his talks and on his website. I presume this came about from the practice of young archers, whom we all have seen, who in an untutored attempt to aim in an early lesson, sighted down the shaft of their arrows, and then distort their form so that the arrow stayed in the position they deem correct, through the draw and loose, etc. These archers drew with a bent wrist, because it is necessary to keep the arrow “aimed” and it is possible with a light drawing bow. Their elbows tended to be too low, and they had myriad other distortions of basic form to preserve their “aim” while drawing their bows.

I presume coaches tried to deflect this practice by telling them “don’t aim that early” or some such instruction.

To the contrary, I think that most, if not all, of the parts of an archery shot process are part and parcel of aiming. Taking a stance is part of the aiming process. We have all seen young archers with “happy feet” which is they draw on target and since they don’t seem to be pointing their arrow in a good direction, move their feet until they are. If our stance didn’t affect our aim, there would be no reason to try to make it regular and any number of Olympic Recurve archers tweaked their stances to achieve good grouping at the longer distances being shot.

So, every step of the way an archer’s body is being positioned to support a good aim. Part of a good aim is having a steady line of sight and KSL teaches that archers are to hold their line of sight through their followthrough, so aiming is involved all of the way through the shot. When the bow is raised, I teach my archers to position their aperture in their field of view, such that when they draw and anchor that the aperture ends up right next to their chosen point of aim, this minimizes the corrections needed at full time (and time at full draw is precious). Every step of the way actions are taken that build into a steady posture and solid aim for the loose.

I think that what is intended here is to avoid being so focused upon aiming (until just before the loose) that you lose focus on the shot process, as you suggest.

To avoid the problems that 10-year old archers can fall into, you might want to do a few drills (but only if they are serious students). One of these is the natural stance drill (or “Happy Feet “ drill, if you want). This involves addressing a target, lining up the bows aperture or arrow point with their point of aim, then closing their eyes and drawing to anchor and then opening their eyes. We then ask them about their right-left drift (not up-down). If their aperture drifted off to the left or right, their stance was such that their body was fighting their aim. To correct for this, they are to move their stance (both feet, keeping their relative foot positions the same) so the aperture is back on target. You repeat this several times, watching out the archer doesn’t get fatigued and recognizing nobody is perfect in this.

Once they have found their natural stance, the one in which their body is not fighting their aim, then they have to “memorize” that stance. This has two benefits. It points out that everything they do affects their aim and that they have to be careful setting their feet and taking their stance, otherwise things are affected negatively downstream. So, the idea is created that each step of one’s shot cycle must be attended to and focused upon, avoiding thinking about things that come later.

If they are somewhat more advanced than a beginning serious archer, say they have started competitive archery, a similar drill involves finding their point of “pre-aim.” In this drill they address the target, then visually align their sight aperture with their point of aim, usually target center). Then they close their eyes, draw and anchor and then open them again. The muscle activities of drawing and anchoring have probably caused the aperture to drift off of its former position. Have your archer describe that final position, e.g. 6 o’clock in the blue. If they do this several times and the result is similar, ask them “Where should you aim that when your are finished your draw and anchor your aperture is on target center (or the POA)? In the above example it would be 12 o’clock in the blue as a starting point, then the drop will be from “too high” to “just right” instead of from “just right” to “too low” as it was before. If their form is steady enough that their process is repeatable in this drill, they can see that even where they raise their bow to affects their aim.

(Note—There are reasons why they might want to draw to a higher spot on the target, for example, allowing them to set their rear shoulder before the draw is finished, which lets them “draw to alignment” which can be very effective. There are lots of ways to draw and loose bows. Note—Sky drawing is not to be encouraged.)

Next: Ron had a second question/topic.

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We Get Letters! (Part 2)

See the previous response to a question submitted by Joe Seagle (We Get Letters, Part 1). This continues that post, and addresses how to train in one’s release and how to select a release aid.

David Beesom (David wrote a bit for AF) also asked “Selection of compound release aids and how to determine an optimum anchor point (as a topic), if that is possible. Read the books, but need more info from a more senior coach!” And since the two are related, I will fold his answer into this post.

Training in any Aspect of One’s Technique
Something that can’t be said often enough is: be sure you have it right before you train it in! So, David’s question about finding one’s best anchor point is a good one. If you haven’t found it, then don’t practice it in.

All such trainings consist of phases. Volume shooting, that is shooting a large number of shots, should be considered a memorization technique and should always be saved for last. Prior to that one must explore and “discover” what technique works best for them, that is what technique is optimal for you. Otherwise you may be memorizing a technique that is suboptimal.

Finding Your Optimal Anchor Point
This is a variable folks, if you shoot a compound bow and even with a recurve bow. For example, if you are shooting Barebow Recurve, indoors, you do not want to use a “low” or “under chin” (aka Olympic-style) anchor point. If you do all of your points of aim will be on the floor! Most Barebow Recurve archers use some form of high anchor (commonly index or middle finger in the corner of the mouth) which tends to give one much higher points of aim. Ideally we would like to have a POA on the target face (which has the advantage of looking the same no matter where you are shooting).

For you compound sight shooters, your optimal anchor point depends upon the distance being shot to some extent. When shooting Compound-Release aka Compound Unlimited aka Compound Freestyle, you have the advantage of using a peep sight. But there’s a complication. The peep sight is in a fixed position in front of your aiming eye. For very short shots, the bow is held lower and since the peep has to be in front of your eye, your anchor has to be nudged up slightly. For long shots, it is the reverse. The bow is held higher, so with the peep fixed in space, the anchor is nudged lower. So, you have to choose which distance should have the most comfortable anchor point. Most field shooters choose a longer distance and the process goes like this—pick a target face at that longer distance and then draw your bow on that distance with your scope/pin on the target, but with your eyes closed. Then after you draw, anchor so that your hand fits comfortably against your jaw bone (this varies depending on the style of release you use). Ideally we would like the jawbone to be involved and maybe knuckle bones on your hand. (The idea is that the flesh may swell depending on exertion and temperature but the bones won’t, so bones covered with a thin layer of skin are preferred.) Once you have found that anchor, open your eyes and see where your peep is. If it is too low, move it up. If it is too high move it down. Keep doing this drill until when you open your eyes, the peep sight is centered on your aperture which is centered on your target face at the selected distance. Always make sure your peep is anchored down when you have finished moving it.

This, btw, is why having a dedicated “indoor bow” is an advantage as the peep and all of that can be set up for your most comfortable anchor position and you don’t have to move around things from your outdoor setup.

Training It In
Whenever I start work with a new release archer I give them a length of paracord from which we make a “rope bow.” This I ask them to keep in their quivers because later they will see all kinds of neat release aides being used by fellow archers and want to try them. They should never, ever shoot their bow with an untried release aid! They should always try any new or different release aid with their rope bow first.

A Great Release Aid Starter Kit! An old “Stan” with a rope bow.

To use this rope bow for training. The length of the loop of cord needs to be adjusted so that when the archer loops the rope bow around their bow hand and with the release aid attached assumes “the position” with a slight pull on the loop (representing the holding weight of the bow) they are in perfect form for the point of release. Coaches need to help adjust the loop because the archers can’t see when their draw forearm is directly away from where the loop crosses their bow hand. If the loop is too small they will have a flying elbow. If the loop is too long, their elbow will be wrapped around toward the back of their head.

Once the loop is the correct length it can be used for training. On their first tries, they need to pull slightly against their straight bow arm and operate the release aid. When the release trips, the loop should fly out of their open (but relaxed) bow hand and land on the floor a few feet in front of the archer. It should land on the same line they were drawing on. If their pull is too feeble, the release may just droop from their bow hand instead of fly off of it. If their pull is too hard, the loop may fly five or six feet away or more.

Doing this drill with their eyes closed, they can concentrate on feeling the position of their draw/release hand against their face, the feel of the release aid in their hand (if handheld), the feel of the trigger as it engaged, etc.

If your student is a newbie release shooter, or is struggling with using the thing, when you switch to a bow, you can use a Genesis or other zero let-off bow after the loop. You can even get them to “assume the position” with such a bow with the eyes closed and trip the release yourself. (Be sure to tell them what you are doing, this is not something to fool around with.) After they are comfortable with the zero let-off bow, you can switch them to their bow, always start in close to a butt then moving back as they acquire control over the actions.

Selecting a Release Aid to Shoot
I recommend that my release archers do ask to try other’s release aids because what release you shoot is a personal decision based substantially on how it feels. (I also tell them that others can say “no” without prejudice as can they.) If you have never tried a index finger release, how could you know whether one of those is preferable to, say, a handheld release?

So, what constituters a “try?” Obviously if you are trying a buddies release after a tournament, a few shots with your “rope bow” will have to do. If you are able to borrow a release aid for a few weeks, then the rope bow, followed by a low draw weight bow, followed by your bow routine should be enough to tell you whether you like a release aid.

Actually, most releases are judged right from the get-go. We evaluate how they fit our hand (handheld) or how they fit our wrist (if wriststrap involved) etc. which shows the crux of the problem. You can’t move things around on a borrowed release unless given the permission to do that. (Most release archers have a drawer containing many “old” releases and they may loan you one to set up properly.) If you can’t adjust the release so that it fits you, you can’t give it a good try. So, initial “tries” are often just a feeling out.

My Approach to Training Release Archers
If I have an archer who wants to shoot Compound-Release but hasn’t a clue how to go about that I start them on a hinge release with a lockout. (Tru-Ball makes many nice ones that are affordable, but I lend them such a release to get started.) I start them on a rope bow, teaching them about the lockout. The lockout is critical for their mental protection. All of the old time release shooters have stories about archers who knocked themselves silly when a release tripped mid-draw.

These release aids are wonderful because after the technique is mastered, they can be shot without the lockout making them very simple. (Many pro archers have gone to hinge releases of late, so you know they work.) And, because they are triggerless, there is no trigger technique to learn. Of course, these have to be set up carefully so that the release trips at the correct point in their draw cycle, but all releases need to be set up carefully.

Because I was a release shooter for many a year I had a pouch of different releases in my coaching backpack for my students to try, if they wanted to. Be aware, however, that fiddling setting up a release aid can consume most of an hour long lesson very easily.

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At Least They Are Trying

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

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

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

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

Dear Steve

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

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

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

At least they are trying to support coaches.

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

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Linear v. Rotational/Angular Draw—Mea Culpa

I posted recently on this topic and, not unusually, I think I got it backward. My main point was that beginners tend to coach themselves into looking down their arrows at the target, creating a distorted draw that coaches tend to train out (and mislabeled as a “linear draw”).

In a subsequent conversation I had with Rick McKinney, he pointed out that there are quite a few different linear draws (push-pull, just pull, etc.) and he reminded he that he thinks the anchor is in one’s back (which I will explain and try to convince you he is right below). I also got a comment from one of you (Thanks!) including a link to a seminar by Chris Hill at the Vegas Shoot (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ha1D4LJ1120&t=5669s) on this same topic. I had seen the video before but I hadn’t watched much of it. (It is beastly long.) I still haven’t watched all of it, but have seen enough to recognize that he is on to something that has not been previously characterized (and that I had missed).

Coach Hill is an advocate of the linear draw and not the angular/rotational draw but not as the either draw is currently taught. Whereas the linear draw is often characterized as “drawing to anchor,” Coach Hill is advocating “drawing to alignment.”

The video has much more detail but the process is simple: “you draw to proper arm alignment and then you plop your head down on your hand.” You do not draw to your face. You do not draw to some anchor position. Your head position is determined by your arm alignment to the target, not the other way around.

“Proper anchor is easy to achieve after alignment. Alignment is almost impossible to achieve after anchor.”

This is what I think Rick McKinney means when he says that “your anchor is in your back.” You draw to a point recognizable through the tension of the muscles in your back. Coach Hill points out, I think quite correctly, that achieving alignment to the target is easy and natural. It only becomes complicated when we start teaching the details that turn out to be way less important (nose touches, face anchor positions, etc.) which lead to drawing to anchor before alignment is achieved and which then blocks achievement of decent alignment.

The Three Pillars of Consistent Accuracy
I teach something called the “Three Pillars of Consistent Accuracy” to beginning serious students as being what needs to be focused upon to achieve consistent accuracy: relaxed hands (both bow and string/release hands) and good “full draw position” which in essence means “good alignment.”

The bow hand has to be relaxed so that the bow can set its shape and position. If the hand is made rigid and then the bow is asked to fit into the hand, what likelihood is there, do you think, that the hand will be set correctly ahead of time, and done repeatedly time after time? I teach instead that the bow hand and wrist are to be relaxed and when the hands are “set” a slight pull on the bowstring pulls the bow grip into the bow hand, shaping it to fit the grip and shaping it the exact same way every shot. If you make the hand rigid ahead of time, normal variation results in the bow hand being in various shapes and positions through a round of shots.

Similarly the draw hand (fingers or release, which ever) needs to be relaxed (the muscles making the fingers curl around the string or release handle are in the upper forearm and thus will not interfere with the rest of the hand being relaxed. As the draw occurs, I tell my students to pay attention to a feeling of stretching in the back of the draw hand as the draw occurs as a sign that your hand is indeed relaxed. I don’t think it is really stretching but your body normally opposes forces made upon it and because we are not resisting the pull on the hand and wrist, there is an illusion of a stretching occurring due to the unopposed force.

By keeping the wrist and hand relaxed, the draw forces pull everything in line, which is the strongest biomechanical position. It is also consistent, because no effort is made to pre-shape the hand.

Now here is where I didn’t push my principle far enough. Coach Hill says “draw to alignment” then set your head. I used to teach that the nose touch and the hand-on-face contact were to set head position, but I had the head position being set first, then the touches occurring. So, what is the likelihood that the head position is set correctly first? Ah hah! Again, due to normal variation, head position is going to vary somewhat from shot to shot and my alignment would be tied to these various head positions. Wrong.

By setting one’s arm alignment to the target, and then setting one’s head position, things are now in the right order.

This approach is putting arm alignment at the top of the important principles upon which to build a shot, where it belongs.

“Proper anchor is easy to achieve after alignment. Alignment is almost impossible to achieve after anchor.”

Coach Hill says that he teaches beginners this approach and doesn’t fuss about stances, hand positions, and anchors, until they get serious about competition. And many of these youngsters shoot lights out. He teaches his approach to experienced archers and they report back that they are now shooting with good alignment and shooting way better scores, after just one less some times.

I urge all coaches of serious archers, Recurve or Compound, Barebow or shooting with sights, to view the video. I am going back to look at the parts I haven’t yet seen.

And, as always, comments are welcome!


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And the Best Archery Teacher for 2022 is . . .

There is a saying about experience being the best teacher, but it is often misquoted. Here is the full quote:

“Experience is the best teacher, but a fool will learn from no other.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Usually what you hear is “experience is the best teacher” which I have used in the past but amended with “but it is a brutal way to learn something.” It seems that in the past, we taught young archers “how to shoot,” and then introduced them to competitions to complete their education. When you look at how much more than the basics of “how to shoot” is to be learned, it seems we archery coaches have been derelict in our duty.

This is the reason I wrote my book, “Winning Archery,” because I had collected hundreds of target archery books and the vast majority of them were “how to shoot” books. There seemed a great deal more to be learned if your goal was to shoot well, to shoot winning scores, as it were. In that book, I tried to cover some of the topics that need to be learned to become a winning archer that were not covered in the how-to-shoot books. And it is quite a fat book . . . and I didn’t exhaust the topic.

Here is an example. When you get close to a winning performance, most people are affected in predictable ways. One way is that we tend to speed up what we are doing. In a “feel” sport like archery, that changes how shots feel and subverts our error-checking processes. So, if you think you are close to winning, try slowing down a little (assuming you had sped up a tad), focus upon your breathing, trying for smooth, rhythmic breathing. (I got hot and bothered so much one time under these circumstances that I as actually panting.)

Here’s another example. For young Recurve archers, I teach them that they will experience difficulty getting through their clicker during a competition. (When you get tense, your muscles shorten, making getting through the clicker more difficult.) I teach my students that the first thing to do is relax. I even provide some relaxation procedures to try. And, if that doesn’t work and they are still struggling getting through their clicker, it is okay to not use the clicker for a while. Later, they can re-introduce it into their shot sequence to see if it is back to being okay. (And we practice this, yes.)

The alternative to these teachings is to just assume that “experience” will teach them what to do. The drawback to this is what I call the “here we go again” syndrome. When I experienced difficulties shooting, I got anxious. Later, when the same source of difficulty started to show up again, my mind gave me the “here we go again” signal and the anxiety was back in force, even though the problem had not fully manifested. The problem was uncomfortable enough that any hint of it led to my getting anxious and focused upon whether or not I was going to experience that difficulty or not, instead of focusing upon my shot sequence.

I also teach “poor shot recovery programs,” so my students will have something to do rather than “you will figure it out” when they shoot the occasional bad shot.

I refer to all of these things as “archery skills” and I start teaching them to serious students shortly after they have a consistent shot sequence. Actually writing down one’s shot sequence/shot routine is one of those archery skills. It is not part of “how to shoot” an arrow, but it is a part of becoming a consistently good scorer.

What do you think?


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The Myth of the Linear Draw (But, Wait, There’s More!)

When Kisik Lee came on board as National Coach for USA Archery, a discussion began on the merits of “linear” versus “angular” draws. I think the whole idea of a “linear draw” is based upon a mistaken interpretation. The linear draw is characterized as a draw in which the arrow slides straight back from its brace position (at address) to its full draw position. This behavior seems to me to follow from the usual development of young recurve archers.

When youths are taught to shoot, they tend to shoot with fairly good form and execution. (I separate form, which are our body positions, from execution which is how we get from one position to the next; some others do not, lumping it all into “form.”) And shortly into their first session they ask “How do I aim?” We tell them to just concentrate their attention on the spot they want to hit and their brain will figure it out (subconscious aiming). But more than a few students think there is a mechanism, an aiming mechanism, that if they can just figure it out will have them burying their arrows in target center like an Olympian, so they start experimenting.

The first thing they try is looking down the arrow shaft (also called “shotgunning”). This actually works at very short distances, but their technique is so poor (often tilting their heads way over to be able to “see”) that it usually does not. During this experimentation phase these experimental archers get another idea. If they set their bow into the correct position, the arrows fly into the middle of the target, so they estimate what that correct position is and then, so they don’t move away from that correct position, they monitor their arrow as they draw, making sure it doesn’t waver from where it was pointed at first. To do this the newbie archers kink their draw wrist severely so that the arrow slides straight back into what they think is the correct position. Thus, the linear draw is born . . . over and over and over, reinvented by myriad young archers.

Even though this is a real “stick bow” you can see the kinked draw wrist and the tilted head for “aiming,” exacerbated by using the dominant off eye to aim with).

Remember that these newbies have an instructor nearby, but not a coach per se. Archers who receive coaching are soon disabused of this practice by the mere expedient that they are taught to draw with a relaxed wrist. It is basically impossible to effect a “linear draw” using a relaxed draw wrist.

I tend to think of the linear draw as a straw man. It doesn’t really exist, except in rank beginners, but it is something to argue against. Even compound archers do not have linear draws. The reasons are simple. The draw arm hinges at the elbow. From the beginning of the draw, the elbow is out a bit from the central plane of the archer’s body. The force on the bowstring aligns with the elbow and when the elbow moves back, it does so in an arc. This pulls the nock of the arrow slightly out of line (away from the archer’s body) and then when the elbow completes its bend, it pulls the nock back into line.

The Equally Bogus “Aiming Too Soon” Concept
When I first encountered their writings, Recurve archery coaches were united in but one aspect. They all strongly advised against aiming too soon, or spending too much time aiming. Again, our beginners contributed to this somewhat. They aimed from the get-go, and then tried to draw sliding the arrow straight back (in a linear draw) so as to not spoil their aim. Some coaches taught vigorously against this “too early” aiming and it became dogma.

The mistake here is believing that aiming is a singular event, which happens just before a shot is loosed. I argue that aiming is a complex process, consisting of many parts. It begins when an archer takes their stance. If you don’t agree with this, try putting your bow side foot behind the shooting line and your string side foot ahead of the shooting line. Now take a shot. (Please do not hurt yourself or anyone else trying this.)

I tend to recommend what is called a “natural stance” to beginners. You find it by addressing a target (aperture/arrow point centered on the face), closing your eyes, drawing to anchor and then opening your eyes. If your aperture or arrow point is off line (left-right only), move your feet (both of them) until it is on line and repeat the process. Your natural stance is where you put your feet and your arrow ends up pointed in the right direction (left-right) because of how your body draws and anchors.

Not only does aiming begin at taking a stance, I generally stretch out the “final aim” from raising the bow (addressing the target) onward. What we don’t want to happen is to have to move our bows a great deal at full draw. We want to minimize the energy expended at full draw, and so we minimize the time spent at full draw. In this way we conserve energy and our last shot has as much energy available as our first (consistency is the goal). So, I want my archers to have their aperture/arrow point very close to their point-of-aim (POA) when they have completed their draw and anchor steps. To make it so, I have my archers determine how much their aperture/arrow point moves (relative to the target face) during this process by having them put their aperture/arrow point on target center at target address, then close their eyes, draw, anchor and open their eyes. Their aperture/arrow point will have moved. I then ask them, where would you have to start to get the aperture/arrow point dead center on your POA after the draw and anchor? Most figure it out rapidly. (It is a spot equidistant from the POA as the aperture/arrow point ended up at, but on the other side of the POA. So, if you start aiming at the X-ring of a 10-ring face, and your aperture/arrow point ends up in the blue at 5 o’clock, you should start in the blue at 11 o’clock.) I then ask them to practice this a bit, emphasizing that it is not an exactly thing, that they can make adjustments, but the idea is to get “close” to the POA so minimal corrections are needed in aiming. Minimal corrections of the aim at full draw take minimal time. Once an archer gets comfortable with this process, it happens naturally with little effort or calculation, even when target sizes and distances change.

So, aiming begins with the stance. It begins in earnest at target address (some call this a pre-aim) and then continues with great attention through the release (holding line of sight as long as possible, which means head position is held as long as possible and is less likely to move during the release).


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10,000 Hours . . . or Not?

There is bandied about a much touted “rule” that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class in, well, anything. So, what do you think? Does this apply to archery?

I think this idea has been quite debunked. I personally am always suspicious of rules that include round numbers (why not 10,256 or 9,522?) and which supposedly apply to everyone equally.

I have stated often enough that there is no such thing as a talent for archery. What there is, I believe, are sets of fundamental physical and mental skills and attributes that make your efforts more or less productive. For example, if you are over 7 feet tall (2.15 m), I think you can forget about becoming a world-class archer, and it isn’t just because you’ll have a devil of a time finding equipment to fit (e.g. long draw lengths require long arrows and long arrows are heavier than shorter arrows, which therefore requires more driving force to get them to a distant target). Also for example, if you are not easily bored and can tolerate long periods of dull drills and practices, you will have an advantages over those who do not possess such mental attributes.

So, a general rule that doesn’t include one’s advantages and disadvantages and the number is clearly made up (is that 10,000 plus or minus 1000, or 10,000 plus or minus 1?) . . . not buying it.

In addition I have seen archers succeed spectacularly without being close to that many years of deliberate practice and, basically I doubt their practice was all that deliberate (in Erikson’s sense).

Now, if archery were a sport as popular as golf or tennis, I think those 10,000 hours may not even get you close. This is another weakness of this rule: “world class” or “elite” means quite a few things depending upon how old a sport is and how much money is paid to professional practitioners. Tennis players and golfers get paid so much money at the top that competition is fierce. Minor sports, like archery, have few well-paid professionals and so those sports are dominated by amateurs whose time and effort are divided between family, jobs, and the sport. For example, do you hear much from the spouses of top paid professional sports practitioners about how much time their spouses spend at work? No? When your wife or husband is pulling in millions of dollars per year there isn’t much to complain about. (I made $2 million in my entire career as a college professor, $4-5 million if you correct for inflation, and today’s athletes can make that with two game checks (American football) or a month of sitting the bench in major league baseball.)

So, the competition to get “elite” or “world-class” status is sports varies widely.

So, what do you think? Is the “10,000 Hour Rule” useful or a waste of breath to discuss?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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